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Call me Pinocchio (Freebie #20)
This is how it started–but I don’t expect you to believe me.
I’m in a dream, right, I don’t expect you to believe any of this is real, but anyway I’m walking down the street and I don’t even know which street it is, or where I’m going. Memory Lane, I guess.
I should back up a little bit. My English teacher came up with the lamest assignment ever: write down one thing I remembered for each year over a 10-year period. Like, intrusive much? I have an awesome personal story. Lots of foster homes, plenty of other places I don’t like to think about either, tons of things that were none of her damn business. Nothing that was.
Oh yeah. Meanwhile the plastic chair I was sitting in when she told us about the assignment hurt my butt, our desks are barely big enough to write on, and she (Mrs. Carmody) had put little stuffed puppies all over the room, which actually reminded me in spite of myself of my dog Junior, the one the cops had shot when they came to take me away from my parents when I was nine. He hadn’t been doing anything wrong. He was just big, and came through the dog door from the backyard at the wrong time. I don’t like to think about it. Duh. Wasn’t writing about it either.
It was my second day in a new school–I’m always in a new school–so I didn’t know anybody. I wanted to roll my eyes or say something, but nobody gave a shit, so there was no point. Story of my life.
Then we were supposed to pick five of those memories, the best ones I guess, and write about them. Slice of life stuff, she said. Whatever that meant, though it made me think about cutting myself. I used to do that, but I stopped last year. Mostly.
And we were supposed to draw pictures. Suddenly we were in an Art class? Seriously: whatever.
But just thinking about all the stuff that had happened in my life…well, I wasn’t going to. I didn’t like Mrs. Carmody anyway. Kind of a perfect storm of “show me on the doll where this pisses you off,” right, so I raised my hand and asked to go to the bathroom. Bad memories there too, I mean not that bathroom but others. The hell with it. Right?
I would’ve ditched school completely, but I don’t have a car yet–I’m in foster care; I barely had a week’s worth of clothes and actually I was low on tampons, which was going to be a problem soon but let’s move on–and my current school was kind of isolated. So I sat in a bathroom stall, and ignored whoever the girl was who Mrs. Carmody eventually sent to check up on me when she came in. Eventually the bell rang for our next class, but I just sat there.
I got to thinking…what if I wrote about ten years in the future? That way I could make it all up. So I started daydreaming about the sort of future I wanted, then got mad about the future I was pretty sure was going to get, and realized I didn’t want to write about any of that either. Even if I could make myself do it, if I could make it all come up roses and regular visits to Justin Bieber’s house, it was still none of her business. Mrs. Carmody’s I mean. If I wrote down what I really wanted, even if I could figure out what that was, it would give her too much of a handle on me. Plus she’d shown us other students’ assignments from previous years, so there was, like, no privacy there.
Fuck school anyway.
Don’t get the wrong idea: I’m walking down this magical fucking street right now, where all sorts of possibilities are open to me. That other stuff is in the past. Something changed, right, and maybe things will get better.
Anyway, eventually I went to my next class. Well, to Biology anyway. I kind of skipped the whole Geometry thing in between, while I was in the bathroom. Maybe that would cause some sort of trouble later, and maybe it wouldn’t. I wasn’t too worried about it. The teachers always know who the foster kids are, and they don’t expect too much. Sometimes that’s pretty cool.
I got home on the bus, but the door was locked. Nobody home. Shocker, right? I had a couple of new foster parents, not just new to me but new to fostering, and I guess they hadn’t figured out that my bus would drop me off before they got out of work yet. They seemed like nice enough people so far. Plus I’m the only kid in the house–or I am when I can get in the house–and that cuts down on the drama.
I sat on the porch for a while, in this big old bench swing they’d hung with chains. I started swinging back and forth, but some of the kids from school walked by and one of them waved so I quit moving. Nothing personal, but I didn’t want to get involved, especially when I didn’t have anywhere to run if I needed to.
A couple of hours later my foster mom, who wants me to call her Mom but I call her Sheila, pulled into the driveway in her green Volvo station wagon. She scowled when she saw me, so I looked away.
When she got out I saw she had a lot of groceries in the back seat, so I went to help carry them.
“Why are you sitting out here?” she asked.
“Couldn’t get in,” I said, still not looking at her.
She made this sound with her tongue and her teeth, I don’t know how to spell it, and went to unlock the door. Mad at something, I guess. Probably me. But whatever.
