I wake up a lot later in a strange room. A room where there is nothing but electric light and white, where women all in white wander come take care of me.
I'm in a hospital.
Bayonne hospital, children's section. Year 1966.
When the nurses and doctors talk to me, their voices are as white as the walls.
Mom and Dad come see me every day, dad before going to work in the afternoon, Mom later. Mom talks to me for a long time, touching me. Her voice is not white like the nurses. I forget all the white when she's here. I want her to stay here until I fall asleep.
But a nurse — the same, always the same — always repeats the same thing at the same time: "visits are over/visits are over."
It's a steel sound. It's a factory sound.
It is the alarm that scares even the one who scares me — sometimes. Mom, who scares me so often. But not now, when she is just a mom.
Not now, no, Mom, who knows she has to leave me. And that there is no recourse. We're not going to let her stay with her child.
First, our family doctor, Dr C., believes it’s a peach skin poisoning.
But I lose consciousness a second time, this time not in school.
We’re playing cards on my building front staircase ant it happens. My friends Estelle and Nicole run to tell my mother. Then it's the ambulance, the oxygen tent. (And the diagnosis is another kind of “poisoning,” an electric one: epilepsy.) That’s what they will tell me later. For at that time, of course, I am not there, I am in a world where everything had disappeared.
(Is it why my moments of absence, the very ones that appear to frighten adults, these moments of absence bring me to another level of relaxing and almost mystical reality---some form of ecstasy? I am talking with words beyond an 8-year-old vocabulary, but I believe I am having a deep experience when I am that young because of petit mal. I can only sense it, not explain it at that age.
Is this why solitude, that silence, will never frighten me but, on the contrary, it will be this homeland constantly sought, with this hymn inaudible, without sound, yet forming the most sublime of music?)
But there are all sorts of absences, all sorts of silences. I am still eight years old, but I will understand it soon.
Here, in this factory of sick children, the color is absent, and the nurses and doctors are faceless. Their voices look like nothing, neither to the sky, nor to the games, nor to the grass, nor to the rust on the railroad tracks. They come and go with the same blouse where the shape is absent. Their step does not get along, they all float like ghosts. The only one that strikes like a cold and dry hammer is Madame-visits-are-over:
She takes a certain pleasure, repeating the same thing, every day, at the same time. She may be waiting to see the tears of the moms that she forces to leave with the voice of an old alarm clock, the same time in the afternoon, too early in the afternoon, pitilessly demolishing the dreams that the maternal tenderness would last a just little longer. These incessant separations and reunions, kissing and leaving, kissing and leaving, tic, toc, tic, toc, tic, toc, what are they for a mother and child?
No doubt she knows, that nurse-steel, who enjoys her power. Her pleasure is white, like salt on wounds.
I'm dumped in this colorless bed. I exist, but so little. There is nothing on the walls, no image, just surfaces that say nothing. When a nurse or caregiver comes to take care of me, I smile, I try to talk to her. But I'm not getting anywhere. They don't like me here, for sure.
I imagine that, you think? That’s why I ma writing to you, so you can tell me.
One day I find out there are two kids, brother and sister, not far from my room. So, I decide to go and see them. We talk, we laugh, we play a little. Finally, I find a little happiness, a little bit of color, in this factory.
But the end comes soon. A white woman suddenly runs out and yell at me. She tells me to leave the scene right away and never again, never come back.
So, I'm going back to my room. And I hear them laughing, all alone, without me, as if I had never come and visited them. As if I had never existed.
I'm looking at the window. Because I can't look outthe window. It's way too high. It is only a grey square on large white rectangles. I see an eye that won’t tell me what it sees.
One day, a miracle happens, they start giving me some attention. First, a nurse comes in and tells me I have to be very brave. She will give me a shot. I'm told to lie on my belly. I'm docile because nurses and doctors don't seem the same. They seem to see a little girl when they look at me.
It's the first time.
And then I feel the horrible pain, the one that follows the sting in the back.
But I promised to be brave and I say nothing.
And then, if this pain is atrocious, it won't be the worst I'm going to suffer in this hospital.
The other pain does not attack my back and does not want me to scream. The other pain ignores my body.
The other pain won’t go away.
It starts with a simple chamber pot.
They put it small it and white in the middle of the grey floor and close the door.
They leave me alone and standing with a chamber pot, high walls, and a window that says nothing.
This is the first time during my stay I am not being brought to the bathroom.
I know two things. Three.
That I am tired.
That I am scared.
That I have to hit my target.
And I'm tired.
I am not sure I have done this before.
Did I mention I was tired? And that it’s all so white?
And that I have diarrhea?
When the robots in white come back, they call me all sorts of names. They show how disgusted they are. I'm a repulsive little girl. Apparently, in the hospital, they have never seen anything like it.
So, I curl up.
I want to disappear in the dust.
And now, now that I am thinking, now that I am writing about this, there I something that I want to do.
I want to grab that little girl’s hand, and then walk toward the white things and throw my shit in their face!
I was seven and this was the day of my first communion.