Hokey Pokey (What this blog's all about)

A writing challenge I've given myself to write every day for six months. After some posts, I'll put in a comment with a brief explanation of the inspiration for the piece. Some posts will be practice for bigger projects: character sketches or settings. I don't really know what all will happen which is why I'm doing it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 73

I just don't want to write all of a sudden. I'm too scattered and too tired.  I started tutoring three new people this week and understanding their minds is taking over my own.  I've been reading books which is also taking up some space.  I'm not even sure how I'll get my final assignment done for school because I just can't get myself to sit down and do anything but think about the things that will get these new students to form the connections they need to move to the next level. 

I could tell you about her doughy eyes and pigeon toes stacked on thick legs and a thicker torso.  Or about his eyes that marble greens with something not from this earth.  Or about a boy who confesses his garlic breath.  I could tell you that I'm curious about each of their IQs but sometimes it's better not knowing.  I can usually guess within a few points or so anyway with a bit of time.  Green eyes has the highest but it's probably just around a hundred, maybe a little below.  Hers might only be in the eighties.  I always find that hard.  Like, if I could move the couch cushions in her mind around, maybe I could muster up a few more points. 

It's usually best to be in the middle of the pack.  You're less likely to be picked off by predators there.  Too high or too low and you attract attention.  Things are designed for the middle groups.  Heights of door handles and sizes of seating.  If you're too short, wearing those crazy junglegym contraptions on your feet to make you taller becomes normal.  Which is fine in your twenties, thirties, even forties.  But who in their seventies wants five inch heels?  By then you've shrunk even shorter.  So imagine if your eyes have weathered that storm find themselves door-handle height? 

See?  I'm rambling.  I've totally lost the point of this.  The point of how this girl has these slightly flat face that makes a person wonder.  Planted right in the middle of it all is a smile that erupts. 

In first grade or so, I finally figured out how to ride a bike.  I don't remember my parents ever taking me outside to teach me.  I just remember being at my cousins and using her too-small bike to get the comfort and practice to get it down on my own.  I'd been lying for months if not years about not liking to ride a bike so that no one would find out that I really didn't know how.  Then, a few short years after that lie abated, I found myself actually not riding a bike anymore after fracturing my skull falling off of mine, then moving to the "city" (suburbs,) where my parents would no longer allow me to ride one.  This girl has no shame for her training wheels.  Maybe that's the norm now.  What do I know?  At least kids wear helmets now.

I also didn't know how to read a whole lot of words before first grade.  I could read some things but reading wasn't really pushed until you went to real school.  Then I was in the bluebird group or whatever the fasttrackers were.  Now it's noticeable when a kid doesn't get it with the hammering of reading skills they've received in all-day kindergarten.  It's concerning when, going into first grade, a kid can't read.  That seems a bit over the top.  That said, if you can't rhyme in first grade, that is concerning.  Can't hop, also strange.  Probably you are not in the middle of the pack.  Probably people will notice.  Hopefully the helpful sort gets to you before the predators try to pick you off.  Hopefully.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 72

The driveway is long with a slight curve that complicates the downhill slant.  Shannon twists and leans, peers over her left shoulder, then untwists and contorts herself the other direction as she reverses down the driveway.  She brakes a little too hard, and then starts down again.  She’s almost on the mulch that landscapes in the side of the driveway with small, wiry bushes huddled in the mulch, but she’s not sure how to right the car on its path.  She overcorrects, finds herself veering off the other edge of the driveway onto more mulch, tries again, and manages to make it to the bottom. 
She considers not stopping.  Looks and sees her path is clear to leave now.  But instead, she pushes the button, and the window whirs down.  She flips open the wooden door to the hand-crafted, log cabin mailbox, and pulls out the stack.  She rifles through:  bills, junk mail, January’s Better Homes and Gardens, and a letter.  It’s the letter she wants.  She pulls it out and shoves the rest back in.
The home had been a lucky find.  She’d been walking the suburban neighborhood with its wide, hilly, winding streets, and windmill subdivision signs marking “Shady Glenhaven” and “Lilac View,” when she’d seen the owner, a woman with long, dramatically white hair pulled back in a ponytail, struggling to get a large suitcase into the back of her car.  She rushed over, reached a hand under, and helped hoist the black, Samsonite bag into the trunk. 
“Wow!  This is heavy! I can’t imagine getting this into the car alone.  What’s in here, rocks?”
“Kind of, actually.  It’s lead crystal.  I’m bringing it to a trade show in New Haven.”
“Really?  No way!  Is that what you do?  Blow glass?”
“No, no, not at all.  I’m a collector and occasionally an agent.”
Shannon stayed a while, friendly and happy to help (and to listen.)  Jorja asked her to hold the door while she brought out the rest of her luggage and chattered on about her two week trip and all the hiking she had planned for when she wasn’t working.   It had been a stroke of pure luck and Shannon basked in it. 
Normally, she never stayed anywhere for more than a few hours.  Long enough to feel what it was to be in the space, take a nap and a shower, and wipe up after herself before letting herself out and finding her next pseudo-home.  But this time she’d been at the door, seen the inside of the house, and, between it and the glass, she could see herself inside.  She wanted to feel the soul of this place, try it on like a designer dress, allowing alterations major and minor alike to swirl around her.  Plus, she knew she would have two whole weeks to come and go as she pleased and sleep and eat and anything else she felt like.  She hadn’t really adequately surveyed the neighborhood yet, hadn’t gone through the usual routine of finishing a leisurely walk, then taking a jog, then a bike ride to check out the personality of the neighbors.  It didn’t appear to be full of retirees (home during the day, they make stealth coming and going difficult and always ask too many, too-friendly questions.)  She saw enough brightly colored Playco plastic gyms and trampolines to believe herself safe. 
Still, she’d waited a full twenty-four hours and until after dark before returning.  Just before arriving, she suddenly panicked.  She didn’t know how she’d get in.  What if there was no key under the mat?  No key in a pot by the front door?  She tried not to think about it, and went ahead and checked.  She flipped the aged, black rubber mat up and the spare was right there, leaving it’s dust imprint on the underside of the Welcome mat. 
When she got inside a house, the first place she always looked was the kitchen.  She’d go straight through, noticing nothing but turning right, left, straight down the hallway, left, and kitchen!  She opened the refrigerator first, then the cabinets.  It was the first feel you got for a house.  She’d seen it laying on the otherwise empty, grey marble counter looking isolated and tempting.  She ran her thumb over the thin, cream-colored, international paper, savoring the idea of who this son of Jorja’s might be, who Jorja herself might be.
Dear Mom,
El Salvador is wet.  Wetter than wet.  The rainy season’s just getting started but it’s already so wet that I have to wipe the floors off constantly.  The moisture in the air condenses on the tile and tries to mold in a matter of hours.  Sheets never dry and the thought of carpet is inconceivable.  Plant life flourishes as do insects and I wonder constantly about all the things in floorboards and ceiling tiles that I share my living space with.  I’m doing well with my classes but don’t quite know what to do about Pedro.  He comes to school early, leaves late, never has any food, is always dirty, and is disruptive.  He’s at least three grade levels behind the other kids despite spending more time at school than any of them.  I worry where he lives and who watches over him.  Pray for him, and for me.  The slime might claim me if I get too tired from Pedro’s antics and forget to wipe it clean often enough;)
The letter really clinched it.  She was addicted to this home now.  She searched drawers for more letters, scoured the house for them.  She’d been to beautiful, Bauhaus-style modern homes, and hundred-year-old places with overstuffed chairs that could almost get her to give up her vagrant lifestyle.  Places with whole rooms devoted to books and a mahogany, baby-grand piano with the lid propped at exactly forty-five degrees so it resonates to fill a concert hall.   She’d eaten pate and champagne out of dishes worth more than her rusty, ’89 Corolla and swam in luxurious, deep green, heated, lap pools with mosaics hand-laid into the floor.  She’d contemplated her life as a misunderstood artist, or flirted with the idea of sleeping with the next-door neighbor after years of boring sex with an architect.  She’d pick up a black and white photograph of a dark-lashed infant and feel the satisfying weariness of motherhood for a moment.  She loved trying on these peoples’ homes, their relationships and routines, but this house she had time with.  Time to search and think and sleep and smell.  Mint grew in the glass-covered foyer and bougainvilleas and orchids bloomed in the mist that came on automatically twice a day.  She wondered if Jorja read the letters from her son in that room.  Decided she must have put the misting system and the plants in so that she could drink a cup of tea and be with her son while she read his letters. 
She sat in her car now, at the bottom of the driveway with a new translucent envelop in her hand with the strange extra stamps and lettering.  She held the paper to her face, closed her eyes and breathed in the foreignness of it, could swear she smelled freshly-baked tortilla and red and yellow and green patterns flashed before her eyes.  She’d already dismissed her day, planned to go right back into the kitchen to make a pot of tea before sitting down to pore over the progress with Pedro and the slimy floors in the foyer when her reverie was interrupted with a knock at the window.
Startled, the letter flies from her hands as her heart leaps to her throat and she turns to see a man in his mid-fifties, salt and pepper (mostly salt,) hair leaning close to her window.  Her heart sinks low into her bowels, suddenly leaden.  And she knows, with the weight of the heaviest of disappointments, knows she is caught.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Day 71

