I lay awake in a new bed, trying to piece together how I came to be there. Everything felt so very strange. I wasn’t with Anna anymore. I wasn’t with anyone anymore, or was I? I looked over my shoulder and began to form an awareness of my surroundings. I was in a small white room where pictures of happily dancing animals decorated the walls. A boy slightly younger than me was lying in the bed nearest to the window reading a book. As I looked closer, I noticed that it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar. His lips moved faintly as he mouthed the words on the page. Something must be wrong. The boy then looked up at me for a moment.
“Hmm? What are you lookin’ at me for? A lot of stuff is wrong, yeah, but it’s still pretty fun here. I’m Jack. You ever read this book?” How did he know what I was thinking? I looked away from him and down at the floor. Across the unclean, once white carpet floor sat Anna.
“Of course,” she said. “It’s one of my favorites.”
“Anna?” I called out. I hopped out of the bed and slowly walked over to where she was sitting.
“Um, what are you doing?” Jack said. As I reached down to take her hand, the door opened. I became a quivering sack of adrenaline and Anna suddenly disappeared.
“What are you doing on the ground, Tristan?” A calm woman’s voice asked. I looked up and there was mother, staring down at me. She had a black metal stick in her hands. I began to scream.
I was back in the rough and unforgiving bed, feeling quite dizzy. Mother was standing over me. My heart began to pound faster and faster inside of my chest.
“Calm down, child, my name’s Matilda. I’ll be taking care of you for a while.” I looked down to where Mother’s hand was. The metal stick wasn’t there anymore. “You’re going to be fine, Tristan. You’re going to be just fine.” Slowly, Mother dissolved into a rather different woman altogether. In her place, near the side of the wooden twin-style bed, stood a rather fat and friendly looking woman who apparently was called Matilda. Mother was gone, at least for now. Matilda extended her right hand toward me, which firmly clutched a glass of ice-cold water.
“Drink this, boy.” So I drank.
“Where is Anna?”
“Your sister is with the girls on the other side of the building. You won’t be able to see her for a while.” This was absolutely unacceptable. Matilda was beginning to make me angry.
“What do you mean? The girls are on a different side?” Matilda looked at me as if I had said something very foolish.
“Well of course. Can’t let them mingle with the boys.” I was very confused now. Why couldn’t I see Anna? I needed to see her. Girls’ side? Boys’ side? What was the meaning of this?
“No, Matilda. This isn’t fair…there’s no reason for you to do this to me. I’ve done nothing wrong. Take me to see Anna.” Matilda’s demeanor began to change.
“Ask once more and you’ll receive a lashing. You are not permitted to see her at this time.” I was not going to let her do this to me. I pushed Matilda, who I now considered to be fat and unfriendly looking, aside with all of my might and scrambled toward the door that led out of the room. She was almost as angry as me now.
“You’ve done it, boy! You are not permitted to leave your room!” Mother grabbed one of my feet just before I could make it past the doorway, and tugged me backward. “You must learn to submit to authority, Tristan!”
She dragged me out into the hallway while I kicked and screamed. It was much brighter out here than it had been inside my room. Blue-green thinly carpeted floors lay underneath the white popcorn ceiling of the now animated hallway in the children’s home. Boys, some my age, some a few years younger and some a few years older, crowded around me to observe the commotion.
“Teach him good, Mrs. M!” one of the boys exclaimed. Some of the others joined in. Chanting began. “Teach him real good! Teach him real good!”
“Shut your blabbering little mouths or you’re all going to end up like him!” Mother countered. I was taken into a room that looked somewhat like mine, although there was only one bed in this room. Mother was soon joined by another woman and forced me up against a wall. Then she picked up a stick…it wasn’t metal this time, but made of wood. The other lady who held me ripped my shirt off. I shrieked; I resisted. I tried to fight them off with all of my might, but all of my might was not nearly enough.
“Now you’ll learn, boy,” Mrs. M. said. “Now you’ll learn.” The wood tore across my back. Just like father. I was an ape. I had no rights. I was just a child. I wasn’t considered a human being. I was an animal. I was a nothing, subject to this with no way out.
“Welcome, Tristan.” It wasn’t M.’s. It was a man’s voice…or was it? “Welcome to the world.”
Anna and I never saw each other anymore. The boys and girls in this hapless hopeless place were kept separate for most of the time. I could never understand why, and it was never explained to me. The girls here were usually very nice to me. They complemented my drawings and sometimes even gave me new ideas. The boys, by contrast, were always mean to me. They were not interested in my art. They made fun of me for attempting to create it. Maybe the purpose of being stuck with the boys was so that I would grow to be as harsh and cold as they were to me. Regardless of the intention, it was working.
