The Monkey House
This is a first draft of a partially true, stream of consciousness story. Certain minor details have been changed, altered, or omitted.
In most cases people are aware that they are here. At least on some level. I suppose that has a great deal to do with just how far gone someone is. Sometimes it’s necessary to place someone here because they are a danger to themselves and others. You know that tricky thing we call utility or the ‘greater good.’
I grew up with a pond in my front yard. Two tall maple trees, forsythia bushes, and other variety of vegetation which enclosed our yard during the summer months providing privacy and a sense of safety. The tree frogs would sing us to sleep each summer night. But they weren’t alone. They were part of a choir that included crickets, bull frogs and on occasion cicadas. Together they created a perfect harmony, interrupted only by the occasional car or truck on route 17 in small town Connecticut.
I shared a room with my kid brother, Jaden. We were separated by only 13 months. Almost Irish twins. We may as well have been actual twins. We were that close. My hair was lighter and my eyes blue while Jaden was darker with brown eyes. He took the Italian from my father.
Both times I was sent there Jaden had everything just right in the room for the day I would return. An unhealed child. A product of the experts. It was my fault. I had only myself to blame. I was noncompliant and my unwillingness to be helped encumbered my progress. At least that was what we were told. And why question them? They had no ulterior motives; they were just trying to help. They were doing their jobs.
On those summer nights we left our windows open with the window fan on low. We left it on low to hear the yard sounds, as Jaden called them. The fan carried in the sweet, sweet smell of honeysuckles from the giant bush on Hickory Lane, just up the block. By the mid-90s that spot, where the honeysuckle bush lived, would become our hangout space much to the chagrin of some of the neighbors who saw us as a blight on a beautiful street. But even as a grungy 14-year-old smoking cigarettes with my friends, I never stopped loving the smell of the honeysuckles in the Spring and Summer.
After Labor Day Autumn always seemed to approach quickly. Each year the speed accelerated. The quickening didn’t just apply to seasons but to our lives. My father always said our lives were sort of like the seasons. It seems as if my life began when I was sent away for the ‘greater good,’ and returned. That year, in 1990, the leaves changed colors as they always had. The same giant buses packed with tourists passed through to look at the leaves which I couldn’t understand. None of us could. Why take a vacation to come to our boring town and stare through tinted windows at trees? We jeered at them each year as if it were a ritual. Later in my life I would understand the attraction and what I had taken for granted. After the age of 22 I would never again see Autumn in all its majesty.
The Autumn of 1990, forever cemented in my memory, is when my life accelerated. When I think about my adolescence it’s as if I can watch the years and events in fast forward. There are certain parts where I can slow things down and swim in the thoughts that make the memory. But not many.
I cannot help but wonder if that blur is the fallout from living in survival mode.
I loved the winter when I was young. It was a paradox from 1990 on though. You see all the trees and bushes were bare and the privacy we enjoyed in late Spring and Summer was gone. I hated the space between that added measure of loneliness and the first snowfall. In 1990 that space seemed more like a gulf, or a growing chasm that could swallow me.
I loved a heavy snowfall because it was evenly distributed and perfect before we let the dogs out, shoveled the driveway, built forts, and had snowball fights. I was always the first one to wake and go outside to stand under the floodlight in the driveway while it snowed. I reveled in the silence and the smell of firewood and fresh snow. The safety. After 22 years old, I would never see that perfection again. I would never stand in silence with the freshly fallen snow.
Nobody watching. Nobody but Jaden. He didn’t need to understand so long as he didn’t change. So long as we didn’t change. I decided the world could burn down around us and I could stand it so long as I had my brother. So that’s where I left it because it’s all I could think to do. It’s an awful spot to find yourself in. To be in a position where you won’t be taken seriously, and nobody will truly believe you. I mean let us not forget you had to go there to get well and the experts, who are above question, who are above reproach, reinforce the notion that your thoughts are incorrect, your memories aren’t really memories.
