The ribs of the building creaked as I stare up at the black ceiling. Like tarred lungs, if I could understand what tarred lungs were at the time. I pull the itchy blue blanket over my face. The tiny holes in the pattern that I made with my tiny fingers let me sneak a peek into the world, without being there. Or so I thought. The rhythmic chafe of a kid in the next bed touching himself too much echoes along the lines of misery. It was for some reason all the older boys touched themselves. I shut my eyes, but it doesn’t shut the noise. I try to figure out how to shut my ears, I fall asleep trying to. This night is like most nights. Except for one.
The trees in the back of the house, a small forest for wonderment and discovery. There was always two groups, the ones that want to discover, and the older ones that wanted to discover each other. I was always in the first group. The burn of the bark against my palms was something foreign but proverbial. As if it was meant to burn, for the thought of burning alone. I used to sit and watch the kids wonder and the older kids pillage. All in a way awkward and dismal. I smell the gross sap smell, the one where it’s exposed for long enough that it almost smells like shit. I take it in as I dangle my feet from the branch, rhythmic enough to not push me over, but chaotic enough to feel as if I was any second from falling. There’s a scream, then another, then another. From my watchtower, I peer onto the kids below searching for a source. A few kids gather as I spot the cause. The sensation of falling and running to something you’re unsure of is indistinguishable.
The ants crawl up her legs, one by one. The tiny appendages peck so slightly at her thighs. She moved to kiss him, to leave one group and to join another. The movement enough to scare the little creatures on her legs. One bite, then the next, the domino effect of bites. She screamed for each one. For each little pair of mandibles clasping into the skin. The other kids stood and watched as she swatted what they believed to be invisible demons. The ants all died, falling by the wayside as they say. She continued to scream as the burning didn’t subside after the bites. Circles and circles. There was something about this place that made you enjoy the misery of others. I break through the crowd as her legs are showing signs of swelling. Out of all girls, I think stupid thoughts. I was only nine, I couldn’t take her in my arms and whisk her away like some movie they played on Fridays. With a cracking voice, I yell backing awkwardly towards hers. “Get on my back, get on!” It must have been a reaction on both parts because I was running and she was wrapping her arms and legs around me. She was crying, I was crying. My arms and leg burned by the time I caught sight of the house. I could have sworn and I will swear to this day that it must have rained, each step, closer and closer to the house my feet and legs sunk into the ground. I reach the back door and collapse from the pain and weight. They weren’t always loving but they did care. Arms lift us, I still miss the feeling of being carried. Where they would interview would be parents there was an old couch that smelt like moth balls and rose petals. The stronger arms laid me there. I wanted to keep my eyes open. I wanted to know how Alice was, but it was just too hard, to just, keep…
I woke-up and it was dark. The ribs of the house seemed more welcoming, like something missed but not, as if it was just good to know it was still there. I stare at the dancing shadows on the ceiling when the private rubs start again. I could do my best to escape, but at last, there wasn’t escaping until they let you.
In the morning we assemble into the folds we fit in. They call off the interviews. The changes being that the woods were now off limits. I wanted to miss the sting of the bark against my hands, but I couldn’t help but notice the absence of her. I thought love was dumb, but love just makes you act dumb. So I have no idea what I really thought. I eat my food as fast as I could. Before we put the trays away they make sure we didn’t waste a thing. Mine was about as clean as it came. The man in the blue coveralls gives me a nod and takes it away. I run to the nurse’s office. And to say that it was an office is giving it a little too much credit. It was a starchy bed with starchy sheets in a stairway closest. They removed the door maybe two years ago after someone, I can’t remember who locked themselves inside. I push the curtain to the side, the scrape feels good against my hand. She lies on the bed reading a worn copy of Moby Dick that was probably older than the house itself. “Hey.” I say, trying hard to sound deeper then my voice was. She sets the book down on her chest. “Hey there.” She says. The book doesn’t sit right on her developing chest and begins to slide. If only we were given a road map of becoming an adult it may have been easier. It falls off the side of her chest. I pay it less mind than anything else as I sit down on the dinky brown plastic chair. “How you feeling?” I ask. She smiles. The worst part about this place is no one hid truths, they just let them fall likes copies of Moby Dick. “I feel awful.” she says. I take her hand, soon our fingers and palms become soaked with the sweat of being in contact for too long. I don’t mind and she doesn’t as she falls asleep.
What we may call a nurse came in and split the connection. My palm is sticky, but I love it more than the burn as she walks me out to the small dinner hall. They fed us twice a day now, they used to feed us three times a day, but that changed a while back.
When they took away the forest, they also took away a place to be alone. I myself would climb a tree, hide in the foliage and cry. We generally didn’t know why we were sad, and it wasn’t apparent until later on in life. But our outlet was the ability to hide our tears in the forest. But as that was taken from us, our weakness begin to show. The other kids tried to tuck themselves away, to have moments alone, however, you never really escaped someone views. Though the only ones to interrupt were the fake hugs of those whose care we were in. Morale began to shift from miserable to disheartened. The interviews increased. It was sad to see the hope rise then be smashed. We needed the woods.
To be continued.