« Vignette 4 | Main | Plot 2 »

Vignette 5

Selene wearily stripped off her scrubs and cleaned herself up.  She sat in the doctor’s changing area and prayed for a few minutes, as she did after each surgery she performed.
Today, she prayed with anger, being furious with a God that would allow a four-year-old child to be hurled against a wall and then held there by the throat while her head was banged repeatedly against the wall.

The child had been rushed into the emergency room by the mother several hours earlier.  She had a compound fracture of her left ulna, and was unconscious.  A CAT scan revealed bleeding in the brain.  As the pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Selene was called into the surgery along with the neurosurgeon.  Grimly, she had set about repairing the damage to the child’s arm.  The nerve damage was extensive, and she hoped that the child would eventually regain the full use of her arm.  Then she looked over at the neurosurgeon and realized that it might not matter.  His eyes blazed with fury over the protective mask.

“Not one but three fractures to the skull.  I can stop the bleeding, but I don’t know that it’s going to matter.  Extra prayers for this one Selene.”  The other doctors reacted with amusement to her post-op ritual.  She didn’t much care.   Elias Martinez looked over at Selene.  She was a striking woman, tall, and athletic with very dark skin.  Her eyes, hidden behind her thick glasses were doe-like when they weren’t filled with anger as they were now.  Her hair, hidden under the surgeon’s cap was kept close cut.  

“Yes, well, I’m guessing that after the shithead threw her and broke her arm, he did a little more headbanging.”  Selene pointed out the clear imprint of an adult sized hand on the child’s neck.  “Make sure we get photos of this, and call law enforcement and CPS right away,” she informed one of the nurses.  The nurse nodded curtly and left the operating room.

Since the most threatening injury was the skull fracture, Elias went to talk to the mother.  The police were already there as well.  Selene had heard this story too many times, had, in fact, lived a large part of it as a child herself, so she went directly to the staff room for some coffee, and a little peace and quiet while she waited for news from the recovery room.

The television was on but muted, and she was moving over to it to turn it off when she recognized a face being flashed on the screen.  She turned the volume up rather than turn the television off.  Her eyes became even angrier, and she began her discussion with God again in earnest.  

By the time she had entered junior high school, Selene had lived in more homes than she could count.  Her mother, who had been fifteen when Selene was born, fell in love with crack shortly thereafter.  For her first four years, Selene had lived with her maternal grandmother.  She had no idea who her father was.  When Selene was four, her mother had stolen the few items of jewelry that Selene’s grandmother had owned, and they were summarily thrown out of the house.  Selene had spent the next few months moving from place to place until her mother had hooked up with a dealer.  Then she spent almost a year looking for hiding places.  Her mother had a job.  She worked nights.  At five, Selene didn’t understand that her mother was standing on street corners soliciting business, she only understood that on the good nights she was left alone in the apartment, and on bad ones, she was left with Marcus.  Some nights, even when she was quiet as a mouse, Marcus would get a rage on and come looking for her.  If she was lucky, all she got was the belt.  Sometimes, the belt wasn’t handy enough, and he would hit her with whatever was closest to hand.  

During the day, she should have been in school.  Sadly she watched the other neighborhood children walking to the bus stop with their mothers each morning.  Selene’s mother hadn’t been together enough to register her for kindergarten, so she spent her days watching television while the adults slept.  She would pour her own cereal, when there was some, or scrounge for edibles when there was not, careful to leave no sign in the tiny kitchen that she had taken anything.  She would watch Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, and wish desperately that she knew how to read, though with nothing in the house too read, it wouldn’t matter much.  In the afternoon, if her mother was in any shape to do so, and if she had managed to hold onto any of the cash she had made the night before, they would sometimes go to McDonald’s for lunch.  Selene didn’t mind playing with the younger kids, as it was the only interaction she got.  Too soon, they went back to the apartment and her mother prepared to go to “work.”

One night, Marcus got a rage on indeed.  This time, the item handiest wasn’t the belt, or the hairbrush, but rather the baseball bat he kept by the door.  When he was done, he stormed out of the house.  Selene managed to crawl to the next apartment, and the woman who opened the door screamed.  An ambulance came, and whisked her away to the hospital.  

It was at the hospital that Selene decided that she would be a doctor.  She had fallen in love with the gentle man who had fixed her broken bones, and took the pain away.  She loved the nurses who came in to check on her, and to bathe her, and who read stories to her when they had time.  The doctor had sat with her when the police came to talk to her.  She had been too afraid to tell them what Marcus had done.  But she would tell the doctor.  At one point, his eyes had gotten so angry that she stopped talking, but he stroked her head gently and said, “Selene, I am not angry with you.  You did nothing wrong.  But I am VERY angry with Marcus.  He had no right to hurt you.”  She relaxed and continued the story.  She left out the really bad parts, though, because she didn’t want to make the doctor angry.

One morning, Dr. Gerry came in and told her that she would be leaving.  A woman from social services was going to take her to a new home where she would be safe.  Marcus was in jail, and was going to be in jail for a long time.  Her mother was in a rehab, and would be coming to get her when she was out.  In the mean time, she would stay with a nice family who would take care of her, and get her into school.  Selene cried and cried.  She didn’t want to leave the hospital.  But Dr. Gerry said that the people would be nice, and so she went with the social services lady.