I could imagine the conversation, He's not a liar Mrs. Romano, it’s not intentional. The gaslighting, although in 1990 I wasn’t familiar with the term yet. But it wouldn’t be long.
It just happened. While people kept their opinions to themselves (sort of) I know the path I chose wasn’t what they were expecting. Honestly, it surprised me as well. All of it. By the age of 17 I was a burgeoning writer. 1990 still troubled me, and I reasoned I could write the events of those 78 days away. Tell stories and be somebody else while healing at the same time. But try as I might 1990 repeated in my head. I hated blue and people wearing scrubs. Things that reminded me of the experts. At the very least, I kept reminding myself, I was out in the free and not inside. And I was older and stronger. Foolish thinking, I admit.
On September 28th,1990, I returned home. I remember packing that morning and taking one last walk through the glass bridge over Liberty Street with my parents. The bridge connected the unit to the main hospital. I looked down at the people moving quickly, almost furtively as if on a secret mission, to their destinations. Cars and taxis honking. It was a damp day and I remember thinking I’ll never have to see this street from up high again.
I don’t recall the ride home, only the sound of the gravel crackling and popping under our tires as we pulled into the driveway. Perhaps I had fallen asleep. What I remember is the smell of the house as I walked in. My mother had occupied herself with projects. She put down new linoleum tile in the kitchen. It looked like bricks.
She asked me if I liked it. I’m sure I said yes.
Looking down the hall Jaden came out of our room. In an instant we were tackling one another, wrestling, and hugging. Jaden stood up and I was on my back. It’s a memory that stains me. Rolling over to stand up only to see the bathroom across the hall had been painted blue. And not just any blue but the blue like the railing in the Monkey House. Blue like his scrubs.
I puked right where I stood. Alarmed Jaden called for my parents who were already present. It was a small house, and they heard the unmistakable sound. I realized just how much I had missed my mother’s healing touch, her soft voice and patience. I realized how much I had missed my father’s powerful, protective presence. We all concluded it was the overwhelming excitement of being home.
Exactly. It was the result of overexcitement.
I might have felt rushed. Of course, there were decisions I made along the way that, given the opportunity to choose differently, I likely would. Still, at the end when I asked the question what has my life been about, I maintain that my path found me. At 22 I was a college graduate and a writer who couldn’t write. Or a writer that was scared to write and a writer that never finished anything and certainly never shared. I wanted to believe so much had changed but it hadn’t. I was just older and had bills to pay.
Meanwhile Medusa was spawning children and had found love, which seemed off kilter and unfair. Let me backtrack, Medusa is my sister. And despite my initial concerns that the children would be born with hooves and horns, it seems my brother-in-law’s mild-mannered demeanor coupled with his kind nature balanced things out. Genetically speaking. She always did say he was quite literally her better half.
If I had been a candidate for the inside when we were children, then Medusa fit the bill as well. She had her own demons, I know. But at the end I can’t help but wonder if I would have recovered if not for her abuse and torment. There is sibling rivalry and of course siblings fight, but this was much different.
If I needed the Monkey House then by all metrics, so did she!
But she did NOT get locked in the Monkey House.
And she NEVER met the night-crawlers in blue scrubs.
And she NEVER argued over taking pills, nor did she EVER get locked in a room just for missing home and crying.
Her path included becoming a physical therapist. Her work involves healing children, which I find admirable and interesting.
My path began immediately following college. With dreams of becoming a writer on my mind I took a job working with youth at a boarding school. Then at a shelter in Texas. Following that a drug rehab center for boys, where I was the head of the house. In such a role I aimed to keep them safe, and to employ the best people I could with the resources I was given, which were nil.
What were my dreams again?
Most of us are aware that we’re more than just one thing. Thus our “paths,” include all sorts of deviations. My path from 22 until the final stretch mainly involved taking care of youth in treatment centers. In the final Act it was a drug rehab center. I would love to profess total altruism but why lie? It is true that I loved the kids and the mission. But while I was embarking on finding all the truths out in the world, I was contented to deceive myself when it came to my work. I loved being loved by the kids I worked with, and I loved being needed by the kids and the team. It’s not that I was foolish enough to think that love would suffice, although I was certainly a fool, I just kept moving the goalpost to convince myself there was time. I would work it all out.
