I was about 25. I was interning with Dr. Wall, someone who could really help further my career. He volunteered at a free women's clinic one night a week and asked if any of us minions would like to join him. Me, being me, eager bunny, ass kisser, apple polisher and very much in need of a wing to take me in...well...I raised my hand.
So, on a gorgeous April afternoon, my only day off, I was to go to the women's clinic in a part of town where you had to lock the doors of your car. (Not that anyone would steal my car, it was barely running.) I had the 3-11 shift.
I walked in the back door and found Dr. Wall and grinned up at him, my shiny face ready to be put to work to help poor women. I liked the idea of being an angel to the poor. I saw myself kindly tending to those dear women, a tender smile on my face. A weary nurse instructed me to go to the waiting room and sign myself in on the sheet.
I walked into reality. A room full of women with a few squalling children, women who didn't look like meek mice waiting for their gentle portion of cheese. Most of these women looked like crosses between Betty Boop and Medusa, in daisy dukes. And it smelled. It smelled like...well...well...it smelled like pee and bad feminine hygiene.
I went to the closet and found my blue coat, the one that separated me from the real doctors, told everyone that I was a student, someone who could not write a prescription, a useless observer.
I scuttled back to Dr. Wall and awaited my instructions. He told me to follow him. He picked up the top chart on a foot high stack and opened the door to the waiting room. Called a name.
A woman got up and I was instructed to take her to get weighed and get her blood pressure. I did this. I did this again and again over the course of several hours. Some women needed to be examined for STDs, others for pre-natal care, several were given brochures for the abortion clinic. One woman was ex-rayed for a broken ankle. There was not a lot of smiling, not like in Dr. Wall's ob-gyn practice. These women looked exhausted and not in the mood to converse.
Around 7 that night, we went to call in another woman. She stood up with an about fucking time look plastered on her face. She looked like in her better days, she would have resembled Dolly Parton. But, today, her hair was stringy, her face tired and with no bra on, her nippled breasts swung low in her blouse. She yanked up a child with her, a little girl with cafe au lait skin and bright blue eyes, maybe five. Maybe four. Hard to tell.
Dr. Wall told the woman that she could leave the child with me, that I would care for her while he examined her. She pushed her child at me, not looking at her or me.
I was sort of pissed. I didn't come here to fucking babysit. I wanted to see procedures. I wanted to learn. But, I held out my hand and moved with the child to sit back down in the waiting room. She sat next to me, had obviously done this many times before.
"Would you like me to read you a book?" I asked.
She shrugged. I mentally sighed. I really did not like children. Did not plan on having any myself. They were just so...time intensive.
I told her to go find three books in the children's rack. She got up and returned with small books that fit in her hands perfectly: The Tale of Two Bad Mice, Peter Rabbit, and Squirrel Nutkin. She settled into the chair next to me and I began to read to her. Aferwards, she looked up at me.
"What's your name?" she asked.
I told her Maria and politely asked hers.
"Wren," she said. I smiled. A sweet name and she really did look like a little wren with her heart shaped face and inquisitive eyes.
I spied one of my favorite books as a child, The Country Bunny and the Little Golden Shoes. I got up, grabbed it and sat back down to begin reading.
But, Wren had some questions. Why did those rabbits wear clothes and talk? That was kind of silly, wasn't it? I hesitated and then told her that Beatrix Potter had a good imagination.
Wren looked at me and half smiled. "I guess so..." she finally offered.
I read the Country Bunny book and halfway through, realized that Wren was leaning against me, thumb in her mouth. It was cozy. By the books end, she had wound her way into my lap and was turning the pages for me.
This was taking awhile. The waiting room was thinning out. I asked Wren if she wanted a cookie, was she hungry? She popped her thumb out of her mouth, bobbed her head up and down in an absolute yes. I took her into the break lounge and let her select two cookies out of the box that someone had brought.
"Wow," she said. "You all just can slide on in here and fill up anytime you like?"
I wished that I had thought to feed her earlier. I told her yes.
We returned to the waiting room and played a game of Chutes and Ladders. Halfway through, she asked, "Can we stop and read us a real book?"
I told her sure and asked her which one.
She selected Little House in the Big Woods, not a picture book.
"I don't think we will have time to read the whole thing...." I said.
"But, maybe, just maybe...we will!" she said, her voice full of hope.
We settled down to read, she jumped into my lap with no hesitation and I found myself cuddling her up against me as I began
A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin....
