KATELIN HOFFMAN

Radio of Life


I. INTRODUCTION


I read and I listened to the radio a lot before entering the orphanage, so it’s not surprising
that these became my main survival tools while I was there. Books offered an escape,
whereas with songs I made connections. The words often reminded me of people, places
and things. This story of my life is an example of how song lyrics, woven into my memories,
represent my thoughts and feelings. My story shows how a little transistor radio became my
“Radio of Life”.


II. FIRST LESSON: BE LIKE SPOCK

 

The first lesson I learned upon entering the orphanage was that…
     

     …smiling faces sometimes don’t tell the truth.
     They show no traces of the evil that lurks within.


As Sister Julienne led me to my dormitory, I could see the signs:
 

     Signs, everywhere a sign. Do this. Don’t do that.
     Can’t you read the signs?


In my imagination I saw another sign, one that read, “Do Not Feel.” In order to survive, I
needed to be like Spock from Star Trek. I needed to cut myself off from my emotions.

 

     Any smile on my face is only there trying to fool the public.
     Really, I'm sad. I'm sadder than sad. And I'm hurting so bad

III. MAN IN THE MOON


Waking up to the screams of children: little girls being literally dragged out of bed from their
slumber and beaten by two nuns was traumatic and terrifying. I never let myself fall asleep
until I was certain the nuns had already gone to bed. One night I snuck into the bathroom
and wrote this poem, to the Man in the Moon:


Shine on Man in the Moon for your light will shine
and never cease.
Your world is lonely, cold and barren
yet you have learned to cope.
You get to watch over everyone here on earth
without being a part of us
and without knowing the feelings of being alive.
Help me Man in the Moon. Please help me.
Help me to be like you are.
To just watch but not know or feel what is happening.


IV. ALL THE SORROWS…


…sad tomorrows, take me back to my own home.
The world is a bad place, a sad place, a terrible place to live,
but I don't want to die.
Until I did.
 
     A long, long time ago I can still remember how the music
     used to make me smile. I knew if I had my chance...


I was being accused of planning to run away again. I’d been staying by myself to keep
anyone else from getting in trouble. When Rosie and Amy asked to listen my radio, I
thought they would be safe because they were only eleven. I was wrong. I knew then that
because of me, they would be hurt by the nuns.


… something touched me deep inside and I knew
this will be the day that I die…


These were the last lyrics I heard before I cut my wrist.
 

V. ON A WINTER’S DAY


I was placed on the adult psychiatric ward of the hospital, where for the first month I’d…
 

    … sit alone gazing from my window to the street below…


…as I listened to my radio.
 

I've built walls, a fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate.


Libby, one of the nurses, said that I reminded her of the song “I am a Rock”.


     I have my books and my poetry to protect me. Hiding in my room,
     I touch no one and no one touches me…


…until Linda, one of the nurses, who was hugging the one other girl on the ward while I was
nearby, thought to hug me too. My family had not been affectionate, so I only knew to
stand there like a wooden log as she threw her arms around me. She asked me if I knew how 
to hug. When I didn’t answer, she took my arms and placed them around her waist. From
then on, the nurses gave me hugs and even tucked me into bed at night.


I’d been warned by the nuns not to talk, so I could not say
 

     Doctor my eyes have seen the years
     and a slow parade of fears without crying.
     Now I want to understand. I saw the evil.
     Where’s the good? Help me if you can.

 

Unfortunately, I was not helped while on the ward, other than learning what it was like to
receive affection.


I never returned to the orphanage. Because of my psychiatric hospitalization, I was deemed
“not foster home material,” The state had to find a place for me to go. That place was The
Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers. 


VII. A GOOD KID


ELH staff were instructed by my social worker not to give me attention. Her concern was
that by engaging with me, they would worsen my struggles with self-harm and suicidal
thoughts. So, again, I did everything alone. I got up to the radio playing the Lone Ranger’s
“William Tell Overture.” I went to school, did homework, chores, laundry and kept my room
clean.


When I sprained my ankle and was on crutches, I threw the pillows I was using to elevate my
leg down the stairs from the second floor to the basement. I had no idea, when it came time
to go to bed, how to get everything back up. A group supervisor came into the basement. I
asked her if I could ride up in the elevator. I was deeply hurt when she said no.

     I had no one to …
     give me love, give me hope nor help me cope.
     If I was loved would I grow?
     Would I blossom,
     would life flow?
     In the sun, the rain, the snow,
     if
     love is lovely,
     will I ever know?
     Seeds are planted, nourished and helped to grow.
     What about a child?

 

VIII. STILL STANDING


     I always seemed to lose what I thought was mine…
 

including my name.
 

     Sometimes I saw my life just falling apart and all the rejection
     tearing at my heart. But deep inside hope was still alive

 

Now I feel...
 

     …it's really great for me to be here…
 

…working together with all of you. We’ve become a team, a force, working to hold
accountable those who caused us harm. Every time we share our stories, we tell the stories
of hundreds of other children. When we achieve justice for ourselves, we will have achieved
justice for them as well.

ABOUT US >

The St. Joseph Orphanage Restorative Inquiry seeks to understand and document the events of the orphanage through the voices, experiences, and stories of those most impacted: the former children of the Orphanage. The Restorative Inquiry will then facilitate inclusive processes of accountability, amends-making, learning, and change.  The St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry is an initiative of the Burlington Community Justice Center, a division of the Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) of the City of Burlington.

CONTACT >

Marc Wennberg

T: 802-522-7394

E: marc@communityreentry.net

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