I was, I believe, seven years old, maybe 8, but I’m not certain now.
We had just moved to Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, and it was 1954 or maybe 1955.
We were living in a rented house at 1115 Ukana Street, above Pearl Harbor, and my father was not having a good time of getting into his working requirements at Schofield Barracks, and that turned him to his bottle(s) of cheap bourbon, which was his way of handling his problems.
It was also a way that ended up channeling his anger at his life, and since I was the youngest and the least able to defend myself, I became the physical and verbal punching bag and the son of a bitch seemed to really enjoy making me miserable, as if that somehow took some of the mental pain away from him. I don’t know – just trying to work it out now, more than 6 years later.
He would come home from work, and work was not a happy place for him, and he would open bottle of bourbon and start drinking. Six ounce glasses full, one after another. You’d think that after a few of those, he’d pass out, but no, it just seemed to bolster him up for even more glasses of bourbon.
Then he would start arguing with my mother, and then, eventually, he came around to me. “Stinker – come here!” He called me Stinker, for some reason. If I didn’t go to him it would be worse, so I would usually go to him… and he would just back-hand me at the side of my head! Then he’d tell me, “That’ll teach ya!”
Yeah… lots of love from that son of a bitch.
He had put in for duty at Schofield thinking he was going to get an E8 slot and be a Master Sergeant, in the food service area. When he got there someone else had been given that slot and he was angry about that, angry about his life, and angry at his world and all the imaginary hurts that were plaguing him. And I was his stress ball, of sorts.
This went on for the better part of a year, and the whole time I was not allowed to go to school, as I was rapidly becoming a visual poster child for child abuse, but they didn’t have that, or any laws about it, back then.
My days were short periods of quiet, where I tiptoed around, afraid to make a squeak, tried to stay out of sight (in a house that was about 30 feet square) and constantly afraid of anything that might set him off. It didn’t take much to do that.
Sometime around Christmas time I went to bed after a day of not being beaten or yelled at, and awoke trying to breathe! The noise that was coming from my throat was horrible! My throat seemed to have nearly closed up and I was not getting much air in my lungs!
The sounds I was making woke my mother and she woke my father and my mother made me take a quick bath and she did her best, I guess, to try to make me presentable, and my father got the old Morris Minor ready, and we were off to the Army dispensary. At some unholy hour in the middle of the night.
At the dispensary there were no doctors, and only a nurse and a medic. But I was making so much terrble noise the medic said that even though he might get in trouble for it, he was taking an ambulance and driving us to Tripler Army Hospital.
I remember that ride… I’ll remember it forever. I am getting goose bumps right now as I write about it.
I was also sliding in and out of consciousness as the lack of sufficient oxygen was doing a number on me.
At Tripler we were in the waiting room, my father was at the desk talking to someone, probably about my problems, and my mother sat with me, as I kept making these horrible scratching sounds as I tried to get air into my lungs.
A doctor walked by, heard me, stopped and knelt down by me, called for the nurse to bring him a ball point pen, then he pushed me down so I was laying on the couch, and told me that this was going to hurt but it had to be done, and he took out a pocket knife, felt the front of my neck, and pushed the blade of the knife into my throat and through the muscles and into my esophagus, I guess. My mother passed out and fell onto the floor. I’m 72 now, and the whole experience is still so fresh and real in my memory. I doubt I will ever forget it.
The doctor had me breathing again by taking the bottom barrel of the pen and pushing it into the hole he had made in my throat, and he was holding it in place as they brough a gurney up and placed me on it, and then I was wheeled away to be operated on. He had also given my a shot so I was loopy at this point and don’t remember much until after the operation.
No idea how much time it took, when I woke up, or anything like that. A nurse brought over a mirror so I could watch her as she showed me how to cover the hole of the insert they put in my throat so that I could talk, and she was very kind and patient. She told me that they had to make a hole in my throat so that I would be able to breathe. I had been given a tracheotomy, which is where they cut into your windpipe and insert a metal tube which allows air to enter your lungs and be expelled back the same way. It didn’t hurt or anything, that I can recall, so that was likely a good thing.
I was still sleepy, and I remember asking the nurse if it would be okay to take a nap and she smiled, such a kind an pretty smile, and I thought that it was the prettiest smile I had ever seen. I think I was in love with her at that point. She was a very nice nurse.
I can’t tell you now, how long I was in the hospital, but I can tell you that Tripler Army Hospital was (and likely still is) THE best hospital in the whle world, as far as I was concerned. I do remember that I was there many weeks, because my birthday was coming up.
I had missed Christmas, New Year’s, and now my birthday was close.
Every day while I was in the hospital, different doctors would come by to talk with me. Not TO me, but WITH me. I felt so very special that they wanted to talk WITH me. I felt honored for some reason.
I later learned (years later, actually) that they were trying to find out what the reason was that my throat had closed down like it had, as there was no records anywhere of anything like that happening to someone. They were stumped, and hoped I would be able to tell them something.
The doctors were psychiatrists and psychologists, and interns and others and they were of the opinion that my problems were mentally induced (which they were, I learned) and they were trying to discover how and why.
My father kept coming by with my mother and kept telling me not to say anything to the doctors, as if he was terrified of something, and I didn’t understand what he was talking about, and I felt then, I remember, that I’ll tell the doctors whatever I could, because if it made my father that worried, then I would like to make him suffer, as I was at that stage of my life, developing a severe hatred of him.
The doctors eventually figured out that I had suffered a severe bout of Conversion Hysteria, which is where your brain has suffered enough abuse and in defeat because of a youngster’s inability to save himself or understand why he was being treated so, that the brain tells the body to just shut down, basically, and to die, to get away from the emotional and mental hurts.
So that is what happened.
I don’t know if they ever learned what set it off for me, and I never heard of anything negative happening to my father over it, but I was released from the hospital in time for my birthday in early February.
I really didn’t want to go home, as that was where it was bad. I was afraid of it. One doctor said he would come by about once a week to see me and make sure I was doing okay, and he did that, many times, and my father, I think, knew that if he did anything and the doctor discovered it, that he would be in deep shit. So my father stayed away from me, is all that I remember from then.
Eventually the trach thing was removed from my throat and the hole was sewn up (and I don’t remember any pain in that at all), and I was able to breath normally. I still have the scar in the center of my throat, although it looks a bit lop-sided now.
Eventually my father started drinking a lot again, and I once more became the recipient of his abuse, but he didn’t slap me around like before – just verbally attacked me and made me feel like shit. He was good at that.
That was my experience with my mind trying to kill me. It was quite interesting, to say the least. To this day it is still mind-boggling to me. But I survived. Hell of a way to be a child.