Context: Hillbilly Haven (Part 1)
The next couple of days went by pretty chill. I didn’t bring up to Caroline or Chuck about me staying with them permanently. I just… I couldn’t face the potential rejection of playing the “will you be my mommy” game as I’d done at Crossroads with Ms. D and Nona. It was always do the same thing. I’d jokingly make a comment about them needing to adopt me for some reason or another. They’d laugh, I’d laugh, and the gods would laugh at the sheer stupidity of me actually finding someone that was willing to put up with me. I figured it would be best not to pressure them, to just wait it out till the issue was forced by circumstance.
After all, I had time. DFACS refused to reopen my case while I was crashing at the Crossroads Gateway cottages even with all the case managers calling them trying to get them to fix their mistake. If they couldn’t get my case reopened, there was no way Caroline could. And if they really cared about me like Cass said they did…they weren’t just going to send me back to sleeping at the airport.
Then one morning while we were out running errands, Caroline missed a call back from my case worker’s supervisor’s supervisor. This was the first callback she’d gotten my entire time there and was probably because she presented herself as just needing to get them to send my birth certificate and social security card. Nothing about reopening my case, not condemning them for what they were doing to me. Caroline called back as soon as we got home. A week went by and no return call. I don’t know why, but something about the potential that they might call back again pushed me to start subtly prodding about me potentially staying.
Caroline and I were hanging out, having our usual mid-morning convo. Her in the kitchen me at the computer. It seemed we were always talking to each other in that position. This time we were talking about their plans on remodeling their house and whether or not it would be a waste of money.
“Well, I don’t know.” She said. “When Jake and Lucy were younger, we were going to do another wing at one point. Chuck and I both come from big families, we always planned on having a lot of kids, so we thought we’d need the extra space, but it just wasn’t in God’s plans.”
“Ever think of adopting?”
“We did…we looked into it. It’s a lot of trouble. This couple we’re friends with… they were sent through so many hoops and in the end, the girl changed her mind. It broke their hearts. We weren’t going to put ourselves through that. Learn to love a baby and then get our hearts ripped out cause some teenager decides she’d rather spend the rest of her life on welfare than give the baby a chance. It’s so frustrating. You know, they justify abortion cause there’s not enough people wanting to adopt but then they don’t give the people wanting to adopt a chance”
“Yea, it’s harder with babies,” I told her. “Everyone wants babies…………At the shelter, you walk in and if you’re over 10 they straight up tell you no one wants you.”
“That’s so cruel.” She said, momentarily heart sullen. “But you have to see it from the parent’s perspective. Like with us, with our kids, we would have had to get a baby. I mean what if we got a dud? Those people, they don’t tell you what the kids go through. There are people whose lives were ruined cause of the kid they adopted. They give people these demented kids with all these issues… most parents aren’t prepared for that. And it’s not like the agencies pay for the therapy the kid needs or the medications. In the end it’s not like a shelter dog you can’t just take back if it bites you or if it’s untrainable. The state washes their hands of the kids as soon as you sign the papers. There was no way. At least with a baby, you can raise it and not have to worry about what other people did to it.”
And there it was. Her words hit me like a bullet in the chest. She’d put me in my place without even knowing. The whole idea of living with them, this simple country life, going to school graduating, marrying Cass and popping out 6 incredibly handsome babies… crushed by reality. And the reality was I was a dud. If they didn’t think so, I would have never had to wonder if there was a possibility, they’d have already said something. I was stupid to have ever gotten my hopes up. I walked in knowing that I was just supposed to be there temporarily. It was my fault for being stupid enough to think it could end up being more.
The caseworker’s supervisor called Caroline back a few days later. Caroline all but cursed her out demanding to know how they could leave a child to rot in the streets. When they claimed they were unaware of the fact she rebutted “This child called you every day while her mother was beating on her. She called her caseworker from my mom’s house every day she stayed with her. My mom was right there.” When the worker insinuated that maybe I was just pretending to make the calls hoping her mom would take me in. Caroline responded “Then the staff members at that group home she was in were pretending to then? She went back there. She stayed for 3 days before she was forced out.”
Caroline went on infuriated about why no one was returning months of calls. She read off the times and dates that she had placed calls with my case worker, and with my caseworker’s supervisor, and with the child protective services hotline, and with any person who had a voicemail after she dialed any random digits within the company’s exchange. “You people are lucky that she stumbled onto my mother and not of some serial killer rapist and you’re darn lucky I haven’t contacted the media.” Then she started threatening to contact the media. They went on like that for a solid 30 minutes before Caroline quietly said into the phone: “we just don’t have the space.” A few minutes later, she hung up, victorious.
She did it. The supervisor was going to do what was needed to get the case reopened starting with figuring out who dropped the ball in letting this go on for so long. She asked for Caroline to give her a couple of weeks to try to identify a temporary placement, otherwise I’d have to go back to the shelter. She could not, however, get me back into Crossroads. As repeated over and over and over again “MATCH just won’t fund a child returning to a facility that they successfully completed.” But the supervisor hoped that, if given time, maybe she could pull some strings to get me into an independent living program.
