Sunday, May 9, 2021

Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 12

Two weeks later, Tom and Alex have brought a joint into the shelter. Everything has seemed to be heading in a direction to put me on “a path” in life. I would finish up my time at Equinox, move to Saratoga to live in a group home, and then go off to college. Tom and Alex stand at the top of the stairs and wait to hear Laroy’s snoring before they open my door. “Come across the hall,” whispers Alex, motioning with his hand. “We are going to smoke some weed.” Silently we cross the hallway and enter Alex’s room.

I had been in Alex’s room before but now he was living alone. His roommate recently worked out his problems with his parents and moved back home. Against one wall of Alex’
s room is a pile of mattresses that are kept there as storage. Our job in the morning is to move them to a storage room on the upper floor of the building. People are always donating things to the shelter, and since our numbers are always growing, the donations come in handy.

We get the idea to block the door with the mattresses so that no one can get in and surprise us. Alex reaches in the front pocket of his jeans and pulls out a joint, he then places it in his mouth. Pausing to smile, he takes a lighter out of his pocket and lights up.

The smoke curls around Alex’s head as he inhales deeply and holds the smoke in his lungs. Tom reaches out and takes the joint from Alex holding it between two fingers. “Smells like skunk,” says Tom with a laugh. Alex gives him the thumbs up.

We sit on the fire escape for about twenty
 minutes, talking about what our dreams are when we get out of here. Tom and Alex want to see the world and travel across the country. I want to move to New York City and become a dancer.

We finish the joint and while we’re climbing back in through the window, it sounds like someone is pounding on the bedroom door. “Open this door now!” screams the person on the other side of the door. It is
 Laroy. “I know you’re smoking weed!” he screams. Alex and Tom run across the room and lie against the mattresses, trying to block Laroy from coming in. Laroy, tired of asking us to open the door, begins to kick it down. The crunching and splintering sound created by the door as it crashes in is deafening.

Once through the door, Laroy butts the mattresses and sends Tom and Alex flying across the room. I stand there with my mouth hanging wide open, completely in shock. “The police are on their way,” screams
 Laroy, as he takes the mattresses and tosses them as if they weighed nothing.

The Albany police, ever none too subtle, pull up in front of the building with their lights flashing. Laroy grabs at the air as we try to dive past him. Somehow this tiny little ex-Hells Angel kicks
 in a door, throws mattresses around, and grabs three boys as they jump out of his way.

Laroy drags us down the stairs and into the office. We can see the police at the front door. Laroy throws each of us into a chair and pointing, screams, “Don’t anyone move!” Running to the front door, he opens it and in a calm voice says, “Gentlemen, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?” The cops laugh and walk into the office. You can hear their walkie-talkies going off, as one of the officers pushes his hat back off his head. “You got any more on you?” he asks, scanning the three of us.

“No……no…
no sir,” Alex stammers. “Well, you’d better not,” he responds. Speaking into his radio, one of the cops walks back out of the room. The one who stays begins to give us a lecture on the evils of smoking marijuana. While he is talking, his partner re-enters the room and begins to go through our pockets.

 

Thank God they never found anything. When he was done with his speech, he tipped his hat to Laroy and he and his partner walked back out into the night. “Tonight is your last night,” said Laroy. “Go back to your rooms. In the morning you have to leave.”

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 11

I return to the Equinox shelter, and life returns to my “new normal.” Mornings are spent taking the bus to Stuyvesant Plaza, getting picked up and driven to school. Few people know what I am going through and I try to keep it that way. I have never been a very good student in school, and all this makes it even harder.


One day I come home from school to find that Donna is waiting for me. Ushering me into the office, she explains that Parsons Child and Family Center has a bed for me and I will be moving into one of their group homes. The only problem is that the house that has a spot for me is in Saratoga. “This is good news,” she says, “you will have whole new life to look forward to.” I explain that I looked forward to fixing my old life. I’
m worried. I don’t know anyone in Saratoga and I will be starting school there in the middle of my junior year. “Mrs. Vanderbilt-Whitney lives in Saratoga,” Donna reminds me. “Am I living with her?” I ask.

