Sunday, January 25, 2009

the soundtrack of my life, part IV

The soundtrack of my life series

She sat on the bench at the station, staring at the building across the river. She could see the lights in the windows, and reflected on the water, tonight. In the summer, the huge trees in front of the building obstructed her view; but in the winter the trees were bare.

No music from her zen tonight, as she'd managed to screw up turning it off when she got to work that morning. She thought she'd done it, but apparently hadn't kept the button pressed long enough and it ran all day, until the battery died. So her music tonight was the sounds of Marble Hill -- faint voices, traffic, and the sounds of the number 1 as it crossed the broadway street bridge. And in the occasional moments of quiet, the sound of the river flowing, the wide, flat patches of ice twirling around the edges as they were pushed by the visibly swift current. The east river ran north along the east side of manhattan till it hit the bronx, and then curved west to join the hudson.

As she watched and listened, she was thinking -- stressing really -- about selling her soul to Dell for the new laptop and wireless printer she'd charged at an outrageous interest rate. But then her mind ran to the past again -- back to those runaway years.

She'd tired of trying to run to someplace, and decided to simply 'hang out' around town the next time she left. There'd been a lot of so-called spending the night with friends, but really hanging on the streets, so she sort of knew the ropes.

She could always get places to sleep at night if it got cold. There was the time she was partying with some guys, for example, and they let her have a bit of floor in the cheap hotel room they all shared. One of those kind with only one bathroom on each floor that everyone used. She needed to pee badly in the early morning hours, but they wouldn't wake up and show her where it was, and she couldn't find it. By the time she found a gas station with a bathroom on the way home the next afternoon, she hurt so bad she almost couldn't pee anymore. And after that, she had some serious bladder problems for most of her life. But hell, even that was better than being at home.

So one day she decided she just wouldn't go home at all, and she hung downtown for a day or two. Riverside was the place for the kids, especially at the ONB building. It had big, deep window sills outside, big enough to sit in and low enough to get up to. She was sitting in the window one afternoon when she saw her younger brother running over from across the street. He had a crooked smile on his face, and right behind him was the egg donor. The little fucker. He'd given her up, led the woman right to her.

That's the way they were, her brothers and her. They didn't have the 'all for one and one for all' attitude that some siblings develop when facing a common adversary. No, each one of them would give the other one up in an instant if they thought it would save them from hell. They'd all turned each other in at various times throughout their lives. Willingly, eagerly, happily. OK, perhaps not so willingly and eagerly. Or happily. They each felt a deep guilt when they had escaped to their bedroom, but had to listen to the other one's agony. At least she did, so she assumed the other two did as well. But that guilt didn't stop them from giving each other up, over and over.

The woman approached, and she gave a performance worthy of an oscar right there on the sidewalk. The begging, teary-eyed. Please come home, why do you do this? She had all the attention, pleaded innocence to her own crimes, and the kid came off looking like a loser. Again. So she got up and walked away from them both. And it wasn't but a few minutes later that the cops showed up. Because remember, running away was against the law back then. And in a midsized town like that, they picked up runaways if they knew where they were.

They escorted her to the back seat of their car, and drove her to juvy. Juvenile detention. She'd never been there, and her heart beat nearly out of her chest in trepidation. After all, she'd seen the tv shows of kid detention centers, the violence there. She was expecting the worst. And found nothing like the telly -- this wasn't NYC, after all. It was clean and quiet. No one screaming or threatening or whacking anyone around.

She was briefly checked and changed into...damn, she's completely blanked out of what they made the kids wear. Couldn't remember. But she did remember they made her take out her earring, looked for any other jewelry, put everything into a box and put her name on it. They took her to...again, it's a blank. Was this selective memory? She can't remember what the rooms looked like. Were they small cells with only a couple of beds, or a larger room like the jail in the small town. The memory just wouldn't come.

She did remember they had private bathrooms, with semi-communal showers. At least she didn't have to pee in public. They showered every other day. The facility supplied some cheap-assed shampoo that made her already unruly hair even worse. A female guard had to dole out shampoo, soap, and toothpaste/brushes a little to each girl, just enough for that shower -- they weren't allowed to have supplies of their own. They would go into the shower room, wet themselves down, then reach around the wall and the guard would squirt shampoo into their outstretched hand. They would lather up, then get back under the spray to rinse off.

She remembered a large rec room where they spent most of their time. There was a tv, and a foosball table. There may have been some books. She didn't like big groups, but she did know a couple of the kids from the street so it wasn't at bad as it could have been. But she spent a lot of time just laying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Or sleeping, if she could get away with it. But they frowned on sleeping during the day and would kick her ass off the bed if they caught her.

But mostly she remembers the empty echo of the place. You know the sound your footsteps make on a cement floor in hallways that have no carpet or wall accessories to absorb the echo. Like a place not really lived in, despite the number of people there. She also remembers one of the guards. The woman's name is lost to history, but who she was will never be forgotten. She was one of those incredible people who try to get kids back on the straight and narrow, keep them moving, get them feeling better about themselves. Let them believe that someone out there actually cares about them.

On the day she left juvy the first time, the guard took out her checkbook and tore her name, address, and phone number off a deposit slip and gave it to her. Told her to call her anytime, day or night. She didn't do that with all the kids; maybe that's why this kid remembered it so vividly. Maybe she really thought the woman did care, at least a little bit. She would have an occasion a couple of years later to be there with a social worker picking up another kid, and she asked about the guard. They said she'd died about a year ago. Cancer. Couldn't have been more than about 30 when she went. The kid never forgot that. And felt badly that she'd never contacted the woman, even to say thank you.

She couldn't be released from juvy without a court hearing, so she found herself one day standing in front of a judge. Of course, the egg donor was there, giving what was unarguably her most oscar-worthy performance to date. And again teary-eyed, she told the judge she'd given up on being able to control the kid. The kid was uncontrollable. Incorrigible was the word the court used. All a parent had to do back then was declare the kid incorrigible, and the judge would make the kid a ward of the court. Then the court had jurisdiction over where she went.

Of course, there weren't foster homes for teenagers. So the judge decided she should go to a group home. She didn't even know what a group home was. But she would soon find out.

I'm young, I know
but even so
I know a thing or two
I learned from you

Love Hurts, Nazareth:

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