It was a hard decision to send him away but Margie and I got to the point that we were out of options. We just couldn’t take care of him anymore. One day, men in white coats knocked on our door and took him away kicking and screaming. Margie sobbed for days. She understood why, but I don’t think she ever forgave me for making the call.
He was a troublesome boy. You couldn’t ever turn your back on him without something breaking. The neighbors forbade their kids to play with him. It was hard to keep a sitter or a nanny, so Margie was forced to stay home to raise him.
Three years after he was born, Clarissa arrived in our life. She was a little bundle of joy and gave us hope and a distraction from the boy. We tried not to favor her, but it was hard not to. He tormented her by destroying her toys and making her cry at any available opportunity.
At ten years old, he found the matches. Small fires ignited first in our backyard, then throughout our neighborhood. Mrs. Hannigan once came pounding on our door. She shoved her cat in our faces while yelling about how its tail had been scorched and that we needed to do something about that boy at once. When we asked him about Ms. Hannigan’s cat later that night, he just sat there with a sly smile on his face.
One night I could hear crackling coming from upstairs. When I went to investigate, I found a pile of laundry in Clarissa’s bedroom ablaze. Clarissa was fast asleep in her bed only feet away, and he was standing there poking at the flames. I ran to our room and pulled out my father’s old wool blanket from our hope chest. When I returned I shoved the boy out of the way and stamped out the fire with the blanket. If left for only a few minutes longer, the fire would have engulfed the room, with Clarissa in it.
Institutionalism seemed to be the only answer. We found a place with long rambling halls, with rooms staggered so they each received an adequate amount of sunlight and fresh air. The nurses touted the hospital’s architectural style as being built to have curative effects. They had drugs and modern therapies destined to work magic on the boy. We believed, so we left him in their care.
For the first few years we visited him regularly. He threw tantrums, along with punches and insults. The nurses were always cheery, giving us faith in some sort of recovery. He admonished us for abandoning him, and I had nothing to counter him with. It was my fault, but I felt no remorse and yet somehow that made me feel like more of a monster. Margie cried, but less than before. But it didn’t take her long to find her comfort in mothering Clarissa, and that gave me the piece of mind we were doing the right thing.
Over time, we saw less of him. Recovery no longer seemed a viable option as he had become a shell of anything we had ever known. His mental state ranged from a blinding rage to fully sedated. Birthdays and holidays became visiting hours. At some point Margie and I agreed to stop visiting entirely. There seemed to be no point to visit anymore. Each visit always ended in someone melting down. To tell the truth, it was just easier to forget.
This morning, I read in the newspaper that his hospital was going to be razed. I stared at the announcement buried between the week’s crime statistics and a call for entries in the local county fair, and emotions came flooding back.
Now I find myself, decades after sending him away, roaming these deserted halls. Vials, still full with serums, line abandoned carts. Stained mattresses lie in opposition to rusted metal-spring bed frames. Sunlight and air flood in through broken windows, but curative is not how I would describe my environs. As I wander from room to room, I feel like a ghost floating through a nightmarish déjà vu. I start to wonder if I had ever really been here before. What ever happen to that fiery boy? Were my vivid memories of heartbreak and disquiet all just a dream? After all, I can’t ever recall knowing his name.