GOING HOME AFTER 41 YEARS
"PRIVATE PROPERTY - No Trespassing," said the narrow street sign that was driven into the ground next to the large ten-foot high rock structure. It held the embedded 2-foot by 4 foot bronze plaque reading "The Children's Home Society of Florida - Children's Receiving Home."
Forty-one years have passed since I walked out of those gates or should I say “dragged out of those gates” by the back of my neck at 12 years of age. I was carted off to the Florida School for Boys Reform School at Marianna only to continue to have the holy hell beaten out of me for another year or two.
It is exactly 1:52 and six seconds in the p.m. on October 2, 2000 and here I stand, a shaking old man afraid to enter what was ‘once upon a time,’ my ‘home’ as a child. As I look between the large white gates and down the long road, I see that all the once beautiful rows of flowers are now dead and brown, because they too had been ignored, just like we children. The winding white, rock road leads up to many large new buildings - themselves built and strewn about the orphanage grounds in a disorderly fashion.
I continue to see the words "PRIVATE PROPERTY - No Trespassing" blinking off and on inside my mind as if it were giving me a final warning. I walked back to my car, started the engine and forced myself to turn the steering wheel to enter the place that I had known for 10 years as my home, and as a concentration camp for little children.
I look out of the corner of my eye and see that my wife is biting her lip and staring directly at me, but I pay her no mind. She is now nothing more than a stranger to me for I am once again, all alone and scared. I was again, just a little ‘orphan bastard’ about to die all over again, as I had done every second of every minute of every day during my young life for 3,622 days in this horrible place I knew as my home.
With my eyes wide open, like an animal waiting to be attacked, I drive very slowly down that same hard rock road where I had been dragged many a time ripping the skin off my arms, legs and back. I now see in front of me, the large oak tree where I was hung by my neck. Off to my left is the building where I was molested for the first time as a young boy. I also see the large azalea bush, where I smoked my first cigarette at age 11 and the dining hall building where I was forced to eat cereal with more bugs in it than a mathematics professor could ever possibly count in his entire lifetime.
As I stopped my car, there it sat directly in front of me. My large, white, brick dormitory building, where a scorpion bit me as I sat on the toilet, had been refused medical treatment and was sent to my room to wait to die. Yes, I had finally returned to the only place on the face of this earth that I had ever called ‘my home.’ Never taking my eyes off the upstairs window where I slept as a little boy, I got out of my car. I softly closed the car door and opened the small gate entering onto the walkway leading up to the building. "You had better not go in there," said my wife. I looked directly at her and said, "We are going in!"
We both walked up to the front door. I nervously reached out and opened it. I saw three women sitting in what used to be the sitting room for the house parents. I asked to speak to the director and was told by one of the women that she was in charge. She informed me that the building was now a day care center, which was being leased from the orphanage. I told her who I was, and that I would like to look around and possibly take some pictures. She was very kind and courteous, and had no objections. She told me to feel free to move around the building and take whatever pictures I wanted.
I looked down the hallway toward the clothing room and saw that the door was closed. It was the room where we children were beaten many a Saturday morning. I really did not want to go into that room so I walked over to what was once known as the telephone room and opened that door. I lost my breath as though someone had hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer. I could hardly breathe when I looked inside. It felt as though every drop of blood in my body rushed to my head. The wall dividing the telephone room and the clothing room had been removed and the room that I remembered as the torture chamber lay before me. I grabbed hold of the edge of the doorframe and tried to gain my composure, before my wife could notice what was happening to me. "There it is," I said breathing hard and staring straight ahead. "What?" she asked. "The room. The room where they beat on us all the time," I replied in a whisper. My heart was beating so hard I thought I would pass out. I reached over and quickly closed the door. Then I just stood staring at the floor. "Are you sure you want to do this?" asked my wife. "Yes, I want to see my room, especially my closet," I said shaking my head back and forth.
Slowly, we traveled up the stairs and down the dark hallway to the entrance of my old bedroom. I opened the door and saw several small children's desks sitting in the middle of the room. As we walked in, I closed the door behind me, turned around and saw my locker for the first time in 41 years. I raised my camera and snapped a picture. Part of the locker next to mine, which had belonged to my orphan brother, Wayne Evers had been cut away and a book shelf was installed in the lower section.
