Monday, December 19, 2016


The hospital had stopped the tradition of hiring a professionally trained and ordained chaplain a decade earlier.  It was about when the idea of everyone being Christian (except for a few Jews) just kind of faded out.  Patients began to be from the Middle East or India or the South Sea Islands or from tribes in the high lands of South America.  Some of them were untouched by Christian missionaries.  Also, the nuns were getting out of the hospital business.  The religious dimension of hospitals faded.

So now the hospital had discovered that though the chaplains had been very useful in keeping things calmed down, not having a chaplain meant that they could sidestep moral issues without being monitored internally.  So the practice became to pull in from the local community whatever religious person seemed appropriate.  That meant no Christian Science practitioners, but few patients belonged to that group and those who did were not anxious to have their leaders know about it.  The administrators could call a list of helpful clergy who never asked for money.  The ones who wanted money were never called and they appreciated the omission.

As the town grew and became more assorted — and deteriorated in some parts — the patients became less and less mainstream.  Victims of abuse and extreme poverty began to show up.  Not that all victims of abuse were impoverished.  For instance, there were often boys who were badly hurt by prosperous fathers who were alcoholic or half-deranged or just frustrated by their failure.  Men who knew it was safer to beat a son than a wife.  When these boys showed up, it was often in the hands of police.  And the boys were often freaked.

Some secular groups would help, for instance the Metropolitan Community Church, whose members were gay, would try to support males beaten because they were gay.  Feminists would supply a companion for women who had been raped and who had to endure the equally invasive rape kit procedures needed and the identity-challenging interviews.

This little boy I’m thinking of was brought to the hospital by an older boy who found him in the street.  (“What were you boys doing in the street so late at night?”)  When the older boy disappeared, the hurt boy became a problem, screaming until he was given a shot.  He had head injuries, a green-stick break in one arm, bruises everywhere, and scrapes on shoulders, elbows, knees and feet from being dragged on cement.  A tooth was missing and the inside of his mouth torn.

Someone called the man who came to help such boys.  It may have been one of the orderlies, or one of the cops, or the doctor who was known to be sympathetic.  The man came, was greeted by everyone because he had to be called so often, and sat down quietly by the boy’s bed.  White-haired, he had glasses with some kind of attachment.  He wore a white t-shirt, jeans, and sturdy shoes, because he limped a little.  If it was cold, he wore a gray hoodie like the kids.  No tattoos, no piercings, no jewelry except a wedding band.

When the boy woke up, before he could begin screaming again, the man talked to him softly, not asking him questions but just starting a discussion of what it means to be attacked, to have your internal organs torn and scrambled, to have your private openings — including mouth — ripped and contaminated.  The man knew because he remembered, not because he read it in a book.  The boy’s eyes began to focus.  Some of the terrible defensive knotting began to relax.

The staff also began to relax a little.  They had been afraid, partly because of the pictures in their heads, partly because they were so enraged that such a thing would happen, partly because the way they dealt with a job where they saw a lot of misery was by just not letting themselves feel anything at all, not even happiness.  None of them had had formal training about such abuse.

They had to do things that hurt the boy.  It felt to him like a repeat of the rape, and he was not wrong.  Society will rape children “for their own good”.  The man stayed with this boy even when the cops came.  He seemed calm, but the staff had seen him go ballistic when he saw injustice.  When they heard the boy begin to weep, they peeked in, and saw that the man was holding the boy’s hand, the one without the IV needle.

When the boy slept at intervals, the man used his smart phone to text a lot.  The town knew, though some pretended that they didn’t know, that he had a tribe that occupied a house that was meant to be safe and therefore had no address.  It had a low fence because of their dogs, not to keep the boys in because they didn’t want to leave.  If the mood around town was hostile, the fence could be electrified.  They thought he might be texting something mysteriously underground, something political, but in fact he was making sure someone did the laundry.

Probably the person in town who knew the tribe best was the librarian because some of them read a lot.  They carried cameras with them everywhere and sometimes the librarian thought of having a show of their photos, but she knew how to access them online and knew that if some of her patrons saw them, they would panic and punish.  Anyway, the man thought it was a good idea not to attract attention.

Online the tribe became a nation, interacting with boys across most continents and a lot of islands.  They talked about abuse, about falling in love, about drugs, and deep existential issues like why are we alive?  All the time they talked, they were growing up, until one day they were men and they left.  Wherever they went, they carried their attitudes with them.  Sometimes they wondered whether they should be more belligerent, but the time wasn’t right yet.

In the hospital the man sat quietly with the boy.  He never tried to figure out what number each boy was — there were simply too many of them.  But he never forgot the ones who died.  He was not alone in a virtual sense.  

In reality he sometimes wished the hospital vending machines sold better food.

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