Chapter 5

Monday afternoon and I’m in the crush of traffic in downtown. Why me, Lord?

I could see the hospital in the distance, but where did they expect me to park? I turned in at the Green “P” sign and took the ticket from the machine, drove into the parking garage, and followed the yellow arrows up to the third level. Finally, I found an empty parking spot.

I unloaded my purse, backpack full of toys and activities, stroller for Caitlin and briefcase with notes up to this point. I still had thirty minutes to find the doctor’s office. So far, so good. But why take my purse when I had my hands full? Stashing it under the driver seat, I loaded Caitlin in the stroller for the long walk to the hospital, hooked the bag to the handlebars, and strapped the backpack on my back. Ready. Slamming the Jeep door, a darkness overshadowed my heart. Oh no, I just locked my keys in the car with my purse! My legs buckled under me. Stranded in a parking garage, in a strange city, by myself, headed for an appointment I didn’t want to go to. My heart began to beat rapidly in my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. Couldn’t get air into my lungs.

“Mommy, you okay?” Caitlin sounded worried as if it was her job to console me, rather than the other way around.

Normally, I liked visiting downtown. I loved to shop and watch ball games – but this was no leisure trip. Any excitement had turned to anxiety.

I glanced up and through watery eyes saw the look of concern on my daughter’s young face. A cold splash of water wouldn’t have wakened me quicker from my self-pity.

I gathered my strength and took a deep breath, “Yes, Caity-Cat. Mommy just needed a little rest. I’m ready now. Let’s go.” I had to stay strong for Caitlin.

Once outside of the parking garage the sun blinded me. I lowered the flap on the stroller to protect Caitlin’s eyes. I had left my sunglasses in my purse. Why didn’t I bring my purse? I couldn’t remember why I had made such a stupid decision.

The hospital looked nothing like what I expected. It looked more like a mall than a place for sick and dying children. We walked through the front doors and entered the main atrium. To the left swirled a fountain, dancing with a variety of waterspouts. In the centre of the room, a modern glass elevator brought its passengers to different levels. Beautiful flowing plants hung from the ceiling.

Caitlin watched the fountain splash in rhythm to unheard music. Coming closer, I could see the coins in the pond. I’d like to add my own wish. Rod dead. No, too morose. How about a vicious venereal disease? I fished in my pocket for a coin and threw it in the water.

How many wishes had come true? What were their wishes? “I wish that my son would recover from leukemia.” “I wish that my daughter would receive a new heart.” This was no ordinary hospital. A sense of shame waved over me at my own ignorance to the suffering of other parents. Yet although I stood here too, I couldn’t feel like I belonged here. We were just visiting. This wasn’t real. We don’t belong here.

I pulled the appointment card from my pocket; it read Dr. Sharpe SCAN – 4D. Fourth floor, okay.

“We’ll take the glass elevator.”

Caitlin clapped her excitement. The ride up left my stomach on the main floor. Like riding in a hot air balloon, I watched the world below grow smaller as we lifted.

Floor four. Now where? I pushed the stroller to my left, but saw only a string of closed doors. I continued looking for the letter D, or Doctor Sharpe’s name. I walked the full perimeter returning to the elevator. Caitlin squirmed in her seat. “Mommy, I want to walk.”

“No, Caity-Cat, let’s find the doctor’s office first.” I wiped away the sweat along my hairline.

Caitlin slumped in her seat and sulked. Down the elevator again. I looked around. Caitlin pointed upward. Over one large gateway I saw the initial D. Perhaps I should be there? I walked towards the gate, stripping my coat off on the way.

I looked at the wall map in the main foyer, but couldn’t make sense of it. There were no “you are here” arrows like they have on mall maps. I eyed a lineup of people at the end of the hall, waiting for a different elevator. An orange band of string blocked the stairwell. I could hear construction noises coming from further down the hall. Caitlin and I joined the handful of people in line for the elevator. No one spoke, no chitchat, no laughter. Everyone looked straight ahead. The elevator came and we loaded on. I could feel a bead of sweat roll down the centre of my back.

Fourth floor. We got off. Now this looked more like a hospital. Sterile, white walls. No photos, no music. No people. Where is everyone?

Approaching what looked like a reception desk, I rang the little bell. A four-foot-ten woman came out from behind a door, wiping her face with a paper napkin. Obviously I had disturbed her lunch.

