Excerpt from Driftwood Book 1 Chapter 14: Tales of the Fallen. Age 14.
Context: A leadership change at Crossroads led to the staff at the group home locking a half-dozen problematic residents in a small room for weeks on end. This led to a violent altercation between the staff and residents which ended in several staff members being arrested due to the severity of the injuries sustained by two of my closest friends, Faith and Samuel (which included severe rug burns and bruises all across the arms, torsos, and back of Sam). The police decided to remove Faith and Samuel from the facility “for their own safety.” Though I had not been involved in the altercation, I was taken along for the ride because I was a witness and the cops wanted to “protect [me] from any backlash”
For three kids who weren’t under arrest, it sure as hell felt like we were under arrest as we were packed into the back of that tiny cop car with our hands cuffed behind our backs. We nervously gazed back and forth at each other as we sat in fear of our uncertain future as the officer wrapped things up with Mr. Erik. The mood: Morose.
That all dissipated after “The Cop” got in the car and began acting like “Officer Friendly” as he drove away from Crossroads. Not doing himself any favors, Officer Friendly overplayed his “nice guy” schtick by trying to chit chat with us while emphasizing that we weren’t in any trouble and asking what radio station we wanted him to set the dial to (99x, of course). His cool grandpa guy demeanor set us at ease. That in turn, gave us permission to act like 3 friends who had been liberated from the room they’d been locked down for weeks and officially weren’t in trouble.
Officer Friendly apologized for putting us in cuffs and said that it was procedure for the back of the car. He then asked if they were too tight. I said no and Faith said she could get out of them if she wanted to. Officer Friendly suggested she not try it. “Those are real cuffs” he said, telling her that she’d end up injuring her wrists trying to get out of them. She said she could get out of hers without hurting herself.
I laughed and said, “me too.” Officer Friendly again warned us saying we didn’t need to be trying to squeeze our hands through the cuffs, emphasizing we’d bruise or cut our wrists. He said if we wanted to, he could pull over and cuff us from the front if it’d be more comfortable. I said I didn’t need him to pull over for that, and then did my look i’m super bendy parlor trick where I pulled my cuffed arms from my back, dislocated my shoulders, and brought them back down to the front.
Officer Friendly watched from the rearview, a cross between amazed, mortified, and disgusted. I then proceeded to dislocate my thumbs and quietly take off my handcuffs only in the view of Faith and Sam. Faith laughed and one-upped me by being a super tiny pixie with the ability to stand up in the car seat and maneuver around till she could pull her cuffs under her leg and to her front and then slid her tiny hands out of her cuffs. Samuel said that we were both “some bull shit,” jealous cause he didn’t have any way of de-cuffing himself. Officer Friendly called out to Faith to sit down, and said “did you take off your cuffs?” we both laughed and said no.
Officer Friendly told us to put our cuffs back on, so we laughed and complied…and then slid them off like 5 minutes later. Again, rubbing it in Samuel’s face who was too muscly and manly so couldn’t get out of his. Officer Friendly thought that was funny, even though he tried to maintain a stern voice telling Faith to stop climbing up on the seats (at this point she was just doing it for the fun of it and to further mess with Samuel). Eventually, Officer Friendly pulled the car over to the side of the road. We thought we were in trouble, but Officer Friendly just wanted to even the score and let Samuel out of his cuffs.
Before he did though, he asked if the three of us were “a thing.” Faith and I looked at each other and cracked the hell up at the idea that Officer Friendly thought we were teenage swingers. ‘No sir” Faith said throwing her accent on super thick. “That’s my boyfriend and that’s my very best friend.” It was the first time she’d called me that. I said, “awe I love you too” and then put my head on her shoulder.
Officer Friendly said, “that’s adorable” as he took off Samuel’s cuffs and announced, “I’mma uncuff you, but no hanky panky in my car.” Samuel said, “Yes sir officer sir” and the four of us laughed. Officer Friendly said “I mean it if I call ‘hand check’ I better see all your hands up without delay or y’all all going back in cuffs. That was a rule we could abide by. As soon as he started the car up, Officer Friendly yelled out “hand check” so the three of us raised up our hands laughing.
