Chapter 3 Now it begins Parts 1-20

Now it begins Part 1

Laura’s mother is calling my name from the bottom of the stairs. “Geoff, Geoff, Geooooofffff! It’s meeting time.” I can feel her pausing, waiting for a response. “Shit,” I think to myself and answer with, “I’m coming.” I grab a sweatshirt and head to the stairs. Laura’s mother is standing at the bottom, waiting. Her arms open and I am forced to walk right into them. She pulls me in and again chokes back a tear. “Come on,” she says, and motions to the basement.

Two hours later, I find that I am still sitting on the floor in a circle with my legs crossed. I am now listening to the time that Mark’s mother referred to him as a kid and “how that made him feel”. Tears are streaming down Mark’s face and a string of snot is hanging from his nose. The kids are focused on his every word. “Jesus,” I think to myself, “these kids don’t know what problems are.” After a long group hug around Mark initiated by Laura’s mother, their attention is turned to me.

Laura’s mother stands and clears her throat. “Everyone, this is Geoff.” She motions with her arm as if she is Carol Merrill and I am a new fridge on the guessing block.  “Geoff’s parents recently threw him out of their house. He was living in a runaway shelter until he smoked marijuana and ran away.”

During her speech, the kids turn their eyes on me, one by one. It is like a scene from Children of the Corn when they look to Malachai to figure out their next move. I am now unbelievably uncomfortable and want to flee. “Let’s start with a group hug,” Laura’s mother yells, waving everyone in to surround me.

They all rise to their feet and I begin to feel a panic rising in my throat. Slowly they walk towards me, arms extended. I get my legs under me and rise to standing. The kid nearest to me smiles, and I look for the nearest exit. Ducking all the arms, I run for the stairs to take me out of the basement. Dodging bodies, I hit the stairs taking two steps at a time. “Oh Geoff,” Laura’s mother yells.

Someone yells, “Get him!” and I am living Lord of the Flies. I hit the top of the basement and slam the door. They are in hot pursuit of me. Someone hits the door on the other side and I look for a way to lock it. Panicked, I find that there is no lock on my side, so I brace it with my body. An avalanche of children hit the closed door, pushing me and sending the door opening in my direction.

Turning around, I run for the bathroom. I slip inside, slam and lock the door, and back up to the other side of the room. Slowly at first and then with increasing intensity the children begin to pound on the door. I can hear their leader, Laura’s mother, calling to me and talking to the kids.

“Geoff, we are going to sit outside this door and wait for you to come out.” She waits for me to answer. Seconds become minutes. I put my ear to the door to listen for breathing. They seem to be waiting just on the other side. “We’re here,” Laura’s mother yells, waiting for me to open the door.

Jumping back, I turn around and see the bathroom window. I grab onto the sash, throw it up and slide out.

Now it begins Part 2  

Since the house was sitting on a hill, I only had to drop less than a foot to the ground. Once I landed, I started running to the front yard. Silently, I crept around to the front of the house and looked through the front door window. I could see the whole group sitting outside the bathroom, holding hands. I could hear and see Laura’smother still talking through the closed door, “It’s okay; everyone is scared at some time.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?” I think to myself, “I am screwed again.” I sneak back down the side of the house and hit the street running as silently as I can. Where am I running? What will I do when I get there? All I know right now is that I need distance.

With nowhere to go, I literally sat in the woods looking at my watch and wondering how to get out of this mess. Nearly an hour passed and I had no plan. I was stuck, so I decided to face everyone and head back. I stood up and took three steps onto the road. Suddenly a dirt bike skidded to a halt right next to me. The kid was my age, muscular, slightly grubby, with his hair long in the front. A look of surprise was on his face and he was breathing heavily. His muscle shirt was pushed up, exposing his stomach. “Whoa, look out!” he yelled as his bike missed me by inches.

The gravel sprayed out from under his tires and pinged off my leg. He stopped, swung the bike around and walked towards me. “Are you okay?” he asked, his feet dangling above the ground as he sat on the seat. “I was hiding in the woods, sorry I scared you,” I responded. He flipped the hair hanging in his eyes out of the way and smiled. My heart dropped.

“What’s your name?” he asked, now standing an inch in front of me. “Geoff,” I said looking, into his eyes. He flipped his hair again and smiled. “I’m Steven.” Steven and I stood there and made small talk for a couple of minutes, and then the reason I was hiding in the woods came up. I told him the whole story and that I thought that I was on the run from a cult. He laughed and told me if I ever needed a place to live he had plenty of room at his house.

Steven walked with me back to Laura’s house. “Meet me here tomorrow at the same time,” Steven said, mounting his bike and riding off. “Oh yeah, good luck,” he yelled over his shoulder as he rode away.

I looked at the house and saw that the dining room light was on. I walked up the front steps and into the house. Laura’s mother was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen. “I bet you thought that your stunt today was funny?” Laura’s mother said, not meeting my eyes. “No, I’m really sorry. I’m not ready to talk yet,” I said, hoping that I was buying some time.

“If you live here you have to attend all meetings,” Laura’s mother said looking directly at me. “I will have to tell Laura’s father about this.” “I understand,” I muttered. As she went back to preparing dinner I took the long walk back upstairs to the bedroom. Twenty minutes later, I was called for dinner.

When I turned the corner I saw Laura’s father sitting at the head of the table. His eyes followed me as I walked in and focused in on me when I sat down. He cleared his throat once. He cleared his throat again. My head moved slowly in his direction. He glared at me and through clenched teeth said, “We do not lock ourselves in bathrooms and crawl out windows in this house! If I had seen you run into the street after dropping out the window, I would have hit you with my car.” To bring the story home, he raised his hand and hit the table, once again causing the cups to jump.

Now it begins Part 3  

Laura’s father grumbled and mumbled his way through dinner, shooting evil looks at me every chance he got. Laura’s mother would mutter “Dear” and roll her eyes when she thought her husband was being ridiculous. Laura, a self-proclaimed vegetarian, was in a “noodle faze” and would eat them out of the bowl with her fingers, holding them high in the air. She would shout out the words “asshole or fucker” whenever her father mumbled at me. I, on the other hand, was running away in my mind.

Dinner finished and Laura’s father stood up, walked to his bedroom, and slammed the door. “Drama Queen,” Laura yelled out in his direction. “Theatre people,” Laura’s mother said, shaking her head and chuckling.

I headed to my room with no ceremony and no fanfare. My throat was killing me and I was exhausted. I laid down on the bed and immediately fell into a heavy sleep. I slept right through the night and woke in the morning, still in my clothes. I propped myself up on my elbows. My head was spinning, my throat hurt, and I was still exhausted. I could have slept another ten hours.

Walking into the kitchen, I saw Laura’s mother and told her how I felt. She immediately put one hand on my head to check if I was hot. She couldn’t feel anything but knew something was wrong when I yelped drinking my orange juice. It burned my throat like I was drinking liquid fire. Laura’s mother said she would call the doctor and see if she could get me an appointment after school today or tomorrow.

All during school, I kept drifting off to sleep. Finally school was over and I asked Laura to drive home a little faster. I was looking forward to meeting Steven at 4 p.m. “Got a date?” Laura asked. The school year was winding down and summer recess was about to begin. I planned on having a great summer.

