It’s not a surprise that I’m addicted. I grew up around drugs. Both my parents were users, but my mom was the smart one and left. My dad isn’t very good at coping, and I was the only thing left for him to take his anger out on. Three or four times a week I’d listen to screaming about how mom left because of me and its all my fault while I was being smacked around. He’d tell me on a regular basis that I was worthless and nobody loves me. When I was seven I showed up to school with a black eye and a fat lip. “I fell off my bike.” was the story I was ordered to tell. But it didn’t fly. My teacher called Child Protective Services. They started monitoring my behavior and came to my house for weekly check-ins. My dad would make me put on a nice dress and he would vigorously clean the entire apartment before the inspector came, making sure to get rid of all the needles. Around my ninth birthday, they were fed up with my dad and he was brought to court. Because of the lack of evidence, they couldn’t convict him. As soon as we got home from the trial, my head was smashed into the coffee table. When I was ten, even though the abuse continued, the crying stopped. Instead of crawling into my bed and bawling, I would just climb out my window and sleep in the alley for the night. The cold helped numb the pain.
In Junior High they taught a week long course on drug abuse. It wasn’t until then that I realized what my father was doing. One night, I snuck out of my room and watched my dad shoot up in the living room. I watched the needle pierce into his skin and I let out a small gasp. His head shot up, and before I could blink he had thrown me into my bedroom door.
“You didn’t see anything You hear me?” he screamed as he was twisting my arm. I started to cry. He slapped me. “I said do you hear me?” he screamed again. I nodded in between gasps. He jerked my arm and I shrieked. The bone broke with an ear splitting snap. I lay there writhing around on the floor screaming in agony. The room started spinning and pounding blows started coming down on me. “Shut up, you little b***h. Shut up ” he was shrieking. But I could barely hear it because the pain was too overwhelming.
Consciousness came in short bursts. Next thing I remembered was my father being handcuffed and dragged away by two burly officers, kicking and fighting all the way out the door. The woman who came for all of those check-ins was kneeling beside me and more men with a Gurney came and lifted me up on to it. I was rolled out of the building, with the CPS woman beside me talking to me the whole time, but I couldn’t hear what she was saying. My vision started to fade and everything was black again.
I woke up to bright lights glaring in my eyes. Doctors and nurses were hustling and bustling about, bandaging and wrapping my wounds. I tried to tell them to turn off the lights but I was too weak to speak. I felt the weight of passing out fall over me again, but I was too tired to fight it again, so I just let the darkness wash over me.
The third time I awoke was to the steady beeping of a heart monitor. I was lying in a very stiff hospital bed. My hand was hooked up to an IV that was dripping a cold liquid into my blood. I looked around, taking in the new environment. I had never been in a hospital. The oily smell burned my nostrils and made me gag. When it had finally occurred to me that I was in a hospital, I excitedly looked around for all the toys and balloons my dream family and friends had brought me. I was disappointed to find no gifts, and that my life hadn’t been miraculously changed into a sit-com. I sighed in dissatisfaction. The CPS woman poked her head through the doorway.
“I see your awake.” she casually walked over to my bed. I struggled to push myself up into a sitting position. She went to help me but I stubbornly brushed her hand away. “Jenny, I don’t know if you remember me, but my name is Linda. I used to stop by every now and again and see how you were doing.” she said with a very welcoming smile, which made me uncomfortable and suspicious. I shifted a little in my bed.
“Yeah I remember.” I said, eyeing Linda cautiously.
“Well, I just wanted to make sure you were ok, and I also wanted to ask you a few questions about how you got hurt. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, tell me and we can stop, ok?” she laid her hand on top of mine and I jerked it away.
“I spied on my dad using drugs so he broke my arm. Its my own fault. I shouldn’t have been nosy.” Linda leaned forward.
“Jenny, nothing that has happened to you is your fault. What your dad was doing is wrong. He had no right to punish you for what he did.” she protested.
“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes and rolled on my side, facing away from her. She sighed, obviously feeling unaccomplished. I heard her smooth out her skirt.
“I’m going to leave my number. You call me if you need anything ok?”
“Mhmm.” I mumbled. The click of her expensive looking high heels echoed on the linoleum floor. I listened until she was out of the ward to let the weariness I had fighting off over come me.
He went to prison for six years. Linda came and picked me up from the hospital right after the trial. They had requested that I be there but I refused. Linda drove me downtown to a big brick building. A rusty chain link fence with no gate surrounded it. A beat up plastic sign hung next to the space where the gate should’ve been. The sign read “Lincoln Home for Orphans”. There were nine or ten grubby little kids running around ranging anywhere from five to ten years of age. They were climbing around on plastic jungle gyms and skipping make shift jump ropes. Three boys were playing a very intense game of what appeared to be cops and robbers. Linda opened the car door for me. I stepped out into the gray Manhattan air. Linda walked around to the back of the car and pulled my small suitcase out of the trunk she had sent an officer to my dad’s house to get. I had made a list of the personal items I wanted her to put in the suitcase. I hadn’t gotten the chance to make sure everything was in there, so I was eager to be left alone so I could check. Linda put her arm around my shoulders and led me up the walkway. I saw one of the boys trip and skin his knee. He started to cry and clutched his leg. I froze in my tracks. A pale woman with bright orange hair came rushing out of another door. I felt compelled to run to him and shield him from the blows I knew were in his future, but I couldn’t move. To my great surprise, the woman knelt down next to the boy and pulled out a band-aid. She stuck on the magical little strip of paper and stroked th boy’s head. She said something softly to him, and he stopped crying. She took his hand and led him back into the building, still hiccuping and wiping his nose.