We had no clue where he was taking us, what this place we were going “for our safety” was going to be. For all we knew it could have all been bullshit and we were on one of those Fourth Street Academy-style nickel rides. Getting told we’re going for ice cream and ending up getting carted off to jail instead. I think we all knew that was a possibility, but the three of us together goofing off, it made it all less scary. At the end of the day, as long as we were together, things were going to be okay.
We had a few more hand checks before we finally got ‘there.” It was just off the exit for what is now Metropolitan Parkway, in South Atlanta. What it used to be called was Stewart Avenue, an area that was notorious for being ATL’s prostitution central. Samuel made a joke about Officer Friendly taking us to a strip club as the car pulled off the exit. A few minutes later we were “there” The place where we were being taken for our “own safety.” The Fulton County Children’s shelter, also known as the Delaney house. At the corner of hooker avenue and drug dealer central.
It was past midnight when we arrived at the Shelter’s huge campus. No time to take in the views of what the place was like. No time for even a traditional check in, if they even did traditional check-ins. No lice treatment, no strip search. They just split us up sending Faith and I to a female dorm and Samuel to the male dorm. When we got to our dorm, the staff had Faith and I shower, then give us oversized white T-shirts to sleep in. Our bed stuff? A couple of blankets to make pallets on the floor in the middle of what I assumed was the dayroom. They didn’t even have mats for us.
This wasn’t either of our first rodeo in an over-crowded children’s shelter. We knew there could be any level of creepy-crawly vermin camped out on the floor. So, when the intake staff member walked away back to the staff lounge, Faith and I said fuck that shit. We opted instead to push together two ugly green sofa chairs that were on the opposite side of a tiny table and slept upright in them with our feet propped on the other’s chair. Our final moment of genuine togetherness.
The next morning, we were awakened to the sound of staff yelling for everyone to get up for breakfast. A familiar scene in an unfamiliar place. Some of the girls looked at us like we were aliens. There were whispers about us being gay, but no one really spoke to us. Just a reminder, at shelters the other kids USUALLY don’t pay any attention to you until you are firmly established as one of them.
That of course is IF you don’t do something off-the-bat to identify yourself as worthy of ridicule, which in our case was giving them the smallest suspicion we were gay…and Faith’s thick southern accent mixed with her French Chelsea haircut and general baddest bitch in the history of bad bitches personality. So, when the girls were all giving us weird looks, Faith straight up asked if they wanted “to take a picture or something, I mean damn,” it didn’t go over too well. Luckily, it didn’t end up in a fight cause as I would later learn, there was no such thing as a 1 on 1 fight with any of the girls at that place.
The walk to the cafeteria revealed that the Fulton County shelter was almost as big and spread out as Georgia Regional Hospital. There were so many one-story brick buildings spread out around the campus, not knowing exactly which one of them Samuel was in made us uneasy. We at least had each other, but he was all alone in some mystical boys’ dorm somewhere on the campus.
When we entered the cafeteria, the boys were already lining up at the exit to leave. It wasn’t hard to spot Samuel, he was one of two white boys there. Faith called out ‘Sammy!” as soon as she saw his golden hair (the other white guy had dark brown hair). Samuel looked over at us instinctively, then turned his head back forward, looking down as the boys left the cafeteria. It was only a split second, but what Faith and I saw, broke us.
“The fuck happened to Sam?” Faith said squeezing my arm.
Samuel’s eye was black and swollen to double its size and sealed shut. His lip was also busted and he had a big bruise on the side of his face. Those were not injuries sustained in all the restraints the night before…we thought…at least not the black eye and busted lip… we weren’t sure about the face bruise.
We were sitting alone at one of the tables, after getting our trays, trying to figure out the nature of Samuel’s new injuries when a trio of the shelter girls sauntered over to us cocky and clearly ready to start some shit. All I could do is hope that Faith would be able to keep her mouth shut so we could get through breakfast without ending up also getting jumped.
“Aye white girl, that new boy yo man?” – The main girl
Faith defiantly said “sure is” while giving the universal female look of I’m marking my territory/try me bitch. The girls looked at each other and smirked unmoved by Faith’s display.
“I heard he got to poppin off at da mouth last night” – Main girl
“And?” – Faith
“Aaaand, tonight da niggas are plannin on rolling his ass” – Main Girl
A stare-down. It’s like they were daring her to say it back. In the split second it took her to stand up before her response, I just hoped she wouldn’t…
“My man can handle himself with…” please don’t say it please don’t say it…
“da niggas”……… of course she was going to say it.