I ran into the house to find a note from Laura’s mother. My doctor’s appointment would be the following day. “Fantastic,” I thought to myself and ran around getting ready to meet Steven. At exactly 4 p.m. he pulled up next to me on his bike and told me to “hop on.” I climbed onto the seat of his bike, wrapped my arms around his waist, and we were off.

Steven asked me questions as we flew through various housing developments. I would catch a word here or there and answer based on what I thought I heard him ask.

Finally we arrived at his house.

Now it begins Part 4  

Walking into the house, Steven screams out, “I’m home,” to no one I can see. “Let’s go to my room,” Steven immediately says, facing me and looking into my eyes.

He grabs my hand and pulls me. I follow him down the hallway of this modest middle-income family house. So many homes all looked the same when I was growing up that a glance as I walk past the bedrooms tells me all I need to know about how someone lives. 

My parents kept a strict middle-class house. “One main rule was that the living room was only used for holidays, well, really only Christmas and birthday’s.  My Mom would yell out “Get Out of there,” if I even placed a toe in the room or hovered a foot over the carpet. 

“Every now and then my sister and I would sit in the living room and be allowed to listen to her records on the stereo.” The stereo was enormous and took up one whole wall. It was a big piece of furniture that you opened by lifting the large wooden top. Lifting it took two hands and you had to get your back into it. It made a glorious screech as you lifted it. The entire stereo reminded me of a coffin. 

My sister would have Linda Ronstadt and The Beach Boys albums open in front of her while she laid on her stomach and  leaned up on her elbows. Our favorite album to listen to was Linda Ronstadt. This album cover showed Linda looking into a mirror. My sister and I stared at that picture for hours, wondering how they got that shot. 

The sound that came out of that stereo was one of a kind. It had sort of a thump, wheeze, and hum to it, as the records dropped down from the arm that held them aloft. 
It was very fancy and could hold six albums at once.

Steven leads me into his bedroom. It is a very small room that has bunk beds. “I like the bottom,” he says with a smile and a wink as he sits down on the bed. Even back then I knew we weren’t talking about the beds.

“My brother sleeps on the top.” Steven kicks the bottom of the mattress above him

I look around the room and notice that there are no pictures on the walls or on the dressers. The room basically has no life, just the bunk bed, two dressers, and a Yankee’s pennant draped over a chair. “My mom likes a clean room,” Steven says, as I look around. It is very clear to me that this is not a middle-class home, but a lower-middle-class home. 

In those days I was often reminded by my friends that I lived in an upper-middle-class home, even though most of my friends  also lived in upper-middle-class homes. I had a lot of friends who came from so many different economic backgrounds that I never considered myself upper-middle-class or rich. 

I realized we were rich once I got to live with so many different people and experience their lives. There were so many restrictions in the home I came from, that I figured, who cared how much money was in it? Love and security are worth so much more.

“My brother is…” Steven looks around and back at me, he whispers, “… retarded. He was born that way. Don’t know how it happened but he wears a helmet so he won’t hurt his head when he falls. This is our room and we share it. We have to put everything away and out of reach, so he won’t get hurt in here.” Steven blurts out all this information. I am sure that this isn’t the first time that he has to explain to people.

“Come on, let’s go to the basement.” Steven grabs my hand and pulls me out of the bedroom. We head back down the hallway and past the kitchen. As we pass, I see a large woman standing in front of the fridge, one hand on her hip, her head deep inside. As we go by, I see her come to life, lift her head, and yell out, “Hold on there, Mister!” 

Now it begins Part 5

“Where do you think you are going and who the hell is this?” I believe this is Steven’s mom now walking towards us from the kitchen, her hands on her hips. She is wearing a soiled house dress. She stands about 5´1˝ and weighs around 350 pounds. Her hair is pulled up under a scarf and I can see pink rollers peeking out at me.

She is looking me up and down. “This is Geoff,” Steven says, motioning towards me. “Geoff, this is my mom.” I put out my hand and she looks at it as though I am offering her a piece of shit. She sniffs in the air and raises her chin. Her head then snaps in Steven’s direction, she narrows her eyes, and points a finger at him. “No funny business in the basement.” That said, she spins on her heel and puts her head back into the fridge.

The door to the basement is located near the kitchen and Steven yanks it open. As we head down into the basement, I am hit with a strong musty smell. Steven hits a light switch on our way down the stairs and the basement is bathed in yellow lighting. This basement looks like someone had the best intentions of turning it into a “rumpus room” but stopped after installing a few couches and a bar. It now looks like a science project gone bad. There is stuff everywhere. It appears as though someone was getting ready to haul things to a rummage sale, but only got as far as the bottom of the stairs and gave up.

Steven’s mom yells down the stairs, “I am still in the kitchen and I mean it, no funny business.” I look at Steven and he shakes his head. “She walked into my bedroom when I had a friend over and caught us in the moment. She hasn’t recovered yet.” Steven then goes on to tell me how his mom took him to see a shrink and the shrink told her that homosexuality is a mental disorder. Now she follows his every move.

There is an old train set attached to a piece of plywood in the middle of this mess. Steven goes over and turns on the transformer.

The train comes to life and begins to speed around the track. We spend about an hour playing with the train set and Steven offers me something to drink. There is a mini fridge stuffed with soda. I open a ginger ale and we head to the couch.

Steven tells me about his life and how hard it is growing up alongside a brother with special needs. Steven’s father left a long time ago. Since then his mother has gained 200 additional pounds and is raising both boys on a fixed income.

After another soda Steven stands up, walks over to a sink that stands next to the washing machine, and begins to pee into it. He looks back over at me and smiles. I am not sure where he is heading with all of this but I am starting to feel a little uncomfortable. I look away and stare at the wall.

Steven returns to the couch and opens his legs wide enough to touch my leg. I don’t move and I am not sure what is about to happen. I am very aware that his mother is right at the top of the stairs. My second ginger ale has pushed my bladder to full. 

“Can I use your bathroom?” I ask Steven. He motions to the sink. I really do not want to use the sink but I am about to hit that crucial moment in time. I rise, walk over to the sink, and begin to pee. I feel a presence behind me and Steven’s hands grab my waist and slide to the front of my hips. “Here, let me help you,” he whispers.

Now it begins Part 6  

Steven and I began a summer fling right then and there. I liked him, even though he couldn’t do what his mother had asked him to do. I walked out of the basement and there she was, back in the kitchen getting a snack. She paused, turned around, and not only gave me a sneer that told me exactly where I stood on her list, but even shook her head in disgust.

Steven walked me home. Well, he was on his bike riding as slowly as possible while I walked back to Laura’s house. My throat was now starting to really hurt me and swallowing was painful. We said our goodbyes standing at the end of the driveway and vowed to meet again tomorrow.

Walking into the house I had a feeling of dread, especially when I had to walk past Laura’s dad’s car to do it. As I climbed the stairs I could tell that the weather in the house was stormy. Laura was sitting in the sunroom with her legs up on the couch. She was watching some “creature feature” movie. On the screen, a beach party is invaded by monsters wearing what I can only guess to be bathmats.

