Excerpt from Driftwood Chapter 16. Age 14.
Context: When I was 14, I had my first love. A 16-year old “sensitive artist” from buttfart nowhere Georgia. After months of pining, I was rewarded with the return of his affections, only to have him immediately leave our grouphome the following day after finally getting his long awaited foster home placement. That left me absolutely crushed. My immense sadness went unnoticed and/or mocked by most of the staff members. With the staff completely aloof, my friends were all trying to find ways to perk me up.
Okay, how can I describe this situation…about a month into my post-Jeremiah mope fest, Riot came up to me in the girl’s hall and asked if I was still “sad about Jeremiah.” I said no, she called me a liar and said it didn’t matter, she had something that was going to make me feel a whole lot better. What? Well, she was going to surprise me, but first, she had to get it from Kate.
My reaction: What the fuck would Kate have of Jeremiah’s and if she had something that she could hold over my head, why the fuck would Kate give it to me… The answer: Jeremiah had originally given the surprise to Riot. Since she had no use for it, she’d let her new wannabe goth shadow, Kate, hold on to it. Kate would fork it over cause it was Riot’s in the first damn place. Everything was cool. Just had to come to Riot’s doorway on the next bathroom break.
So, I did. Riot sauntered across her room with a big ole smile on her face. She put her arm on my shoulder and handed me a small stack of…something…wrapped up in a couple of folded pieces of paper.
“Don’t say I ain’t never gave you nothing.” – Riot
I started to open it, and Riot said “No, wait ‘til you go to your room” wink wink. I took the stack of…something… and waited ‘til it was my turn to go in the bathroom before opening it. It was 5 pictures, of Jeremiah that were pretty consistent with the ones he’d given me. A picture of him smiling, one of his bed, one of his…holy shit two pictures of his dick. Fully erect in all its pink-veiny slightly curved glory. My first unsolicited dick pic via polaroid.
The staff and his foster parents should have known letting a 16-year-old boy have unrestricted access to a camera was going to lead to this, but they let him have it anyway. While I didn’t make the cut for the racy side of Jeremiah’s photography, Riot had….and she fucking let Kate see it. Ugh, I wanted to beat the shit out of Kate for whatever disgusting unmentionable things she’d done while the pictures were in her possession. But first, I had a bigger issue to deal with.
I knew what Riot was trying to do in giving me those pictures, but I was nowhere near that level of sexual maturation. My adoration for Jeremiah had been innocent as innocent can be. My fantasies were about us growing up getting married and having six kids, without any reference to actually makin the babies. Sex and anything sexual was still very much foreign to me and these pictures were way over my head.
All I could think of was how the girls reacted to Hope and Parker in the curling iron incident…or worse any time any of the guys got caught with a fifi (a sock or something made into a sex puppet) which often ended up “inadvertently” put on display at the staff desk with everyone–including staff–cracking jokes about whatever boy was caught with it. I did NOT want to be the girl caught with the dirty photos. I had to get rid of them. Problem was, there was no way for me to do so.
I mentioned the staff searched our rooms at random. They searched everything: pillow cases, folded clothes, trash cans, they even tossed our beds. It was like we were in prison, our lives lacking any remnant of privacy. Since they rarely if ever found any contraband, the worst part usually was having to clean up the mess left after they ransacked through our stuff for no reason.
Since we hadn’t had a room search since Hope and Parker were sent off, I knew one was coming soon. As such, I couldn’t risk trying to stash the photos in my room. I couldn’t throw them away because the staff checked the trash too. Nowhere was safe. My best bet was to keep them on me and just not get in trouble or do anything that would warrant the staff to search my pockets ‘til I figured out how to get rid of them. That meant no time outs and definitely no restraints.