In the meantime, I rationalized…
Not much time for writing because of the job, I would tell myself as well as others, if they asked. And they often did.
No time for a relationship, the job makes it impossible, I would say. I often told people that unless you came into the job with an established relationship forget it!
Of course, none of that is true. As the end drew closer I imagined what it would have been like. To fall in love once more, and have that person fall just as in love with me. Might that love have saved me?
I know I waited to long. I was frozen like a deer in headlights. And then in 2020 everything was stolen. And the theft continues unabated. By the day the experts take more. But it’s not their fault. They’re doing their jobs.
I take comfort in the latter years and how I used them when it came to educating the boys. From 2017 all the way until October 8th, 2020, the day before I got laid off due to the ‘pandemic,’ I took the boys hiking once or twice per week. We spent time on campus as well, but it was on these trips, early in the morning, as we sat in a circle under the fading stars in the dried up riverbed drinking instant coffee, a few strumming their guitars, where I tried to help them see the world for what it would become.
A Monkey House.
There are two of them. There is the inside Monkey House and the one we all live in thinking we’re free. A nation on medications to be happy, attentive, calm. And believe me, I am not casting judgment on those taking drugs to find balance because I am sure you’ve guessed by now that I’ve I dipped my toes in that water.
Ok brutal honesty. It was more like I did a cannonball dive into that water.
It did not render the desired results. Or did it? In a world where two things can be true at once…
It was irregular for a weekday hiking trip. But by the Autumn of 2020 restrictions were tight, even in Texas, and to try and keep the boys active and happy we decided I could take an early trip. That Thursday was my final hiking trip with them. And we discussed all the relevant things. I knew it was all going to end. I knew years earlier that my path would only go a short distance.
Early Friday morning two masked bosses came down from Dallas to hand me an envelope and collect my keys. They let me down gently I suppose. Getting paid to leave means two things: you have time to breathe and perhaps pursue things you’ve long wanted to. Conversely, it’s tough to ignore the reality that it also means you’re being paid to go the fuck away.
I had taken the place for granted. That is what we tend to do. The same way I took the fall foliage for granted as a boy. The same way I took time for granted, and my health for granted.
The sound was shocking, and I looked up and realized the light was green. I listened to the crisp sound of my blinker while the driver in the car behind me continued to lean on their horn. The light turned orange, and then red. The driver behind me descended into complete apoplexy. Purple hair whipping in the stiff, cool breeze she was pounding on my window. I stared ahead at the light smiling.
It turned green.
Purple hair cut me off despite the fact I was now moving forward. But I was glad she did. If she hadn’t, I would have never seen the bumper sticker that said something about love and tolerance.
Exactly. I was moving forward.
I had plans for 2021. However, plans, as we all know, tend to change. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that 2021 morphed into 1990. No problem I thought, I can take a year off and heal. And with all that time I can write as well. I can focus on my health and travel.
I’m grateful that I got in the car and traveled. And I wrote prolifically compared to the previous 16 years. I hoped to bond with my family and warn them of the worldwide Monkey House, the hellscape. Yet save for my father all they could see were the righteous experts trying to help.
No more faces or closeness. If I had wanted love and companionship, I had waited too long.
As I stood in line holding the last two things, I would ever buy I watched the controlled chaos. The masks and the fear. I suddenly remembered June of 2021 when I saw my sister. I picked her up at the airport and she had worn three masks and a face shield.
Some are leaders and perhaps some of those leaders are actually genuine.
All I can say is that I contributed where I could and think that all things considered, I did alright.
