This is a brutally honest but hopeful story of finding yourself and moving beyond your past.
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Lying on the cold hard floor of a locked room, I wish. Is it bad to wish? It feels bad, but only because my wishes drift away. They escape from me and go wherever wishes go. Where do wishes go? Better places, I hope.
Right now I am wishing to get out of here, to go far away where nobody knows me. Maybe a big city where I could blend in and walk for miles through streets crowded with anonymous people. I could listen to the cars and buses, and smell the food from the hot dog carts and pizza stands. I could get a job in an office in a nice building and work hard. With my paychecks I would buy expensive clothes: skirts, blouses, and sweater sets, all with matching shoes. And I would find an apartment, a studio where I’m the only one with a key and I can decorate it and keep it clean. I will have a down comforter on the bed and lots of soft pillows and a tortoiseshell cat that will sleep with me and I will be warm and safe and happy.
I keep trying to add more wishes, but they don’t take hold. I concentrate hard, to keep the fantasy together: matching dishes, a soft rug by the bed, real furniture. But it all fades. Thick cotton bath towels and a dish of little soaps shaped like fish and shells, and still it goes away. Wishes. Dreams. People. They go away from me. And nothing remains except this cold hard floor and me.
How long have I been in this room? It seems like a long time, but I can’t remember. I run my tongue over the jagged edge of my tooth and feel white-hot pain—and then I remember . . . stealing Ms. Williams’s sandwich . . . busting her pretty face with my elbow in a fight. I got in some good blows until they took me down. I know I should feel something, like regret or remorse. But too much has happened, and I am empty inside, like a boarded-up house with no furniture, no pictures of smiling, happy people on the walls. Maybe the fight was a way to feel something, to know that I am still here and that I still matter. But I am afraid that maybe I don’t matter, because I can’t seem to get out of this place.
I get up from the floor and sit on a yellow plywood bench next to a stainless steel toilet/drinking fountain combo. It smells faintly of disinfectant, and I wonder if I will have to stay here long enough to use it. I wrap my arms around myself even though I am not cold. I try to focus my mind on something good, but it’s hard. After a while, I find a good memory.
It’s a warm summer evening, the kind of weather you get before a thunderstorm, when the air is so still and you can almost feel electricity in it. And there’s the sweet heavy smell of ozone. All these businesspeople are hurrying to get home before the rain because they have expensive dry-clean-only suits that shouldn’t get wet. And their hair, with all the styling gel and mousse in it, will get messed up, too. But my mom isn’t hurrying. She’s holding my hand and we’re walking slowly, like we don’t care where we’re going or when we’ll get there.
I think I am happy, because there’s no knot in my stomach, no fear of what will come next. I feel warm and good and safe. I skip along to keep up with my mother’s long easy strides. She swings my arm and sings, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone.”
Her voice is beautiful and clear. She sings out loud to me and to everyone around us, like we’re stars on a movie set. But really she’s singing for me, because she loves me. Even if it’s just for the moment, even if it’s just because she’s high on crack and feeling good, my mother loves me. She sings, “It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.” And I love her back. I squeeze her hand in return because, for this single moment in time, I love her too. 3
The new shrink, a fat white guy, comes in to see me. He’s wearing baggy mismatched clothes, and glasses with thick tinted lenses that make it hard to see his eyes. He enters the room and walks toward the bench in tiny steps, keeping his arms in close with his pinky fingers sticking out. It’s like he’s holding those little delicate teacups, one stuck on each pinky. In a strange way he’s graceful, like a hippo or a manatee in the water. Maybe he was a very small man all his life and then woke up one day in a big body.
“Hello, Shavonne. I’m Mr. Delpopolo. I’m here to talk to you about what happened earlier today.”
I am still sitting on that plywood bench, eating what’s left over from Ms. Williams’s sandwich (hidden in my pocket throughout the whole fight). When he tells me his name I laugh out loud, spitting a piece of turkey onto the black and white checkered linoleum floor. I’m not even sure what’s so funny. Maybe it’s the strangeness of this guy with his goofy clothes and ridiculous name. Maybe it’s because I’ve been locked in a room for hours and am going a little crazy. He smiles and says, “I know. Some name, eh?”
I give him my meanest, coldest stare, the one that made the old shrink look away at his art posters on the wall. What does he think he’ll do—just walk in here and make friends? Well, screw him. I’ve seen too many people like this guy before, and not a single one has helped me. They talk nice and get you to open up, to soften, and then they leave.