“Hi. I’m here to see Dr. Sharpe.”

“He’s on lunch.” She picked at her teeth with the nail of her baby finger.

“Yes, our appointment is for one o’clock.”

“I’ll let him know you’re here. Just wait over there.” She pointed to a small room.

Inside the room were two white chairs and a white coffee table. The window looked out onto a brick wall. The room smelled like chlorine bleach. I wonder where they keep the straight jackets.

My lower lip trembled. Keep it together. Don’t lose it now, Heather. Dear God, if You’re there, I need help. My inner cry, mixed with panic, left my throat dry.

Just then, the door opened and a nurse with a roundish face and nut-brown hair stepped in.

“Hello, I’m Nurse Barb,” she said with authority. “You must be Ms. Williams and this darling must be Caitlin.” She bent down to look into her eyes.

Caitlin smiled, “Hey, you have green eyes, just like me.”

“And how old are you?”

“I’m four and a half.”

“Well then, Miss Caitlin, four-and-a-half, nice to meet you.” She held out her hand.

Caitlin looked at it and finally took it in her own. I liked the way she put Caitlin at ease.

“Well, let’s take you down to meet the doctor, okay?” She led us to another small room at the end of the corridor. On the way, she held Caitlin’s hand, and explained to me the process of examination.

“We will be examining both the vagina and anus. We will be looking for any cuts or scratches. Also, we will be taking photographs of the area. For the first part of the exam, we ask that you not be in the room,” she said quietly.

At my frightened look, she reassured me that this was standard procedure and that there would be two other nurses in the room. She stopped in front of the door and told me that I could rejoin them for the photographs later. Caitlin gave a weak wave and moved toward the nurse who held out puppets for her to play with. I gave her the thumbs-up sign.

I turned and walked down the hall. The lunch-lady receptionist sat upright at her post. Seeing her, I suddenly remembered my keys and asked if she could help me out. She rolled her eyes, but conceded and called a locksmith.

The clock on the wall ticked each second with excruciating slowness. Finally, the examination door opened again. Puppet-nurse waved at me to come in. Caitlin sat on the table giggling with the doctor. She looked over to me.

“Hi, Mommy. They’re going to take pictures now.”

Pinpricks of ice needled my flesh. My daughter’s attitude stunned me. Caitlin took this all in stride, as if we did this on a weekly basis. Obviously the staff here dealt with these situations all the time and knew how to make kids feel at ease. Me, I held my tongue, afraid that if I uttered any word, it’d come out in a wail. I held her hand for support – for my own support as much as for hers.

“Okay Caitlin, please flip over on your hands and knees.” The camera moved mechanically in place. Click, click.

I grimaced. I couldn’t bear to see my little girl in this position. Click, click. Why did they allow me in for this? Why did they think this was okay for me to see? Click, click. The knots in my stomach tightened.

Many photos later they finally told us that Caitlin could get dressed. Puppet-nurse took Caitlin into another room full of play toys.

The doctor invited me to his office. He looked up over the tops of his rectangular, frameless glasses. His teeth were white and square. He smelled good – like a freshly sliced pear.

“Ms. Williams, your daughter showed no bruises or evidence of physical force.”

He waited for me to respond. “Good,” was all I could think of to say.

“Yes, but not surprising. The use of physical force is rarely necessary to engage a child in sexual activity because children are trusting and dependent.”

I frowned in puzzlement.

The doctor continued, “We won’t have the results right away, but at this point I can say that there was no penetration.”

My mouth dropped into fly-catching position. Joy, fear, relief, confusion all at the same time. “What does this mean?”

“He didn’t use his penis to penetrate, however, it does not exclude using other things like his fingers.”

“That’s good, right?” My eyes filled and I had to look up to contain the pooling water.

His voice grew strained. “Yes, of course. Your daughter did not have sexual intercourse. However, without penetration it will be next to impossible to criminally charge him.”

“Oh.” The air rushed out of my lungs.

“Have you been to the police yet?”

I tried to suppress the trill of emotion in my voice. “No, should I?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’ll book an appointment.”

With this, the doctor stood up and shook my hand. I needed a hug, not a handshake. Deflated, I left to find Caitlin. “Come on, Caitlin. We have to meet the tow truck guy.” I gave her a hug. Oh Lord, I don’t want to let go. I never want to let go.