Before it ended I made peace with the fact that I couldn’t make peace with so much. And I smiled as I sat on the roof of my car gazing at the stars, drifting off to sleep. I smiled thinking that while I never truly left the Monkey House I still left an indelible mark. And, of course, I smiled and took solace knowing that they are all in the Monkey House, too.
Arrived 1977, shitty cabinets.
Things happened: tragic, jarring, fun, remarkable.
Arguments the neighborhood ‘didn’t hear.’
Wiffleball games; frog catching; stupid risks; silly lies. Summers.
Guilt and shame, doubt and second guesses. A glass of wine.
What can we ask or answer without sin?
“You gunna miss it?” he asked.
She replied from the edge, “from the clothesline to the corner of Youngs and 17, I thought, ‘this is ours.’”
One house, 5 stories. Countless spinoffs. Merging memories.
The house kept secrets.
I asked you why you jumped. You said to see how it would feel.
Departed 2000, shitty cabinets.
one Human thing
There's time to use big words unnecessarily. Embrace brevity.
Choose one human thing to keep, preserve. What do you pick? An artifact? A machine? A book? A tool? Something nostalgic, useless to everybody else?
Perhaps you can't think of anything. Is it pointless? To ask?
Is it impossible to choose without parameters? Without asking questions?
He was eager to know. His brother eager to tell him why they find rhythm and beats on the streets.
It's the first thing that came to mind when I had to choose. The rest fits neatly within, safe and sound.
Mind Map-Free Write
So you’ve got a clot in your dreaming spot
And it won’t dissolve like the others…the ones that
Preceded this one felt like a tug and a pull and with
A touch, just a little but not too much, they were accessible,
You can take an alternate route
There’s no gps for dreams you just
Gotta figure that shit out
Its not a block no, I’ve had my share of those
And its not a wall per se or a hurdle,
Its like the roads are closed
Because a tumbleweed drifted too long
Through the backroads in my brain,
Collecting trash and excesses, the
Crap that left unchecked will make you insane
And it grew and now its stopped,
Planted right on my dreaming spot
I can still make an idea, though it ain’t much
I know my minds backups and such
Ill Go there in a dream, through a side door
It’ll come to me as I find my way there
And then once I'm up close, ill know more.
Time to dream and navigate
The rural routes through casted doubts
To the wrecker of things which will wait
Not knowing that im coming…
The righteous hand shall guide us
Through the halls of power and shame
Dark and damp and without hope
Yet it will be there, the righteous hand, at the small of your back
Gently pushing you where you dread going the most
to see the master of truth
to see the host of the most
The righteous hand is an extension of the righteous mind
And we struggle…
Is there a mind made mightier than the rest?
Is there someone so righteous it's clear they know best?
It's a risky game to play but the pieces have been set
is it true about our station in this life, or do we choose what we get?
Perhaps unwittingly, with reason left behind
You won't even know it when you've convinced yourself
That you possess the righteous mind
And of course, by extension Your righteous hand shall guide us
The Anatomy of a Monster
Mom swirls the water in a circle when she’s filling the tub. There’s a plastic mug she uses to pour the soapy water over my hair to rinse the shampoo out. I giggle and look up at her and she’s smiling.
When someone dies, we think it’s like they are gone. But not all dying is the same.
A Monster knows this. I thought he was The Monster the first night we met. But Monsters have friends too. They look like people too. They dress up in scrubs and maybe they get haircuts. They for sure get tattoos.
It was a bad, bad dream. Dylan had the same dream. So, we felt better. I felt glad to have Dylan as my roommate, since we both had bad dreams sometimes.
Miss Alisha filled the tub in the bright bathroom. The water came out of the faucet way faster than the tub at home, but I wanted the tub with the slow, rusty faucet. I wanted mom to stir the water and shampoo my hair.
Miss Alisha said, “come on my darling my little Seany Shoe, it’s time to take a bath to be a brand new you!”
I watched her. She had a sweater on over her scrubs. It was like a bunch of threads with giant buttons. She held her hand under the running faucet and then rolled up her sleeve and started stirring the water.