“Hi,” Laura says, without looking up. Somewhere in the back of the house I can hear Laura’s mother crying and her father speaking in hushed tones. I sit on the couch and my eyes feel heavy. “How was your date?” Laura asks as the monsters on television begin to smother a bikini-clad beach goer.

“Good,” I say, my eyes slowly closing. I push myself forward and slide to the front of the couch. “I am wiped out; I need to go to bed.” With that said, I rise to standing and head upstairs. The next day I am taken to the doctor and diagnosed with mononucleosis. I am told to stay in bed and sleep for about ten days.

“Oh my,” says Laura’s mother. She is worried that she might have to stay with me. I assure her that I am old enough to sleep alone and she can leave the house if she wants. We go home and  I go right to bed. 

Hours later the phone rings and rings, pulling me out of a deep sleep. It just keeps ringing, which tells me that Laura’s mother is not at home. I lie back down and drift off. Again the phone starts ringing. At this point I imagine that it has to be important. By the time I get out of bed it has rung thirty times.

The phone is located in the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. I get there and lift it from its cradle, only to be greeted by complete silence. “Hello,” I say. There is nothing but silence on the other end and a sharp click as the caller hangs up.

As I climb back into bed, the phone begins to ring again. I lean up on my elbows and begin counting. At twenty-five rings I get back out of bed and make it to the kitchen. I grab the receiver and say, “Hello.” For a long time no one speaks, but I can hear someone on the line. Then a voice says, “Home alone, faggot?” and hangs up.

Now it begins Part 7

The phone calls continued on a daily basis but only when I was completely alone in the house. It went on for two weeks. Sometimes there would be about five minutes of complete silence before either hanging up, yelling the word “faggot,” or a combination of the two.

I never knew who it was. It was also during my bout with mono that I didn’t get to see Steven at all. He would call and tell me that he rode his bike past the house, paused to look up at my window, and rode on. Was this romantic, or was he a stalker? Steven was the only one who knew I was home alone or at least checked. Could it have been him on the phone? I now have my doubts about this theory, but after a week into the creepy calls, I blamed him over the phone. I would learn this early as an interrogation technique. It seldom worked and caused terrible fights. Steven was angry, but he blamed my theory on the fever.

Just as I was getting over my bout with mono, Laura’s mother decided we were going on a vacation. The family owned a house on Schroon Lake and we were going to join Mark’s family for a long week in the cabin. Laura’s father announced that he had to work and that it was “insanity” for him to go with us. Laura’s mother would sigh and stare at the ceiling. “You never want to go anywhere,” she said to him over dinner one night, breaking the twenty minutes of silence that had precluded this accusation.

His response was to get red in the face and come up with some lame excuse, then get angry and bang his hand on the table. Tonight he cursed Gloria Steinem for “helping women achieve freedom.” I was now convinced more than ever that there was a secret in this house. 

Last winter, a bank robbery had happened near the town that bordered Schroon Lake. The getaway truck was being chased when it was driven out onto the ice and sank. The robber driving the van was never found and a legend formed around his body being trapped at the bottom of the lake.

I spent the summer in a weakened state. Either I was too tired to make it to the floating dock, or too scared that the dead robber had become a “feet grabbing monster” who was always just slightly below me, arms outstretched. I would crawl out of the water and onto the beach. My theory was that if I could feel the sand beneath me, I wouldn’t step on a decaying body that could get angry and seek revenge. 

One thing that the “kids” who lived year round near Schroon Lake thought was fun involved swamping the canoes of the followers[1] from the Word of Life Bible Institute. This was believed to be a religious cult that had a compound on the lake. The followers would hang onto their boats as we passed, yelling the word “freaks.” 

This was an amazing vacation which could only be topped by Laura’s father when we got back. Laura’s father had a surprise of his own. He had called the group home in Saratoga and gotten me another invitation to come live there. 

Now it begins Part 8

I spent another couple of weeks with Laura’s family before I was packed off to Saratoga. I attended more “Kids are Goats, Children are People” seminars in Laura’s basement. I never got any closer to getting to “the root of my problem” by talking, though. My flight instinct would take hold whenever the kids looked at me, and then they’d realize that I had two scoops of “flee” in me as well. It became not worth their effort to talk to me and I was allowed to just sit in the circle. Laura’s father went on an extended business trip during this time and her mother just wandered around the house, touching family photographs and sighing. 

Steven and I said our final goodbyes on the road in front of Laura’s house. We vowed that someday we would meet again and he gave me a t-shirt he had made for me, wrapped in tissue paper and tied with a bow. The shirt was yellow with the words “Fuck you,” printed on it. We hugged and he rode away. This time he didn’t look back. I walked into Laura’s house and twenty minutes later a car was waiting for me. Laura’s mother hugged me goodbye and I was taken to Saratoga. 

The drive to Saratoga took about an hour and a half. I really didn’t pay that much attention, but when I sat up to look out the window, the driver told me, “We’re here!” My summer had swirled away.   From the road, I could see that this was clearly one of the biggest houses in Saratoga, or anywhere. However, it was located on a desolate street in the middle of the woods. I really should have paid better attention while we were getting here. I remember being driven up the road, seeing a sign for A&W Root Beer, and the car taking a right turn. That’s how I got there. Stupid of me; if I needed to hitchhike, I had no landmarks. 

I had hitched a ride from Laura’s once with someone’s creepy dad. He got a little handsy and I jumped out at a stoplight. Granted that he had driven around getting handsy for quite some time before he stopped at that light. It was one of the only times I ever really feared for my life. 

The sun was setting as the car pulled into the driveway. The driver informed me that this was the Parsons Child and Family Center in Saratoga. There was no sign to be seen anywhere. From my view I could see that the nearest place to run was the woods. Unfortunately, I would only be able to hit the woods after crossing a backyard the size of two football fields. By then the hounds would be on top of me. 

As we left the car, two people came out of the house and met us halfway. One was a small female with dark hair in a pixie cut and a crooked smile. She was wearing Birkenstocks. The other was a male, very strong and powerful. It was clear that he was the “discipline” in the house. Some papers were signed for my transfer and my driver drove away. It was that simple. No fanfare. No restraints. 

I can see several people looking out from an upper window. And now a hand is placed on my shoulder, pushing me forward as I am walked into the house. 

Now it begins Part 9  

The house is enormous. I am standing in the back entryway that is nothing more than an enclosed porch. It serves as a check-in spot. “Security” takes my bags so they can go through them in search of drugs.

“My name is Diane and I am your social worker,” says the woman who comes to meet me in the driveway. She places her hand into the air between us and smiles; the corners of her eyes crinkle up. I stare back at her hand, not really in the mood to shake it, and I let my silence become uncomfortable. 

“Anyway,” she says, her hand still in the air. She looks at me and looks at her hand. It becomes quickly clear that this is not a gesture of kindness; this is a test, and I am failing miserably. “Security” puts his hand on my back and shoves me forward. I take her hand. “Good,” she says, gently shaking my hand and walking me into the main part of the house.  

