“You know I don’t like white people, right?” Elson’s candid statement reverberated throughout the room. The 14-year-old had been in dozens of foster homes and was always treated differently because of his race and he was no longer having it.
“Mr. Deets…Now stop! That’s wrong, you can’t talk like that when people walk in here or you aren’t going to find a family. looking to the ceiling, she continued. “ Lord, please forgive em’. He is still a baby.” Her words never made it to his ears before he tuned her out. The elderly woman from Georgia, had worked as an administrator at the adoption agency since he was 6. She was his unofficial mother and only support system. She reads bible scriptures often to him and up until last year, would take him to church every Sunday.
He had already pressed play on Tupac’s “Fuck the world”, submerging himself into the song as it softly played in his headphones. It was his go-to song in the moments that he felt hopeless. He loved Mrs. Terri and appreciated her help but all she ever talked about when she wasn’t praying, was Jesus. He was an abandoned kid, unwanted by the world and going through puberty. Their worlds couldn’t have been further apart. He just wanted anyone to love him; call him son, for girls to like him and to one day be famous. After a moment, he felt bad for ignoring her and his conscience took over.
“Ms. Terri”, he said over the music he could still hear playing “I’m being for real, you know I don’t like white people. They treat me different than the other kids, every time I go with a new family. They do it because it’s cool or something…I don’t know…but not outta love. I can tell.”
He knew she had heard him but she never addressed the issues he raised, usually dismissing him with a bible quote about patients or forgiveness. He felt the anger and pain starting to build up inside and tried to suppress it. The one broken wheel on her worn out chair had become his focus. He stared at it, thinking about all the families that he’s met, only to be disappointed later when he spent time with them. In 8 years, not one family could see him as a son. He blinked and tears blurred his vision.
She could sense his hurt and disappointment but couldn’t help him. Raised in a devoutly religious family, she only know one answer to her problems: Jesus. Never being married and having no kids, the plus 50-year-old woman doubled down on her prayers to give her the proper remedy to aid the teen. She, never having kids, was too insecure about her maternal instincts to go over and console him but by ignoring his current state; she inadvertently was only adding fuel to the incinerator already burning inside of him.
“I’m gonna go for a walk” the teen mumbled as he attempted to exit the room before she looked at him and saw the tears. Raising from the old, worn-out leather chair: he surveyed the room before walking out. Everything here was almost identical to the day he arrived. She always told him that everything that’s not growing is dead. He, in that moment, saw that this place was dead.
The dust was thick on top of the file cabinets, the carpet was old, frayed and faded in spots and outside of Ms. Terri; none of the other staff members liked him. He decided it was time to change his scenery. There was no other choice. He decided that he had to leave tonight. She would be hurt. He considered her but knew the consequences of staying would hurt him more. Returning to his room, he packed him backpack and wrote Ms. Terri a goodbye letter. In it, he thanked her, said he loved her and asked her to pray for him before climbing out of the window to avoid questions from anyone in the facility.
He had never hung out in the streets, let alone wandered them at night but he knew that tonight, it felt right. The agency only had two floors and one was underground; so the hang drop from his window to ground barely made a sound, as he hit the grass and landed on his feet. Squatting close to the ground, trying to remain unseen, he paused: unsure of which direction he would go.
“Hey!” a susurration come out of nowhere in the dark, causing him to nearly need new underwear.
“Shit!” He shrieked, jumping back to regain his composure. “Marilyn? Is that you” trying to sound unbothered, as he made out the tall dark figure, peeking from behind a tree. She was the only girl in the whole facility that he was friends with. He liked her cause she always told him things that no one else would, like when she told him that next year, he’ll be legally old enough to leave here on his own and be emancipated. He was waiting until then, before he changed the plan tonight.
“What are you doing out here?” he questioned, looking back at the windows, making sure no one heard him yell. Once satisfied, he turned back to Marilyn, still behind the tall evergreen.
“Smoking… You didn’t know I smoked?” She said while raising her hand. In it, was a brown cigar. He got a whiff in the wind and knew it was weed. His face eased as he considered smoking with her. Her shiny, dark, coffee colored skin radiated off the moonlight, as she turned toward him.
“Here, try it”. She sensed his curiosity and extended her joint to him. “I promise it won’t hurt” . The smirk that accompanied it, was the hook that lured him. She had always spoke to him in a way that seemed to tease him but she didn’t need to, he was smitten from the first time he saw her. He didn’t need the peer pressure.
