|A Novel By Max Rabinowitz|
|One of the nice happenings in my life was a relationship with a social worker who came from England.
I must have been twelve or thirteen years old when Kathy arrived at the hospital. By this time I was pretty well set in my ways and I did not care about anyone, with but two exceptions - my friend Steve and my one favorite sister. I really didn't care too much about myself. I had already succeeded in committing many criminal acts and I had seen so much death and destruction that hardly anything could faze me. There was no one that could change my habits and I was perfectly secure within the framework that I had set for myself - until that summer day when SHE came along.
On the morning I met her I had been told by the ward attendant that I would not be allowed to go outside because of a special interview that I had to go to. Naturally I resented this and was feeling none too cooperative when the time came for me to be interviewed.
I was led to the Supervisory Nurses' office and there I had to wait for about two hours. At about ten o'clock two women entered the room. Both of them were quite tall, slender and very pretty. They introduced themselves as Margaret Brinn and Kathleen O'Tollis. They told me that they were social workers on summer leave to "The States" from their home country, England, and that Miss O'Tollis was to be my particular social worker for the summer. Miss Brinn would also be seeing me from time to time. In my usual diplomatic fashion I said, "Who cares?"
I don't know whether hospitals are different in England, but Miss O'Tollis was certainly different. She had a fair complexion and light brown eyes that matched her hair coloring. She was much taller than me, about five-foot-nine, and I hated her on sight.
Social workers were the lowest form of people to me. They professed concern about you while in reality they were just studying "an interesting case" or something. I had known many of them during my years at the hospital and they were all alike. This one, pretty though she was, was probably going to ask the same questions and look for her textbook answers. Then she could make out a report, and feel that she had done something wonderful. I hated hypocrisy and to me the words "social worker" and "hypocrite" were synonymous.
Miss Brinn left right away by saying that she had another patient to see and I was alone with Miss O'Tollis. The first thing she said to me was that I was always to address her as Miss O'Tollis and so , naturally, from then on it was either Kathleen or just plain Kathy. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was precisely what she wanted me to do. I did notice that she talked kind of funny, but I never bothered her about that because I figured that all foreigners talked funny. She told me that she would see me every day for the entire summer. I figured that was a lot of bullshit because social workers only get paid for five days a week and none of them was about to come into the hospital on a day that they weren't getting paid for. I didn't say anything about it because I knew that she'd just lie anyway.
We did a little verbal sparring, until I figured that the best way for me to put her in her place was to tell her I needed something. That was always a sure way to get to them because the rules of the hospital stated that no psychologists or social workers could bring us anything without specific approval from a doctor. That meant she would have to confront the doctor and put herself on the line for me and none of the social workers ever put themselves on the line for anybody. So I casually mentioned the fact that I could use a couple of packs of cigarettes and would she please bring me some when she next came to see me. She promised that she would be there again on the following day and that she would make sure to bring me the cigarettes. I knew that I had to get away before she could change her story. I said thanks and that I wanted to go so I could have a few minutes free time before lunch. She said okay and out I went.
I was surprised the next day when they told me my social worker was there to see me. I was sure that she would have waited a few days before coming back and then would come up with some excuse. I went downstairs to the office. She was sitting behind the desk. Before I took a seat I looked at the desk very carefully. There was a stack of papers on it that I recognized quite easily as test papers and psychological stuff.
I sat down and asked her if she had managed to get me the cigarettes. She said that she had found out that permission would be necessary from my doctor and, unfortunately, he hadn't been available. I recognized the old stuff-off and said so, but Kathleen was ready for that too. She reached into her handbag, got out three packs of cigarettes and handed them to me without a word. I didn't know what to say. I just looked at those cigarettes and the desk and then at her again. A minute or two went by in silence and then she broke it by telling me that she didn't care about any red tape. If the doctor didn't like it she wouldn't worry about that, either. She told me that if I kept it to myself the doctor would never find out anyway. It was right about then I got this silly idea that Kathleen was different than the other social workers around the hospital.
As the days of the summer wore on I grew to like Kathy very much. She would even take me entirely away from the hospital at times for visits to zoos and museums and parks. We went everywhere and did almost everything that good friends normally do. She never once broke a promise to me and because of that I learned to trust her as I had trusted no one else. Sure, she gave me tests and asked lots of questions, but with her it wasn't just a job and I wasn't just a patient. As she promised, she came every day.
I must have put the thought of her ever leaving in the back of my mind because when the time came I was not prepared for it, even though she had told me repeatedly that she was in the United States for the summer and would have to be returning to England and school.
On the day Kathy left I went to the Supervisory Nurses' office as usual and she was right there, as usual, but this time Margaret Brinn was with her too, which wasn't "usual." I had seen very little of Margaret Brinn since that first day.
Kathy told me to sit down and when I did she said that it was going to be very painful for her to leave because she liked me an awful lot. She told me that she wished she could take me back to England with her, but that was impossible. She also told me to bear up like a man and not to make it harder on either of us.
I sat there stunned. My Kathy? Leaving me? It was incomprehensible that she could just go off to another country and leave me to the horrors of that hospital.
Margaret left soon and I was able to speak to Kathleen. I told her that I could take it, that I realized all along she would be leaving and that I was totally prepared for it. I asked her if she intended to return the following summer. She said it was more than likely that she would never return to the States. She asked me if I would like her to write to me from time to time. I said no. I wanted no reminders from England. The shell around my mind and heart began to harden. I knew that shell would be needed if I was to survive intact. I had always prided myself on my ability to prevent my inner feelings from showing and I called all my resources into play for this situation. Kathy must have thought me very hard or else she knew what an effort I was making and didn't want to push the matter further. She took a small white box from beneath the desk and gave it to me. She said that it was a parting gift from her home and she had baked it herself. I didn't open it right away, but placed it on the desk while my mind raced. I tried to think of something that I owned, something I could give her in return, but personal possessions are not one's strong point in a mental hospital and I just couldn't think of anything.
Finally it dawned on me! Around my neck I wore a chain and a medallion that I had stolen about a year ago. I took it off and gave it to her. She hesitated a long time before asking me to put it on for her. I had told her weeks earlier that the medallion was stolen and I knew she was remembering that conversation. The fact that she asked me to put it on for her told me that she was accepting it because I wanted her to have it. When I looked at her again she was crying softly. I wanted to comfort her, but I knew that if I said anything I would start crying too and so I said nothing. She got up and kissed me goodbye, then walked out the door without another word. I never saw or heard from her again.
Later on, in my room, I opened the small white box she had given me. Inside was a little cake and a note: "To Max - Because I care - Love, KiKi."
I have never forgotten Kathleen or what she meant to me during that period of my life. Maybe if she had been able to stay I wouldn't be where I am today, but who can ever tell.