“We like to have no problems out here in Saratoga,” Diane says, stopping in the middle of the hallway. As we walk, I am being given a brief tour of the downstairs area. She takes me through a kitchen, a dining room, a television room, and points out various staff offices. As we continue walking, she prattles off the house rules. She stops directly in front of a floor-to-ceiling painted sign on which the rules are written. I am told that I will be given a copy of them as well. 

I notice that the house seems very quiet and I don’t see anyone around. Diane sees me looking and mentions that, “Everyone is in their rooms.” The tour continues and I am taken to the top of the stairs where there are five doors in the immediate hallway. She opens one of the nearest doors and I am shown one of the bedrooms. “This is to become your room for an indefinite amount of time,” Diane says, not really looking at me. “Through your room is the entrance to Danny’s room,” she continues as we enter. “He has lived here the longest of anyone in the house and has to walk through here to get to his room.” She turns and looks at me, smiling with just her eyes. 

My room is huge, with two queen-sized beds separated by a dresser, two desks, and additional dressers on each side of the room. Two large windows on the far side of the room look out onto the expansive lawn. It all seems designed to be matching “twos” of everything. I guess in this way no one feels any preferential treatment and a lot of fights are probably headed off. 

“I will let you get settled and then we will talk” Diane says, walking to the bedroom door. She pauses, turns around, and claps her hands together. “Structure is the key,” she says. “Security” has been standing very close to her this whole time and he follows her out the door. As the door closes and I am left alone, I lie down on the bed and stare at the ceiling.

Twenty minutes later the door opens and in walks a cowboy. He is in his early teens and dressed head to toe as A Cowboy! Cowboy hat, cowboy vest, cowboy boots, cowboy chaps! Looking closely at his face as he passes, I notice his prepubescent handlebar mustache. “Hi, I’m Geoff,” I say, sitting up. He barely looks in my direction as he walks through my room. Then he opens a door and disappears. I assume that this is Danny. 

Diane gives me about an hour before she comes and finds me. she is no longer shadowed by “Security”. “Hungry?” she asks, softening her demeanor. “I am,” I tell her as I follow her down the stairs. 

Now it begins Part 10  

I sleep very well for my first night, but I am up the minute I hear anyone stirring in the hallway. The clock on the nightstand tells me that its six o’clock in the morning. I glance at it as I slide out of bed. I put on the same clothes that I had the night before because I haven’t had any time to unpack. I find them without turning on the lights, thrown on the floor near one of the dressers. I pull them on and step into the hallway.

It is really quiet upstairs, but I can hear voices coming from the main floor. Standing at the top of the stairs, I grab the banister and head downstairs. The voices get louder. Standing in the main corridor, I can see a light coming from the dining room. As I get closer I can see people sitting around the dining table as well.

I hover outside in the hallway and take a head count. There are about twelve kids talking over one another to be heard. The conversation is a mix of nothing. A lot of “who did what to whom and what whom did to who.” It is really early and already there is chaos.

Looking up, one of the girls sees me and nudges the girl sitting next to her. Suddenly, the room becomes a set of falling dominoes, falling into silence. One by one, each of the kids stops talking and turns their head in my direction.

There is a counselor is in the room who realizes that the kids have stopped talking and that they are all looking into the hallway. She rises from her chair, pokes her head around the corner and sees me. Walking out into the hallway, she extends her hand. “Hi, I’m Charice,” she says gently, taking my elbow with one hand, and motions for me to join them in the dining room with the other.

Every child watches me walk into the room. “Grab a bowl off the buffet table and get some cereal,” she tells me, pushing me in the direction of the buffet. Charice, on the other hand returns to her seat and back to her coffee. I’m sure that this is a weekly routine for her. #1-on the list… throw new child to the wolves… check.

I heap a giant ladle of Cheerios into my bowl and pour milk over them. Looking around, I spot a container of spoons and reach for them. Still, it is completely silent, and I can feel all the eyes on the back of my head. Charice tries to break the silence by yelling across the room to me, “Where are you from?” 

Not turning to look at her, I respond, “Guilderland.” I might have well said Mars, because Guilderland, gets the same reaction. Not one of the kids makes a sound. I slowly turn and walk back to my audience and find an open spot at the table. The kids still stare at me slack-jawed. Suddenly one girl turns to the girl next to her and says, “See? I told you he was gay.”

Now it begins Part 11  

Life at the group home in Saratoga starts out just like life at the runaway shelter. They don’t know what to do with me, so I get the day off while the other kids get sent to school.

These are the first days of the new school year. Later I will be taken to meet an advisor who can place me, but I will spend today talking to my social worker in her office. She gives me several “psychological tests” to see where I’m at in my life. I also get the rundown on how the group home operates and what they expect from me. 

All day long, counselors show up to work their shifts at the home. I am introduced to so many people that their names all merge in my head. The staff consists of about twenty different people with many revolving shifts. 

At the minimum, there are at least five people working at any given time, but on the overnight shift there is only one person, Charice. She has been working at the group home for about five years by the time I get there. I am told that she loves the overnight shift because there is no noise. According to my social worker, “Charice has an amazing record and puts up with no nonsense on her shift,” adding under her breath, “she also has a hotline to the police department.”

Now that I am alone, I get a chance to check out the house. I can confirm that it is as enormous on the inside as it appears on the outside. There are several bedrooms, bathrooms, two dining rooms, a living room, two family rooms, and several rooms converted into offices. The home also owns two vans and several cars, parked in the garage. Someone on the staff informs me that these cars are used to shuttle the kids wherever they need to go. 

Later in the day, my social worker sits me down to finish the list of house rules that she feels have been missed. I am told that once a week the staff of the house holds their weekly meetings to discuss what’s been going on. I am sternly warned that none of us kids are allowed to disturb them during these meetings, or there will be consequences. 

The staff has created a demerit system: you gain and lose your freedom based on your behavior. All week long they have mandatory outings for everyone in the house. They find that this stops fights and has everyone working as a unit. 

Every week there is a staff member whose job it is to sit at the house with whichever kid has lost their freedom that week. This shift is assigned on a “draw a straw” system. Every staff member hopes that it won’t be their shift of the week, but I’m told that it’s a demanding job. Someone is always in trouble. 

The first outing I will be attending is planned for this weekend. We are going to be taken for a day trip into the country. All the kids will be going and Dave will be in charge. 

Dave is 25 years old, long and lanky, with dark feathered hair. He shakes my hand when he meets me. Looking out the office window is about the amount of “going into the country” that I want to see. 

Now it begins Part 12  

The other kids arrive home from school in the afternoon and I get reintroduced to every single one of them. It is a swirl of information and I am looking for ways to remember who I meet. Tall and lanky with large buck teeth, that would be Sharon. Little round and fat with dirty blonde hair, that’s Becky. Round glasses and a large bulb-like head, that’s Nick. I don’t have a memory connection at that moment so I am just looking at them, grasping for anything, and repeating their names. They look back at me like I’m crazy and they have very little time for me. It is after-school time and more important, time for General Hospital.

The kids literally run to their rooms, drop off their books, and come running back down stairs into the kitchen. I am standing in the hallway watching all this chaos as cabinet doors get yanked open and the fridge door gets swung against the wall. There are hands reaching everywhere for any food they can get their hands on. 

