Yes, I was a wild child. As you might expect, my memories have gaps in them. But I clearly remember pushing the kitchen chair over to the counter, hoisting myself up, opening the cabinet, and stretching my fingers to the very top shelf to grasp the bottle of pills.
Always an early riser, also curious and insatiable, I ate the whole bottle while the rest of the family slept. That’s the part I don’t remember, eating all those pills.
My memory comes back as I walk into my parents’ bedroom and ask if there’s any more candy. My mother groggily says “What candy?” (She never kept sweets in the house.) I told her about the little orange tabs. She freaked out and woke up my dad.
They rushed me to the hospital where I had my stomach pumped. I don’t remember that part either. What I do remember is the hospital ward. I was four. This is not my first memory, but it’s one of the most vivid, because of the outrage I suffered when they put me in a crib and made me wear a diaper.
Diapers and cribs were for babies, like my little brothers, not for big girls like me. Apparently the stomach pumping did little harm, because the emotion I recall from that day in the hospital is righteous anger, not illness. I also remember being bored, looking around at all the other children in their own cribs. Just a big room filled with cribs.
I once saw a photos of an orphanage in a magazine. That’s what that hospital ward reminded me of. I’ve never seen anything like it in real life. When my own son was admitted to the hospital as a toddler, he had a semi-private room in a modern hospital. The place I was in was decidedly NOT modern. It was dark and depressing.
Then my granny came to visit with a book, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I still keep a copy of that, the first book of poems I owned. I often wonder if that book is what inspired me to write poetry when I got a few years older. Gran read me some poems and I got to keep the book with me in my little jail cell of a crib after she left.
Specialists talk about addictive personalities. Those of us who can’t stop with just one or two cocktails or pills or potato chips. That would be me, the girl who ate the entire bottle of baby aspirins. On the other hand, something must have happened to my stomach back then when they pumped it, because (and I’ve learned this the hard way) my body can’t tolerate too much of any one thing. Not chocolate, not alcohol, not pills.
So I guess it’s a blessing that my first overdose was an early one. And my only one.