Caroline was excited. I feigned a smile and high fived her. After all, she managed to accomplish what just a few months ago was seemingly impossible. She called her mom to tell her the glorious news. I told her I was tired and went downstairs to my room…Lucy’s room… to take a nap. I laid down and thought about that night at Crossroads when I walked in on my first love, Reed Hill crying in the Level’s lounge. The words he said when he looked up at me echoed in my head as I pictured him there. “I’m 16… No one wants me. No one wants a teenager.” I wanted so bad to hug him in back then. To hug him, tell him how much I loved him and that everything would be okay. I wished I had someone to come hug me, tell me they loved me and that everything would be okay. But I was 16. No one wanted me. No one wants a teenager. I ended up crying myself to sleep.
Over the next few days, I withdrew, at least internally. I still participated in their family crap, but I didn’t fool myself. I knew that just like when I was little watching the family sitcoms that dominated my tv, I wasn’t really experiencing these moments with my family, I was just projecting myself into someone else’s. It hurt. Eventually it began to hurt too much to even actually experience the moments. In times of their family togetherness, I was off to the side somewhere writing.
I hadn’t written since the first week or so that I was there, then suddenly song after song began pouring out of me. At one of Jake’s baseball games I overheard the words “Power play at home” and outcame the lyric “Still Water Crocodile powerplay at home/barebacked I’ll cross denial welcome the great unknown/steal coins from the wishing well/reap what we have sewn/ I think I faked it fairly well in time I think we’ve grown.” And from that came a song about a guy who beats the hell out of his girlfriend because she went and got herself pregnant and then the dumb bitch decides to keep the kid and spend the rest of her life on welfare rather than give the kid a chance at a family. A song dedicated to all the moms and dads of all my friends whose lives were irreparably damaged. A song about real life… Not this make believe Little House On The Prairie bullshit Chuck and Caroline had. As usual, I had the versus but didn’t have the chorus.
My computer time that night was spent writing and rewriting the chorus. Nothing fit. Eventually I gave up and schlepped to bed. Caroline found my journal at the computer left open to that page the next morning. She said that she’d appreciate if she didn’t leave stuff like that around for her kids to see. I apologized and said “yes ma’am” more embarrassed at having officially confirmed for her that I was damaged and putting her in a position where she had to protect her kids from me than anything. I didn’t want her to know she was right about me. I wanted her to later look back and think to herself “damn, I could have saved that kid… but I was too busy looking for signs from a deity cruel enough to put a child in a situation where they’d need saving.”
I wanted her to regret. I wanted her to hurt. I wanted her to feel gut wrenching guilt because that’s how I felt. But fuck it. My own mom threw me away, the person who was supposed to love me most in the world couldn’t love me so why the hell was I expecting that anyone else could. These are the thoughts that were racing through my head when later, I snapped at Chuck demanding he not touch me after yet again he came up behind me and grabbed a handful of fat from my arm. He was caught off guard and apologized, I did to. But in reality, I couldn’t’ have given a fuck less about his apology. I knew what he thought of me. Fat. Lazy. Disgusting. Hoodrat. Future welfare queen. I didn’t need to be around someone who thought of me like that. He probably ran to Caroline to tell her that he thought I’d been molested or some shit because it was the second time I’d winched at his touch thus further confirming for them that I was in fact a dud.
I convinced myself it was a good thing that they didn’t want me. I was shit. Drew had already run away from home once trying to go to “the orphanage.” that was probably why I was in Blairsville in the first place. Peggy didn’t want me corrupting her son. And who knows how long it’d be till I corrupted Jake and Lucy. I’d probably end up slutting it up with Jake or something or getting knocked up by Casey. Lucy would probably start cutting herself copying me.
Caroline wasn’t my mother. She was barely older than I was. Who the hell is she to tell me anything about how to live life and Chuck… I’d probably end up snapping on his right wing conservative garbage within a month and end up kicked out only this time kicked out in the middle of nowhere backwoods bullshit Georgia. I needed freedom. I needed to be able to come and go as I pleased. I needed to sneak in to Music Midtown. I needed a gooddamn cigarette. Why on earth did I even consider the possibility of trading in absolute freedom to live in a hillbilly haven?
At least in at the shelter, I could be myself and not have to tip toe around making sure I didn’t say anything they’d find too offensive and constantly swallow my tongue when they’d spew out incredibly offensive shit without giving it a second thought… like Caroline’s explanation of the decline of her old high school went to shit after the blacks moved in to Decatur and ran it down as an example to justify white flight (an issue she brought up) and of why they chose to live so far from the city. In their defense, they did agree that the socioeconomic disparity between whites and blacks and the lack of funding to the school by the state/county once the racial demographics changed were the primary reasons for the decline. But still, fuck them. Fuck it all!