She looked over at me. “Cutie pie why are you laughing at me silly? Tell me, tell Miss Alisha. I love to laugh,” she said waving at me to come closer.
Now that I saw her stir the water like mom I wanted to get clean. I wanted to be a brand new Seany.
Miss Alisha said, “ok feel the water, is it just perfect?”
It was! It was just like mom would make it.
Miss Alisha waited and after a minute seemed confused.
We walked side-by-side. I wanted to grab his hand. Sometimes we looked at each other before Walow took Dylan one way and Tow took me another.
The Monster lives in the bathroom too. Little men in the pipes that see everything. They never forget.
The Monster is good at giving tests. To make me strong and smart. The Big Monster, the one Walow and Tow know.
After each test we were marched back to our room.
“You think the Big Monster gives them tests like they give us tests?” Dylan asked when the wedge of light grew thin.
“Maybe. He must be huge. He must be really scary.”
“He is! And he like knows all the stuff. Walow he told me that me and you are gunna lose our mom and dad if we keep this up and definitely if we tell.”
“Did he plug in tonight?”
Plugging in was scary and hurt. I felt my tummy and everything move like it was gunna come out every time Tow plugged in.
“No he made me face the wall in the quiet room and pushed my face against it then asked me if we wanted to stay for 6 months, I said no sir, he asked if we wanted to lose our mom and dads and I said no sir. He said all the rules and made me promise to tell you everything he told me. Then he made me stand in the dark and said if I moved one inch he would plug in.”
I thought about the quiet room.
“What about Tow?” Dylan whispered.
“Same but he took me to the bathroom. He said the same stuff then locked me in there in the dark and said if I cried or turned the light on he would plug in. He made me sit in the empty tub.”
Miss Alisha kept smiling and said, “its perfect right sweetie?”
“Okay get on it.”
A ball was in my throat. I didn’t know how it got there but it blocked the words. A traffic jam.
“Before it gets cold kiddo,” she said, not frustrated one bit.
I put one leg into the bathtub and Miss Alisha stopped me and said “Seany what are you doing sweetie no, no sweetie hold on!”
“Am I in trouble?”
“No, umm, Seany why do you have all your clothes on silly?”
“Are you gunna stay with me?”
Miss Alisha helped pull my shirt off. Soon I was in the warm tub and as she shampooed my hair she sang softly…
“little Seany Shoe I like you,
I just can’t help myself from adoring you,
Little Seany Shoe its just plain true
There’s not another boy quite as cute as you”
She smiled and tapped my nose. I giggled and looked away.
“Little Seany Shoe you can wipe those tears
You’re safe and sound so no more fears,
My darling Seany Shoe where are you?
Why my precious boy do you seem so blue?
Do all Monsters know they’re Monsters?
The sheets smelled clean. Always. The blindfold smelled like the pillowcases.
Squeeze the edge of the bed Dylan told me once. “And no matter what don’t cry,” he told me looking away. “Just hold your breath and grind your teeth and say yessir. Then its over.”
So that’s what I did. And Monsters love rules too but its just that they have different rules.
I squeezed the edges of the bed and thought about Miss Alisha singing.
Little Seany Shoe, where’d you go
If you were to die I’d miss so…
Little Seany Shoe you’re a grownup man,
Tryin to stay the course, doin all you can
The little boy in you didn’t really die
Pull em out from hiding look em in the eye
The Monsters run amuck but we can win. How to go about it well, I couldn’t tell you how to begin.
What are Monsters made of?
Respect the Depths
by Sean Romano (Zay Nah)
Stomping through the house with his heavy boots on.
He was leaving a trail of caked mud. Like little puzzle pieces in the shape of the pattern on his army boots.
He was shedding the mud. Shedding the experience.
Shedding his skin.
She begged him to stop. It had gone all wrong from jump. Things often do when people take questionable advice.
But then again, in all fairness, isn’t it well established that we always ignore the best advice and we do so when it comes from people we love and respect the most?
