She was a young single mother sitting in a bus, concerned about the fate of her ten-year-old daughter. Her daughter, Samantha, was being treated for leukemia at Mercy Hospital. The half-hour bus trip for the young mother has become a morning ritual, and one of the stops along the way was her old neighborhood.
That neighborhood stirs up memories that she would prefer to forget. Her physical scars are long gone, but the emotional and psychological scars have become a festering scab that refuses to heal. The memories of her father are always there to haunt her. Her father called her Joanna, but she now prefers to be called JoAnn. “He was a degenerate,” as she would prefer to describe him, “a retched, drunkard who annihilated my self-esteem.”
Her brother Jimmy, two years older than her, took the full brunt of the physical beatings. Her brother’s chipped teeth are a visible reminder of where they came from and what they endured. Her brother’s broken nose, arm, and leg have long healed, but those beatings have left an imprint in his psyche that will remain with him permanently. He is filled with anger and a deep-seated hatred that he cannot adequately release or control. He has fits of rage that have landed him in Prison. He also deeply resents his mother for allowing his father to brutalize him.
On a number of occasions, JoAnn tried to explain to her brother that their mother was a victim too. She was victimized not in the same severity as her children, but she was still a victim. Their mother lived in constant fear and with the guilt of knowing what was going on in their home. Jimmy on several occasions, screamed at his mother in fits of rage, “Why didn’t you leave him and take us out of there?”
When JoAnn was seventeen, the Police showed up at their door and hauled her father off to jail. Her mother could not raise the five hundred dollars to bail him out. He was charged and later convicted of raping a thirteen-year-old girl, and the Judge sentenced him to ten years in prison. JoAnn dropped out of school that same year and started pumping gas at a local gas station to help her mother with the bills.
She had one failed relationship after another. She attracted the users and the abusers. She had no way of knowing what a normal relationship is. When her brother stopped by the house one day and saw his sister’s swollen lip and her swollen-shut eye, something inside of him snapped.
He went to his sister’s boyfriend’s house and kicked in his door. The boyfriend was sitting at the kitchen table, and when he saw Jimmy standing in the kitchen, he jumped out of the chair in fear.
“You like to beat on girls, Hank!!!!” Jimmy yelled.
He did not see Hank as a tough guy or a monster but a squirming little coward.
“Listen, Jimmy, she hit me first,” he said.
His fist hit Hank above his left eye. He struck him so hard that Jimmy felt the knuckles pop in his hand. He ignored the pain of his broken hand and watched Hank’s legs buckle from another blow. Hank collapsed on the kitchen floor. His left eye was swollen, and blood was rolling down his face.
“Get up!!!!!” Jimmy yelled.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy, please don’t hit me again.”
He pulled Hank up by the back of his shirt. Hank leaned up against the Kitchen sink.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy, please don’t hit me!!!!” he repeated.
He hit Hank with an upper left so hard that he knocked four of his teeth out. He watched him squirming, dazed, and crying with the four bloody teeth lying on the kitchen floor. At that moment as the adrenaline was racing through his body. He no longer saw Hank; instead, he saw his father lying there. He walked over to the sink and grabbed a carving knife. He plunged the knife so hard into Hank’s back that the tip of the blade broke off in his spine.
Jimmy’s bloody palmprints and fingerprints were all over the kitchen. He was soon arrested and convicted. He was sentenced to ten years for involuntary manslaughter.
He was moved three times in five years to various state prisons. He was eventually moved to a medium security state institution. The inmates in medium security are given three hours of recreation time each day in the prison yard. One day when he was out in the yard, he saw an inmate with an uncanny resemblance to his father. He started walking closer to him and heard him say, “is that you, Jimmy?”
He stood and looked at his father in disbelief. His father looked old and weak. Not the monster he remembered in his childhood, not the nightmarish figure that brutalized him and crippled him emotionally.
“What are you doing here, Jimmy?”
“I killed a man,” he said matter-of-factly.
“That is too bad,” he said, “how is your sister?”
“You don’t act like the big tough guy now. Why is that?” Jimmy asked.
“I was messed up. I was a drunken lunatic out of my mind. I am clean now and sober. Not the man I was. We can use this time to get to know one another,” he said.
“Do you have any idea what you did to us?” asked Jimmy.
“I have been writing letters to your mother, and I asked that you three come and see me,” he said.
“Come and see you, do you have any clue what you did to us?” trying to hold back his rage.
“I am sober now, I am not that person. Forgive me, Jimmy,” he said.