Donna tells me that there is no other place for me to go and that this is the best thing for me. Standing up, she motions with her hand for me to leave the office and that our talk is over. I have four weeks left at the shelter before I will be moved, so it’s time to say my goodbyes.

I go into the kitchen and find Jay T. Tucker stuffing a chocolate cupcake into his mouth. He looks up at me and smiles. “
Well, old friend,” I say sitting down next to Jay T., “it looks like my time is up here.” Jay T. starts to tell me that he has left the shelter two previous times and has been returned. “Is that because you’re a mean mother fucker?” I ask. He laughs, spitting cupcake onto the table. He pushes himself back from the table and stands up. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” he sings. “And a mean mother fucker is he,” I add. He starts to pound on his chest. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” he sings. “And a mean mother fucker is he,” I add again. Now we begin to march around the table in rhythm to our new song. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” he sings and points at me. “And a mean mother fucker is he,” I sing back. Round and round the table we march, when Laroy walks in the room and joins in. Now the three of us are marching around the table singing, “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker and a mean mother fucker is he.”

That night in the TV room I get to meet two new kids who will be living at shelter for a couple of nights until the staff figure out what to do with them. One of them will be staying in my room and one will be staying in the hall across from me. The kid who will be staying with me is named Tom. H
is friend’s name is Alex. It turns out that they are both runaways who arrived from Buffalo. They got picked up by the police at the bus station where they spent the night sleeping on the chairs. When questioned, they didn’t have any bus tickets and refused to talk about their families. After a day, the police brought them here.

Tom and I stayed up late and he told me all about his life. Alex snuck across the hall and joined us. I told them to stand at the top of the stairs where you can hear Laroy’s snoring coming from the office. If you can hear it, then the coast is clear. The rule is that once “lights out” is called, everyone needs to be found in their own room. No one challenges any of Laroy’s rules.

The next couple of days at school are strange. I tell only my closest friends that I will be leaving and living in Saratoga. It is too hard to explain and I find that saying goodbye is very tough for me.

I come home two nights later and Donna is waiting for me in the office again. She introduces me to a woman who is creating a brochure for the shelter and wonders if I would like to design the cover. I am over-the-moon and I’m told that I only have two days to do it. I get to work right away.

Three nights later a news station comes to the shelter to do a story about what they do and Donna asks me to be a part of it. The news channel doesn’t want to show my face but they get a shot of my cowboy boots walking down the sidewalk and into the front door. I am now the poster child of the runaway set, except that I never “ran away.”



Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 10

Two weeks pass in a blink of an eye. I am now standing out in a hallway at Child and Family Court in Albany, New York. My parents are at one end of the hall, and I’m standing alone by myself at the other end. Donna and the lawyer have gone in search of the women’s bathroom.

My mother looks at me, her eyes all red from crying. It might be for real, but I’ve seen this before. She looks in my direction and shakes her head; her pain has come to the surface. I am not moved, but I wonder why she is playing this card. It is clear that she needs to look like a mother who has done everything, and look where it has gotten her.

Donna and the lawyer hurry back, Donna’s heels clicking on the marble floor. Seeing where I am standing, the lawyer takes my arm and pulls me out of the view of my mother. We enter the courtroom. The judge is a large man who stares down at me; his glasses sit at the end of his nose. He looks at me and smiles. “How are you doing today?” he asks. “Fine,” I answer, afraid to look at him, in fear that I will be sent to jail. Donna has explained to me a million times that this is a hearing so I can move into a group home. I need to be declared an Emancipated Minor in order to be granted custody of myself.

The whole hearing takes about twenty minutes. Through sobs and tears, my mom explains that she has done her best, but that I am a menace and turning her house into an emotional shambles. We both decide it is better that I don’t return. The judge shakes his head as my mother finishes. I’m sure that he has seen many an emotional parent standing in front of him and can tell what is really going on.

It has always seemed weird to me that I was adopted because they “wanted” me, and now I am being “thrown away” because it is not working out their way. So many things happened in that house and under that roof. I remember that one night when I came home, my mother sat me down to wait for my father to get home. When he did arrive they told me that they thought I was gay. 
It was going to be their job to take me to therapy to “fix me.” This led to oh, so many fights. Once, on the way to meet the therapist, I even jumped out of my father’s moving car and ran into the woods.


