“Where were you last night in your slumbering? Were you snoring through an Opera in Italy in the year 1658, or like me, flying over the Ozarks on the back of a swan?” Her words come fast and excitedly as if she is afraid she will forget what she had planned on saying.
“What are you talking about?” I ask with a twisted expression on my face.
“Dreams,” She says. “Don’t you have dreams? The Opera first started in Italy in the 1600s, haven’t you ever dreamed of going to the Opera, and the Ozarks from way up high, wouldn’t it be beautiful to see the mountains from up so high? Do you believe in God?”
“All I want to do is eat my cereal, do you mind.” With that, I get up and move across the room. The blond-haired girl is left sitting alone with a single staff member at the cafeteria table. She stares at her eggs as they rubberized before her big blue eyes.
“So who’s your new girlfriend Jack?” Rocky cracks with a wry smile.
“She’s not my girlfriend dufas, and quit calling me Jack,” I replied angrily.
“Mr. Frost, remove yourself from the restriction table, instigating will not be tolerated.” Mr. Drumard states harshly.
“He started it.” I protest.
“Now.” is the cold reply.
“So long Jack” Rocky jabs one last time.
This last day is going to be a long one. Why is the staff always so hard on me? Rocky is the real trouble maker but his dad is made of money, according to Rocky, which makes him exempt from certain rules. When I complained once the staff only said that “each person had individualized care plans and the treatment procedure of others was not a focus of discussion.”
Dunn is Rocky’s real name. The Staff calls him Mr. Dunn. First names are never used, it is supposed to prevent unhealthy friendships from forming, protect the confidentiality, and all that crock. As if the kids are going to form an underground crime syndicate or commit mass suicide when they got out.
Rocky had got his name from a kid who was on his way out of the facility. Kids with seniority always chose the nicknames of new kids. He got it because of his impressions of Rocky Balboa. It wasn’t even a good impression; he just punched some other kid in the nose. Then he raised both hands in the air making cheering crowd impressions till the staff tackled him.
People just assume Rocky started calling me Jack because of my last name, Frost, but Rocky let it be known otherwise by following the term “Jack” with several various swear words out of staff hearing. This happened enough times that just saying “Jack” was enough to get the derogative point across. He would have been gone by now but got more time when he got out and stole a staff member’s car for a joy ride. His rich dad kept him out of jail; Rocky said this was his “country club” option.
“You can’t keep yourself out of trouble for even a day, can you Mr. Frost?” Mr. Steward says while handing me an orange vest to put on. Before I can eat my soggy cereal, breakfast is over. Normally I would have had 30 minutes to eat but now, on restriction, I have only 15 and that time was wasted moving from table to table. My stomach growls.
“Times up, clear the table.” Mr. Steward announces. Clean-up is always the job of the restriction table.
“Since you’ll be leaving us tomorrow Mr. Frost, I’ll give you the choice, Wash, dry, or put away?” Mr. Steward says with a friendly wink.
“I’ll put it away,” I say. I know Mr. Steward is trying to cheer me up. He is the only staff member that has treated me half descent this past six months. I also know that if I took my time the rest of the kids will be done washing the tables and the floors before I come out of the kitchen.
At the 30-minute bell all the other kids in the cafeteria line up in their assigned groups for outdoor exercise. I look over the kitchen serving counter to the blond-haired girl staring at the moving crowd with her big blue eyes. She looks like she wants to fly away. Yeah, She looks like a startled bird; maybe a swan.
