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Doris: The Girl Nobody Loved
By Doris Van Stone, Erwin Lutzer
Moody PublisherCopyright © 1979 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
Mother, please come home
I walked quietly to the window and stared into the darkness. My eyes followed the headlights of each passing car. I sat on my brown wooden stool, my hands tucked under my legs, trying desperately to keep warm.
Hours passed. Finally I saw the shadowy form of my mother turn the corner and come up the walk. By the time she reached our second-floor apartment, I had groped through the dark room to meet her.
I hope she'll be glad to see me. But as usual she brushed past me and gathered my sister Marie into a hug. "Honey, how are you?" she cooed. I stood, my hands stuffed in the pockets of my faded coveralls, waiting for her to love me. But she pushed me away. "What do you want?" she barked.
"Would you hug me?" I asked timidly.
"You get out of here!" she barked back.
I was only six. But scenes from that apartment are etched indelibly on my mind. I remember nothing bright. Dark woodwork trimmed the drab walls. A brown overstuffed chair, a bench, and a small rug furnished the front room. The next room was bare except for a bed, shared by Marie and me, that pulled down from the closet.
Each morning my mother left early and was gone until late at night. I can still see her—jet black hair framing her perfectly oval face. Her brown eyes turned stony as she shouted, "Doris, take good care of your sister. And remember, don't turn on the lights!"
Marie was a year younger than I, and my mother was anxious for me to understand one thing clearly: if anything happened to Marie, I would be blamed. The responsibility rested with me.
Marie and I spent our days in the apartment alone. We looked forward to the weekends when Mother would fix us something to eat. On those mornings she slept late, and then the three of us ate together in silence. But most of the time our menu consisted of the only food a six-year-old can fix: peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. I could reach the jar in the pantry. Holding the jar between my knees, I twisted and scraped with a knife to mix the oil and peanut butter. "Don't spill the oil," Mother had warned. If I did, I quickly mopped it up with toilet paper. I spread the peanut butter, gouging holes in the bread. If we had no jelly, we gulped it down as best we could.
Occasionally we had milk, but usually we drank water. We had no tin tumblers, only jelly-jar glasses. Having been whipped for breaking one of them, I learned caution. I pulled a chair up to the porcelain sink set the glass under the spout, then turned on the water. With both hands, I passed the glass to Marie, then climbed down.
Our stomachs often growled with hunger. Once I bravely walked to the store, hoping the grocer would give me some food. When he said no, I promised that my mother would pay the next day. I learned that only people with money could have food. Reluctantly, I walked home to the apartment empty-handed—and hungry.
Each evening waiting for my mother, I felt alone, responsible. I was terrified that something awful would happen to me or my sister. The darkness of our dingy apartment fed my childish imagination. What if Mother doesn't come home?
One evening we heard the door open on the first floor of the apartment building. I grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen, opened the door of our apartment, and saw two drunks standing at the bottom of the stairway. Clutching the knife till my knuckles turned white, I yelled, "Get out! I've got a knife!" with all the fierceness I could muster. Marie hid behind me. They laughed, then left a few moments later.
When I reported the terror to Mother, she shrugged. "So? They didn't come in, did they?" Then she asked the only question that mattered. "Did you have the lights on?"
That's why I put my chair next to the window. The car lights moving along 34th Street in Oakland, California, were more friendly than the haunting darkness of the cold apartment. I was afraid to fall asleep without Mother there. Sometimes Marie would cry out, terrified by strange noises. I would calmly put my arm around her shoulders, telling her not to worry. Inside I was terrified. Night after night I sat in the dark and worried about what Mother would do to me if Marie became sick or was hurt.
When Mother did arrive late in the evening she didn't speak to me but always quickly went to find Marie, who usually had fallen asleep on the couch. "Marie is a pretty girl—she's not like you," my mother would often say. She tucked Marie into bed and kissed her good night. I was on my own.
Without changing my clothes—I had no pajamas—I crawled under the covers next to my sister. Not once did my mother hug me or let me sit on her lap.
Occasionally, my mother would bring a gift for Marie, but never for me. Our clothes were given to us by our friends next door. Our dresses always seemed to be either too small or too big; our trousers were worn bare at the knee, and our shoes pinched our toes. Anything new was given to Marie.
When Mother was home I hid my fears. I would crawl behind a couch where I could sob undetected. Sometimes when my stomach ached, I sat doubled over on the floor. If Mother found me crying, she would spank me.
Late one evening I awoke and Marie was not in bed beside me. I called for Mother, who had come home earlier, but I received no answer. Frantically, I searched the four rooms of our dark apartment. Thinking I had been abandoned, I began to scream. I crouched in a corner crying hysterically. Perhaps an hour passed. Suddenly I heard someone on the stairs. Then I saw Mother at the door with Marie in her arms. She had left me without telling me, and she never explained her disappearance.
