Orphan Survival Stories Index |
My husband told me to tell you, “That you better not use his name in that damn book of yours," she yelled at me over the phone. I just stood there very quiet, not knowing what to say.
The last time I saw Robert was when we were young. We were kids about 11 years old and were living at the Children's Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida. I think the last time I actually saw him, he’d been locked in the closet by the television room for almost 50 hours without food or water. I remember walking by the closet and hearing him crying inside.
"Are you ok?" I asked.
"I'm really hungry and thirsty," he said through the door.
"I ain't got nothin’ to eat this time, Robert," I said.
Generally, we boys would sneak whoever was locked in the closet the crusts from off our bread or toast. We did that if we ate in the dining room and if the matron was not watching us too closely.
"Can you see if you can find me something to eat?" he begged.
"I looked in the garbage can in the garbage room, but there was nothing there, not even papers," I replied.
"I gotta have something good or I'm gonna die soon."
"I'll be back!"
I ran down the hallway and out the back door of the dormitory. I ran as fast as I could over to the six-foot-high fence that divided the orphanage and the Spring Park School playground. Generally, there were "normal kids" playing on the baseball diamond. Sometimes, when they had food they would share it with us orphans. When I got to the fence, I saw several boys sitting on one of the swings talking with some other young boys.
"Hello, guys," I hollered.
"What do you want?" asked one of the boys.
"Do you guys have any food? Like extra food you can spare for Robert?"
"Beat it ass hole!" yelled the bigger boy cupping his hands around his mouth like a bullhorn. "BEAT IT, ASS HOLE!" he said again.
One of the boys sitting on the ground beside him came walking toward the fence.
"I got a fireball jawbreaker you can have," he said smiling at me.
"Thanks a whole lot," I told him.
He pulled the jawbreaker out of his pocket, unwrapped it, stuck it in his mouth and began to suck on it. Then he blew it at me as hard as he could and ran back over to the swings where he and the other boys started laughing. I tried to reach through the wire fence to get the fireball, but my hand would not fit through the hole. The boy, who had spit the jawbreaker at me, jumped up and came running over to the fence. He took his foot and stomped the red candy into the ground. Then he twisted it into the dirt with the toe of his shoe, making the boys laugh even harder.
All the boys got up together and began walking away, following the larger boy. The larger boy started singing, "Orphans are as bad as niggers. Orphans are as bad as niggers."
As the boys disappeared across the school playground, I climbed up onto the high fence and jumped to the other side. I used my hands and dug the fireball out of the dirt. I placed it in my pocket for safekeeping and climbed back over the fence. Then I ran over to the water hose and washed off the candy, which finally turned all white in color. I checked around to make sure that the matron was not in the area, then walked back to the closet door and called out to Robert.
"I got you something to eat," I whispered.
I heard no response whatsoever. I took the candy out of my pocket and tried to slip it underneath the door, but it was just too big to go through the crack.
"Robert, it won't go under the door," I said.
"Can you bite it and make it in pieces?" he asked.
”Are you OK?” I asked him, but he did not reply.
I took off my shoe and placed the fireball candy on the floor. I hit it with my heel, breaking it into a million pieces. Then I brushed it under the closet door with my hand. I could hear Robert licking the floor trying to eat what was left of the candy. I just walked away and that was the last time I ever saw him.
"Just a minute, Robert wants to talk to you," she said.
"Roger, I don't want to read your orphan book and I don't want my name in that book either," he said.
I did not respond. I was just so shocked at what he said to me.
"Did you hear me?" he asked.
"I heard you, Robert."
"DAMN IT, Roger. Don't you understand? They sent me to Vietnam and they MADE ME KILL PEOPLE!" he screamed. "I can't go back through those years again. I cannot go back into that damn orphanage closet again. DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?" he yelled again.
"I do understand, Robert," I said gently as I hung up the phone.
I wonder if that fireball-jawbreaker was really worth having to kill another human being. Having to kill for something called, "Freedom." Something that Robert and most of us orphans never were allowed to feel, not even for a moment, before being sent away and asked to kill for something that we knew absolutely nothing about.
It really hurts me that Robert's name did not appear in my book when it went into bookstores in December of 2000. I write these stories because I want the world to know exactly what it is that we all remember about being an orphan living in America.
I can only be thankful to God that my orphan brother, Robert, did not have to die for that boy who gave me the jawbreaker. I think that Robert having to lick the floor that day was payment enough for any American.
Roger Dean Kiser, Sr.
"Orphan, A True Story of Abandonment, Abuse and Redemption"