She stroked my arm, as I read. I rubbed my chin against her head, her hair needed to be braided, but instead it was coarse and uncombed.
She looked up at me when I stopped to take a breath and said very quietly, very unassumingly, "Maybe you could be my mom and I could be your little girl?"
I swallowed once. Twice. Looked down at her feet with no socks that were sticking out a good inch from her sandals. She needed new shoes. I told her no, that she already had a mother.
"Do you have a little girl at home?" she asked me.
I said no. That I worked long hours and was still too young to have children. I couldn't meet her eyes. Because, you see, I had started to really, really like Wren.
I wanted to tell her that no, of course, she couldn't be my little girl. I lived alone in an apartment in a house that was chopped up into five sections. That I had mice and cockroaches. That there was a hole in my kitchen floor the size of a beach ball. That the heat sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. That I had exactly 39 dollars in my checking account and that this had to last me for two weeks. That this meant that I could either eat or buy gas. That I guessed I would be walking the four miles to the hospital every day. That I slept on a pull out bed that had a mattress about an inch thick.
But, did she have it any better? And what was her life like?
I kissed her forehead without thinking.
She pulled away from me and smiled hugely.
"YOU KISSED ON ME!" she said, delighted.
Was kissing that rare in her life?
I thought of her mother. Probably.
She reached up and ran her fingers over the bracelet on my arm, the one she had been toying with as we read.
"Would you like my bracelet?" I asked her.
She hesitated and then said, "No, she'll just be takin' it. You keep it."
Before I could answer, a man in a white fur coat and a panama hat came striding into the room. A tall, lean black man. He looked out of place and gaudy, a too bright rooster in a nest of us wrens and speckled chickens.
He looked over at Wren.
"Ain't yo Ma done yet??" he asked her.
She stiffened in my arms, her legs went straight out in front of her and she moved to the chair next to me, looked down and whispered no.
I said something like she would probably be out soon. He grunted and sat down. Didn't acknowledge either of us.
I picked up the book again, but Wren was looking away now. She wasn't here with me anymore. I don't know where she went, but it wasn't here.
And then Wren's mother came bustling out with the fat weary nurse behind her, reminding her that the meds in the white bag needed to be started NOW. Did she understand? NOW.
The fur coated man stood and said "What the fuck took so long? You should have been out and workin' hours ago!"
The woman ducked her head, said something about getting some "fixin' up" done but hey, it was all done now. All over.
She ducked under the man's arm and went out the door, not even looking at her daughter.
The man cocked his head at Wren. "Renisha," he said in a cold voice. "Get your ass up ...now...we's out of here."
Wren got up quickly, not looking at me and ran out the door.
I sat for a few moments, looking at the books surrounding me. Then, I went to find the ask the nurse about the woman, what had taken so long.
The nurse sighed. "She had syph, but that's common. What took so long was that she had abrasions up the wazoo. We also took an inside look at her stomach. She has enough twisting in her entrails to choke ten snakes. No telling what sort of shit has been going on in her bad self."
She sighed heavily and then added, shaking her head...
I excused myself to the restroom and sat on the toilet, head in my hands.
Maybe you could be my mom and I could be your little girl?
And I cried. Because Wren was not a bottom feeder. Because she deserved to hear the rest of the story of Ma and Pa and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie.
I left the clinic soon after and went back to my apartment. Made a cup of tea. And cried again.
I wish I could say that when I finally finished up training and was in a better position to help those children, that I did.
I didn't. I worked on call psych in the ER for a while. That will jade you. I worked as a grief counselor. I worked in a posh clinic for rich women who had nothing better to do with their time than come in and worry that they were unfulfilled, that their husbands were sleeping with their secretaries, that their children wouldn't get into that school.
I worked with HIV patients. Eventually, I burned out on that too. Ended up coming home and drinking myself into oblivion.
I landed here, with Bing and Liv. With a good free lance job, a happy family. A cute dog.
I wonder where Wren landed?
That question keeps me a liberal democrat. It keeps me from worrying that the bottom feeders will get too much free stuff. Because for every bottom feeder there is a Francie Nolan, an Ellen Foster, a Wren.
So, why is this one for you, Terroni? Because I think you have the right stuff. I think you will make a fine doctor. I think you will make a difference.
Just don't get jaded along the way, okay? Because it is easy to get tired of the women who come in and say things like, "My toe has been aching for weeks now...."
The constant runny nosed kids and their worried parents.
Be one of the good ones, okay?