I walked back into the hallway and looked down at the floor - a floor, which I had waxed thousands of times between the ages of 7 and 10 years old. I shook my head, turned and walked into one of the two large bathrooms. There I saw that all the sinks had been removed from the wall and that the bare pipes were sticking out. I looked at the long row of stained toilets, raised my camera to my eye and just stood there motionless. Then I turned to my left just a little and took a picture of the large shower stall. I remember thinking and hoping with all my might that the picture I was about to take would never reveal, expose or capture any of the dirty little secrets that would forever be locked inside those filthy shower walls.
I walked out of the bathroom and continued down the hallway, until I reached the now-vacant matron's bedroom. I reached out, just as I had done as a little boy and pushed the door open. Once in the room, I pointed to show my wife where the matron had been standing when I saw a full-grown, naked woman for the first time in my life.
Judy and I walked down the back stairs, and I took her into the small kitchen area where the house parents had held my hand against the hot burner of the stove after accusing me of eating a piece of my birthday cake, before it was ready to be served. She stayed behind as I walked on down the hallway to the small dirty bathroom where I took a picture of the place where I had sat on the toilet as a little boy, was bitten by a scorpion and told by the matron to go to my room until I died.
I walked out into the hallway and stopped in front of my wife. "I would like for you to take a special picture of me," I said as I handed her the camera.
I slowly reached up and grabbed hold of a closed door, which was located on the wall to my right, and I opened it. My wife did not say a word. She knew that this was ‘the closet’ that I had written about in many of my stories. It was a scary place that I had spoken of many, many times - a small, dark horrible place where I had been locked as a child for many a day and night without food or water. When I entered the closet, I immediately looked up at the ceiling to see if I could find the trap door where I had escaped one time through the attic in search of water, which was located in a toilet at the other end of the building. But the escape hatch was no longer there. I stuck my head out of the closet door and tried to speak, but I couldn't. At that very moment, my wife snapped the picture.
I walked out of the closet and looked down at the wall where my little shoes had been knocked out of my hand, because I used the bathroom in them after being locked in the closet for two days. I did not take a picture of that wall, because there was no need. Stored in my memory forever and ever will always be the thought of what human waste tastes like. But even worse than that for me was to remember what it felt like to be forced down on your hands and knees by the back of my little neck, like an animal and to eat part of what fell from my shoes - all before being sent off to my Grade 2 class at Spring Park Elementary School.
We walked outside and I stopped to show my wife the exact spot where the house parent had cut off the possum’s tail and made me put it, all warm and wiggly into my pocket, as I screamed and yelled in terror. Then he made me watch him as he tortured the poor animal, cut off its head and rolled it down the driveway, as he stood there laughing at me.
I walked over to the ‘Arena’ area where many a young boy was made to fight for sport, as well as house parent entertainment. Young 6, 7 and 8-year-old crying little boys looked upon as if they were gladiators, fighting for nothing more than the right to be liked by an adult - fighting until they were so bloody that they could not even be recognized that evening at the dining room table.
I walked to the edge of the circle of trees that surrounded the arena, placed my arm up on a pine tree and told my wife to take one final picture. Then we walked back to our car and my wife sat down in the seat. I turned toward her and told her that I would return in a few minutes, that there was one more picture I would like to have. I walked over to the head office of the orphanage and entered the building.
When I walked into the front office, everything stopped and all eyes were upon me. Their stares let me know that I was an outsider. “Can I help you,” asked a woman rather sternly. "I was wondering if I might take a picture of the old dining room," I asked. "We don't have a dining room here," snapped the large, well-dressed woman. "I am talking about the dining room that I ate in when I was a child living here at the orphanage," I replied. "This is an office now and there are confidential documents all over the place. We cannot just allow anyone off the street to come in here and start taking pictures," she said as she placed her hands on her hips and stared directly at me.