She looks like she could come up out of deep  water perfectly dry and standing extra tall with her waist-length hair and long skirts. Her figure is narrow and long and graceful.  Her curves lean, slight against her slender body.  And there is something so gentle and serene in the way she quietly drinks tea and listens; just listens.  She is earthen and motherly in a way that makes you suspect she could be mother earth herself.  It must have something to do with the way the soil mounds as though she whispered a secret to it and it rose up to listen.  Her secret worked because plants flourish in those maternal mounds of hers.  Lately, she has been considering ninja gardening.  If she did it, she would sneak out under moonlight and plant seeds and invigorate soil in prime locations where folks working too many jobs to plant things wouldn't notice for weeks.  Over time things would get greener, and plants would search for who had nurtured them, while property owners would tell the family story about the house on Pine Street that sprouted a garden overnight without the slightest help from them.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Day 70

I'm thinking a lot about labor and delivery on account of I'm pregnant.  Last time around I had the baby at home.  I planned and read and there was much convincing of the husband and in the end we did it exactly the way I wanted.  It fucking hurt.  But it was the best way for us and I have zero regrets about the decision.

So here I am, in the room where my son was born.  Where I have the most vivid and wonderful memory of my life of golden sheets and golden afternoon sunlight and mac n cheese and this golden child that we simply could not stop staring at.  And I'm in here with this memory and yet, I am afraid this time.  Yet I can't come to terms with a hospital birth either.

Most of the time, I think "I have time." And I don't worry about making a decision yet, but soon we need to decide.  And I just don't know.  I lean toward home birth but don't want to push the husband this time and he leans toward intervention and the hospital.  The statistics (somewhat debatably) support home birth as long as I continue to be low risk and use a certified midwife, which we would.  I don't think I can pull of a natural birth in a hospital.  It seriously hurt, ya'll.  I also think I'd be super fucking pissed at the nurses talking to me and touching me.  Having two midwives where you know exactly who they'll be and how they'll handle you is much easier to handle than a host of shift-changing nurses and who-knows-which OB.  Yet, I can't settle on this option either.  It hurt.  I kind of just want it to hurt less this time.  Could the OB's office promise me that it will be the OB that I like and that she'll just be the person who does all the work with me?  Or could the midwife just give me a lil shot of somethin and promise it won't hurt as bad.  Ok, good.  Cuz that would help.

This is unrelated to creative writing.  I'm just hoping emptying my mind about it a little will help me refocus on writing again.  I'm working on a story I like about a woman who hangs out in peoples' houses when they're not home.  If I get a good version, I'll post it here.  Hopefully I do because I like the story concept.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 69

She is a man's hankerchief, folded and stuffed into a jacket just so.
Her frills a shock of color that accent him just so.
With places in her fabric where her fingers have worried the weaving threadbare and worn straight through but that doesn't show.
The torn pain of her children is woven in to seal pieces together but that doesn't show.
And she wonders if she is just an accent and if it's worth keeping just that piece of herself beautiful, but she doesn't know.
She wonders if she'll feel whole before she's discarded but she doesn't know.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Day 68

Under moonlight and against floodlights, we sprint across the mottled browns and greens of trampled grass in a complicated game of tag.  Tag got older when I wasn’t looking.  Now, you want to be fast and win but also chased and maybe caught.  When chased, you don’t know whether your pounding heart or feet or fists win.  Winning isn’t measured in Skeeball tickets but pounding feet, or hearts, or others fists. 

I hide behind a large, red, industrial, metal piece of a mostly-disassembled, carnival ride.  The clunking of bolts, the whir of drills against metal, and generators running, surround me as my heaving breath slows and I scan the grounds.  I don’t see him and my heart sinks.  Until now, I didn’t know how much I wanted him to chase me.  I hold my position and see him zip into view as he catches Missy Arbuckle by the long, slender wrist, her delicate, silver charm bracelet falling to the ground in the process.  And just like, that the whole game, the whole world, stops to help Missy. 

I stop the world for Missy too.  She was the first person I thought to ask to come to the fair.  My mom told me I could pick whatever friend I wanted to bring and I immediately picked up the phone and called Missy.  I excitedly told her we’d stay in a hotel, and go to the parade first, and then the fair.  And do you know what that girl said?  She said, “Ok, but what do you do at the fair?”  What the hell kind of kid doesn’t know what happens at the fair?  I could see the haughty, blonde nose-in-the-air through the phone.  Like she could smell the livestock that, if judged by her, would be granted awards solely on the basis of stench and likelihood of dirtying her pristine pink-a-boo manicure.  Pink-a-boo is her signature color.  I swear you can see her in a commercial with her perfect hands playing peek-a-boo with the camera, free of any dirt under the nails that should need covering with say, a darker color of polish.   She said she’d have to ask her parents and call me back.  Then a further series of phone calls to find out more information for her overbearing parents.  Her parents always have to know everything. They want to know how much money she'll need, who else will be going, which hotel we'll be staying at, whether she should pack a bathing suit and on and on. 

