What you have just read are the memories that are inside my head. They are there, like it or not each morning when I wake up as a full-grown man.
Between the ages of five (1950) and fifteen (1960), which is approximately 3,652 days total, you have only read about 60 of those days. That still leaves 3,592 days, which are unaccounted for. These are the days that were far worst than the beatings and the sexual abuse. These are the stories of the loneliness and a rountine that never varied.
The following single story accounts for each of those 3,652 unaccounted days.
THE 3,652 DAY STORY
Every child in the orphanage, male and female, age 3 or 13 (it made no difference) got up from their bed, dresses as quickly as they possibly could and immediately lined up two abreast. They then began marching to the dining room across the orphanage grounds.
Once there, they stand behind their assigned chair saying not a word, until a little dinner bell rings. Everyone then closes their eyes and together they repeat, "Father, we thank thee for this food. AMEN."
They all sit down making sure that their chair does not scrape the floor or they will be sent away without breakfast. Each child eats as fast as he or she can and as much bread as they can in the allotted time. When the bell rings for the second time, all silverware is immediately placed down on the table. The children once again stand behind their chairs, until they are excused.
They stand in line once more to collect their nickel for milk at school, as well as their brown paper bag lunch with a sandwich inside. They then march to school talking with no one, unless they are spoken to. At 2:30 p.m., they walk back to the orphanage to rake leaves and pine straw, clean bathrooms, wash dishes, pots and pans, and wax floors.
At 5 p.m., they line up once more and march two abreast to the dining room for supper, again eating as fast as they can. Then they march back to their dormitories to watch television (maybe) for 30 minutes and then off to bed they go at 7 p.m.
On Saturday, they work cleaning walls, toilets, sinks and showers. If you are one of the lucky ones, you get to play for an hour or two with the one roller skate we had. However, that was generally taken up with a one-hour nap, so the house parent would get a break from watching us do chores.
On Sundays, if you were not on punishment, you would be allowed to attend Sunday school and church. However, if you moved one wrong muscle, you would never get off restriction. Worse yet, you would be beaten and locked in a dark closet for at least a day without food or water.
Even to this day, 45 years later, I will never forget that going to church as a child meant having to be ‘so good’ that you were even afraid to breathe or cough.
These are the other 3,592 stories that fit between the other 60 stories you have read. This story was the hardest one for me to tell, because these 3,592 stories are really the saddest ones of all. These are the stories and the days that actually killed us inside as little children; not the 60 stories of abuse that you read.
Never once did we ever go to the mall, a department store, restaurant or movie with a friend. Never once did we ever have a friend come over to spend the night with us. Never once did any of us orphans ever use a telephone, open a refrigerator, go to a play or attend a sporting event at school. Never once did we ever listen to a radio, a record player or hold the hand of anyone of the opposite sex. Never once did we ever laugh at a cartoon without being slapped across the face for making noise.
Now at 55, I have never known and will never know what it feels like to have done those wonderful things as a child. The only pride that I ever felt as a little 6 or 7-year-old boy was brought about because I could clean toilets better than anyone else could. OH GOD! How proud I was and how big I could smile when I heard those wonderful words: "Boy, can that little bastard clean a toilet!"
Being called a "Little Bastard" never hurt my feelings. I knew that being called ‘the word,’ somebody big and all grown up was going to make me feel good inside, even if it was only because I was good at cleaning the dormitory toilets. Many of these words are mine and some are taken from various things I have read throughout the years. All put together, they pretty well express what life in an orphanage is like.
In the Children's Home Society in Jacksonville, Florida, most of the children were sad, lonely, tired and overworked. The staff was uninspired and hateful at best. The children were more like little worker bees in a hive, rather than human beings. Their donated toys were all locked in closets and rarely seen by any child. The children's needs went untreated, because their working hours conflicted with their work responsibilities, which came first.
One stranger after another came and went through the years. I know that some people might have cared, but there were so many of them who came and went. Many confused looking little faces, voices and horrible screams in the night, year after year and not one face, not one voice, not one hug, not one cuddle was ever for me or any of my orphan brothers and sisters.
I was just a six-year-old boy when whatever feelings God gave to me began to die. I have not one memory of laughter, warmth, hugs or cuddles. All I can remember is being completely alone and feeling as if I were a young boy being sent to prison, because I had nowhere else to go. I was alone and afraid of the world, and I still feel the same way today, as a full-grown man.
As you may have read above, I was sent to prison at age 21. I was in prison for several years and believe me I spent some time in some really rough and tough prison systems. However, when I wake up each morning and think about my past life, I rarely remember or think about going to prison, unless I see something about incarceration on television. But I do remember being in that horrible orphanage each morning when I awake. It is very hard, but I do my best to close my ears and cover my face, so that my 5-year-old granddaughter will never know I hate the sound of the cartoons she is watching.
As I have said many times, "I do not hate the orphanage for what they did to me as a child. That is the past and there is absolutely nothing I can do about what happened to me. What I do hate are the things they did to me as a child, which make me feel the way that I do today as a grown man, very sad and very lonely."
Some people say, "Just get over it."
I think I have gotten over it, at least the best I can. I entered society as a free man on February 6, 1969. I had no one, nothing or anywhere on the face of this earth to go. That was 32 years ago. I have never hurt anyone, nor have I been in trouble again. I am a father, grandfather and a good friend to many people who know me.
I do believe that a ‘good man’ with a ‘good heart’ can make himself a good, useful citizen in society, just by using his mind. But I do not think that a man can ever go back in time, no matter how smart or intelligent he is and make himself become ‘a happy little boy.’ Not after being beaten, abused, molested and worked to death during the most important 10 years of his young life.
As a child, it was as if I have been locked in a dark room for 10 years without any light. Once I became a man, I was able to turn on my own light and do as I wish. However, for the remainder of my life when I lie in my bed at night and look back upon my childhood, I will remember nothing but the truth. That is that dark, cold and lonely room. No matter how hard I try to make that room have some glimmer of light, it will forever remain dark. Even if I lie to myself each day, nothing is going to change, because even a lie cannot turn a cold, dark, lonely room into Disneyland.
At night, I lie in bed remembering ‘the good ole days’ as a little boy and thinking about whatever I was able to capture deep inside my head. Deep in the memory department there is no mom and dad, no uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmas or grandpas, no sisters, brothers, hugs or cuddles, no happy Christmas, happy Thanksgivings, happy Easter or Happy News Years Day, no plays, sports, movies, malls or stores, no music, no love, no warmth, no refrigerator with food, no new clothes, radio, toys or pets. There is nothing inside my head except the sadness I felt everyday for 10 years in that lonely Jacksonville, Florida orphanage.
I am not saying that I am ‘unhappy.’ What I am saying is that I do not feel ‘happy.’ I feel that I am lost somewhere in between the two and I think it is because I have nothing in my childhood to compare ‘true happiness’ with.
I am sure that an American ‘Prisoner of War’ will tell you what a horrible toll it takes on an adult to be locked away for five years. I'm trying to tell you what it does to a 5-year-old child to be locked away for 10 years. I do not think anyone had best be telling an American POW to, “Just get over it.”
Roger Dean Kiser, Sr.