Her tone of voice went right to the core of me and it was so familiar. Just another one of those horrible sounds that had been embedded in the depths of my little memory by these same people almost 50 years ago. That sharp, course tone was used only by old ‘bitches’ to let all outsiders know that they (the orphanage) are the ‘supreme power’ and total ‘rulers’ of all in this domain. They ensure that you knew you are intruding into their private, secret space, and they immediately and instinctively try to put you in your place by somewhat demoralizing you right off the bat. For you, like the children in their custody are really no more to them than a worthless piece of crap. Had I worn a silk suit and tie, things might have been a bit more pleasant. Then I might have been ‘someone’ with money in his pocket or had some value financially.
I looked up at the wall in the hallway and saw the portrait of Daddy Fagg - a large picture of a man whose eyes always followed you no matter where you stood in the room. It was a fancy gold-framed photo that always hung in the main piano room of the orphanage. He was the gentleman who had started the orphanage many years ago and I can bet that he would turn over in his grave, if he knew what all had happened to hundreds upon hundreds of innocent little kids, all because of his dream to build a ‘safe haven’ for unwanted, unloved children.
I raised my camera and pointed it toward the picture. "Any problem with me taking a picture of a picture," I asked as the flash went off. The fat old thing just about fell off her broom. Her facial muscles tightened, she gritted her teeth and said, "You had best come back some other time when someone is here who can help you." I reached into my pocket, pulled out one of my business cards and handed it to her. She looked at the card, which had a picture of the cover of my book "ORPHAN" on the front and then she looked at me with both eyes open wide. I looked at her, smiled, pressed my lips together and rocked my head back and forth just a little, as if to say "screwed up, didn't ya." “Lady,” I thought, “I am about to bring the wrath of God down on this damn place, for what it was years ago and for what it still is today.” I tipped my hat, turned, walked out the office door and got into my car. My wife and I did not speak as we drove back out of those big, white gates and we never looked back.
After all these years, I had finally returned to visit the only place I had ever known as ‘my home.” It is still the same horrible, terrible, abusive, uncaring, selfish and unloving place that it was 41 years ago when it first began 'manufacturing' children - children, now adults, who are totally incapable of feeling love or affection toward others. Innocent little human beings so full of years of loneliness and emptiness that they might one day run out onto a school yard or skating rink or office building with gun in hand and do the unthinkable.
An organization calling itself, "The Children's Home Society of Florida," who for 50 years, like many other orphanages have fooled everyone, including Dave Thomas of Wendy's Hamburgers, who was also an orphan out of millions of dollars. A very large group of people drawing very nice salaries, who cannot stop hob-knobbing and/or patting each other on the back long enough to truly see the terrible damage they caused to children for more than 50 long years.
This organization might possibly unknowingly continue to secretly and silently turn out sad and lonely little children for the State of Florida - children who may not be orphans, but who are confined and are being treated in the same manner that we were. They are children who are just waiting for their chance to get out of that –prison-style’ orphanage and get even with the rest of the world for not caring about or speaking up for them.
It is amazing to me how an organization such as CHS has the power, facilities and financing to do so much good in the world. However, many years ago, they must have lost track of their true purpose and meaning. CHS has become a large child abuse business center whose sole purpose is to ‘survive’ at any cost. The children have become nothing more than secondary items on a shelf at Seven Eleven.
The sad part of it all is that The Children's Home Society does not realize all the damage they are doing to children today, much less all the damage they caused to the hundreds of children in their care in the past. Their mind set is that these children and the ones they cared for in the past would not have been loved anyway, so what is wrong with doing the next best thing: having well fed, well housed, well clothed, but unloved children. This so-called accomplishment is not something to pat itself on the back for. Maybe I am looking at it in the wrong light. It just never seem right to me when I heard that a movie star held a fund raiser for abused children that cost them $150,000 and all they actually raised for the children was $25,000. Something is wrong somewhere and it doesn't take too much orphan smarts to figure that out. Yes, I guess you might say $25,000 is better than nothing at all, but when a little child is scared and unloved in America, being naked, cold and hungry seems so unimportant to it when he or she lies in bed crying every night. At least being cold, hungry and ragged on the outside still lets the world see how they really feel on the inside.