My mom doesn’t care what I’m doing when I’m at Missy’s, not that she should.  She tells you something you’d best do and what time you’d best do it by and she means you’d best do it.  You do it and you’re fine.  You don’t and expect bruises somewhere.  One time I didn’t come home on time and lied and told her I had a blister so it took me longer to walk home.  I was only ten minutes late, but late was late so she used the belt on the bottoms of my feet right then and there.  Then she did it again the next day for lying about the blister.

Once all the anxiety of phone calls was relieved, I was thrilled about bringing Missy to the fair with us.  I couldn’t wait to drag her by her sweaty nervous hand to all the rides and eat fistfuls of funnel cakes and then get on more rides until we wished we hadn’t eaten so much powdered sugar and grease. 

The milky skin of Missy’s brow is crinkled with worry as she stands helpless while the team of kids creeps around on all fours patting the ground with their palms looking for her charm bracelet.  Tears well in her eyes and she tells us “I just got a new clock charm from my grandma for my birthday.  It really tells time too.  I just put it on today.”  As if this were the news that would determine whether we found her bracelet or not.  And it does.  He stands suddenly, fist high in the air clutching silver, catching moonlight, glinting relief. 

“Thank you,” she exhales dramatically.

Disaster averted, her face erupts into glee as she literally bounces.  The wet from her blue eyes sparkle their appreciation and I fear that a kiss is on his lips. 

Instead, his lips peel back in a sneer, “Time in!” he yells and takes off after me.  Adrenaline surges as I run like hot coals, (instead of flattened grass,) were under my feet. He is at least two years older, with longer, faster legs, but I’m agile and crafty.  I maneuver turns and twists to avoid capture just as his foot slips in wet grass, (probably domestic beer,) and I make it to base: a picnic table.   I stand triumphantly on the bench, fists pumping above my head.  “HA!” 

I want this fine looking guy to know I’m no spoiled little girl.  I don’t need his help and he can’t catch me that easily.  I’m worth chasing, and I know it.  I blow a strand of my unruly red hair out of my face, it falls right back and I cross my arms and stick my hip out.  “Don’t you have someone else to chase?”  My translucent, strawberry blonde eyebrow raised.

Mischievious, cocksure, his brown, perfectly-arced eyebrow raises in answer.  He looks me over, “Nope.” 

A straight, white-toothed, triumphant grin appears on his face and he says, “You have cotton candy in your hair.” And his winning again. 

“So?”  I say, about to sprint off, not sure I won’t be caught this time when Missy walks up.

“I’m tired.  Where’s your mom?” she whines.

I roll my eyes.  “I don’t know.  Don’t be such a baby.”

“What time is it?” she frowns.

“I don’t know, look at the charm on your bracelet.” My lip curls up.

 “Holy cow!  It’s twelve thirty!”  She looks at her clock then up at the moon directly overhead.  “My parents are gonna kill me.” She frets, her voice a whine of blue-ribbon honesty. 

“Who cares?” I shrug turning my body toward her.  “How would they even find out anyway?”  He’s behind me now as I glare at her not to ruin my moment with him.  He slides an athletic, lanky arm around my underfed middle and it somehow grabs my heart and stops it.  My eyes go wide with the message and Missy shrugs, nods, and runs off to restart the game with the few remaining kids who haven’t wandered home yet.   She’s a good athlete: strong, fast, but lacking the scrappiness of street kids.  Her sneakers will get some more use tonight. 

            He steers me away and we’re walking I-don’t-care-where, his arm tightly in place the whole time.  I concentrate on matching the rhythm of his steps, not wanting him to let go, but then it starts to feel like a three-legged race.  I’m about to loose myself from his grip but then we arrive at the baseball field bleachers.  Earlier, the bleachers viewed a tented-arena with dirt floors, now back to be the baseball diamond but scuffed with foot and hoof-prints.  I twirl out of his embrace but he does not let go.  Instead, his hand slides down my arm and catches my hand at the end.  I look him right in the eye, daring him to do something as my heart pounds.  He pulls me down on the bench and right away kisses me hard.  His teeth click against mine and I taste a bit of my blood.  I pull back, stand up and he pulls me back down.

            “Where do you think you’re going?”  He asks. 

            “Maybe to find someone who can kiss right.”  I say, thinking of going back to Missy and tag.

            He pulls me back down, “Oh yeah?” and he does it again only this time our teeth don’t clink and I’m running out of bravado and melting into anxious lust.  I want it to never stop and I want to run back to the game of tag and I want Missy to come whining about going home and I want to keep kissing, keep kissing, kissing, kissing, when a loud crash interrupts every thought for as far as I can imagine and a man growls.  Howls, really.  And that escalates to a yell, then a scream.  And we’re up and running to see and his feet pound further and further ahead of me.

            Then I’m standing, straining my eyes not to see him bent over the piece of Tilt-the-World that I hid behind watching a glinting bracelet and his father under that thick, heavy metal with bolts as thick as my waist.  The floodlights announce the abrupt silence of the drills and it seems later, so much later than it did a moment ago.  And I try not to notice him crying or the screaming or the kids and me and Missy standing there wide-eyed.  And the men appear and they all heave and pick up the thick piece of metal with the red and blue lights still attached but his father’s hurt, really hurt and I don’t know what to say or do and Missy’s wide eyes look down at her clock charm and I want to hit her, punch her hard.  But I just stand there the same as they all do and stare.  We stare until red flashing lights, and blue police lights and pen lights arrive.  And we’re flooded with questions:  Did we see it? And what did we see?  And why were we still there? 

And the police want to call someone’s parents so honest, lily-white Missy Arbuckle tells them her parents’ number and they call.  But my mom told me to wait here and she’d be back to take us to the hotel so two hours later when Missy’s parents want to take me home with them, I don’t know what to do.  What best I do? 

I refuse to go with Missy and her parents.  I wait at the police station hoping that will help when my mom finds me somewhere other than where she left me.  And I’m angry at Missy for telling the police and putting me in this position and for how her life is and how I know we won’t be friends anymore, not the same anyway.  And I clench my fists and hold my scrawny, mighty, scrappy muscles in place that hold down weakness and think “good riddance.”

When I wake up in the hotel the next evening, cotton candy still in my hair, my teeth with a fuzzy layer, my feet hurt, my fists hurt, and still I want to play tag and eat cotton candy.  And I wonder what’s wrong with me.  And I wonder about winning at tag.  And I almost forget to wonder what his name was.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Day 67

Ivan imagines himself bright and bold.  If you peel back the layers of him that are putty and pasty and would do well to fill nail holes in drywall, like toothpaste, behind all that, his core would be bright orange contrasting shapes against a bright blue background.  In this reality, people would call him Ivo as he strolled confidently up to them, a manhattan held leisurely, a hearty laugh at the ready. 

But he is Ivan.  Ivan who is pale, pasty white.  Ivan who has never managed to so much as gain the story of a scar he got as a kid.  Ivan, who checks his messages and never finds anything beyond a reminder for a doctor's appointment or a reminder from his mother that they're having tea for her birthday on Sunday afternoon and don't be late.  He's never late.  It should make him angry that she says to be on time when he's never late.  It should make him angry that he has no where else to be so will not forget about their plans.  It should make him angry that he doesn't have anyone besides his cat to greet him when he gets home at forty.  But he's too resigned to get angry.