Is it possible that the advice was not necessarily meant to be ignored but maybe, just maybe, applied differently?
Or just ignored because people just say shit most of the time.
“Where’s my bag?” Catkin was frantic again. Ramping back up. Pulling at his long dark hair. “Where’d you put my stuff ma please…PLEASE! Jus tell me please,” Catkin turned to his mother, and she stopped in her tracks.
His face was slick with tears. Eyes bloodshot and cheeks flush. For a moment the only noises were the ticking of the grandfather clock, a car passing in the street, the windchimes dancing in the gentle breeze. Nothing fancy, just a chill little number between the heartbreaking seconds.
He loved the windchime when he was a boy his mom thought as he looked at her and wiped his eyes with the palms of his hands. For a moment she saw a toddler and not a 14-year-old boy.
“I need my bag mom,” Catkin said softly. “You don’t understand anything. You’ve got this story about what’s up with me and it’s all wrong and then you take my bag? With my stuff?”
She thought she had an opportunity. The clock chimed in harmony with the windchime and for the first time since the argument began, she didn’t find herself praying someone would come home.
“I’m scared Catchy I, I just,” his mother stuttered, “we don’t know what to do like I said honey we’re just scared, dad too, you can talk to us please...”
She felt the air thicken in an instant.
It’s a delicate business, reading these situations. She thought she was so close to the line she had chalk dust on her shoes but had remained within her boundaries.
The opportunity, if there had even been one, was slipping away.
Sometimes when you lose your grip its subtle and you don’t even notice until you check or fuck up on top of fuck up reaches a critical mass and it all falls apart.
Other times its obvious right away.
This was one of those times.
“Yer scared so you took my fuckin bag and accuse me of being on drugs, ground me, and tell me I’m going to rehab all in like 2 minutes with no warning. What’s WRONG with you,” Catkin was screaming, crying, for the first time in years. At least in front of his mother.
“Catkin you’re my baby boy I just-
“Jhames is yer baby boy he’s the youngest,” Catchy said looking down at his untied boots. He was still serious but speaking calmly. In Catkin’s mind he was swinging on a vine from tree to tree. He almost wanted to say it out loud, that he felt best when he was in the air but once he planted his feet on something things got complicated.
But he didn’t. They were both already swimming in the deep end. Catkin elected to respect the depths of the circumstance.
“You’re my boy Catkin.”
Shits unraveling, Catkin thought. Where was Immanuel when he needed him the most? Where the fuck are people when you need them the most?
“When was the last time you called me Catkin mom?”
She felt panic setting in. What if he walked out the door because she pushed? What then?
“I, I just don’t want you to die honey you can talk to us.”
“Jesus fuckin Christ mom now I’m about to DIE! Do you hear yourself?!”
Catchy was calm a moment and took several deep breathes and then screamed “WHERE’S MY FUCKIN BAG MOM?”
“Its safe honey why do you need it?”
“Is this a joke? You haven’t even searched it? There’s no drugs. I’m not on drugs.”
“Then how do you explain your behavior? How do you explain school?”
“Oh the straight A’s…umm I dunno I fucked up somewhere along the line. Lemme unpack it with my guidance counselor, and we’ll see what strategies we can come up with JESUS MOM ARE YOU SERIOUSLY ASKING THIS?”
Catkin was breathless. “Are you serious I’m going to rehab cause I’m getting straight A’s and I’m hyper? I tested positive fer weed not meth or anything else.”
She walked out of the room and promptly returned with the bag which Catkin snatched out of her hands. His mother flinched but kept her composure as Catchy ripped through his bag and grabbed his journal and opened it.
There was writing and drawings, beautiful drawings of geometric shapes. They both loved books and journals.
She caught only a glimpse before he closed the journal. It made a sound that felt final. Both satisfying and haunting at once.
The sound of fate being sealed, at least for the moment.
“Can you at least tie your father’s boots?”
I Used to Want To Be...