One of the other girls lunged at Faith, yelling “Bitch what you just say?” She didn’t get to Faith, the main girl held her arms out stopping the other girls, not by physical force but clear social power.
“She didn’t say anything” I replied, positioning myself in front of Faith readying for a fight. The angry backup girl yelled at me “ain’t nobody talking to you, bitch sit yo ugly ass down.” The main girl interjected telling her friend to chill. Then she looked over to us and said “Y’all need to quit being so damn defensive. We trying to help y’all assess.” Unexpected plot twist.
Everybody sat down, them on the opposite side of the table from us. The reason they were trying to “help” us was pretty simple, the main girl didn’t want her boyfriend getting caught up with the bullshit. Whatever Samuel said or did to piss the guys off and get jumped the night before (probably existing while white and country as fuck) was going to have him jumped by everyone in the gang that night when night shift fell asleep. The other white guy, “White Chris” had cued the girls in on the drama. He was affiliated, and I guess also didn’t want to get caught up in it. Or maybe he was the main chick’s boyfriend who she was trying to protect. Not sure.
Then it turned into a heist planning scene from Oceans’ 11. The main girl described the lay of the shelter to us. We were at the cafeteria which was near the classrooms which was near the gym. Behind the gym, there was a fence with a hole in it. That was our way out. If we were going to leave, we’d have to wait til shift change, when the staff did their meetings and would be distracted. We needed to meet up with Samuel at the boys’ dorm which was closer to the school area. Once we got out, there was a MARTA stop right across the street after you get down the hill.
“And you need to go tonight,” The main girl added. “Otherwise ya boy might night make it back to Mayberry.”
“Point taken,” I responded. That was then echoed by one of the backup girls, making fun of my accent. I guess the truce was over. I said something back to the effect of “Wow that was witty.” Which was echoed again by the girl using a fake posh accent. Then the last girl made fun of me for “talkin so white” which set Faith off and in trying to defend me she said, “don’t be mad just cause she ain’t ghetto.” I simultaneously snapped “Fucking hell, Faith” as the backup girls were like “oh hell no” posturing to fight. Again, the main girl stopped them before they did anything, this time just by raising her hand up.
“If I were you,” She said keeping her same cocky yet nonchalant demeanor. “I’d teach my massa to keep her fuckin mouth shut be for we teach y’all ass how REAL niggas roll” Then she picked up the milk carton off her tray and poured it all over mine. She was trying to get me to hit first. That’s the game, that’s pretty standard for DFACS Shelters by the way. Especially with the girls. When you want to fight someone but don’t go to jail, you toy with them and get them to hit you first. Then anything that happens after is just self-defense. I knew the game she was playing, but damn I wanted to hit the bitch. She looked down at my clenched fist and laughed, calling out to the other girls “Oh shit, looks like big girl wanna get buck.”
Cue the beating on the tables and the other girls chanting “I bet you won’t get buck” over and over. Fuck I wanted to hit her, but I stormed out of the cafeteria instead and ran out looking for the gym. I needed to leave before I got myself locked up again. Faith came chasing after me. She ended up getting me to stop and talk to her behind one of the buildings, near a basketball hoop or playground or something. I remember there being other kids outside looking at me like I was insane as I paced back and forth, just shy of raging out.
“Don’t even worry about them bitches Z..” she said grabbing my arm trying to get me to calm down.
“Them?” I yelled. “Them? Jesus Christ Faith… You still don’t get it… You’re so fucking UGHHHH” I didn’t have the words…so I punched the wall behind me. Not smart. It hurt like a bitch but I was too pissed off to let on that it did. That’s when Samuel came up from behind us and yelled ‘Baby Girl!’ like a disciplinarian father figure about to scold a kid.
Faith ran to him and jumped in his arms kissing him and asking him what happened to his face, he brushed it off as “Nothing” saying he was fine and that he just had to “beat some dudes ass.” I knew he was lying. The bruise on his face looked familiar. In my head, I envisioned Samuel trying to defend himself as the Delaney House boys hit him with socks filled with bars of soap like the gangster boys used to do to the non-affiliated dudes at the Dekalb shelter. I knew it was only going to get worse. I frantically said, “We got to get out of here.”