They argued that night. My foster parents. Sheila and Jimmy. They did that a lot, but didn’t break stuff or hit each other, or hit me either, at least so far, so I ignored it and went to my room. I wasn’t allowed to use a computer or a phone or a tablet, because CPS said I was too likely to be “inappropriate” with them–that meant talking to my brothers and sisters when they didn’t want me to, which was currently because of a court order because they were all up for adoption and their new families wanted to start fresh–but I had an MP3 player so I could listen to music. Not much of a selection, but better than nothing.
Jimmy came to my room a little bit later. He didn’t knock, because he never does. Sometimes I think he’s hoping to catch me naked. I could smell the whiskey on his breath. “Got any homework?” he asked.
“Not today,” I said. “I think they’re taking it easy on me because I’m new.”
“Uh huh.” He looked skeptical, but so what. “Listen, kid. We kind of need you to stay in here tonight. We’re having friends over, and the stuff we’re doing isn’t for kids. Got it?”
I nodded. “Sure.”
I wondered what they’d be doing. A wild orgy, maybe. I mean, probably not. Drugs were more likely. But either way I didn’t want to watch. Or find out at all. Whatever.
“So…” he continued. “Do you, um, need to use the bathroom?”
Something about the way he asked me that scared me a little. He just seemed too interested. So I said no, even though I kind of did need a bathroom, without looking at him.
He gave an elaborately casual shrug, then closed the door. Then latched it from outside. CPS had “made” them install the latch. It was for my safety, they said. There was also an alarm they could set that would shriek if I opened the door. All to keep me from running away, I guess. Or from walking out and being inconvenient.
My room wasn’t so bad. Not a lot of stuff in it, but it was lots better than other places I’ve lived. One thing it didn’t have was a bathroom, though, so I started looking around for something I could use.
One of the other kids in English class had asked Mrs. Carmody “what if we can’t remember anything for some years?” and she’d given a little smirk, then responded “just ask your parents–they’ll remember more than you want to know.”
It must be nice being a real kid. Not foster, I mean. The kind everyone assumes we all are, unless they know better, but people like teachers don’t really talk to foster kids anyway. They know we’re temporary and they figure our foster parents don’t care so we don’t matter a whole lot. Not whining, just noticing. Anyway, call me Pinocchio. Not a real boy, because for one thing I’m a girl, but whatever.
Anyway. All I could find was a plastic grocery bag, but I didn’t want to use it.
I picked up a book and started reading it–but it was Old Yeller, another assignment for English class, and I really wasn’t in the mood. When CPS moved me to Sheila and Jimmy’s house, they left most of my stuff behind. They usually do. But anyway, it was the only book I had available.
I tried listening to music, and started pacing around the room a little bit, but Jimmy came by and banged on the door to tell me I was making too much noise. The pacing, I guess. And maybe I was bouncing a little–but I was using earbuds.
I looked at the plastic bag, then shook my head and went to my window. It was on the second floor, but it opened right onto the roof and I’d noticed a tree growing next to the house.
Turned out there was no alarm on the window.
I felt like I was going to rupture something climbing down the tree, but I made it okay. I’d switched out of my school uniform to running shoes, my favorite jeans, and a light blue shirt my older sister Lisa had given me for my last birthday. I only had three dollars, but it wasn’t like I ever had much money. Besides, bus fare was only two bucks.
I wanted to find the house I’d grown up in, but I’d had to use one transfer ticket to get off the bus and use a bathroom, and the second driver wouldn’t give me another one. So I just rode the bus until we got to the end of the line and got out when the driver started yelling at me. I was in some kind of warehouse-looking area, with lots of businesses with big parking lots. Nobody around, which was okay by me, so I started walking.
Eventually I came to an area with bail bondsmen and adult bookstores, and a guy rolled down a window in his SUV to ask if I wanted a ride. I said no and took a quick turn into an alley. But there was no exit, which struck me as kind of appropriate, but when I came back out the SUV was gone.
Ten years of memories? No thanks. But maybe ten years of dreams would be okay.
A little bit later another guy asked if I wanted a ride, and he was a lot younger. Early 20s, probably. So I smiled at him and asked if he wanted a date.
Now I’m walking down this magical street, like I told you earlier. Memory Lane! And I know you don’t believe in it. But that first guy gave me a little cash, and shared his weed, and I used the cash to buy something a bit stronger.
Being like this, thinking of all the things that might go right for me, is pretty cool. It makes me feel almost real.
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