When I came out of my room and got in line to go back to the cafeteria or wherever we were headed, Riot made a joke to me about how you could definitely tell Jeremiah was left-handed and wasn’t circumcised. While I was trying to figure out just how they could tell he was left handed and what the difference between circumcised and uncircumcised was in my head, Kate laughed. I gave her the death stare from hell to which she replied: “Jealous he didn’t give them to you? All that time you spent following Jeremiah Hill around and he didn’t. Even. Like. You”
Riot told her to shut up and said he did, and everyone could see it, but that he probably didn’t give me the pictures cause he could have went to jail since I was underage. Kate said “Yea, right” but didn’t put up a bigger argument, probably because Riot was the only person who would engage her in her endless blabbering about Marilyn Manson, Twiggy, and her baby Zim Zum.
I wanted to knock the cheap faded black hair dye right out of her head, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t risk getting a restraint and searched. I had to be…good. And for a solid three months, I did just that. My best behavior. Ps & Qs and all that Jazz. Anything to keep from getting caught with the child porn I was carrying in my pocket.
My stint of good behavior put me in the running for my Omega level. Pretty sure the staff were more shocked by it than anybody cause I was, at least for a little while, the golden child. Kalyssa level golden child. I was even chosen to be interviewed alongside Kalyssa and Daniel for some news segment about Crossroads, which essentially just turned into a lover’s tryst for Kalyssa and Daniel in the art room.
It was awkward trying to keep the attention on myself by fielding all the questions the best I could, while my best friend and her boyfriend kept the spice in their relationship. I have to imagine it was even more awkward for the news team trying to ignore the very obvious game of pocket pool that was going on right in front of them.
After that, I was further paraded around, being chosen as the resident for the breaking-ground photo op for the new Gateway facility. The glory of Crossroads. It’s promise to the residents who were getting dangerously close to 16, that they wouldn’t end up stuck with nowhere to go like the many, many kids who’d come before them. I didn’t understand what a “breaking ground” ceremony was at the time, I just knew that I was pretty hot shit in my hardhat and goggles getting applause from a bunch of randos for digging a hole.
But like all good things, my miraculous metamorphosis into a model resident came to an end. It was the day the levels were going to be announced. Everyone just knew I was going to get my Omega. I’d gotten a time out that day for something stupid. I don’t even remember what for, but I was still in good shape. Then later, I was coming out of my room after a bathroom break and there was Stacy J at the end of the hallway.
“Time Out!” she called out.
“For what?” I replied
Fucking bitch! I said I wasn’t going to do it. That she couldn’t do this to me AGAIN. Get my level dropped on the same fucking day I was applying to go up? She had been chill for so long and, I don’t know, I guess she just couldn’t stand to see me have a win. And the only witness? Fucking Kate who just shrugged her shoulders before getting a crisis of conscience and calling out to Ms. Stacy J that I hadn’t done anything. That momentary blip of humanity got her a time out as well.
Then Ms. Stacy J called out “Happy Birthday” to both of us. Now, I probably should have explained this earlier, but at this time there were a few…I guess you could call them pre-internet memes which were just shit that the kids would say for no damn reason. The first, of course, was Deez Nuts (in your mouth) which doesn’t need an explanation. The other go-tos were expressions that someone had just been bested/screwed over by someone else. The first was saying “facial” and waving your hand in front of your face. As in you’d just been punked so bad that you needed to replace your whole damn face because of the extent of the embarrassment. The other two were Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas were used when the extent of being bested was so much it was like a gift.
For example, another resident proves you wrong in an argument… Facial. A resident makes a staff member look like an ass using their own words against them…Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas. All three phrases had just been banned essentially for getting on staff’s nerves. All three phrases were still in use by Ms. Stacy J and her new male staff equivalent Mr. Harry who would say them after giving a kid time out in an asshole level showing of “I have control over your life, and you don’t” statement.
It was the happy birthday that did me in. I didn’t even stop to think about the contraband in my pocket before flipping the fuck out on her. I cursed her out, called her out on being a miserable bitch who got off on ruining kid’s lives and being a racist cuntbag. My ranting got her to call in for reinforcements who piled down the hallway to “get me under control.” They restrained me on the spot and drug me kicking and screaming to the BCR. The final step… a search of my pockets. It was Mr. Ed—the case manager—that pulled the pictures out of my back pocket. He sifted through the pictures as the other staff held me down as I screamed at them to just leave me alone.