One afternoon my mother took Marie and me to visit a friend. Marie sat on my mother's lap while the woman admired my sister's beautiful features. Then, in a not too subtle reference to me, the woman added, "But it's too bad about the other one."
What is so different about me? Why am I so ugly? Can't anyone love me? Dejected, I slid off my chair and squatted in a corner. My emotions imprisoned me; no one spoke to me, and I did not care to speak. Even this woman regretted that I had been born.
Perhaps I can make Mother love me, I thought. But whenever I put my arm around her, she would push me away. If I tried to climb onto her lap, she would brush me aside like one might do to a friendly but unwanted dog. "Don't do that," she would snap. Then she would add, "And don't call me Mother. Call me Laura."
At the age of six I knew I was unwanted. A disgrace, a burden, a nuisance—I didn't know the meaning of those words, but I felt every ounce of their weight. I'm ugly, and it's my fault. If only I could do something about it!
The days dragged on hopelessly in dreary succession. Marie and I seldom laughed. Mostly we just sat and wondered what was wrong in our world.
A few hundred feet from our apartment was an empty lot where my sister and I played. We had no toys, but used odd objects such as sticks or stones to represent anything our imaginations desired. There we would forget our fears, but not for long.
We sensed that other children had fun. They were happy and carefree, but we found it difficult to enjoy ourselves. Our fleeting fun times could not erase the hurt we knew so well. Something was wrong in our home. We found it hard to be friendly or smile.
My father came to the apartment perhaps three or four times. Although I recall little about him from those visits, I remember his saying how cute Marie was. She was his favorite, too.
One small shaft of light penetrates the dark memories of those days—the corner drugstore. I went as often as I dared. "Hi there, Clara Bow," the druggist would greet me, gracing me with a nickname. "Want a soda?"
I would say no, for I had no money. But his eyes twinkled with kindness as he lifted me onto a revolving stool and gave me a strawberry soda. Please see beneath my shabby clothes and see how afraid I am. I hurt! Although he couldn't see that deeply, he gave me my first experience of human love.
Those trips to the drugstore soon ended. My mother made a decision that radically affected our future.
Our days in the apartment were over.CHAPTER 2
"Children, your father and I can't take care of you, so you're going to a home you'll enjoy," Mother told us as she and her friend loaded Marie and me onto a streetcar. We rode a while, then walked. Mother held our hands. I carried our few tattered clothes in a paper bag. We had no toys.
As we walked, I saw a large, gold-shingled building. Two-storied and Ushaped, it looked huge to me. A palm tree encircled by geraniums towered in the courtyard. Through a chain-link fence I saw some boys playing. Must be a school, I thought.
"Good-bye," Mother said without a tear. "I'll see you." She didn't say when.
Both of the women walked toward the door. The sadness on the neighbor lady's face reflected her concern for us. (I secretly hoped she would visit us sometime, but she never did.) Mother paused, her hand on the doorknob. "Maybe you won't have to stay here too long." Then the door closed, and we were left alone. It was as if Mother had dropped off a package and never remembered to come back and pick it up.
We had arrived just before lunch, so we were taken to a dining room where about sixty-five children sat at long tables.
"Doris," the matron said, "you'll learn that you do not talk at the table. If you want anything, raise your hand."
At that first meal we were served beets. "I don't like beets," I told the matron.
"You'll learn to like them," she informed me. "You won't be dismissed from the table until they're eaten."
But I was determined that no beets would go down my throat. I sat and sat. But I didn't touch the beets.
"Doris, eat your beets," the matron reminded. I didn't answer. But I didn't eat. Finally the other children were dismissed. I still sat. At midafternoon the matron took away my chair.
Eventually the other children came in for dinner. I was given nothing, since I had not eaten my beets. When the other children had finished dinner, they left. I sat until 9 P.M. Again they took away my chair. I stood, but I didn't eat the beets. I thought I was winning, but a matron soon came with a long, thin paddle and gave me a beating I'll never forget.
I was marched upstairs and shown the dressing room. Each child had a cubby hole called a clothes press with a hook for clothes and a shelf above for bath towels. Shoes were placed beneath. The other children were already in bed, so I dressed alone. The matron pointed out my cot, one of twenty lining the room. There were no rugs except a runner down the center aisle. It began to dawn on me that this was a strange school.
"Will my mother come back?" I asked.
"Oh, she'll come to see you," the matron said, giving no definite promise.
That first night I did something that I repeated every night for the next seven years: I cried myself to sleep.
After a few days I began to inquire of the other children. "What do you call this place?"
