Letters to Dr. Thomas
(or, Things I Never Told My Shrink Before I Died):
Christmas at the Hospital

Once there was a girl. She was born three months too early, weighed two pounds 11 oz.

Amedeo Modigliani
Her parents didn't name her. In two days, she had dropped to one pound 14 oz. She spent the first months of her life in a glass box with wires and tubes. Her parents finally named her, after they figured she might beat the odds, might not succumb to the dire predictions of the physicians at Butler County Infirmary.

She was alright. She was supposed to be retarded, and fucked up, and not able to breathe right, assuming she lived. Mostly, she's alright though. Just short, and can't always breathe right, and not always for physical reasons.

Her mother was a soldier, a saint. She went into labor early and had no option but to drive herself to the hospital, in a truck with a stick shift, way before anyone had planned on this baby showing up. She did it. She did just fine. She was like that. She still is. We will talk later about how much of her heart has been gnawed out by doing what seems necessary when nobody else will make any sensible decisions.

The girl's father went every week to make payments on the hospital bill. He went every Friday for months, to make a payment on his daughter’s life. He was young and stupid and we will talk about him more later, but he loved his wife and he loved his daughter and he felt very much that burden of responsibility. He felt all of this as best he could, for as long as he could. He really is not as bad a man as he will seem later.

One day, near Christmas, he went to the window to make his usual payment. The window clerk person said, "Mr. Conner, you don't have a balance with us." He said something along the lines of, huh? She said, "Mr. Conner, your balance has been paid in full. The note says, Merry Christmas, from Santa Claus."

* * * *

Once there was a girl. She was born thirty years too early, or ten years too late. Her parents named her something they should have thought twice about. She spent the first few decades of her life trying to figure out what to do with Judaism, the Self Realization Fellowship, Catholicism, witchcraft, sleepover pals who used her toothbrush for naughty things, cousins who thought they had the right to maul her in bed at 3 am, the possible existence of unicorns, and many other various and sundry perplexities.

Then she started drinking. Let's not try cause and effect here, let's just say that she and her father both drank a lot, in different rooms, at different times perhaps, and when the stars were particularly crossed, they fought.


Skip the memory of the mother with her head wrapped in duct tape. Skip the memory of the cousin -- yeah, that cousin -- describing the belt with rivets in it. Skip all that. Fast forward to the night she was fifteen, and lying on the floor of the trailer that had walls thin enough to throw a teenage daughter through, and fast forward to him sitting on her chest and hitting her so hard in the jaw she saw stars.

And then the eight months in residential treatment.

Fast forward through all that too.

Come out the other side of that, and the months of outpatient, and all the little stories that could be told from that rich and as yet unharvested field, and take her out. We can be kind to her for a minute. We can be kind to her father, and her mother.

We can forgive her father for responding with brute force to what he had no other way to channel his instinct to protect.

We can forgive her mother for standing there while he dislocated her jaw. We can forgive her from our angle, because, after all, we are omniscient narrators, and we understand now, in retrospect, what was going through her head and how bad this had been for her, too, in ways that predate our chapter.

We can forgive, because our perspective is different.

So fast forward. Fast forward to the insurance that paid eighty percent and wouldn't authorize payment if a parent took a child out Against Medical Advice. Fast forward to a day when that girl's mother went a little insane and said, you better get my daughter the fuck out of there. It's been long enough.

And fast forward to the doctor that did it.

Nearly two years later, her father must have been feeling deja vu. He was going every Friday to make a weekly payment on a bill that he simply could not see the end of, ever, in his lifetime. He was going to make a payment on his daughter's life.

And one day, near Christmas, he got a letter from the Doc. He opened it and it contained a copy of the bill from eight months of inpatient treatment and three months of outpatient treatment.

It said, at the bottom, "Paid in Full. Merry Christmas. Dr. Thomas."

* * * *

K. Naomi Conner lives and teaches in Atlanta, Georgia. She has been published sporadically and pseudonymously in forums such as WordWrights, The Ghazal Page, The Lullwater Review, and the Oracle Fine Arts Review.

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