He unlocks the door to the same one bedroom apartment he's rented the last 15 years and Anne Bancroft, his pristing white cat, rubbing her face against his leg as he walks in.  She delicately walks toward the cupboard with the class of someone who knows she's about to get her due.  Anne with her private ways of slinking off when she tipped something over, never letting something crass taint her.  Absently, he reaches down and slinks a hand along her sleak, trim side and opens the refrigerator.  Empty except for a half can of tuna, a three week old half bottle of white wine, a carton of eggs, and a door full of condiments, he pulls out the tuna and gets a half cup of dry food from the cupboard to mix for her.  He sets it down, and she saunters over to eat.  He fries an egg, gets out the last of the saltines, mixes up a concoction of mustard, ketchup, mayonaise, and the fried egg, then uses the saltines to scoop it up and eat it. 

When he was a child, the smells of perogies, cabbage, and bacon wafted into his bedroom.  His mother was always cooking or baking something for them.  Now, she lives in a bedroom at an assisted living facility and hasn't baked in years. 

Ivan's not quite sure whether he's more embarassed about putting his mother in a home, or that he is more attached to Anne Bancroft, a cat than his own mother.  But his own mother has never touched his cheek, kissed him sweetly, and helped him fall asleep.  Not that he'd want her to now.  But he would want the real Anne Bancroft in his bed.  He'd want to hold her and spoon against her smooth back, run his finger along her satin covered hip and make her laugh.  What he wouldn't give to make a classy woman laugh with him on a Saturday night. 

This is what he thinks of as he flips through the channels, waiting for Great Expectations to come on.  Tomorrow he can visit his mother, but today he kicks back in his recliner with Anne in his lap, and Anne on his TV.  He looks at his feet ahead of him, and thinks "they're perfectly good feet."  They have no caluses, his nails are well cared for, there are no blisters, they have a slight arch, his toes have no hair.  He's modeled the after picture for a nail fungus remedy.  His feet have been in photos with loafers and slippers, but never atheletic wear.  Those jobs are reserved for models whose bodies are less, sinewy, faces more chiseled.  He's more of the gaunt, scientist looking type.  Just with smooth, slender feet.  Sometimes he has nightmares that his toes are hairy and when he tries to shave the hair off, he peels back layers upon layers of skin instead of hair and underneath each layer is more hair and more skin.  He shivers awake, and goes back to snuggling Anne, watching Anne.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Day 66

What's in a carnival past the cotton candy and the funnel cakes?  The jenky rides you just don't worry about and the lightning you hope won't ruin your night?  What's beyond the bands past their primes and local girls in blue ribbons parading themselves in convertibles?  After tallboys have been drunk and the rides are disassembled, what happens then?

I invited Missy to come to the fair with us.  We were going back to Debuque where I'd lived before moving to Des Moines and becoming friends with Missy.  My mom told me I could invite a friend so I called her up.  She'd never been, wanted to know what you do there and then had to ask her parents.  What the hell kind of kid doesn't know what happens at the fair?  Then a further series of phone calls to find out more information for her snotty parents.

Missy's cool but her parents always have to know everything.  They want to know how much money she'll need, who else will be going, which hotel we'll be staying at, whether she should pack a bathing suit and on and on.  Like I said, she's cool, but she's going to have to learn to stand up to them.  It's weird because they won't do anything anyway.  They'll just say "I'm disappointed in you."  Who gives a shit?

My mom leaves me lists on summer days and I best get all the things on that list done.  When she gets home, my clothes are put away, the dishes are done/dried/put away, there's nothing out of place.  Missy's mom tries to leave her lists but Missy forgets and then they fight and Missy does the things on the list because her mom guilts her into it.  If my list isn't done, it's hard to know how bad it'll be.  Depends on my mom's mood.  Sometimes she passes out and doesn't notice or messes up the parts of the list I did do.  Other times I'll avoid seeing anyone for days because I'll be sore from a whooping.

After many calls back and forth, Missy is packed and ready to go.  She walks her backpack over to my house and get in the car to drive the three hours to Debuque.  Missy clicks her seatbelt into place and winces at the country music.  She knows better than to ask for a change though.  In her parent's car, they listen to what she wants, but she's got a good idea how things work around here and suffers in silence.

As we get closer the sun begins to set in the broad, flat skyline and we hunker down and talk strategy for meeting boys: what we've brought to wear, how she'll do our makeup and I'll do our hair.  We get to the hotel and prepare for a whole new scene of boys. 

The fair is a flop and we're back at the hotel in no time.  My mom drops us off then goes wherever she goes and Missy and I stay up half the night talking.  We laugh forever about the out of date stone washed jeans and the drunks.  She asks about a boy and I tell her his story.  I make it up on the spot but Missy's no lie detector so she doesn't notice when I tell her how I lost my virginity to him.  I tell her about how I walked into his room and he was naked and PING his dick popped up and I fucked him right then and there.  Her mouth gapes.  She says she hopes it's special when she does it and can't believe I did that.  She's so freakin pure all the time.  So I take it a little further.

Tell her about how his dad was there too except how I didn't know it.  How he cornered me later and how I almost had sex with him.  I can tell she's uncomfortable so I zing her right then with how that's who my mom's out with right now.  She wants to call her parents but I won't let her.  She falls asleep in the bed next to me, stiff and afraid, and I roll over satisfied with the way I've educated her.

After that, I'm allowed at Missy's but she's not allowed at my house.  I don't even bother to shame her for telling her parents.  I just go back to my usual friends whose parents don't notice what we do after school.

Journal 5

I've fallen off this blog way worse than I intended.  I've still mostly posted daily but there's been some stuff going on in my personal life, plus grad school, plus pregnancy.  Sorry for the vague comment.  I hate that and am normally a pretty open book but what's going on isn't my story to tell so I'll just say that it's hard and it hurts to watch and not be able to help.  It takes up a lot of energy and I don't have that much to spare so it's impacted the frequency of my writing as well as my ability to focus on a story and see it through. 

Grad school is confusing.  I was so excited to start it and loved the readings and the assignments.  But I feel like I'm losing a part of my writing style in trying for the grades I want.  I'm ok with it for now but we'll see.  The professor wants more specific detail and so I'm spending a lot of time trying to paint a more complete picture of a scene which seems like really good practice.  But as I'm reading other people's works, I don't feel like every scene contains this type of detail.  So then I start to lose myself in questioning how to do it "right."  That and I've been annoyed that I can't get any of the professors to actually individualize a course.  The program is supposed to be individualized and the feedback is very detailed and helpful and I'm doing fine.  I just really wanted to focus on working and reworking and reworking a piece since all I've ever done is work on something for a few days and then put it aside, never to revisit it again.  It seems like editing and redoing a story should be pretty standard but it's not.  The expectation is that you do that yourself and get drafts in two weeks early if you want feedback (which I'm pretty much incapable of doing.)  So I've been struggling with whether the program will be a good fit for me or not.  I tried to make a case for changing the course with two different professors to exclude some of the more academic writing in favor of including more than one draft of a story but both seemed to get in a snit about it and turned me down flat.  It feels like they think I'm trying to get out of the work of writing which just irks me and reminds me that something is lost in online communications at times.  At others, a certain intimacy is gained.  I share details on blogs and emails that I'd likely not tell in person.