Standing in front of the judge got me to wondering where I would be going now. My life as I knew it would be changing. After the hearing Donna took me and the lawyer out for ice cream. I didn’t even watch my parents walk out of the courtroom.



Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 9

For the next several months I settle into life at the Equinox shelter. I rise early in the morning, eat, and take the city bus into Guilderland. The stop is located 45 minutes away at a strip mall called Stuyvesant Plaza. Once I arrive, Kerry meets me and drives me to school. Then she takes me back at the end of the day. Kerry does this day in and day out, never once asking for anything in return. I am happy and have very little stress in my life. I haven’t been fighting with anyone, and the constant battles with my mother seem to be in the past.


It is now the six-month mark. Jay T. Tucker and I are the only ones from the original group who are 
still living at Equinox. Donna, my social worker, has been trying to find me a permanent home, but it has not been as easy as you might think. According to them [the staff ??],[1]  I’m not a problem child, so it will be harder to place me. One solution that sounds good to Donna is Parsons Child and Family Center. Their main headquarters are located in Albany. One day Donna takes me over to look at their school and facilities. The main buildings are located just off New Scotland Avenue. As we climb out of Donna’s car she tells me that Parsons has group homes in both Albany and Saratoga, as well as an independent living center in Albany.

We are let into the building by security. There seem to be security guards posted everywhere. One guard walks us down long hallways that have loc
ked doors on each end. There are more security guards posted in front of them. So far this does not seem like the kind of place where I want to be left, and I look at Donna. She seems to be as nervous as I am.

T
hen we are lead into the director’s office. The director is a large woman dressed in drab blue. I guess she thought that black might be too dowdy for this institution. She smiles at us and I sense that it is just for show, and she seems more uncomfortable doing it than we do seeing it. I feel that Donna and I might as well be Hansel and Gretel.

With a sweep of her hand, she motions for us to take a seat. Pulling out the chair, I look at the name plate on the desk. Her name is Margaret. She notices that I am reading her name plate and smiles again. My stomach drops. “I have read all the notes in his file,” she says, looking at Donna and leaning back in her chair. “I think that this might be the perfect place for him.”

Donna smiles and asks when a bed might be ready. Margaret reaches across the desk and opens a large black ledger book. She flips the pages furiously. “In about a month,” she says. Donna and Margaret discuss formalities. “Is he a ward of the state?” I hear her ask. “At this time he is, but we have registered to make him an emancipated minor, and luckily that hearing takes place in front of the judge in two weeks.”

 [1]

Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 8

 

Back in the kitchen, I can hear Donna’s booming voice calling my name. I quickly head down the hallway to the main office. “Have a seat,” she says, motioning with her hand. A lone chair has been set up for me. It looks as though I am about to be interrogated.


“I have to go through a couple of things with you,” she says, pulling a pen out of her hair, starting with what you can expect from us, and what we expect from you.” One of our first goals is to become a liaison between you and your parents. What can you tell us about them?” she asks, preparing to write. “
Well once,” I say, my voice breaking, “my mom took me to a recruiting station to have me join the Army while my dad was at work.” “How old were you?” Donna asks, her eyes getting big. “Fourteen, I’d say.” She sighs and leans forward. “What happened?” “Well,” I say trying not to well up with tears, “first they said I was too young to enlist but they would wait, and then out of fear I bolted for the door.” Donna blows air out of her mouth and shakes her head. “Later I got grounded for trying to run.”

Donna is holding a legal pad, and she begins to tap it with the pen from her hair. “How is your relationship with them now?” “
Not good,” I say. “Well, my Mom and I didn’t get along at all. She used to take me to a therapist when I was younger, but when they told her that she was the problem, she looked for another therapist.” “How many therapists have you seen?” Donna asks. “Oh, about six or seven.” Donna squints her eyes.