“You are a monster from hell. How could you have done that to your daughter? She was a child, and you raped her repeatedly and locked her in a closet. You beat me so badly that you broke my arm, leg, and nose in four places. You broke my teeth, I was only a child. What could I have done to deserve that from you? You raped that thirteen-year-old girl. You are a monster, an evil monster. You getting locked up was a good thing but what I am going to do now is even better.” He began to take off his belt.
“Listen, Jimmy, I am no longer that person. I am sober now, and I would never do those things again,” he said, pleading with his son.
He grabbed his father’s hair and through him to the ground. He wrapped his belt around his father’s neck and began to strangle him. His father’s legs began to kick uncontrollably as he was fighting for air. The other inmates ignored what they saw because they knew he was finishing off a child rapist. The child rapist in an inmate’s mind is the lowest form of scum inside the walls of a prison. The correctional officers ran over and jumped on him, but he never loosened up on the belt. The guards began pepper-spraying him, but his adrenalin was pumping, and the pepper spray did not faze him in the least.
He was charged with murder, and he was moved to a maximum security Prison. His defense attorney brought out all the dark family secrets in the hope of the Jury convicting Jimmy of a lesser crime.
His sister recalled her nightmarish existence at the hands of her father. While she was answering the defense attorney’s questions during the trial, she could not hold back her tears. Jimmy testified about the ongoing beatings he received. Their mother then backed up their account of what took place in their home.
The prosecution tried to debunk the defense’s testimony by stating that anyone living under those conditions would not have remained in that house, but rather they would have fled by running away. The defense argued that they had nowhere to go, and their fear was so great that they could not escape him.
Her brother was sentenced to an additional three years for the involuntary manslaughter of his father. The Judge considered the emotional duress he was under at the time of the killing.
The killing of their father did not heal the deep scares or calm the emotional turmoil inside them. The court testimony, however, brought everything out in the open, and it helped them move closer to the healing process. The Judge told them they needed to reach that place inside and find the strength to let go of their anger and hate.
Shortly after the trial, their mother began to have mini-strokes that triggered the onset of dementia. Her memory loss was the first sign that something was wrong. Joann, on occasions, found her mother lying on the floor, disoriented. She would get confused about the time of day and the seasons and wear summer close in the winter and winter close in the summer. She would get up in the middle of the night and start cooking breakfast. JoAnn's full-time job was caring for her for the next ten years.
Her brother was released from prison, but his mother's condition was too much for him to handle. He moved out of their home and found a place of his own. JoAnn was forced to go on public assistance because she was unable to work due to her mother’s condition. Her mother eventually had no memory or recognition and was completely bedridden. The last six months of her mother’s life were spent at Mercy Hospital. Caring for her mother helped her move closer to healing that broken little child within her. She was also working on ways to subside the nightmarish memories inhibiting her from finding Joy.
Her brother rarely came around after their mother died, and he moved on without leaving a forwarding address or a way of contacting him. It was then that JoAnn decided to take care of herself. She sold her mother’s home, returned to school, and got her GED. She then enrolled in a nearby community college and became a medical assistant. She was moving forward but still attracted the losers, users, and abusers. She could not differentiate the difference between love and her partner’s neurotic need to control her. She also attracted men with deep insecurities that needed to dominate her out of their fear of losing her. Those men in her life continuously moved her towards dependency rather than independence. She eventually had to have restraining orders placed on four of her boyfriends, who had habits of breaking down her door and beating her.
In the midst of her search to find herself, she became pregnant. She had a baby girl named her ‘Sam’ short for ‘Samantha.’ The relationship with Sam’s father did not work out, and it didn’t take JoAnn long to discover that he was a degenerate drunk like her father was, she focused her energy on raising her daughter, and she gave up on men.
She began working as a medical assistant and as a full-time Mom. Her daughter Sam was an absolutely beautiful and bright child. She had long beautiful blond hair, bright blue eyes, and an angelic face that radiated a sweet innocence and wondrous expressions of joy. Through her daughter, JoAnn began to find Joy in life.
JoAnn's next six years were happy times, but she grew more and more concerned when her daughter started getting sick. It took the Doctors two years to pinpoint the problem. What Sam was suffering from was a rare form of leukemia. Mercy Hospital placed her in their pediatric unit and started her on chemotherapy. Sam was heartbroken when she lost all of her beautiful blond hair.
When Joann entered room 22 in the pediatric unit, she noticed a beautiful crystal Angel on the table next to her daughter’s bed.