First, he exclaimed ‘Oh My God Zeda!?!?” in a half mix of complete shock and disgust and then he yelled “OH MY GOD, JEREMIAH!” I guess the dick pics were before the selfies in the stack. Still pinned down, I could only watch on helplessly as he showed the other staff members the photos. Word spread quickly. The staff even went as far as to call Jeremiah’s foster parents to tell on him…allegedly. They claimed they did when I was brought upfront to be reprimanded for the incident. I was told “This could severely compromise his placement,” by Ms. Amy, which left me with a weirdly conflicted sense of guilt.
They didn’t HAVE to call his foster parent, especially If they knew it could impact his placement. If something happened and he ended up getting kicked out, that was on them not me. They’re the ones who created the environment where I was terrified of throwing out the Polaroids. As my therapist and case manager yammered on in whatever bullshit lecture they were giving, all I could think is that none of that even mattered. Even though I wasn’t the one that took the pictures nor was I the one that he gave them to, I was the one caught with them. If he lost his placement, it would be me who he’d blame. And even if he didn’t, this was gonna probably kill any chance of him coming for that promised visit.
Combine the fact that the higher-ups killed any chance of me ever getting a visit from Jeremiah with an embarrassment that I knew that I was never gonna live down, there was only one real option for me to move forward…change the topic of conversation. By any means necessary. Who gives a damn about the consequences?
I walked into the cafeteria after my tongue lashing with the higher-ups. All eyes were on me. I was just waiting for the first person to crack a joke to flip out on them when, for some reason, I walked in front of the Omega table and just started singing the closing song from Lamb Chop’s Play Along: “This is the song that doesn’t end. Yes, it goes on and, on my friends, some people started singing it not knowing what it was. And they’ll continue singing it forever just because….”
This was probably the exact opposite reaction of what anyone expected from me. After the confused looks during the first round-about of the song, the other kids joined in. And we sang it over and over and over until one of the staff members called for me to go to time out. I kept singing, the kids kept singing, I marched around like the kids at the end of every episode of Lamb Chop still singing ‘til, like Sherry Lewis with the puppet Charlie Horse, the irritated staff pulled me out of the cafeteria for another restraint and another time out.
After the time out, I went right back to the cafeteria and right back to the most annoying song in the history of the universe for any adult who had the misfortune of having a kid sing it in their presence. Another time out, another restraint. The logic behind this? As the saying goes, if everyone’s laughing with you, they’re not laughing at you. And I guess, more importantly, that place had gotten boring as hell after 80% of the Zeros were shipped off. We needed something to break the monotony. The sing-a-longs were just what the doctor ordered.
The other kids loved it, and sometimes even if I wasn’t in the mood for goofiness that would ultimately end in a restraint, I’d still end up in front of everyone singing my ass off on the request of any of the other kids who would egg me into doing another sing-a-long. Sometimes I’d even take requests which in the end saw me tossing in some of Barney’s greatest hits into the mix. John Jackob Jingle Heimer Schmidt, Hey Mr. Knickerbocker, and of course I Love You, You Love Me, We’re a Happy Family.
Eventually, my go to sing-a-long song was And the Green Grass Grows. Something about the repetition was just extra annoying to the adults which of course made it extra fun for us kids. “Well the bird in the egg and the egg in the nest and the net on the branch and the branch on the tree and the tree in the hole and the hole in the ground and the green grass grows all around all around and the green grass grows all around.” I would usually end up face down on the floor by the time nest was on the branch.
I must have gotten over a dozen restraints for the sing-a-longs. In a couple of them, I accidentally kicked Mr. Erik in his “Pepé” during the struggle or almost did. One time he yelled out “Why do you keep trying to kick me in the Pepé? What do you have against my Pepé?” Nothing, Mr. Erik. Nothing at all. Inadvertent staff injuries during restraints were just unfortunate casualties of war, I guess. I know this all sounds crayzpants, but… I mean.. nobody brought up those damn pictures.