"It's an orphanage," they answered. "An orphanage." A big girl with dark hair told me solemnly, "This is a place you go when nobody wants you."
Our mother had not bothered to tour the orphanage. Miss Ward, a stout woman with gray hair and blue eyes, introduced us to the matron, Miss Gabriel. Miss Gabriel showed us the playroom, with toys to be shared by all the children. Along one wall was a long row of wooden boxes with lids for each child to store private possessions. Mine would be the first one in the corner. But I had nothing to put in my box.
Sometimes during playtime I would ask another child if I could keep a toy in my box. But she would say, "No. It's mine!" So I acquired some things of my own. If I found an unbroken crayon, I would slip it in my box when no one was looking. Or if I was coloring a picture, I would put it in my box so no one would mess it up.
I always stacked my things carefully so that, if necessary, I could leave in a hurry. Mother said we might not have to stay too long. Perhaps we'll leave any minute, I thought.
At first I was a loner. I spent my free time sitting on a long, green slat bench, rocking back and forth, wondering how I could get out. My feet dangled to the floor. I tucked my hands under my legs, just as I had done at the window of the apartment. When will Mother return?
How I wished I could be back in the familiar apartment. Children would ask me to play with them, but I refused. / won't he here long, I assured myself.
While living in the apartment, I had been given a red sweater with tan trim and wooden buttons. Now I wore it every day, buttoning my security around me. Miss Gabriel could scarcely persuade me to part with it on washdays. It was my only link with what I knew as home.
Days and weeks passed, and Mother did not return. Reluctantly I accepted the fact that she might not keep her promise. Apparently we were here to stay. In fact, I assumed Marie and I would be there the rest of our lives.
Slowly, I began to adjust to the routine. If I can betough, I can survive, I figured. I bullied the other children. I was never subtle. I pushed and shoved. I hit. If another child wouldn't let me see his toy, I would grab it. The others didn't hit me, but I hit them and felt good about it. I wasn't bigger or stronger than the others, but I must have looked tough.
The daily schedule was monotonous. The morning bell got us out of bed, and we lined up for breakfast. Every day we had mush—lumpy, sticky, cooked cereal. Taxing my ingenuity to the limit, I devised a plan to avoid swallowing the slime. First, I stuffed it in my mouth, making my fat cheeks fatter. Then I raised my hand to go to the bathroom, where I spit it in the sink. I did that every morning.
On one such trip to the bathroom, I felt the matron's strong hand on the nape of my neck. "Come here, Doris!" she commanded, causing every head in the dining room to turn in my direction. She marched me to the wash area, and I spit the mush into the sink, aiming it into the drain hole. Then she took a bar of soap and coated my tongue. The next day the mush tasted somewhat better. From then on I ate it.
Every Tuesday and Thursday we had buttermilk. I hated that white, curdly stuff, so I forced other girls to drink mine. Although they hated it too, they drank theirs quickly to get the ordeal over. When the matron was not looking, I would switch glasses. "If you don't drink it, I'll get you in the yard," I would threaten. My reputation for meanness made them wince and obey.
Marie and I did not often play together. She was assigned to another part of the building with the five-year-olds; I was with the six- to eight-year-olds. The orphanage would not tolerate close ties between members of the same family or even close friendships among the children. Later I learned the reason: in a close friendship if one child is adopted, the other is deeply hurt.
I became good friends with Esther, a friendly, blond girl whose bed was close to mine. Then, unexpectedly, she was gone; she had been adopted. The orphanage staff arranged her leave when all of us were in school to avoid the good-byes. That evening, when I realized Esther was gone, I flung myself across the narrow cot and wept bitterly. I knew I would never see her again. The matron had warned us, "Don't make close friendships, or you'll be hurt."
Miss Gabriel, whom we dubbed "Angel Gabriel" although she lacked virtually all angelic qualities, controlled us with the discipline of an army corporal. Her jet black hair was worn in a double bun, like a double-decker icecream cone. She had a hooked nose and coal black eyes. "I can see clean through you," she would assure us as she stared down at us without blinking. We believed her.
She believed strongly that sickness was always the result of sin, especially the sin of disobeying her orders. Whenever one of us was sick, she'd put the illness into theological perspective. "It's the Lord! He's punishing you!" she snapped. "If you weren't so naughty, you wouldn't be sick." We endured what we believed was the Lord's punishment, trying to figure out exactly what sin we had committed to deserve a cold, the flu, or even the sniffles. But one day Angel Gabriel received a crash course in theology: she came down with the mumps!
Excerpted from Doris: The Girl Nobody Loved by Doris Van Stone, Erwin Lutzer. Copyright © 1979 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publisher.
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