“Jenny?” Linda said, tapping my shoulder. I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. There was no screaming and hitting. I thought I had missed something. Linda pulled me away from my awed daze and into the building. Inside there was a small lobby are with a desk pushed off to the side. There was a heavy woman sitting at the desk, typing away on the computer. There were a few more smaller kids running around. There were woman walking around carrying babies, feeding them and cooing and making them giggle. There were colorful pictures and stuffed animals everywhere. “Donna.” Linda tapped the woman at the computer on the shoulder. She turned around and smiled when she saw me.
“Oh You must be Jenny ” she said, “I’m Donna, I’m the director of the home. Everyone has been so excited to meet you.” she took my hand and shook it excitedly. “Let me show you around.” She brought me down a hallway lined with what seemed like endless doors. “I want you to feel completely at home here Jenny. This is the dining hall. It’s where we eat all of our meals. We’ll always tell you when its time to eat so you don’t have to worry about missing dinner.” she scurried along, not wasting anytime. “There are bathrooms right here. Obviously, you don’t need to worry about the boys room.” she chuckled to herself and moved along.
“Um what are all these rooms?” I asked, in a voice barely above a whisper.
“Oh, these are just the rooms where all the night staff sleep, file rooms, janitor’s closet, things like that. All of your rooms are upstairs.” Donna showed me around the whole building, introducing me to all of the staff. I was greeted warmly with many handshakes and the occasional friendly hug. At the ed of the tour, she opened yet another door into a narrow stair case. The three of us scuttled up the stairs. We exited in a quiet carpeted hallway. The silence was refreshing. We walked down about six doors, and then Donna turned and knocked on a door. There were shiny stickers on the door spelling RIKKI. The door swung open and rock music poured out of the room. The girl who opened immediately turned around and went back to what she was doing. She was dressed in ripped up jeans and a baggy football jersey. “Rikki,” donna yelled over the music. The girl turned the music down and sat on her bed. “This is Jenny. You two are going to be sharing a rooms.” she gave me a little nudge forward so reluctantly stepped into the room. I gave a little wave. Rikki nodded back “How about you get settled in here, and someone will be up in a little while to explain lessons and Nursery Duty.” Donna turned and walked away in the direction we came from.
“Well Jenny, I got to get going.” Linda said, “You know my number so if you need anything, just give me a ring. I’ll be by to see you every so often, to see how you are doing. Okay?” I gave her a nod and she casually followed Donna I set my suitcase on the bed opposite Rikki’s.
“What got you landed in this dump?” Rikki asked propping herself up on her elbow to get a better look at me.
“What do you mean?” I asked, not so sure how to answer her question.
“Why are you here? You must’ve had a family or something before you got sent here.” she explained.
“Oh. My dad did a lot of drugs, and pounded on me a lot, so he got sent to jail.” I told her.
“Oh man, that’s harsh. Me? My dad died when I was real little, and short after my mom figured out that she couldn’t take care of me so she gave me up. I went to a lot of foster homes, but I kept running away, so they stuck me in here about a year ago.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Well, its ok, but they could’ve done better. Us older kids gotta take turns helping watch the little kids and all of us still have to learn, like in school. It bites. But don’t worry I’ll help you through everything. It’s a lot easier once you get use to it.” I could already tell the two of us would get along nicely. She didn’t pry too much, and she didn’t get all teary eyed when I told her what had happened to me. That first night when she had fell asleep, I pulled my suitcase out from under my bed. I quietly opened it up, and started pulling things out. The locket I found behind my old school. It was silver and it had nothing in it, but I still loved it because it was mine, and no one could take it from me. Next, the jar of money I have been collecting since I was six. I picked up change whenever I found it. All together, it added up to nineteen dollars and forty six cents. I don’t remember what I was saving up for, or if I was even saving up for anything. I pulled out my favorite book, out of the few I had. It was a really old book, Little Women by Louisia May Alcott. I had read it dozens of times, and had never got tired of its captivating pages. The tragic ending had always made me cry, every time. I opened the drawer of the night stand next to my bed and set the items inside. Lastly I pulled out a picture. It held a picture of my third birthday, before my mother had left, and before the drugs. I was sitting in a high chair, with a paper party hat on my head and cake smeared all over my face. My mom and dad were sitting next to me, making faces to make me laugh. We looked so happy, like families on the TV did. This was one of the few times my parents and I were happy, and I couldn’t even remember it. I set the frame on the night stand. I looked at it one more time, longing to go back to that time and stay there forever. Then I fell asleep in the bed I would sleep in for the next four years.
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