Becky and Sharon seem really close to each other and announce to me that they are sisters. Nick looks at me, pushing his glasses back up his nose with one finger. “They are not technically sisters; they just hang out all the time,” he says. “Dork,” Sharon  says into Nick’s ear, as she passes. I notice that she says it loud enough for only us to hear. “You’re not allowed to talk to people like that in this house,Sharon,” Nick cries. Becky walks by with a cereal bowl in one hand. With her hand carrying the orange juice she flips Nick the finger. “Hey, no gestures either,” cries Nick, backing into the wall. 

As I follow them into the living room, the kids seem to all have their “spots” and God forbid if you sit in one of them, Skyler tells me. The great shushing begins and everyone is told to “shut the fuck up.” Somewhere in another room a counselor yells out, “Hey, we don’t talk like that.” 

I have never spent any time watching a soap opera, but these kids are wrapped up in it. The television is turned on and the opening credits roll. I am transported to Port Charles and every character that arrives on the screen gets an introduction to me by the kids. “She’s old, rich, and white. Her name is Lila and she’s married to an old guy named Edward.” “That one there is Heather and she’s crazy.” “That ugly one with frizzy hair is Luke. I never understand what Laura sees in him.” 

At the end of an hour I understand that Heather is disguising herself as a nurse and escaping from a mental institution. Diana Taylor is murdered and the name “Ann” is mysteriously written in her blood. The end credits roll and the energy in the room is electric. 

Diane and Mark walk into the room. “Okay, everyone,” Diane says, “off to your room for homework.” Grumbling, the kids get off of their spots in the room and head upstairs. Diane also announces while we pass, that there will be two new kids named Dennis and Mike joining the house tonight. Also, we are reminded by Mark to “pack light” for our trip into the country for the weekend. I can hear doors closing and then I can hear the music of Jackson Browne played at full volume behind someone’s closed door. 

Mark walks over to me and puts one arm around my shoulder. I take this gesture from him to signal “Trust me; I’m like a Big Brother.” It actually makes me more guarded, and I start to think that everyone I meet is up to something. “Why don’t you show me your room and we’ll talk,” Mark says, gesturing to the stairs.  

Now it begins Part 13 

Mark and I sit in my room. He is asking a lot of questions and I feel that so many of them border on the personal. “Where did I grow up?” “Do I like boys or girls?” “Why can’t I get along with my mother?” My head is spinning and I feel that he is Grand Inquisitor trying to get to “the heart of the matter” with me. I am a tight lipped enigma and I can tell that I am getting to him every time his eyebrows go up. I counter his questions with vague answers like “Maybe, uh-huh and she’s a bitch.”

It is clear that he is getting frustrated and I have seen right through his trying to bond with me. I pretty much don’t trust adults and I’m finding that I trust adults working in group homes less than that. Our bonding lasts a couple of hours. I start to give him any answer to any question no matter how ridiculous, he is wearing me down. My urge to “run” grows stronger. Once he gets what he feels is enough information from me, he leaves. I lie down on my bed and close my eyes. 

At 8:00 pm a police car arrives and parks in the driveway. Word spreads quickly through the house to “look out your windows.” From my perspective, I have a front row seat my room looks into the driveway. The cop in the passenger seat gets out of the car and goes to the back door. Once the overhead light goes on I can see two figures sitting in the backseat. The cop reaches in and removes one of the passengers. The cop who was in the driver seat gets out of the car and walks to the back door and removes the second passenger. 

Both boys have their hands behind their backs. It’s very clear that they are in handcuffs. I can see them shuffling to the house, the cops are pushing them to walk forward. I can hear a stampede from everyone’s bedrooms as they race to the top of the landing. From this vantage point we can hear and if you are lucky be able to see what’s going on downstairs. 

Through muffled voices we can hear that Diane is still in the house along with Mark. They have been waiting for this delivery, once they check them in they can go home. This must be Dennis and Mike that they have been waiting for. 

Listening closely we hear the cops explaining that both boys came from a long line of shelters, group homes and most recently Juvenile Hall. Dennis and Mike have several crimes that the cops begin to list. It begins with Grand Theft, Solicitation, drug dealing, prostitution and ends with endangering a minor. 

It seems that they have been shuttled around a long time. Nick loudly whispers “God this is turning into an Albany group home.” Becky shuts him up when she elbows him in the ribs. 

We are hoping to get a good look and just then Dennis steps backwards into our view. He stands about 4’5” with greasy short spiky hair. He turns his gaze and sees us all at the top of the stairs I notice his “cheesy” moustache that hasn’t grown in but is actually just black fuzz. One of the cops yanks him back out of our view. 

Now it begins Part 14

We can hear the cops taking the cuffs off the two boys. Diane immediately starts in with the rules of the house. She also explains to the cops that she is not used to having children brought to the house handcuffed. The cops explain that it is procedure and that these two boys need to be watched really closely. “If I had my way,” says one of the cops, “they would be in prison for a long time.”

“Great,” I think to myself, if I didn’t feel safe living here before, this makes me less sure. “It’s becoming a group home from Albany,” Nick loudly whispers again. Sharon glares at him and punches her own hand. I’m beginning to wonder what happened to Nick at an Albany group home.

As Diane bids goodbye to the cops and heads to the stairs we all scatter back to our rooms. Ten minutes later there is a knock at my door. It’s Diane with Mike. Diane doesn’t wait to be asked in, but opens the door and sticks her head in. “I have a new roommate for you,” she says with a smile on her face. Now she steps into the room and swings the door open. Stretching both arms out like she just did a magic trick, she announces, “Ta-Da” and I see Mike standing there.

This ferocious villain stands at about 4´3˝ with soft hazel eyes, curly hair, and a swimmer’s body. He reminds me of a Botticelli angel. His eyes are focused on the floor, and I notice that one of his shoe laces is undone. Slowly, Mike’s eyes come up to meet mine, and a shy smile crosses his face. There must be some mistake that this boy arrived in handcuffs at the door. I got a quick glimpse of Dennis from the top of the stairs and I have to say that he looks like a felon-in-training to me.

“Hi,” says Mike, and he quickly steps into the room. He takes a look around, and I can see him making a mental note of what’s in here. I make a quick mental note to see if I have anything of value in my stuff that I need to hide. Walking over to far side of the room, he sits down on the bed and places his hands on either side. He then looks up at me, smiles and asks, “Mind if I sleep here?” “You two are going to get along famously,” Diane says and walks out of the room.

Mike begins to tell me the story of how he met Dennis and that Dennis has the IQ of a five-year-old. Dennis also just does things without thinking and it tends to get him in trouble. Dennis once stole a car but didn’t know it was wrong; he just did it. Mike and I begin to talk for hours and soon we are told that it’s “lights out.”

I show Mike to the bathroom and go back into the bedroom to get ready for bed. Several minutes later Mike returns to the room, stands by his bed, and strips down to his underwear. He looks more like a wrestler than a swimmer to me now; I can see the muscles on his forearms and legs. He glances over at me and smiles again. Then he reaches out and turns off the light.

The room is bathed in darkness and silence. Twenty minutes later I can feel my covers being pulled down as Mike slips in bed next to me. “Mind if I sleep here?” he whispers in my ear. I reach across under the covers and I can feel that he has removed all his clothes.