So here's where I'm at.  I'm going to go easy on myself a little.  You know, on account of I'm pregnant and got some shits going on.  I'm not going to worry if I don't post every single day but I'll really try to.  Maybe I'll embrace my less detailed, more free form writing here and so there's a place where I don't have to worry about grades.  In the first thirty or so posts on this blog, I developed some ideas I still really like.  I'm hoping to do that again in the next few weeks.  So here's to hoping.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Day 65

            Steve stumbles against Meyer’s tank like, unsteady weight as they step out into the cool, night air.  Even in August, the temperature dips low enough at night to require a jacket.  But they have the headiness of hours of beer drinking and cajoling to keep them warm.

            It’s Steve’s birthday but he’s nowhere near the drunkest.  The five of them should have taken the bus home hours ago, but now it’s too late to put their bikes on the bus rack.  After dark, you have to leave your bike or ride it home, the buses don’t allow them on the racks after sunset.  The moon has risen, giant and yellow, between two mountain peaks.  The effect is stage like, making the mountains a silhouetted cardboard back drop, prom stars hung in the sky for ambiance.  Add together the sky and the beer and the fun and the friends:  and they are invincible. 

            “So you guys want to leave our bikes here and take the bus or ride home?”  Mike asks.

            “Let’s go to the Moose when we get to Frisco.”  Meyers slurs.

            “We have to get there first, dumbass.” 

            “Shh.  Chill out, man.”  Mike tries to quiet his friends whose hearing abilities seem to have stayed in the bar.

            “I just got this bike from the shop where my buddy works.  He got me a pro form deal so it only cost me $2000 but it’s worth $5000.  No way am I leaving it for some slumming snowboarder to steal.”  Rather than simply remove the front wheel and chain it with the rest of the bike, he’s spent the evening dragging it around the bar and now gestures with it making his case.

            Decision made, the group heads across Copper Mountain’s newly paved sidewalks passing dark-wooded Bavarian awnings and giant Adirondack chairs, toward the bikes.  The five mount their bikes, some taking multiple starts to right themselves and their balance before heading to the stoplight at the top of the road.  They don’t stop at the wide, six lane intersection, but bike away from street and highway lights to the dark, wooded trail ahead.

            “Who else has a headlight?”  Steve asks. 

“Who else has a headlight?”  Meyers mocks in a high-pitched voice.

Steve turns his on and tries to lead the way, but Meyers beats him to it.  If anyone else has a light, they’re quiet about it.  There’s a full moon to help light most of the way.  The path from Copper Mountain to Frisco is familiar, bike only, paved, downhill, and mostly straight.

            Meyers’ stout, shaven legs pedal like he’s got something to prove.  Steve is right behind him.  Steve has a lanky body that may be the same in mass as Meyers’ but stretched out over an extra foot or so of height.  His hair is thinning and receding as if to reveal the trick aging is playing on him.  He keeps it under a hat almost all the time, even in front of his wife, to remain in his own generation in the eyes of onlookers.  One day his daughter’s friends will say “your dad’s old.”

            Steve measures his personality out like an accountant.  He calculates and metes out his responses, swirling statistics and possible phrasing around his mind before spitting out a comment like a receipt.  He never speaks loudly or smiles but is intelligent and interesting in the factoids he can produce on nearly any topic.  He rarely stays out past eleven or drinks more than two or three beers.  But it’s his birthday and his wife and daughter are out of town and Meyers came by early in the day and convinced him of his duty to celebrate.  Granted that duty was mainly to Meyers who is nearly always celebrating something, but still, it had been good to have a friend surprise him.

            He’d started the day the usual way with no young man's delusions about birthdays. He emptied the dishwasher and let the dog out. Then he fried two eggs, made toast, and ate.  He walked his black lab on an old dirt mining trail in the pine forest near his home. Along the walk, he thought about the beetle kill, what plans would best protect homes and water sources, and uses for the wood. When he arrived home, he had a text from Meyers. 

            “Beers?  Let me correct that.  Beers.  Bike to Copper at 4.”

            It was a set of instructions more than an invitation which he resisted at first out of the habit of needing to follow a plan, but then thought “Why not?”  

            Before he knew it, it was 12:30 am and he was speeding down the trail after Meyers, impervious to the night, suddenly anxious to pass Meyers, competitive.  He pedaled faster, but no Meyers. 

            Steve is focused now, determined to beat Meyers, to pedal faster.  His legs pump and the air whirrs around him, wheels buzz quietly and he breathes steadily.  Still no Meyers.  He speeds on.

Suddenly, the air is knocked out of him as he thumps into something soft and fetid.  Dazed, it takes quite a few moments to reorient himself.  He feels sticks and smells pine needles.  He feels around and finds himself on his back on the ground.  He spits fur out of his mouth, reaches up a hand to pick at more.  He has fur in his mouth and his nose.  He takes stock of his body, arms, legs, trunk, feet, hands.  His hands are scuffed but nothing else seems injured so he stands up, dusts himself off.  Even after sneezing and spitting some more, the tickle of the fur continues to irritate him and the smell of something like oak, urine, and the zoo seems permanently inside his nose.

            He can’t believe Meyers is going to beat him.  He can’t believe he’s hit a bear.  And “oh my god, what happened to my bike?” he wonders, afraid to find the answer.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Day 64

His mousy brown hair is thinning and receding even though he's still in his early thirties.  He keeps it short and usually has a baseball hat or beanie to keep him with his own generation, so you don't see age trying to steal him for the future.

This will be his thirty third birthday which seems significant even though really it's just another day.  He has no young man's delusions about birthdays.  He'll still have to empty the dishdrainer and plan his own day.  Obligations have taken over the patches of his head that his hair left vacant over the last few years. 

He lives his morning the usual way.  He walks his black lab on a dirt trail lined with pine near his home. Along the walk, he thinks about the beetle kill, what plans would best protect homes and water sources, and uses for the wood.  Statistics swirl in his mind as he picks out ones that fit his ideas, like his wife might choose an outfit. 

She's out of town so he has the evening to himself.  He's planned to take a seven mile bike ride from Frisco to Copper with a group of guys he knows from his days as a ski instructor.  They eat in Copper, then either ride back or take the bus depending on how many beers they have, but probably they'll take the bus. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Day 63

People ask me what it's like to pick up cons straight outa prison, and I tell 'em: it's a livin.  They got someplace they gotta go, and I gotta pay the bills.  So I take 'em.

Most of 'em just want to smell some fresh air but get freaked out when things is too open.  Like if you ever saw a cat just got outa the pound and you let it outa its carrier in your house, it cowers and don't like it.  Sometimes runs right back in even though it's been hollerin to get out the whole ride home.  Cons is like that.

Low Jack was the first con I ever picked up.  He just shaved for the trip into town and even though he didn't get out much, he had that dark skin, like when somebody puts a lotta cream in their coffee and you could see he'd shaved because the skin was so light.  He said thank you real quiet when I let him off at the transfer station.  I wondered for a long time whether he made it on the outs but I dunno.