“What a beautiful Angel, Sam. Where did you get it?”
“Doctor Paul gave it to me. He is really nice, and he likes you.”
“How does he know me?” she asked.
“He talks about you all the time,” Sam said.
It was at that moment a little boy walked into the room, “Hello, how is everything going,” he asked, wearing a white coat.
“Aren’t you a little young to be a Doctor,” JoAnn asked, laughing because the white coat fit him like a glove.
“I’m Doctor Paul’s assistant,” he said with a straight face.
“He is Doctor Paul’s assistant, Mommy; his name is Rodney, and he is my friend, he calls me Sammy,” she said, laughing.
“Well, in that case, my name is JoAnn, Sammy’s Mother,” playing along with him. “Are you studying to be a Doctor?”
“Yep, like Doctor Paul, well, I need to make my rounds now,” he said, walking out of the room.
“Well, with those bedside manners, he will make a great Doctor and a good catch for you,” she said to Sammy. “What room is he in?”
“He doesn’t have one; he just walks around from room to room. He said he is going to make me his assistant,” she said, laughing.
“What a sweet kid. Maybe he is Doctor Paul’s son,” she said.
JoAnn walked into the Hospital’s gift shop the next day, “What do you have for a young boy?” She asked the woman behind the counter. She saw a Crystal Angel in the display case, “That looks like the Angel in my daughter’s room.”
“Someone has been stealing them out of here,” the woman behind the counter said.
“Who?” she asked with curiosity in her voice.
“We can’t catch the person. We think it is someone who works in the Hospital because they are disappearing at night when the gift shop is closed,” she said, “they are mysteriously showing up in the pediatric unit, and no one knows who’s doing it.”
JoAnn bought a small stuffed bear for Rodney and went up to the Nurses' station, “Can you tell me what room that little boy is in with the white coat? He said his name is Rodney, and I got him this little bear.”
“Rodney?” Nurse Betty asked. “When did you see him last?”
“Yesterday,” she said, “he said he is Doctor Paul’s assistant.”
“Doctor, who’s assistant?” Nurse Betty asked.
“Doctor Paul,” JoAnn said.
“I am new here, I don’t know all the Doctors. Well, he must have been discharged because there isn’t a Rodney on my room roster,” she said.
JoAnn went to her Daughter’s room and told Sam that Rodney had been discharged.
“He is still here, Mommy; he came in to see me.”
“They told me at the Nurses' station that they don’t have a kid named Rodney in this unit,” she said.
“He is Doctor Paul’s assistant; he is not a Patient,” Sammy said.
“Well, I got him this Bear,” she said, a little confused.
“I will give it to him,” Sammy said.
A couple of days later, JoAnn missed her bus and was at the Hospital later than normal. She sat next to her daughter’s bed while her daughter slept.
“So you missed your bus,” said a Doctor sitting in a chair across the room from her.
She became startled, and her body shifted in her chair.
“What’s the matter? You look like you've seen a ghost,” he said.
“I didn’t hear you come into the room and I didn’t see you there.”
“I didn’t want to wake your Daughter,” he said.
“Would you like to have a cup of coffee in the coffee shop?” he asked her.
“The Coffee Shop is closed now.”
“Oh, I can get you in I have been here so long that I am part of this Hospital,” he said.
She looked at his name tag, “Dr. Paul Harper, MD, you’re Doctor Paul.”
He turned the doorknob at the Coffee Shop; it was dark inside. He lit a small candle at one of the tables.
“Shouldn’t this place be locked,” she asked.
“It’s a security issue,” he said
“Are you the one stealing those Crystal Angels out of the gift shop and giving them to the kids,” she asked with laughter in her voice.
“Who me? No, I think it is my assistant Rodney,” he said with a smile in his voice.
“Is he your Son?” she asked, beaming with curiosity.
“No, just a dear friend of mine,” he said.
“How long have you been here?” she asked.
“A long time, but it doesn’t seem that long because it is no longer work for me. I truly love being with those children and looking after them,” he said with deep sincerity in his voice.
“And, they love you,” she said.
“Thank you, that means a lot to me,” he said.
“You and Rodney are all my daughter talks about.”
“I like making those children happy, just like you enjoy making your daughter happy. You are a great Mother and a kind person. You care for your daughter very much, and you looked after your mother for a very long time,” he said.
“How do you know that? I don’t ever remember seeing you before,” she said, slightly concerned.