Dr. Gerry was wrong.  The people weren’t nice.  They didn’t beat her, or hurt her, and she got to go to school, but aside from feeding her, they didn’t pay much attention to her.  There were five other kids in the house, mostly older, and they didn’t pay much attention to her either.  But they sure did lots of other things.  Selene learned that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  

The first day she broke something, she didn’t get in much trouble.  Her foster parents thought it was an accident.  The next time, she made sure to do it in front of her foster mom.  She was sent to her room without supper.  She became a regular Tasmanian devil, like her favorite character from the cartoons.  She would destroy whatever she could.  Pretty soon, the lady from social services came back and took her away.  So began the transition from foster home to foster home.  She was lucky.  Most of the families were nice people.  They just weren’t equipped to deal with her rage. No one realized how bright she was.  No one realized how desperate she was.

She was sent to a group home as soon as she was old enough.  Yet again she was exposed to older kids who taught her things she really didn’t need to know.  She knew, for example, how to curse a blue streak.  She knew, for example, exactly which sullen expression would best set off the housemother.  She went to school, and she eagerly read all of the books, but she never turned any of the work in, so she received failing grades.  

Then, in seventh grade, the counselor called her in to her office.  Selene knew how to talk the talk.  She’d been seeing therapists for years now, and somehow always managed to talk a great deal without saying much of anything at all, which seemed to make the therapists happy.  She slouched in the chair and prepared herself for the battle.

“Selene?  My name is Ms. Jones.  I am your guidance counselor.  It is my job to help you figure out where you want to go in life and how to get there.”  Selene snorted.
Ms. Jones stayed calm.  She pulled out a fat folder and put it on the desk in front of her.  “You know, I’ve read everything in that folder.  Now I’m going to put it away, and we can start from scratch.  What’s in that folder isn’t important, do you hear me?  What’s important is the person sitting in the chair across from me, and not what other people have said about her.”  Selene raised her eyebrow in the universal symbol of disbelief.

“Tell me, Selene, if you could be anything, what would you be?”  Suddenly, that five-year-old voice came out of Selene’s mouth unbidden.  “I want to be a doctor.”  Selene looked shocked, as though she didn’t know where the reply had come from.  She scowled, sank even lower in the chair, and waited for the inevitable.

It didn’t come.  Instead, Ms. Jones smiled broadly and replied, “That’s AMAZING! Listen, can you do me a favor and take some tests for me?  Can you really take them seriously, and do the very best you can do on them?  Because I think you would be a great doctor, and I want to show the teachers how smart you are so that they pay attention to you in class and help you learn.”  Selene shrugged.  She hated tests.  She usually tried to do poorly on them, so that people would leave her alone.  But if Ms. Jones thought that she could really be a doctor one day, then she would give it a try.
She did give it a try.  Ms. Jones called her back in and told her that the tests said she was gifted.  “You know what that means Selene?  It means that you are more than smart enough to be a doctor.  Now we just have to work with your teachers so that they believe that too.  I want you to bring your homework here after school today so I can check and make sure they are giving you hard enough work.”

For weeks, Selene brought her homework to Ms. Jones office and worked on it while she did paperwork and made phone calls.  One day, Ms. Jones asked her if she was happy at the group home.  Selene shrugged.  “It’s okay.”  “Would you be willing to try another foster home if I promised you that the foster mom is a great person, and will have your back?”  Selene frowned.  At the group home, she knew where things stood, and the staff pretty much left her alone.  Another foster home meant another disruption, learning new routines, dealing with more expectations.  Ms. Jones spoke up again.  “Selene, Mrs. Serrano has fostered many children.  In my years here, she has always helped the child.  She has adopted several of them.  Many of them are in college.  They all come home for holidays.  She will not turn you out at 18, which is what I am worried about.”  Selene reluctantly agreed to meet Mrs. Serrano.  She moved in two weeks later, as soon as the paperwork went through.  She finally had a family.

A month after moving in, a girl in her class called her a nappy-headed ho.  Selene beat the crap out of her.  Waiting for the police and Mom Serrano in Ms. Jones office, Ms. Jones looked at her seriously.  “Selene, you’ve got some righteous anger built up inside.  You’re life certainly hasn’t been kind to you so far, and I understand why you are so angry all the time.  You need to get it under control.  You are a female.  You are African-American.  You have an attitude.”  At this, she raised her eyebrow in Selene’s direction, just in time to stop the blurted response.  “This will get you one of two places.  It will either get you to medical school, or it will get you to jail.  It’s your choice.”

Selene got house arrest.  She spent those six months attending school, studying, and reading the books that Ms. Jones had brought to school to give her.  She had asked Selene to take good care of them, as they were her favorites from long ago.  

After junior high school, Selene hadn’t seen Ms. Jones often.  But she had made her decision, and it didn’t lead to prison.  It led to this staff room.  She’d never gotten to give those books back.  She had them still.

Once again, she bowed her head and prayed to the God she had finally come to believe in and trust after she found a family.  Selene Serrano suddenly longed to be able to return those books in person and show Ms. Jones what she had become.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Hosting by Yahoo!
[ Yahoo! ] options



Nice addition to the tale. I can see lots of what you've seen in this one.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)