Now it begins Part 15

The next morning I wake and Mike is no longer in my bed, in fact he is no longer in the room. I now figure that, “hell, this place isn’t so bad.” I throw back the covers and head into the bathroom. Pausing at the top of the stairs, I can hear kids down at the breakfast table.

I quickly shower, dress, and head downstairs. As I walk into the dining room, I realize that I haven’t seen any staff members around the house at all. When I ask, Becky informs me that, “they are all in the office having a meeting.” I shrug and figure that it must be a daily thing and we will see them soon. 

“It has something to do with Mike,” Becky adds as an aside, and returns to eating. “Huh?” I think to myself and I turn, walk out of the room and head to the office. There is a glass window in the office door and by standing off to the side, I figure that I can see in and they can’t see me. I can see Mike sitting in a chair surrounded by counselors; his angelic face is stained with tears. Everyone around him is hanging on his every word. One of the counselors holds a Kleenex box at the ready. 

I move closer to the door and try to listen. I hear Mark say, “These are very serious charges,” and Diane adds, “We should call the police.” I am now intrigued. What could have possibly happened in between last night and today? Mike seemed all right last night, and now he is in the office blubbering and they are talking serious charges? I move a little closer and as I raise my eyes Mike sees me and points a finger at me. All the counselors look at the door and then right at me. 

Two counselors take Mike on either side and block him. Diane crosses to the door and yanks it open. I can hear the glass rattle. “You are in deep trouble,” she says to me. Mark crosses behind her and walks up to my side. The two counselors holding Mike dance him out the door, and Mark and Diane dance me in. Mike’s sobbing stops, he looks at me, and an evil grin crosses his face. It is a brief moment in time and soon he is back to sobbing. 

Mark pushes me into the same chair where Mike had been sitting. Diane steps in front of me. “We are removing Mike from your room for his own protection,” Diane says walking over and closing the door. “What for?” I ask. “You know what for,” she repeats, mocking my voice. “He tells us that you forced him to have sex with him last night. He tells us that he is scared to stay in the room with you. He tells us that you threatened to kill him if you didn’t have sex with him. He claims that you raped him.” 

My eyes grow wide and all the air is sucked out of the room. “He’s a fucking liar,” I scream. “A fucking liar!” “Why should we believe you?” Mark asks, spinning me towards him. I am now an inch from his face and I can see spittle on his lip. “Because he’s fucking lying,” I say. Diane faces me, “He seems pretty upset,” she says, finishing up with, “I have to report this to the police.” 

My world begins to spin. I can’t seem to find the thread of sense in this. “You will spend the rest of the day confined to your room until the police come. If Mike decides to press charges I don’t know what will happen to you.” Diane waves her hand and Mark grabs my arm and yanks me to standing. Then he grabs my arm and the back of my neck and pushes me into the hallway. 

“I didn’t do anything,” I scream. Diane turns and closes the office door in my face. She is now standing an inch away from me but separated by the glass. She begins to shake her head back and forth and walks away from me. I start to fight for my life, and Mark slams me to the floor and sits on me. He takes his knee and presses it to my throat. “Stop fighting,” he screams, the veins bulging in his forehead. 

He presses his knee harder until the world begins to go dark. I stop fighting and just lie there. Mark waits a good ten minutes until he is sure that I am done fighting, and then he yanks me back to my feet. 

Now it begins Part 16  

I am now a prisoner in my own room. How quickly things change around here. Not to mention that I am also waiting for the police to show up and arrest me. Who knew that this was how Saratoga would turn out? Standing outside my room, Sharon tells me in hushed tones that the other kids have been told to ignore me. She also tells me that I’m in solitary confinement. 

Around 2 p.m. that afternoon I see Mike and Dennis standing in the driveway. Mike glances up at my window, sees me and waves. Dennis looks in the same direction and waves as well. Then they walk back into the house. 

Now I am mad. I pick up a barbell lying on the floor and I drop it. I repeat this about thirty times but hold it higher and higher. The house shakes with every drop of the weight. Soon I hear footsteps running in my direction and Mark literally smashes the door inward. I take two steps back and Mark runs at me, placing his hands around my throat. We fall backwards over a chair. 

He is once again sitting on my chest with his hands around my throat when he begins to repeatedly start banging my head on the floor. His face is red and the veins in his neck are bulging. I once again feel the world grow gray around me as I slip into a quieter state. I black out for a moment, which causes Mark to jump up off of me as he realizes that he may have gone too far.

As I begin to come to, Mark backs towards the door, but turns around and jabs his finger in the air at me. “Keep it up and I’ll kill you.” I pull myself across the floor and onto the bed. I don’t have to be told twice about his threat, and I do believe that he will actuallykill me. 

Two hours later I get off the bed and open the door to the hallway. Looking out I see that no one is there. I can hear someone playing that same Jackson Browne album from behind a closed door. I walk to the top of the stairs and listen. I hear nothing; no talking, no laughing, nothing but silence.  

As I head to the kitchen, I pass the office. Looking through the office window, I can see that the staff is having another meeting. I figure that this is my time to plead my case and tell them what actually happened between me and Mike. 

Diane is sitting in the middle of a circle of counselors. She has their undivided attention. She can see me as I approach the door, and doesn’t seem to react to me one way or another. I knock on the glass and everyone turns to look at me. I can see and hear Diane say, “Ignore him.” So I knock again and again until my knocking becomes a steady rapping. When my steady rapping doesn’t work, I begin to pound on the glass. My pounding becomes harder and harder. And then it happens. It happens in slow motion. I raise my fist and bring it against the glass. Slowly my hand smashes through the glass, the glass flies inwards and everyone slowly turns in my direction. They all have a look of dread and horror as the glass shatters into a million little pieces and rains down upon them. Realizing what I have done, I pull my hand back out, and that’s when I notice the blood running down my arm. 

Again in slow motion I turn, grabbing my arm, and run for the bathroom. Several counselors are hot on my heels. As I run into the bathroom I slam the door, turn around, and pull the bolt. Crossing to the wall I slide to the floor. The bathroom door is being pushed in by several people on the other side. It groans and squeaks. My blood began to run down my arm and pool on the floor. I watch in sick fascination as it runs across the linoleum. Reaching down, with one finger I write “Ann” in the blood. 

Now it begins Part 17 

The door gets taken off the hinges and they find me with my legs curled up underneath me. Diane sees my blood on the floor with the name “Ann” written in it and calls the paramedics. I am placed under “psych watch.” 

No one seems to understand the humor of what I have written. None of them saw Heather writing it in Diana Taylor’s blood to frame Ann on General Hospital. Explaining it gets a lot of people nodding and telling me that they “completely understand,” then drawing my straps a little tighter. 

As they are carrying me out of the house I can hear Nick in the bathroom where they just removed me from, screaming, “This is turning into the Albany group home! This is turning into the Albany group home!” It is very clear that my days here in Saratoga are numbered. 

Diane is at the hospital. She has just spoken to her husband Charlie, who is a counselor in the Parsons system in Albany, about getting me transferred to an “Independent Living” group home. It’s still in the Parsons Child and Family system, so I would be making a horizontal move. Charlie will be putting in the paperwork to make it happen. 