Dino was gruff and had a scar in the corner of his mouth that looked like he'd got caught on a fish hook.  Maybe he did.

Stanley was a old man and looked real sad and lost. 

Sometimes I get names, sometimes I make 'em up. 

Brandy used ride my route to visit Guth once a month.  Never had the guts to ask her about conjugals but she sure got dolled up like something was gonna happen.  She was a hair dresser and musta had a hundred ways to fix herself for visits.  Always wondered when he'd get out and whether I'd be able to tell it was him, but I never did.  She just stopped comin after bout a year and half of it.  For all I know he was Stanley.  But I don't think so.

Charlotta drags four kids on the bus with her.  Grabs whatever skinny freckled arm is right there and drags 'em along.  Those kids is skinny but you can tell they're scrappy by the way they look her right in the eye when she pulls 'em close and says "you mind, y'hear?"  'cept the youngest.  That one don't look no one in the eye or fight or nothin.  I wish she'd leave that one with a friend or somethin because she just looks like she'll shatter if she don't get a good daddy hug soon. 

Terrel is mentally retarded.  Takes a few minutes ta figure it out but when he pulls the stop string the fourth time, I figure him for slow.  When we get to the transfer station, I walk him to the place he needs to wait for his next bus. 

Little J is all gold shine and swagger like he's going to the strip club on the bus.  Somehow I don't think this is his first time.  Why he didn't get a taxi or a friend makes me scared to see what happens when he gets off the bus.  Like maybe his chickens is coming home and I don't want to be there if that happens.  But nothin happens. 

Sometime folks ask me if I'm scareda the cons but that always seemed silly to me.  They come out lookin tough and lost at the same time.  Or tougher but you know they don't know which way's up and if you just give 'em someplace safe to cower till they're ready, they'll come out eventually.  It'll be a while before mischief sniffs them out.  At least 24 hours anyway.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Day 62

The squares are set up
and knocked down in the gym
records skip
to my lou
and I extend a nervous palm
sweat builds
anxiety of rumors
yucky sweat and soup smells
and fault
somehow you know it's your fault
just the partner I wanted
or didn't

Monday, June 4, 2012

Day 61

Life happens in the basement in this house.  It is where you can wear pajamas and put your feet on the gold and orange plaid couch while watching TV and eating popcorn.  If a kernel drops, no biggie, the carpet's black and red indoor/outdoor of the variety that can soak up an entire soda, burp, and be no worse for the wear.

A little boy who has planned his strategy for requesting a paper route launches into his proposal to his dad on that couch.  He tells his dad how much money he will make, what time he will need to get up in the morning, how he will need to collect in the evenings.  His dad swirls a tumbler of something strong, ice clinking in the glass as he considers his answer.  He tells him something about responsibility and confidence and lets him get the route.  Months later, they fight about this same route in this same place.  Voices rise so loud that no clinking can be heard, just angry whiskey breath, stomping stairs, and slamming doors.  Neighbors close their windows, not wanting to get involved, and watch the youngest to make sure everyone's ok.  She is proud of the yelling that is so loud people hear across fences and yards.  There is passion in it and honesty and strength in not being afraid.

This is the place where she colors construction paper hearts with markers and uses double sided tape to pretend her ears are pierced.  It is where she skips and jumps rope and her dad tells her "I'm watching the news," and "not in front of the TV," when she cartwheels end to end four in a row across the entire floor.  Where she waves a hair ribbon pretending she's Mary Lou Retton and stands on a pedestal of her own designing to put on entertainment shows that her parents clap for.  Her mother rarely comes into the basement, but when she does, she is a captive audience.  The girl can stand behind the couch and is at just the right level to "do" her hair.  She combs it and puts mismatched plastic barrettes all over her head and her mom thanks her for how beautiful she looks.

The same voice rises and throws itself against door jams and windows in a fury over what have you and the household shrinks and hides.  The cats know they could be thrown down the stairs at any moment and the dog is the only one who is safe.  The garage door slams and someone has gone for a walk but neither the boy nor the girl come out of their rooms to see who has gone and who is left.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Day 60

                We sit in a tiny room that likely used to be a storage closet in a converted former dentist’s office.  It’s a small, aging, wooden, two-story building.  There’s something hollow and vaguely impermanent feeling about the school.  It’s as though the wood in the floors is thin enough that with a strong enough kick and a heavy enough work boot, you could kick a hole right through the floor.  My classroom is upstairs near the emergency exit that the kids leave through on the way to PE.  The PE teacher often pokes his head in to say hello on his way out to the vans to take the kids to play basketball or whatever it is they’re currently doing.  He does not interrupt though when I am working with Damien and Dion since they’re Little-Kids and more easily distractible.  If I were working with Big-Kids, he’d probably lean in and heckle them with friendly eyes which would both embarrass and flatter them.
                Damien and Dion rush in, excited for their time away from the larger group of kids.  Damien and Dion come to me for reading every other day.  At eight, neither has mastered any basic letter-sound relationships that many preschoolers have.   They chatter away and I half-listen, waiting for the thunder of teenaged feet on an insubstantial floor to subside before beginning our lesson.  Their excitement is contagious but as the last of the foot traffic lets up, Damien and Dion settle in.  They want to learn.  They haven’t yet learned to be ashamed of the fact that they cannot read the word “cat,” yet.  Instead, they are hopeful.  They are desperate for adult attention:  like toddlers in their need. My room consists of four wooden desks that are at least fifteen or twenty years old.  They are the slanted wooden variety that have seats attached, with a metal compartment under the wooden top to store books.  They’re the same kind I peeled my thighs from on September days in elementary school.  The compartments are empty and the metal is a good surface for banging out a rhythm with a pen and the heel of an older boy’s hand.  Damien spindles his long, skinny, ashy knees into the desk and Dion follows.  They sit up on their knees, changing positions frequently.  I get out the flashcards we always start with and we begin.
                I hold up a card then another and another, and in unison they say “A, ah, apple.  B, buh, ball.  C, kuh, car.”  We go through the alphabet, then I mix the letters up and we go through it again, out of order.  The vowels give them some trouble so we go through those again.  “E, eh, egg.”