I see her again at lunchtime from across the room. She still sits alone with one staff member at her table. I am sitting, still adorned in an orange plastic vest, at the restriction table. One stupid infraction earns a day of restriction, but “each day starts off with a clean slate.” was the coined phrase of the facility. “Big deal,” I think. I am out tomorrow anyway. Lunchtime for those on restriction is 30 minutes, while the other kids have longer but I never understood why. All three meals are the same while on restriction, plain oatmeal, no sugar, no salt, just white globs of gruel, and usually cold. Before lunch, I had been excused from my anger management group to go to discharge planning. I have been assigned a new home in a new school in a new town and am introduced to my new foster parents. The old man is a farmer who promises to build my character with honest work. All I have to do is keep my grades in school above a D average and I can get a job in the fields in the summer and after graduation. Maybe someday I can even be a field supervisor. I imagine the stocky woman in the farmhouse kitchen cooking chicken and mashed potatoes with carrots, peas, and apple pie. With that in mind, I lose my appetite for lumpy oatmeal. I spend the last 20 minutes staring at the blond-haired girl with blue eyes. Suddenly she stares back.
“Times up, clear the table. Mr. Frost, you’ll be washing the dishes this afternoon.” Mr. Drumard growls.
“Great,” I think. “Nothing like scraping burnt lasagna off baking pans and runny pudding out of bowls to develop moral fiber.” I keep glancing up at the sink hoping to catch a glimpse of the new girl when she brings her tray to the counter. Every time I strain my neck the staff member who is righting down the meal percentages gives me a sour look. Just as the meal bell rings after a 30-minute wait, the blond-haired girl comes to the window with her tray.
“A swan’s egg for you.” I tease when the staff notes that the plate is full.
“Mind your own task.” The staff member warns. The girl quickly averts her big blue eyes, turning abruptly away as she is led to her assigned group by her orientation staff.
“That was a stupid thing to say.” I thought. I plan on apologizing when I see her at supper. I spend the afternoon packing my scant possessions, three faded blue jeans, two tee shirts, and a bible my grandfather had given me. The cover was torn off by some kid who tried to rip it apart when I first arrived. The kid said he was a Satanist and sharing a room with a bible thumper was against his religious freedom. I have never even read it but it is the only thing I own. The staff had put the bible in storage for safekeeping these past months. Now it fits nicely at the bottom of a paper bag with the rest of my stuff.
I look for the blond-haired girl at supper but don’t see her. I have decided to give her the nickname Swan. I just couldn’t get her words out of my head from breakfast. “Well, tomorrow I’ll be off restriction and I’ll sit at her table.” I thought. Sometimes new kids missed meals, especially if they had to be put into isolation. I had been there a few times for fighting with Rocky. It was a room a little bigger than a closet with padding on the walls and a slot in the door so you could be stared at.
The new girl’s thoughts keep coming back to me. I have dreams; I would love to see an Opera; go to Italy; learn what it was like in the 1600s, and the Ozarks; to see the mountains from way up high; I don’t know about God, maybe I’ll read my grandfather’s bible… I can’t eat a thing for supper, especially not oatmeal that I know they cooked for breakfast. I spend the rest of the night planning what I will say when I see the girl tomorrow.
“Where were you last night in your slumbering? Were you snoring through an Opera in Italy in the year 1658, or like me, flying over the Ozarks on the back of a swan? Have you ever read the bible? My grandfather gave me one…”
The next morning I am up early. My case worker will be in to pick me up after breakfast. I walk into the cafeteria and look around. I don’t see the blond-haired girl with blue eyes anywhere. I don’t feel like eating anything, Maypo is too much like oatmeal anyway, so I walk around until I recognize someone from the girls’ group.
“Where’s Swan?” I ask a girl with brown curls, “The new girl with blond hair?” Before she can answer Rocky butts in as he walks past,
“Swan, you mean dead duck, that new girl she did herself yesterday, from her wrist to elbow. They should have done a strip search when they let her in. Boy, that girl knew her stuff.”
“Mr. Frost. Your caseworker is here.” Mr. Steward says. I followed him out of the cafeteria to the front desk. I pick up my paper bag and walk toward the locked doors. Just as the door opens the bag rips and my grandfather’s bible falls to the floor.
Mr. Steward picks it up and hands it to me. “Your free-flying kid, head for the sky.” He says. I managed half a smile with my grandfather’s bible in my hand, maybe I’ll read it. I walk past him slowly as the door closes behind me.