Hours in the System
Sometimes people knock on the door and it’s good, but there are also incidents, much more common, where the opposite is the case; the disturbance happens at 10 at night and the people responsible, two women, enter without asking, eyebrows raised in disgust, breathing solely from their mouths as if the stale cigarette smoke and slightly overpowering scent of dirt that children were raised in was toxic, and say, “We’re taking them.” And by them they mean you.
Your parents seem even more unprepared than you, obviously aren’t okay with the circumstance but it becomes apparent the two women have more power than was just in their bodies; they produce identification, reference incidents you’d thought were nothing more than embarrassing, that they familiarized themselves with through police reports and dramatic phone-calls, shake their heads then say “The cops are on the way, it’s best for everyone you do what we say.”
One of the women finally looks at you. “Get clothes.” That isn’t a problem, they’d walked in on your family while everyone was in the living room sitting around laundry like furniture, watching T.V. You help the lady find a onesie and outfit for your newborn brother while the other demands to know the location of your older sister; you remember, but keep your mouth shut, that she’s sleeping over a friend’s house.
As the ladies are shoving you into their car your closest relatives show up and beg to take you both to their home. The possibility is dead after a quick conversation; your uncle was once a felon, he’d have to be gone, and your aunt has tickets on her record, they’d have to be expunged. The last thing you hear before the ladies shut the door is your parents screaming “I love you”; they hadn’t been allowed to speak to you since the social workers had arrived. After the car starts you lose sight of everything you know; they tell you that it’ll be that way for at least a month.
You begin to feel tired but watch the world move past your window instead of going to sleep or acknowledging their uncomfortable comforting smiles. You make sure your little brother is strapped right in his car-seat; he wakes up screeching when the motion stops, doors slam and you both are walked into a hospital. The clock says 11:30; one of the adults disappears into a hallway.
After forever the lady that remained looks up from her phone, sighs, grabs your brother’s car seat and jerks her head to tell you to follow. She shuts you two in a doctor’s office and after a bit, one does come in; it isn’t the kind Greek woman that your parents had taken you to since you were a baby, laughed with, had attended your first Communion and always apologized for her hands being cold.
You know the man’s job because of his white coat, don’t even get his name before he performs a physical on you and you brother then the ladies show back up, rush you both to the car; you’re back on the road more fatigued than before. This time, they don’t bother taking their eyes from the drive, this time they tell you to go to sleep and you don’t wanna listen, but can’t help it.
Next thing you know your forehead smacks into the back of the front-seat and you open your eyes to a blindingly bright light that’s too white to be the sun. You hear a car door shut somewhere close-by, then yours’ is opened and you’re standing in a parking lot; the plastic-bag containing your’s and your brother’s clothes on one side of you, car-seat on the other.
You don’t hear the two ladies that brought you say ‘bye’ because you’re too busy trying to understand what was going on; the lady they’d left you with just put your infant brother, whose premature birth had been induced by a car-crash, in the front-seat of a beat-down pick-up truck. She tells you to get in the back with the other kids; her husband would be out of Wal-Mart soon with the crib.
When he comes out, enters the car, his weight makes the truck cry but you get back on your way to wherever without incident. The kid to your left, a little bigger than you, keeps nodding off and his head ends up on your shoulder. You utilize a bump in the road to sneak in a nudge that you hope will wake him up; the third time it happens you shoot an elbow into his ribs.
The clock on their dash said 2 when you’d gotten in, 3 when you get out. The kids on either side of you disappear without a word; your brother is fussing, so you take him from the car seat and enter the house rocking him in your arms. You sit in the living-room, the first chair you see, and stare straight ahead; they say they’re tired, will take the baby upstairs for the night and build the crib in the morning. You say, “No.” and they go upstairs without an argument or a goodnight.
After a few hours of staring at nothing, you can’t sleep in that house, the sun rises and the woman comes down, doesn’t know a thing about you other than the fact that your last name ends with a vowel, and offers you leftover spaghetti from Tupperware for breakfast. She microwaves the noodles, on your plate; they’re limp, semi-cold, covered with sauce but only enough for two out of every three to have a dried streak of red on it; you miss how wonderful your dad’s FAMILY recipe tastes, and begin to cry. Then the man comes down, and your sobs turn into chuckles because he got so FAT from such terrible cooking.
The sound you produce, laughter, makes him uncomfortable enough to return upstairs, put pants over his tighty-whities, then comes back down and lead you outside; you realize you’d been brought to a farm. He walks around the property occasionally mentioning fun, but focusing on the chores the children were expected to do. The weather is nice, there’s more space than you ever had available, but the smell of cow-shit sticks in your nose even though you made sure not to step in any.
You get back to the house, your brother is screaming and the lady is on the phone. You grab him, he calms, and after the wife and husband exchange weird looks, you’re sent upstairs to play with the others.
The couple’s two foster-kids are in their room, inches from a T.V.; the older one has a video game controller in his hand, offers you a turn, but isn’t hesitant to rescind the offer once you say you beat the game. Without sparing another look he starts to prattle about chores, people in charge, how it was transferring into the school-
You zone out until the bang of a cankled foot echoes from the bottom of the steps. “You’re going with your family,” You smile because you know they mean you.
“They got the ticket taken care of,” The lady said as you pull from the driveway, “your sister is waiting with your aunt. Guess your uncle is staying in a hotel?”
The only words the man speaks on the drive are to ensure his wife brought the receipt to return the crib.
Once you stop you realize the kid had fallen asleep on your shoulder again, but you’re so happy to see the adults getting out of the car that you gently slide out from under to follow.
Your aunt and cousins are waiting across the parking lot; your sister meets you halfway with a hug.
The people in the pick-up drive away, your uncle sits up from his hidden position inside their car; your aunt sniffs above your little brother, pokes his diaper then asks you why’d they’d let him piss through it.