“Your mother was here, JoAnn, I saw her,” he said.
“She wasn’t lucid then, her mind was completely gone,” she said.
“Oh, but her soul was lucid, and she loves you very much,” he said.
“My Mother died almost ten years ago,” she said, wondering if he is some kook trying to take advantage of her.
It was then that she looked into his eyes and noticed how crystal clear they were and filled with compassion. His eyes put her at ease.
“I don’t know what I will do if Sammy dies,” she said.
“Your daughter is a very special little girl, and I love her very much. I love all those Children I met on that unit,” he said.
“That is why they love you the way they do,” she said.
“Your daughter is with you now. Cherish the time you have with her. You are a great compassionate human being and you bring happiness to your daughter,” he said.
“Is she going to die?” she asked with tears rolling down her face.
“We all die, it is part of life, but we go on living. Those who touch our hearts today will touch our hearts tomorrow. There is no distance between us due to our hearts and souls being intertwined,” he said.
He walked over to her and put his arms around her, and she felt completely at ease. “Is there any possibility of meeting someone like you? A kind, decent person, not a control freak,” she asked with a smile.
“I am certain that someone good and kind will enter your life,” he said.
“My life is not picture perfect,” she said.
“The things that happened to you can never be erased; they are part of who you are. You have to overcome the nightmare, and you are now more sympathetic to the needs of others because of what you experienced in your childhood,” he said.
“I can’t bear the thought of going through life without my daughter,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“Cherish the moments you have now with your daughter,” with a smile in his eyes he said, “I see a Max coming into your life; he will help you. He has a heart of gold, but sometimes his light-bulb is not fully lit. He is truly great with kids and a lovable kind person.”
“I will keep my eyes open,” she said with a smile.
“Well, I have a few more rounds to make. Stay and finish your Coffee,” he said.
A security guard with a flashlight walked into the Coffee Shop, “Who’s in here,” he said.
“Oh, Doctor Paul, let me in,” JoAnn said.
“The Coffee Shop is closed. How did you get in here?” he asked.
“Doctor Paul Harper let me in,” she said.
“There are too many keys floating around this Hospital, and I am going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.
The next day, she walked down the corridor towards her daughter’s room. She saw a maintenance man holding a ladder, and he slipped on the floor, falling on top of it. He made a thunderous crash and scared the orderlies and nurses working on the floor.
“Max, what the hell are you doing?” asked Nurse Alice.
“Doctor Paul said there is a dim light bulb in room 22,” he told her.
“His name is Max?” JoAnn asked the Nurse.
“He’s the Maintenance man,” said a nurse.
“Hello there,” Max said to Sammy. He then turned to JoAnn, “Hello there.”
“Doctor Paul said you have a dim light-bulb in here,” he said.
“He was talking about your bulb,” Sammy said, laughing.
“Sammy!!!!” JoAnn yelled, “That is not nice.”
“Oh, you got a sweet daughter,” he said.
“You know Doctor Paul?” JoAnn asked, looking at him with curiosity because of what Dr. Paul had told her the night before.
“I met him a couple of times. He wants me to go back to school and become a medical assistant,” he said.
“That is what my Mommy does,” Sammy said to him.
At that moment, Rodney walked into the room.
“Hello there,” Max said to him.
“Oh, you fixed the dim light-bulb good,” he said while he turned and winked at Sammy.
“He is Doctor Paul’s assistant,” Sammy said to Max while laughing.
“He must be pretty sharp considering his age and all,” Max said to them.
“Do you get a lunch break or anything? We can get a bite to eat. It’s on me,” JoAnn said to him.
As they talked in the Coffee shop, JoAnn saw a sweetness in him, a kind, gentle soul. They met daily in the Coffee Shop and talked, and he brought great comfort to her, and they grew close.
“My Mommy likes you a lot,” Sammy said to Max as she lay in her hospital bed. “You take good care of her, OK.”
Max looked at her with tears in his eyes because he knew in his heart she was dying, “I will love her like no man ever has.”
“I love you, Max,” she said, “and my Mommy loves you.”
JoAnn was standing at the door and heard the conversation. She tried to wipe her tears before entering the room, and she didn’t want them to see her crying.
Sammy took a turn for the worst, and Max and JoAnn stayed with her. She held Sammy’s hand the moment she passed away. Tears rolled down Max’s face, and he held JoAnn in his arms to console her.
“I am going to miss her,” she cried, “so much so, I love you, Sammy.”
