Saturday, January 16, 2016

Of Terrible Timing and Travesty

This has been the most emotional week in my life. Waiting in silence, knowing nothing, asking questions and waiting for an answer that never comes. It's only been a few days. I'll give them that. But she's a teenage girl with friends, not some classified government secret.

I'm a storyteller by nature, so I will tell my story. Her story. They were trying to keep this quiet, but one loud mouth has already spread it to the far corners of the community. And I need to tell someone the full story in written words, because every time I've tried to speak it, I break down.

My friend-- as a joke we call her Jersey sometimes, so that's what I'll call her on this blog-- is in the foster system.

Some of you may not know a lot about the American foster system, but you should know that it's messed up. It's basically an unstable prison, punishing minors for living. No contact with former relatives, no social media, no driver's license (because God forbid you might run away), no permanent home. You can't visit a friend's house without a background check and an agent's consent. No freedom. Most older kids never get adopted. A lot of them feel unwanted because of that, because someone adopted their younger sibling but left them on their own. Is it any wonder that a good percentage of these foster kids are depressed?

Jersey is. You can probably guess the rest of the story.

She's one of my best friends. We met at school, gym class. My friends MK and Anne (again, not real names) and I got the privilege of showing her around on her first day. Jersey is jovial and funny. A ray of sunshine, always smiling. But the biggest smiles hide the biggest hurt. I could see through it from the beginning, though maybe it's just from the obsession I had with stories about orphans. I thought I was just romanticizing again, and I pushed it aside.

She stayed at my house one weekend this fall. I learned so much about her that weekend. She told me what I had already guessed, and promised me she had stopped cutting three months previous. I believed it because I wanted to. I didn't want to think about one of my best friends slipping down that jagged cliff. Depression. It's not a pleasant thought to entertain.

On Mondays and Tuesdays we have homeroom. That's the only class Jersey and I share. We sit at the back, talking books and weekend plans. For the past several weeks I had noticed a difference. Her clothes fit her about as well as a tent, and she never asked for food like she used to.  She mentioned being hungry at one point, said something about going down to one of the teacher's rooms who sell food. (Yeah, it's illegal for teachers to sell unapproved food to students during school hours, but it's good money and frequent customers. Hungry kids are good at keeping hush hush.) This Monday, when she said she hadn't eaten the day before, I urged her to go. "Come on. I'll go with you."

"Rebecca, I feel like you're tryin' to make me eat. You're as bad as my foster mom."

"Good. I am trying to get you to eat."

We bought a can of jalapeño Pringles. She ate one willingly; I forced her to eat two more. "Jersey, junk food is better than nothing. You can't keep doing this." She didn't answer. She was digging in her camo backpack, fishing out a blue, hard-shelled pouch. She unzipped it.

"I used to keep my... stuff... in here. Instead of cutting, I've been writing notes," she said. I nodded. Something in my chest twinged. I'd been an idiot to believe she'd stopped. There were two small folded packets in the pouch. She offered one to me. "Tell me what you think." I noticed how thin her hands were. Her thumb joints jutted out like knots on a tree. I took it, carefully unfolding the notepaper.

The words added to the growing apprehension in my chest. "It's..." I couldn't say anything. My intuition had been right all along. " sad, Jersey," I finished lamely. The words danced, jumping into lines they didn't belong in and darting back quickly to their place. I hadn't read them in their exact order, but I knew everything she'd never been able to say out loud. "Pointless. Tired. Useless. Alone. No one cares. I want to stop--" Stop what?

As I was reading, she was opening the other note with fumbling fingers. From the corner of my eye, I saw something small fly out. A metallic ringing filled the air. "What was that?"

"I don't... know." Lies. I knew before I eve laid eyes on it. She snatched something up from the floor by her backpack, but not before I saw.


"I thought I got rid of all of them--"

"Jersey." I held out my hand. "Please give it here." She started to protest, but then looked into my eyes. She stopped. Reluctantly and with a pouting face, she put the offending item in my open palm. I glared at the hateful razor blade. Shiny. Naked. New. So wickedly sharp I was afraid to move for fear of nicking myself.

Before she could change her mind, I shoved it into my sweatshirt pocket. I was thinking. She meant for me to see it. I know she did. Why? And the note. Why?

Any idiot would have gotten help then, but I didn't.

I asked to see the other note. It was worse than the first. The girl in front of me turned around when I said, "Jersey, these are going to make me cry. Why--"

"I feel like I missed something. Did I miss something?" Her voice was nasal and know-it-all. Yes, you did miss something, turn around please. I didn't say that though. I turned to Jersey. I don't remember what I said, but I remember it being cliché and pathetic and not at all comforting like I meant it to be. I hated myself for not being able to say what I wanted to say.

I helped her fold the notes back up again. It took us awhile-- her hands shaking from lack of food, mine from emotion.

I went down to lunch. I sat down by L, slapping the confiscated razor blade down on the table.

"You know who I took that from?"

"I have a guess," She said after a moment.


"Thought so." We were quiet for a while. Neither of us knew what to say. What do you do? I knew she had more. They always do. And you can hurt yourself with almost anything. We couldn't just lock her up in a padded cell.

I went home and locked myself in my room with the internet, as per usual. Thinking. Wondering what approach I should try with Jersey. Something had to be done, I just didn't know what.

(This is going to end up being a two parter because it's getting late.)

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Rebecca :)