I am trying to explain the plot of General Hospital to a nurse who has my hands strapped to the bed. She tells me that she’s more of a Guiding Light fan as she leaves the room. 

“Boy, how did this happen?” I ask myself. I have screwed up big time. I have to spend at least 48 hours in the care of the hospital. The cut on my arm wasn’t bad at all. I did most of the damage pulling my hand back. They say I probably will have a little scar. The nurses are actually kind when they talk to me. It is the first time in a long time that I am allowed to be a child, and I feel safe. 

That night, while I am in the hospital, Dennis and Mike steal one of the group home’s vans and are gone for two hours before anyone notices. They are still missing two days later when I get back after several psychological tests. It seems that Mike’s rape story was a plot to share a room with Dennis so they could plan their big escape. It is very clear that I never “raped” anyone. It is Diane who approaches and me and apologizes “off the record”. “Well, we still have this weekend to look forward to,” she says. 

How this didn’t get me out of the weekend car trip in the country, I’ll never know. Dennis and Mike are still missing, so the staff  believes that it will be best to handle this with us kids out of the house. I have already lived more than enough drama in the short time that I have been here. 

We are all told what to pack, and Mark goes through everyone’s suitcases to make sure no one has brought drugs with them. We are, however, allowed to stop at the corner store and buy cigarettes. I am in my More Cigarette faze. They are long, dark brown, and menthol. I am so cool when I smoke them. Pretty much all the kids at the group home smoke. 

Dave is in charge of the trip and walks around the house telling everyone what a great time we will be having. Sharon pulls me aside and asks if I have any money. “Why do you need it?” I ask. Sharon and Becky want to smoke pot on the trip but they have no money. Sharon’s mom will be sending her money by next week and she can pay me back then. “Where do you get weed?” I ask. “You need to ask Danny, he has plenty in his room,” Sharon tells me. While everyone is packing, I knock on Danny’s door. There is no answer, so I knock again. Still no answer, so I push the door open slightly and poke my head in. 

Danny is lying on the bed with his earphones on. I can hear the country music coming through the headphones loud and clear. Danny is tapping his cowboy boot in time to the music. Danny is sort of an enigma; he has his own rules and comes and goes as he pleases. I rarely see him. The inside of his room looks like backstage at a rodeo. “Where the hell did he come from?” I ask myself. 

Now it begins Part 18  

Danny rolls over calm and cool as can be and doesn’t jump or seem surprised that I am standing inside his room. He smiles and removes his headphones. “What can I do ya fur?” he drawls. “Seriously,” I think to myself, “Where the fuck did he come from?” 

“I um… I was sent by Sharon… to… uh…,” I stammer. “You want to buy weed?” he asks, swinging his legs off the bed. ‘Yes,” I say quickly. He walks across the room and opens a free-standing closet. There is more weed in there than I have ever seen in my life. “What kind you want?” he asks, not looking at me. “The kind you smoke,” I add, trying to sound cool. Danny laughs and turns to look at me. “No, you chucklehead, what do you want it to do?” “Well it’s not for me; it’s for Sharon and Becky,” I tell him, trying to make myself sound convincing. “Two of my best customers,” he says, adding a chuckle. Reaching up, he pulls down a baggie with weed and tosses it to me. “Something a little wacky is what they like.” 

I catch the bag and look at it. “How much?” I ask. “Forty bucks’ll do ya,” Danny says, shifting his cowboy hat forward over his eyes. Reaching into my pants, I pull out my money and count it out. It is the last $40.00 I have to my name. Danny reaches up quickly and snatches it out of my hand. “Good doing business with you,” he adds. As I turn to walk quickly out the door, Danny says, “Remember, squealers tend not to live long around here.” I nod my head without ever looking back.

Standing alone in my room, I walk back over and to the door and make sure it is closed. I then begin to search around for a container to hold some of this pot. I am not going to give Becky and Sharon all of it. I split it in half and put a bag with my half in a little box I find. Then I head out into the hallway with the rest of it in my front pocket. I knock once and Sharon opens the door. Smiling, I reach into my pocket and withdraw the baggie. Sharon’s eyes get wide and search the hallway behind me. Then she reaches out, snatches the baggie from me, and shoves it down the front of her pants. “You stupid fuck,” she hisses and slams the door in my face.

I am now standing in the hallway in shock. So I knock on the door again. This time Becky answers. “What do you want?” she asks, pausing briefly enough to stop chewing her gum. “Is Sharon here?” I ask. “No, she’s out,” Becky says, and then she steps back and slams the door in my face.

I am completely flummoxed. What do I do now? I figure that I will just let it go and approach them at another time. I turn and head downstairs to the kitchen. Five minutes later Becky and Sharon coming running down the front stairs and pass the kitchen. As they pass the office they yell out, “Going for a walk,” and head out the door. “What the …?” I say out loud, running to the window. I can see them. They are race-walking to the street. Becky is still putting on her coat and Sharon is lighting a cigarette. Two minutes later, they are out of sight.

Now it begins Part 19  

I am pissed off at Sharon and Becky. They are sitting directly behind me in the van. I am also getting a little pissed off at Nick, who has now played the Jackson Browne album on repeat for the seventh time. “Don’t we have anything else to listen to?” Sharon suddenly blurts out, startling Nick. I quickly turn around and Sharon makes a yucky face at me while Becky giggles. “I want to punch her in her fucking face, I want to punch her in her fucking face,” I think to myself. 

“You owe me money,” I hiss under my breath, turning around to face Sharon. “What do I owe you money for?” Sharon asks a little too loudly. I can see Dave look at us in the rearview mirror. “You know!” I hiss again. “No, I don’t know!” Sharon hisses back in a perfect mimic of me. Becky giggles. “God, I hate Becky’s fat fucking face,” I think again. Dave’s eyes are not on the road now but looking right at me in the rearview. 

In the back seat Danny has his knees pulled up and his cowboy hat low over his face. He is as cool as ever and reminds me of a cat taking a nap. 

This freak caravan is headed for the woods. “Oh glorious days,” I say out loud to no one. “What did you say?” Sharon leans forward in her seat. “Just so we are clear, I bought you weed and you owe me money,” I say, narrowing my eyes. “I am also not afraid of you and will not hesitate to kill you in your sleep.” I say all of this an inch from her face; my jaw is pinched shut and my teeth are clamped down. This is said without moving my mouth; I am like a crazed ventriloquist. “God, you need a breath mint,” Sharon says, waving away the air in front of her, then turning back to a fat giggling Becky. I believe that my eyeballs are going to shoot out of my head and splatter on the windshield, I am now that angry. 

“Anyone else need a smoke break?” I scream out. Dave’s eyes meet mine in the rearview and he eases the van onto the roadside. Jackson Browne is on repeat again. Sliding across the seat, I slip out the van door and grab my cigarettes. At this time I am smoking More, a menthol ladies’ cigarette. They are long and thin, and I am too cool as I stand on the side of the road. Sharon and Becky light up a Marlboro each, forcing Nick to cough. He waves the unseen smoke out of his face and pulls out his inhaler.