“What happened last night?” Donna asks, trying to change the subject. “Can we talk about that later?” I beg, as tears start to well up in my eyes again. “Of course,” she says. “I’m going to call your school today and we will figure out what we are going to do with you.” She smiles and I give her all the information on who she needs to call at my school. It seems like our interview is over for a moment and she picks up the phone to dial Information for the number at
Guilderland High School.
Sitting in the chair, I am a little worried. We have started rehearsals for the school show. We are doing 
Brigadoon
 and I’ve landed the role of Harry Beaton. They gave me an understudy because it was pretty clear that I was going through something at home. I will be damned if he gets to do the part, but the show must go on.

I see that Donna is on hold with the school. Placing her hand over the receiver, she tells me to wait outside. I nod and walk into the hallway. The house seems empty and quiet now that everyone has gone to school. It looks like I will have the day off. I climb the stairs and head into the TV room. I am the only one home, so the TV is off. The rest of the staff is moving throughout the house. Everyone seems to be in the middle of projects. Lorraine is wearing yellow rubber gloves and carrying a toilet brush. She keeps pushing her glasses up with her forearm in between scrubbing. “Are you bored?” she asks, waving the brush at me. “Want to help clean the toilet?” “No thanks,” I say and continue down the hall.

I walk into the entryway that houses some of the bedrooms, and find a chair to sit in. Throwing my legs up, I lie down on my back and stare up at the tin ceiling. Pretty soon, I am out cold. It’s not long. I wake up about twenty minutes later to Donna calling my name. I sit up, and am still feeling groggy as I head back down the stairs.

“Well, I just got off the phone with your school; they are wondering how we can make this work.” Donna sighs, “Maybe we will have to send you to Albany High.” In my head I hear Christine’s comments about being not being raped in the bathroom making it a good day at Albany High. “I can make it work,” I say, the panic rising in my voice. “Okay,” Donna says, “well, let’s see what we can do.”

That night I call my friend Kerry. She has been worried about me and what happened. “It’s all over school that the police were at your house last night,” she tells me. The only plus is that Kerry knows my parents. It’s been hard because I’ve never been allowed to have friends over at the house, but Kerry would always pick me up in her car and drive me wherever I needed to go. It seems like I’ve always been in trouble and always grounded while living at home. In many ways Kerry is saving my life that day by offering to help out. The plan is that I will take a bus from Albany to Stuyvesant Plaza, and Kerry will meet me there and give me a ride to school.

The next day I tell Donna, and she thinks this is a great idea.

Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 7

I look over at Jay T., who is still stuffing his face. “She’s a bitch,” he says through a mouth full of egg. Someone behind me asks, “Are you Geoff?” I turn around. Standing in the door is a large woman dressed all in black. Her hair is piled on top of her head, and she has glasses on a chain hanging around her neck.


Taking two steps forward, she pulls out a chair and plops down into it, making cups on the table jump. Jay T. is oblivious to her and stares at the chandelier. The sun is making a light dance around it and he is transfixed by it. The woman has a cup of coffee in her hand, she takes a spoon and swirls it around the inside of the cup, making an obnoxious clinking sound. “
Donna is my name, and I’m your new social worker.” 

 

I think to myself that since I never had a social worker before, she will be my only social worker. “I have already started a file on you, so finish up and we’ll talk.” Her eyes get real big, and while grabbing a piece of bacon off my plate, she pushes out her chair and stands up. Popping the bacon in her mouth, she turns and walks in the direction of the office. Her large hips sway side to side. “She’s a bitch,” Jay T. says with a laugh, spitting more eggs into the air.

I drink my coffee and push away from the table. I’m not hungry, but I want to check out the backyard. I glimpsed it through the window in the kitchen. From what I saw, it’s part garden, part basketball court. I walk out of the dining room, through the kitchen, and into the backyard. The garden is a little overgrown and the basketball court is a gravel driveway that used to be blacktop.

Standing behind the house, I see that Christine is out in the backyard smoking. Her nervous eyes dart back and forth, she looks lost in thought. She spots me walking down the driveway towards her and hugs her body closer. She has thin white arms. Raising her cigarette to her lips she mutters to me and asks if I want one. It seems to me as if she is going out of her way to make some sort of effort. “I would love one,” I say.

