Met Elizabeth the first or second day of being in my new convalescent hospital, heavy on the word hospital. Was ten and a half, just about exactly, while she was twelve. We were both newbies, me coming there from the West Coast, she from Georgia, we met in Denver.
Had just finished a year and a half at another convalescent hospital in the South San Francisco Bay Area. Had come home, and was over the moon, elated is an understatement. to be home again, finally for good. No longer just seeing my parents, and siblings, both older than me, once a week for an hour or two. Woke up to find we were going on a trip, in an airplane, back then, airplane trips were a big deal, this was the 60’s. We got to Denver, they checked into their hotel, and took me over to my new hospital.
To say it was a surprise, or a shock, is to deeply underestimate the effect it had on me. They hung around for four or five more days, and could take me out to eat, a movie, a clock museum, wherever, but then it was back to my room, with no idea of how long this time.
Thinking back on it, Elizabeth probably met me after they had gone back to California, and home. Was just moping in my room, the hospital kept us in rooms for the first week or so, to make sure we didn’t infect anyone with what ever we had. In my case it was severe bronchial asthma, and hay fever. Never did find out what Elizabeth was there for, just some sort of surgery.
Meeting like that, sort of next door neighbors, we became quick friends, she had no reason to mix in, and for myself, was far from ready to get back into meeting the new, but same old crowd. She told me about her home in Georgia, in the country, she either had a horse or was going to get one on her return. She liked drawing pictures of them, and had a couple of plastic ones with her. Later found out you could have things from home ,sorta, provided you took care of them, as in protected them, or they would just disappear, not to be seen again till it was wrecked, or broken, by someone, in order to have some different sort of fun, or maybe just to vent their anger at being there in the first place.
Three or four days later, she had her surgery, as was usual, found out nothing till the next day. That was the way of things, with surgery, treatments, anything big. The rumor was that the surgery had gone fine. In hospitals for kids, that is the mindset that had to be there, it is bad enough being there, but that doctors can’t fix things, or that things can go wrong is just to hard to deal with, so the surgery was fine. Supposedly she woke up, screamed, and when the nurses arrived, she was dead.
I was sorry for her, as a ten year old can be. The next day walked down the flight of stairs, to where the school was, at the bottom, on the left, and the library, later my sanctuary, on the right. In between was sort of an open meeting room, glass panes to the hallway. In that room were her parents and a doctor. Her parents eyes, especially her mother’s, when she saw me, just widened, they were already wet. Just stood there, like a deer in the headlights, had never seen such hurt rise off people, like waves, and knew that it was not my place to be there. Quickly, by my version, turned around and went back up to my floor, which was half a flight up, from the ground floor front doors.
No one told me who they were, but being black, like Elizabeth, it wasn’t to hard to figure out, almost all the other kids were white, like me. She, Elizabeth, just seemed so friendly, happy, eager to get this done, and go home to her horse. Had known cousins of my mother’s who had died, but not someone my own age, even though she was older. Nor one that had been a friend and made a place that didn’t want to be seem alright.
Elizabeth was my first true introduction to death, and have since hoped mine will approach me as she did me, friendly, open, and smiling, and at least to me, beautiful.