“1, 2, 3,” and she would look at me and smiling, holding my gaze and then when we were in that perfect space, she would rip the Band-Aid off so fast I hardly noticed.
Each impact took just a little more of my breath away.
I knew not to speak. I was too tired by then even if I wanted to. And it’s true, what so many like to point out. I could have and should have said much more. Done so much more.
But I said a lot of things to a lot of people over the years. I found my cozy corner and I told all the people I met there who would listen and you know what? It made a difference.
But I didn’t ever leave my safe little space. If I had maybe I wouldn’t be on my side in the fetal position staring down a flight of cement steps outside the back door to the building.
The tepid raindrops pelted my aching body.
They seemed far away. Their voices echoed in the scantily lit parking lot and the rain started coming down harder. I could swear I heard one of them say something decent before doing it. Something like “why are we even doing this?”
I stared up at the night sky as an orange orb-looking object passed over my head like a shooting star, shedding sparks as it went, only to be beaten down by the rain. Then I heard one of them say, “it’s not my call and you know what it ain’t yers neither. So just do it.”
First the grunt. The sound of exertion reached me first. There was a delay. Like a lightning strike, followed by the thunder because sound travels so much slower.
When you’ve been beaten enough times, you learn to control certain things. It’s impossible to explain.
After the sound I felt the heat between my shoulder blades and tried to guard my face with my hands because I knew I was rolling down the steps like a piece of trash, only I couldn’t. They were bound behind my back.
I landed on my back and looked up to the top of the stairs to see the doors closing as I lay on my back on the wet asphalt and drank the rain as it hit my face.
I tried to lift my head. My vision became blurry and chaotic when I did.
The rain provided some relief. And hydration. I remembered being drunk and on some other drugs in college and standing out in the pouring rain to sober up. This was definitely a different experience.
There’s a few people in here who keep saying shit like never ever in my wildest dreams or this is like the kinda thing they do in other countries.
Well duh. I laughed and then rolled over so I could vomit. Then I laughed more.
I opened my eyes to daybreak and a clearing sky.
Hands and feet bound I lay in the fetal position, face down in my vomit, soaked from the nights rain. In my peripheral vision I counted five of them.
Three soldiers, one Health Service Worker, I think, and the Social Worker.
“I used to wanna be one,” I said, barely getting enough air to form discernable words.
“The famous Catchy just couldn’t keep his mouth shut is that what happened?” One of the soldiers asked. He could not possibly be older than 18.
I wiggled to itch my back. Every piece of me hurt.
“Well, is that what happened?”
“Ah, ah, gimme a sec ill check my notes,” I chided him with leftover wit and guts.
Assessing whether it was worth it becomes pointless almost immediately.
The boy soldier stood over me and let several beads of saliva drip in rapid succession onto my face. He was literally drooling on me.
“Like that genius? It’s because of people like you we all have to be here in the first place. So, what was it you wanted to be?” They were all laughing an obligatory laugh. Maybe they felt trapped maybe they didn’t, I’ll never know. All I know is they didn’t help me.
The others lifted me to my feet. My head weighed 100 pounds and my body throbbed.
He demanded to know what it was I wanted to be. He said, “we ain’t goin inside til you tell me yer dreams Catkin Key.”
Nobody calls me Catkin and he knew that.
“I wanted to be a soldier. Protect my people, freedom, and all the rest,” I said hanging my head.
There was a moment of silence and the social worker huffed and puffed like she was being inconvenienced.
The soldier walked up to me, grabbed my chin and forced me to look at him.
We locked eyes and he smiled.
I made sure to muster a smile too. I could feel the dried-up pieces of vomit on my cheek.
“Well, here’s what you get fer being so goddamn sharp.”
First the sound of the exertion…
Then the sound of their shoes and boots on the cement as they walked back up the stairs.
The sound was familiar. It reminded me of the sound of shoveling snow as a kid and so that’s what I thought about as I lay on the asphalt, face back down in my aging vomit, baking in the warm sun.
The heavy metal doors slammed shut.