                I want to make them eggs, but I don’t know if there are enough.  Cereal doesn’t get you through much of the morning, and I want the boys to have a good morning at school.  School should be a bigger priority than it can be for these boys.  My values vie for position in the chaos of all their needs. 
                The house sits in the suburbs south of Saint Louis.  Built in the 80s there are ranch style homes and well-dressed teenagers walk to school on crackfree sidewalks.  I sit in the dark of the house, ticking off the minutes, watching bad tv, eating junk, thinking of the day and preparations.  Mentally I go through what needs to be done: preheat the oven, make up a tray of toast, a tray of bacon, get mismatched bowls and spoons out for cereal, set the table.  Then I move farther into my day and what I need to do for classes: copies, grading, mentally remembering what lessons I’ll be teaching.  I realize I’m ahead of myself, stop, and look around the spacious kitchen with the Formica island in the middle and the eighties style oak cabinets, the burnt orange stove and matching refrigerator.  I get out the bread and prepare the tray.  Whatever I can get done now will help once the boys are up.  Once they’re up, it will be GO-time.  I’m excited to wake the boys.  I never work in the little kid’s house and can’t wait to see them in their jammies, excited surprise in their faces to see me instead of their regular staff.  4:45 am.  Time to do a bed check.
                I am in the basement where all the boys are sleeping in one of two rooms.  The basement’s dingy in a way that is difficult to pinpoint.  The paint is new but the furniture’s second hand.  The toys are too orderly.  There’s tape on the floor that delineates staff-only areas like the desk that sits facing what would otherwise be a family room vs. everywhere else.  It’s still dark so I bring the flashlight.  The smell of moldy boy-sweat vaguely settles in the ground.  I start with Andrew.  I punch the power button with my thumb before I go through the already open door, gradually introducing light to the room.  Andrew’s crumpled up in his wood-framed twin and I can’t see his face, but his hair will do fine in confirming he’s there.   Damien’s bed is in the middle and he has tossed his blankets to the floor and lies mouth open, snoring lightly, on his back with limbs thrown out to the four winds.  Dion is sleeping on his stomach and the bit of his face that is visible looks peaceful and serene.  A mother would be tempted to lean over and kiss his perfectly smooth caramel cheek, but wouldn’t want to disturb him.  Stephen has twisted himself up and I have to pry a little to be sure there’s really a body in the bed.  There is and thankfully he doesn’t wake, so I go back to the desk and tick off the boxes on the bed check grid for this fifteen minutes until I have to do it again in another fifteen. 
At the school, I pull kids out of class and try intensive interventions to get them closer to grade level in reading, writing, and math.  This is what I was trained to do.  What I was born to do.  But it doesn’t pay much and unlike other teaching jobs, you are not off in the summer and so the possibility of an extra summer job to help pay off college loans does not exist.  Instead, I sometimes pick up half of an overnight here or there to help pay the bills.  It helps develop relationships with the boys and with the staff that work with them in the houses.  Otherwise, there’s a school staff setup and a home staff setup and if they don’t communicate well, it impacts the therapeutic value of being a place like this.  It seems unjust that any child should end up in a place like this, so it seems a duty of the staff to be sure it’s worthwhile for the kids.  I usually work at Yarrow or Estes, the houses for the older boys.  I take them for hikes or running and spice up their meals with things I find in cupboards long forgotten: cumin, sage, curry.  The little kids are another story.  I’m less comfortable with them, more hurt by their stories.
                Damien’s story is particularly horrible.  It takes me multiple sessions to read his entire file.  His skull was fractured in three places when he was just thirteen months old.  He has been sexually abused by so many family members, I have not committed the number or the names to memory.  He has sexually abused his own cousins.  After all, that’s what a relationship is.  His parents’ rights have been terminated which means he is alone in the world at the ripe age of eight.  When I was eight, I got the chicken pox and my mom cried that I would have to miss the school Valentine’s Day party.  She bought me a pound puppy and I scratched away at home in front of cartoons, hugging my new-smelling soft brown spotted comfort.  Damien has no mom or dad to feel bad for him for the things that hurt a child.  He has a rotating series of staff who look out for him and give him “side hugs” when he needs attention.  It’s one thing to be on your own at fourteen and fifteen, it’s another at eight.  At eight, you should still be able to crawl in with your parents and snuggle on a Saturday morning.  Not get bullshit “side hugs,” and spend your illnesses on a cot in the lunchroom because there’s no one at the house to take care of you.  It helps to keep his skull fracture in mind when I’m frustrated by the slow pace of our reading sessions.  He is learning so I focus on that and enthusiastically encourage him at every success.   
                Dion and Damien have fallen into a routine in the classroom.  They come in and chat for a few minutes, then get to work.  They go through the letter flash cards.  Then we work on hearing syllables in words by karate chopping them in the air.  Da-mi-en.  Chop, chop, chop!  Damien chops and kicks his spidery limbs out, nearly spastically.  He has big pink gums and even bigger, mismatched teeth.  He often takes his glasses off to rub his eyes when he’s getting tired from trying so hard, revealing, large, pooling dark eyes rimmed with thick, dark, curled lashes.  He has a Stevie Wonder head-tilt when he smiles that makes him look a bit off.  He’s been smiling often lately as he and Dion have started being able to read words.  Whole real words in books!  They’re getting competitive now and I can feel something maternal in the air.  Their competition for the correct answer is becoming a sibling rivalry.  I can feel instinct kicking in and I’m not always sure what to do with it.  I know I am their teacher.  I know they need to learn to read and that the success I’m having with them means I’m the best person to be doing it.  But…  the desire to nurture them is strong when they burst through the door in the morning.
                That instinct is strong now as I check the time, 5:59.  The time to wake them creeps closer and I do my last bed check before wakeups start at 6:15.  
                I feel that itchy, twitchy feeling of having been awake most of the night.  It’s not a tired feeling.  It’s an adrenal-fueled state that tricks you into eating more than you need and talking more than you want. 
                The boys are, indeed, excited to see me and they follow most directions.  Eager to please, they get dressed, take turns going to the bathroom, keep safe ratios in their rooms without being reminded, and make their beds without too many promptings.  We go upstairs and have breakfast when the excitement and change in routine begins to show.  Dion gets angry when he spills his orange juice.  The boys try to encourage him, but he doesn’t do well with change.  He asks to go spend time alone in the timeout room and I agree.  He leaves the spilled juice and speedwalks down the pictureless hallway to the back room.  If a family lived here, this would be a bedroom.  As it is, the room is completely bare.  Painted beige, wood closet doors removed, tile floors scuffed.  We listen to Dion screaming and yelling and kicking the wall.  He seems to be working himself up instead of calming himself down.  So, since the boys are cooperating and eating ok, I tell them I’ll be right back and walk down the beige carpeted hallway to check on Dion. 
                Before he’s seen me, he’s heard me.
 “FUCK YOU.”  He screams. 
                I say nothing, and turn to go back down the hallway and try to let his rage peter out, rather than engage in a power struggle, but he follows after me. 
                He pushes my leg “FUCK YOU.”  He tilts his chin down as he repeats it, his eyebrows scrunched together in anger neither of us fully understand. 
                “Dion, why don’t you use one of your coping skills so you can keep having a good morning, ok?”  I say calmly.  It’s too late, and I’ve engaged him now.  His anger is fueled.  Whatever trauma this relates to is about to play out. 
“I care about you and want to see you have a good morning, Dion.  Do you think it will help if we try to call Angela?”  I ask.  I’m tired and it’s all I can think of.  His therapist will probably not appreciate the interruption but I’m the only staff for at least another 30 minutes and there are four other boys I need to keep calm.  I do not want to end up in a restraint.