“Retard,” Becky mutters to Nick. “What if I was retarded, how would you feel?” Nick stammers. “Like I was a genius, clearly spotting you as a retard before you knew you were one,” Becky says, purposely blowing smoke in Nick’s face. Stung, Nick turns his face to hide his tears.

“Fat Bitch,” I mumble to Becky. Clearly not caring, she walks away. Dave walks around the side of the van and slides up next to me. “What does Sharon owe you money for?” he asks, trying to act like he’s my best friend. My initial response is to tell him that it was for an abortion, but I push away the urge. “Nothing,” I say, kicking the dirt with my shoe and trying to walk away. “Seems like an awful lot of fighting for nothing,” he says, feigning concern and placing an arm around my shoulder. I step away and take a drag of my cigarette. “She asked me to get her something, I did and she owes me money.” “Uh-huh,” he says nodding his head. I am as vague as I need to be.

Dave nods like he understands and then yells, “Okay, everyone. Break’s over. Back in the van.” Becky knocks Nick out of the way and slides into the passenger seat. “Hey,” says Nick as the door slams in his face. Fat Becky gives Nick the finger. A silent tear rolls down his face.

The van pulls back onto the road and Becky puts Jackson Browne back on repeat. “God, I love this album, don’t you?” Becky says, slowly turning to look at me. Sharon begins kicking my seat. I can feel the blood in my neck and my eyes start to pulse in rhythm with my heart. I am sure that blood and guts are going to fly everywhere when my head explodes.

Dave checks the rearview. Danny’s sleeping, Nick is quietly sobbing, and Fat Bitch Becky is giving me the finger while crane-faced Sharon is kicking, kicking, kicking my seat. I can hear a clock ticking somewhere and it’s getting louder and louder and …

“That’s it!” I scream. “Sharon and Becky bought weed from me and never paid me back!” With this new knowledge, Dave slams on the brakes, causing everyone to lurch forward in their seats. “What?” Dave screams. “What?” Dave screams again. Sharon and Becky sit there with their mouths hanging open and their eyes wide. I am reminded of baby birds. Ugly fat crane-faced baby birds.

Dave’s head begins to shake as if this information has put him in overload. Quietly and calmly he turns the van around and begins to head back from where we came. No one is speaking except for Nick. “Where are we going? I want to go into the woods,” he cries.

Dave, not saying a word, starts to drive faster and faster. Sharon, coming out of shock, begins to move her head back and forth. Danny, cool as can be, doesn’t move. Twenty minutes later Dave pulls the van over to use a pay phone. “Don’t anyone move or talk while I am right over there,” he says motioning to the pay phone.

The minute the door slams Sharon becomes a ventriloquist herself. “Dead, dead, you are so fucking dead.” She mutters, never moving her mouth. “We are so screwed,” Becky says, looking at Sharon. Ten minutes later Dave climbs into the van and heads back in the direction of the group home. He is not speaking so I know that we are dead.

Now no one in the van is speaking. Jackson Browne is still singing. Two seconds later Becky ejects the CD, and I see it fly past my window and bounce down the highway.

Now it begins Part 20  

Dave keeps checking us out in his rearview mirror as he drives. I notice that he is driving a little erratically and begins to gain speed as we head back to the house. Everyone is quiet, but looking around the inside of the van. We are fully communicating with each other through the use of our eyes. Sharon applies her miming skills as she pulls one finger across her throat looking at me. I return the finger to her as well. 

As we turn the corner at the A&W Root Beer stand, Dave picks up even more speed. Heading up the road we can see flashing lights coming from what looks like an army of police cars. Dave glances in the rearview mirror and forces a smile. Everyone in the van looks around. It is clear now that Dave made two phone calls when we stopped. One call went to the house and the other call went to the police department. We are currently being driven into an ambush.

A slight panic breaks out in the van. Some people are unlocking doors and trying to jump out while the van is pulling into the yard. Others are slamming the doors and locking them. “Maybe we can keep the police out,” Becky yells, slapping my hand away from the lock. Dave starts yelling as he continues to drive the van into the flashing lights. The house and grounds are being lit by the headlights and the lights from the top of the cars.

“Just like Albany!” Nick begins to scream, “Just like Albany!”

The van pulls up and there is Diane, standing in the driveway. The look on her face tells me that we are screwed. She is flanked by two officers who yank at the handles of the doors. Becky is standing with her head smashed up against the ceiling; she is holding down the lock. Diane and Becky lock eyes and I hear Diane scream, “Open that door!”

The two cops begin to yank harder on the handle. Nick starts to freak out, pushing everyone aside in the van as he climbs over the seat to get to the door, screaming “Albany, Albany, Albany.” I laugh because I think of Nick yelling “Attica, Attica, Attica!”

The minute the lock gets yanked up, the cops reach into the van and pull us out, one at a time. More cops arrive and start grabbing kids. Once a cop gets a kid, he marches them into the house. Each cop is flanked by a second officer.

Becky and Sharon are taken to their rooms and I am taken to mine. One cop stands at the door while the second one begins to open drawers and throw clothes around. The first drawer he opens holds the rest of the bag of pot I split with the girls. It is in the front and his fingers are literally touching it.

Fortunately for me, he is digging in the back of the drawer and not looking in the front. “Who hides their weed in the front of a drawer?” he is probably thinking. He starts to get angrier and angrier as he searches the room. He is still not coming up with anything. Maybe this tip was not a good one. The police are always being called to the group home for one reason or another. 

The police continue searching and all us kids are brought together into the living room. We have three counselors sitting in with us in case anyone says anything that will help the police. I hear the sound of a pig squealing and snorting. Becky has placed one finger on her nose and pushes it up. Her sidekick Sharon is making all the sounds. “Have you had work done?” I ask Becky. Again she flips me the finger.

Diane now walks into the room and sees Becky flipping me off. Diane’s face is red and puffy; she is so angry that her head might just blow off. Her general announcement to the room is in chopped-up phrases and she is muttering, “Police at the house. Get to the bottom of this. Selling drugs.” “You three!” she screams pointing at me, Sharon, and Becky, “Get a move on into my office!”

The three of us jump up and march towards her office. Diane almost takes the door off the hinges while opening it. I have never seen someone so angry and I am a little afraid that we will die or that she will have a heart attack. One of the police officers comes into the room and stands behind us.

What happens next is an honest-to-God real game of Good Cop/Bad Cop, but in this instance Diane plays Good Cop. The session lasts for several hours and the only thing they get out of us is that Sharon and Becky bought weed at school and threw it in the garbage.

No one is buying this story and I am not going to help out any more than I already have. Diane ends the interrogation, saying, “We will get to the bottom of this if I have to bring the cops back night after night.” We are sent out of the office and to our rooms. It seems that the other cops have found nothing and have gone home. Looking out the window I can see Diane and the “Bad Cop” talking in the driveway. I’m sure they are cooking up another scheme for tomorrow.

I enter my bedroom and look around at the mess of clothes and belongings dumped out on the floor. I see that the drawer that held my weed has been pulled out and the contents dumped. I walk over and sift through the clothes and there in the pile is my bag of weed still neatly tucked in its little box.


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