I didn’t go to Bellevue because I worried that’s where the real crazies went. Anytime you read about a gruesome crime in the papers, like a person pushing someone in front of a subway, the suspect was always “taken to Bellevue.” No thanks.
Years before, my mother had brought me and my three little sisters to Bellevue every few months, when she filled out paperwork for the government vouchers that gave us free groceries like milk, cereal, peanut butter, and tuna. We made this journey across town for five years, until my youngest sisters aged out of the program. Even then, the place smelled of desperation. Late mornings hordes shuffled in and out of the massive public hospital. My mother steered us through wide corridors where throngs of doctors, nurses, sick people, and other harried mothers dragging whiny children like us passed by in tidy procession, making the flooded hallways seem both chaotic and orderly. The WIC office sentenced me to hours of studying grubby floor tiles and floating dust particles, made visible in the sunlight streaming through the tall windows, while I squirmed in my shiny blue plastic seat, flanked by my mother and younger sister Erica. Every few minutes one of the twins broke up the monotony by flinging a bottle from their titanic double stroller onto the floor. Though I’d armed myself with a half-filled coloring book and errant Barbie, boredom always struck too early, leaving me to focus my mental energies on willing the clerk to call my mother’s number.
“No one gives out anything without wanting something back,” a heavy Black woman once grumbled to my mother halfway through one of our marathon waits.
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