She shakes a cigarette loose in the pack and offers it to me. “Rough night?” she asks. There is red around her eyes, making me believe that she cried the night away. It also seems pretty clear to me that Vinny hasn’t let her know about his trying to skull fuck people before they sleep. 

“Yeah,” I say, putting the cigarette between my lips. It’
s a Marlboro Light, my favorite. Christine holds up a lighter. I lean forward and light my cigarette. “Do you go to school?” I ask. Christine’s laugh in response to my question creates a smoky cough. Covering her mouth with the back of her hand she hacks up phlegm and spits it on the ground. “I go to Albany High, if you can call it a school. If you make it home at the end of the day and you haven’t been raped in the bathroom, it’s been a good day.” She laughs again, spitting up more phlegm. “Oh shit,” Christine says as Lorraine opens the back door, popping her head out. “Christine let’s go, it’s time for school.”

“Gotta go,” says Christine as she takes two steps before flicking her cigarette over the fence into the lot next door. As she walks past me, Christine’s face changes and a big grin appears. She is looking towards the house. 
I look to see where she is looking and there at the window is Vinny, standing behind the glass. Once Christine walks into the house she gives Vinny a quick kiss. As Christine passes, Vinny sticks his head out the back door, stares at me, puts his fingers to his eyes, then points at me. I assume this means that he is watching me. He turns and walks back into the house. I finish my cigarette, flick it over the fence like Christine did, and walk back into the house.




Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 6

When I wake up the next morning, Vinny is still snoring. Someone is walking through the house and banging on doors. I can hear a flurry of activity, including doors being opened and slammed. There is a lot of noise, but Vinny is sound asleep, still snoring away. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I slide out of bed, throw on my jeans, and slip out into the hallway.


In the hallway a small hippie-looking woman wearing thick glasses and Birkenstock sandals is standing outside the bathroom door on the landing. “You have four more minutes,” she’s yelling to whomever is in the shower. I can hear the water running.

As I start to slide past her she looks up, stopping me. “Lorraine,” she says, extending her hand. I reach out my hand and grasp hers. “You must be Geoff,” she says,
 looking into my eyes. “Laroy told me all about you.” Her hands are rough and slightly cold. She leans closer to me. “Also, don’t worry about Vinny, he means you no harm.” I can tell from her look that she is trying to communicate that everyone here has problems. I nod my acknowledgement to what she has said, and head down the stairs.

What was a quiet place last night is now a beehive of activity. There are about fifteen people running around. Everyone seems to have a task. Some are cooking breakfast and getting the resident kids on their way to school, others are moving in and out of the office. Across from the office is the telephone we are allowed to use. Sherry is sitting there on the phone, silently using the pick on her hair. She looks up at me smiles and mouths the words, “court today.”

I walk to the end of the hallway and into the kitchen, where f
ood is laid out in cafeteria style. There seem to be massive pans of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and oatmeal. People swarm around me on their way to whatever they are doing. Everyone who passes reaches out a hand, rubbing my back, touching my arm, or giving the occasional hug. There are so many staff members and so many names to learn. My head is spinning.

I walk into the dining room. Jay T. Tucker is happily gobbling down a stack of pancakes. He looks up at me. “Jay T. Tucker is a mean mother fucker,” I say. He laughs and a gob of pancake lands on his chin. I am now more convinced than ever that he is retarded.

Lorraine walks up behind me, and wraps her arm around my neck. “Your social worker just got here. You will not go to school today, but meet with her. We will call the school and let them know where you are. Grab some food and a seat,” she says, gently pushing me toward the food.

Walking back into the kitchen, I take a plate, put a pancake and some egg onto it, grab a coffee, and head back into the dining room. Christine has now joined Jay T. She looks up at me and quickly looks back down to the torn-up paper napkin in front of her. As I sit down, she gets up and storms out of the room.


Hey! You! Get Out of My Way! Leaving Home Part 12

Two weeks later, Tom and Alex have brought a joint into the shelter. Everything has seemed to be heading in a direction to put me on “a path...