Reaching out, he took it and then took a deep puff. Looking into her eyes as he inhaled the smoke; he could see the moonlights reflection. She was never more beautiful to him than she was right now. He thought he was impressing her but her smile, was only in anticipation for what she anticipated next.
“huh-ugghh!” Elson gasped, chocked and coughed simultaneously. “ugh… I.. I -c.. I can’t breathe” Dry in pitch and slightly raspy: his voice barely came through as he tried to regain his composure. Embarrassment briefly obscured his cool. He knew she could tell it was his first time.
He extended his arm to give it back but she couldn’t take it. She never came to his aid either. She couldn’t. She was rolling on the thick, plush grass and laughing as soft as she could to keep from drawing the staffs attention. His embarrassment dissipated quickly as he stared at her. He wanted to kiss her before he left but as soon as he tried to speak, he began laughing uncontrollably.
Falling to ground too, he realized that everything seemed funnier now. Even her laugh was funny. Giggling for minutes; they both forgot for a moment that they were both teenage orphans abandoned before they ever given names. She reached over, toward him: staring him in the eyes and then smiling before she took the joint from his hand. Remaining inches from his face, she said nor did nothing. Just stared.
His heart had never beat this fast. Confused: he tried to consider his next move, but he also felt spaced out and compelled to laugh still. He figured he would go in for a kiss, if she rejected him; so what he thought, he was leaving afterwards. Licking his lips, he realized his palms were sweating too. Slowing leaning forward, he tried to make it to her face but suddenly she seemed a mile away. When he reached an inch of her lips, she jerked back just a bit, so that they were back at their original distance. She then lifted her left arm, brought the joint to her lips and took a big puff.
Before the disappointment could migrate down onto his face in form of an expression, she leaned all the way in: locking lips with him. He had never kissed a girl on the lips. This high he was experiencing; escalated throughout his entire body, catapulting him into a full body state of euphoria.
This one was far more intense than the weed. Everything tingled. Time slowed to a crawl. He could hear all of the insects and city noise in the distant. He wasn’t sure if he could hear or feel his heart beating, but he knew it was loud and just as he regained cognizance, he realized she was blowing a smoke into his mouth.
“Shotgun” she softly chanted as she rolled back, laughing at the rookie, who had snapped out of a daze and back into a coughing spell. “It’s ok rook, when you get the hang of it, you’ll love it.” Pulling another drag from her joint, she rose and reached for his hand. As she was helping him stand, she threw her barely smoked doobie down in the grass and grabbed his other hand. Standing face to face, no one spoke a word. A light, flickered on and illuminated the inside of the room where he jumped from the window. They both turned to inquire what was in their peripheral.
As they both had simultaneously looked toward the building, it became obvious to them where they were and it abruptly stopped their jubilation. Both heads sunk into theirs chest, realizing this may be their last time together. Pulling him closer, she looked in his eyes with the same love that he displayed for her. She then told him to follow her to the clubhouse out back if he wanted his going away present and then nonchalantly walked away.
It took a while for his mind to process this moment. He had fantasized about it but that was it. He had never rehearsed. He had no teacher or study guide. He noticed her feet stopped and wondered if she had changed her mind. Did I blow it, he thought. Before he could figure it out, she spoke out to him again. Pausing, she stood waiting for him to catch up. It was pitch black out but they could see fine.
“I hear you talking to Ms. Terri earlier. Don’t worry. Ain’t no white people back here.” Her last words, barely escaping her mouth, as she laughed. A semi-smirk appeared on his face and then he laughed. He like her sense of humor. His mind started to drift but he caught himself. Knowing her joke had no malice intent, he let it go and he focused on getting her alone in the dark clubhouse.
He never considered the possibility making it this far with her. Just getting a kiss would’ve made the night. Noticing she never changed, he could see she still was in her swimsuit. Through the t-shirt, first mistaken for a dress; he watched her every move as she navigated thru the back gate and around the pool, towards their final destination. The pounding in his chest intensified as the building got closer. His legs got heavier with each step and his backpack, now weighed a ton. He didn’t want to backout but he considered it. He doubted himself around her and he didn’t want to disappoint her.
Approaching the door, she stopped. Her pink flip-flops scraping the ground as pivoted back to him. Her radiant smile was extending across her entire face. Placing her back to the door, she reached behind back for the doorknob, with one hand and reached for his hand with the other. This was the third time she touched him. He knew cause he loved when she would touch him, often finding any excuse to attempt to motivate her to. She understood. Her touch, became more nurturing and less assertive. Her energy resonated through him and he relaxed, as she lead him into the clubhouse’s main building.