Max was with Joann through the burial and remained with her to console her. Max laid down next to her when she came home after Sammy was buried and held her through the night.
Months went by, and Max stayed. He helped her grieve her loss. They were deeply in love, and eventually, she helped him get certified as a medical assistant, and they soon married.
“Oh, Max, look how cute he is,” she said as she held her newborn baby at Mercy Hospital. “I am going to name him ‘Paul Harper.’”
“Paul Harper Stork is a nice name,” said Max.
Before leaving the Hospital, they went to the pediatric unit and the Nurses' Station.
“Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but I was wondering if I could see Doctor Paul Harper,” she said to Nurse Alice.
“Who?” asked the Nurse.
“I named my son after him, Paul Harper,” she said, “is there any possibility we can see him?”
“Doctor Paul Harper? Well, what is your name?” the nurse asked.
“Mrs. JoAnn Stork, my husband Max works here,” she said.
Another Nurse overhearing the conversation told Nurse Alice that she would help them.
“Hello, Max,” said the Nurse.
“My name is Ruth I worked here for over twenty years,” she told JoAnn, “longer than anyone on this ward.”
“We just want Doctor Paul to know that we named our son after him, that is all,” Max told the Nurse.
“Well, this is the ‘Doctor Paul Harper’ ward. Was your daughter in room 22?” she asked. “I remember her, a pretty little girl.”
“My daughter died in that room.”
They began to walk down the corridor, and Nurse Ruth explained how the ward acquired its name.
“Doctor Paul Harper worked this ward for years, and when he got sick, they put him in room 22,” nurse Ruth said.
The Nurse showed them a large picture on the wall in the corridor, “that is Doctor Paul Harper; he died here in 1962, in room 22,” she said, “he was a great man who loved the children, and that is why they took care of him in this ward.”
They looked at the picture as tears rolled down JoAnn’s face, “it is truly him,” she said, “the smile, the eyes, the humor in his face, Doctor Paul Harper.”
“You’re not the only one that has seen him; every child on the ward sees him. He loves the children,” nurse Ruth told them.
“When Doctor Paul was a little boy,” said a Doctor standing behind them, “his grandfather used to take him to this ward, and Doctor Paul would put on a white coat and tell the children that he was his grandfather’s assistant. His grandfather was an orderly here.”
As the Doctor walked away, he told them that he had an old picture of Doctor Paul. The picture was taken on the ward when Doctor Paul was a child wearing a white coat.
“Can I see the picture,” JoAnn asked.
“Sure,” he said.
They waited in the corridor for the Doctor and handed JoAnn the picture when he returned. Tears once again welled up in her eyes, and she became filled with emotion. She was looking at a picture of little Rodney in his white coat. Doctor Paul’s grandfather gave him the coat when he was a child.
“Why does the picture have the name Rodney on it,” she asked.
“Rodney was his middle name, and that was his father’s name,” the Doctor told her, “He never used his middle name, not sure exactly why. Some people say that his father was not a very nice man. People say his father was a mean drunk, so when Doctor Paul got older, he stopped using the name, Rodney. He started using Paul which was his grandfather’s name who worked here.”
She wiped the tears from her face, and at that moment, she felt the presence of her daughter Sammy standing next to her. Other children began to fill the corridor, and they moved in close to look at the newborn baby. “He smiled,” said one of the children. “I think he saw me,” said another child.
They were the children that Dr. Paul touched over the years. Some children passed on and returned to visit him when he was sick and dying in room 22. It was out of love that Dr. Paul visited the children. It is now through their love for Dr. Paul that the corridor has become more and more filled. The children like Sammy passed on after getting to know Dr. Paul and experiencing his love.
Every child on the ward was special to him throughout the years, and they all touched his heart.
“Hey, Nurse,” said a little boy at the Nurses desk.
“Yes,” said Nurse Alice.
“Who are all those kids?” asked the little boy.
“What kids?” she asked.
“Those kids, can’t you see them?” he asked.
The little boy was surprised that the nurses were completely unaware of the number of children going through the corridor to catch a glimpse of the little baby. At that moment, children began to leave their rooms, and they too began to walk down the hall to look at the little newborn baby.
“What is going on,” said Nurse Alice, “it’s like they have never seen a baby before.”
“I think that baby is quite special,” said Nurse Ruth.
Sammy, with her beautiful blond golden hair and radiant angelic face, reached over and placed her hand on the newborn baby’s head and said,
“Welcome back, Doctor Paul.”
* * * * *
- Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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