                He balls up his fists and I see his silver fillings shine as he literally growls, about to hit me.  I head back toward the timeout room but he doesn’t follow.  He tips over a chair where the other boys are still finishing up breakfast and I tell him I’m going to take him to the timeout room so he can be safe.  I begin semi forcibly escorting him back to the room.  I can tell where this is leading and that the audience of his peers will only make things worse. 
                In the timeout room, a restraint ensues.  The boys, who are confused about when they are boys and when they are too-young, parentless men, continue to creep down the hall to check on me and make sure I’m ok.  Damien begins checking often and yelling at Dion. 
“You better leave her alone, or I’m gonna kick your booty!”  Damien yells.
“Go back with the other boys, please Damien.  I’m fine.  Trust me to handle this, please.”
Thankfully, Dion’s emotions have run their course and he begins to calm down now just as his therapist is returning the page.  I have the boys pass the phone around waiting for the time when Dion is ready to talk to her.  She is the therapist for most of the boys in this group.  As Dion leaves the room to clean up his juice and talk to his therapist, Damien comes in.  Damien pushes Dion and I give him a disapproving look.  A maniacal smile spreads and he says “What bitch?” 
                My heart sinks.  Dion’s restraint has set him off and he’s reacting.  He wants the power so he can fix it, or at least be in control.  Dion is barely out the door, guilty, self-loathing tears coming down his face as I tell the boys in a voice that absolutely means business, “Stay out of here and talk to Angela.  I’ll be out of here as soon as I can.”  I barely finish before Damien punches me in the crotch.  He’s in the time out room now and I try not to engage him, turning my body so that we are not face to face.  I try not to be threatening in any way.
                “I know what happened with Dion really upset you, Damien, but everyone’s safe now.  Why don’t you take some deep breaths to calm down.”  I take a deep breath, hoping he’ll match my breath.  It won’t hurt either of us to do some deep breathing right now. 
                “That’s not what you want.”  He says in a mock-seductive voice.  He has a speech impediment and it comes out as he emphasizes his words, cocking his hip to the side and saying, “You wanna fuck me!”   He starts taking his pants off and swings them in a circle like a lasso and throws them at me.  I move and there is a boy in the hallway.
                “Are you ok, Miss?” 
                “Of course, honey.  I just need you guys to keep doing a good job following directions, and being safe in the living room.  Why don’t you turn on a cartoon and keep talking to Miss Angela.  Let her know what’s going on and another staff will be here soon.”
                I pray for staff to be early so I can switch out.  I’m setting Damien off but I can’t figure out what to do about it.  I can’t let him go out and attack the other kids, which he is likely to do if I move from the doorway, but if I block him, he will chose the power struggle and I’ll be stuck in a restraint.  He’s clearly remembering some sexual abuse so I really don’t want that either.  I opt to continue to stand in the doorway and protect the other kids, but turn my back hoping it will be less engaging. He strips the rest of his clothes off and runs into me punching me repeatedly in the butt.
                “You like it in the butt, bitch?  Yeah, you know you want that!” 
                “I’m sorry if someone said that to you, Damien, but I don’t want anything like that from you.”  I say and protect myself as best as I can.  I move away from his next attack and he goes for the door.  I grab him and put him in a restraint against the wall.  I feel his skinny, ropey muscles tighten and then go completely slack.  He slides to the floor (contrary to my training,) and I let him go.  Before I can get away, he uppercuts me in the crotch.
                “I’ll punch you in that pussy, bitch!” spit foams in the back of his mouth on the “ch” sound and spills out of his clenched teeth as he repeats more past trauma about bitches, asses, and fucking. 
                We go round and round.  I try not to engage him, but he has more experience in this dynamic than I do and finds ways.  He knows he can go for his peers and I can’t let him.    He tries every vile thing he can think of to get my attention.  He dances rhythmically in his tiny body, grabbing his penis in a gesture that is not eight years old.  Bends over and shows his tiny bottom.  Makes kissing noises.  Laughs, then charges me again, punching at my crotch and falling to the ground.  I end up in restraint after restraint with him.  I hold him, myself terrified, knowing I’m probably retraumatizing this child, but not sure what else to do to keep the other kids safe from him.  His arms are pinned around his front, left elbow locked under right, with his body in the corner and my hip turned into him.  I do not speak until his breathing slows.  He pretends to calm down, I tell him to take three deep breaths.  He does.  I tell him I’m going to let go of his left arm.  I do.  He falls to the ground and laughs.  We start all over.
                Staff is late and I’m beginning to panic.  I’m slick with sweat and exhausted.  I’m shaking from the strain and my arms don’t seem like they have the strength for another hold.  I don’t think I can continue to do this for too much longer but don’t know what else to do.  I call to one of the boys to ask Angela to get someone to come in.  She does her best to reach someone at the school. 
                I check my watch.  We’ve been at it for over forty five minutes now and he’s not calming down at all.  He does not exhaust as easily as I do.  We go another twenty five minutes with him punching me, attempting to seduce me/reliving his past, and me avoiding a restraint, then doing one, then letting go, then right back in. 
                Three people arrive at the same time and a trusted coworker from the school, Dave, comes back to take over.  My clothes are soaked in sweat and my whole body shakes.  Release is imminent.  I go out to help the boys get off to school.  I want their day to go well.   I know they’ve been worried for me and afraid of what’s going on.  It’s upsetting for small children and they are.  Dion throws himself into my arms and I let him give me a real hug.  I’m not sure if it’s for me or for him.
                “Don’t worry, Dion.  I’m ok.”
                He’s nearly crying. “I’m sorry.”
                “Hey, this isn’t your fault.  You guys did great.  You stayed calm.  You stayed safe.  I’m proud of you.  You did exactly what you were supposed to do.”            
                They still look unsure so I add, “This is my job you guys.  We’re all ok.  We’ll talk about it at school today, ok?”
                They are quiet and compliant.  They get in the van and go to school.  I clean up the kitchen and drive my own car to the school.  I sit down in a scavenged chair at the long table in the teacher’s lounge.  I rest my head in my hands trying to collect myself before class.  I hear Damien and keep it together. 
                “Go on downstairs to your classroom.”  He tells Damien softly.  I strain, don’t hear anything, so he must have worn himself out and gone down.
                Dave sits down next to me and waits a minute and asks if I’m ok.  I realize there is no way I will teach reading in five minutes.  I fight back tears and ask if someone can call our boss and see if they can cover my classes for a little while so that I can collect myself.  Dave tells me he’ll take care of it and I walk out.  I drive to the grocery store around the corner and pick up donuts and fruit.  I go back to the lounge and stuff and swallow my way through avoiding crying.  It doesn’t work.  Dave comes in and the tears pool, spill out.
                Images of the things Damien said and did an hour ago come in waves.  The glimpse I got of his trauma is overwhelming.  At his age, I thought sex was two naked people rubbing up against each other.  And I’d always thought that knowledge had been advanced.
                “I just can’t believe that he had to live that way.  That was his reality.  This is my job.  I take breaks and sit in here and eat donuts and at the end of the day go back to my life.  That is his life.” 
                That afternoon the clinical team decides Damien’s attachment disorder and previous sexual abuse is being triggered by the closeness of our reading classes.  He had gotten close enough with me that the next natural step, to him, was for things to turn sexual.  He had literally never had a relationship with a caring adult that was not sexual.  I was not the first staff he had done this with.  A few days later he had to change therapists after becoming too sexualized around Angela.  Two weeks after that he was hospitalized. 
When he returned, the shine was drugged out of his eyes, and the mania was gone from his laugh.   His reading classes never resumed.