The days here passed slowly. Each day was exactly the same as the last. We were woken up with the sun every morning, and the sound of a screeching voice…usually M’s. I wondered why she was working in a place like this. It didn’t make much since to me. Why was she a caretaker of children?
“Get back in line or I will tear apart your backside so bad you’ll have to go and see the nurse!” She certainly didn’t seem to care for them very much. Sometimes Ms. M. and the other lady would give us things to do to keep us busy. We were given crayons and pieces of paper to color on. I quite liked when this happened. I sat in my room for hours on end, giving life to the spectres that resided deep inside of my imagination.
I drew Mother and Father. I drew Anna. Drawing Anna was my favorite. I had been working on a portrait of her for some time, and hoped to give it to her when we were finally back together again. It is pure gut wrenching agony, knowing that the one you care about the most in the entire world is so close yet still so far away. The people here acted as if Anna and I weren’t even member of the same species, though I felt more similar to her than to any of these boys.
“Whatcha got there?” The other boy in my room asked. I could never remember his name. I didn’t care to, to be honest.
“Anna.” I held up my newly completed drawing so that he could see it. I was quite proud of myself. My drawing wasn’t nearly as beautiful as Anna herself, but now I could see her whenever I wanted. It wasn’t quite the same as the real thing.
“Let me see!” the boy cried out. He sped over to my bed, where I had been sitting the whole time, and tore the picture out of my hand. It ripped all the way down the middle and broke almost completely in half. One half of Anna’s picture dangled from the other by only a thin sliver of paper. Then the bastard pulled the two apart. “It looks better like this!” He continued to tear her to shreds until my scrawny fist landed against the side of his head.
“Stupid shit!” He yelled. Just like father. He was stronger than I had expected. He threw me off of him and into the wall behind us, then repeatedly bashed me in the face. Once. Twice. Three times. Now Father was choking me. The room began to fade.
“They only let you see the boys, do they?” Whoever said this had a voice that was much deeper than Father’s. Who are you, mister mystery man? The world around me became a tumultuous sea of darkness.
Month after month after month passed by, and I slowly began to feel like a machine. I slept for most of the day and rarely talked to the other boys. M. blamed me for the fight, claiming that I had instigated it. She didn’t care that my drawing had been destroyed. She didn’t care that I had gotten the shit beaten out of me. Now I was too scared to even leave my room. I could only hope that Anna was faring better than this.
Knock. Knock. Knock. M. was here again, about to storm into my room. The inside of my head felt like it was twisting into knots. The possibilities of what would soon be forced upon me were utterly limitless. She could do whatever she wanted to me. Somehow it was permitted. She was authority. I was a nothing but a stupid shit.
I wondered what kind of miserable person would give someone like M. free reign over children. It was probably someone even worse than she was. I shook and shuddered violently, mostly because of the thought of a person worse than M., partly because the door was now opening. There she stood, as menacing and grotesquely blubbery as she had ever been.
“Someone is here to see you, Tristan. Come with me.”
“You’re going to hit me again…”
“Not unless you refuse to come. Now get yer little ass outta bed.”
“Don’t do it boy-oh, I wanna see you get your hide tanned. That’s what you call it, right M.?” The boy on the other side of the room chuckled heartily. He must have had some reason to hate me, but I wasn’t sure what it could possibly be.
“Shut your trap unless you want it boy,” M. retorted. “Now come, Tristan. You have visitors.”
Soon I would be leaving the place that had been my home for all of these long cruel months, only I didn’t know it yet. It had been nearly a year since I arrived. I was almost old enough to begin high school now. Although I had had no formal education, I was a very bright child. With some help, I knew that I could catch up and excel academically. However, I was probably far from being stable enough to interact healthily with other people my age.
M. took me down a hallway that I had never seen before. There were few children here. Lackluster adults walked past me, occasionally looking up from the papers they held in their hands to stare my way. Most of them seemed rather unhappy, so I grew more and more suspicious of what was about to happen. Where was I being taken? I wanted to run, but that would only make things worse. There were at least four or five of them and only one of me…no way out.
“Are we going to see Anna?” I could only hope.
“No. She left here a few weeks ago.” My heart fell into my stomach. Anna was gone. This was impossible, unthinkable. This couldn’t be happening. I had to be asleep. I needed this to be a dream.
“Where did she go?” I began to panic.
“She’s with a nice family now. She’s safe, and in a much happier place than this old shithole. Maybe soon you can leave with a nice family too. We will see in a moment.” What could this mean?
“Am I going to see Anna?”
“No. Not for a while, at least. Now shut up about it.” This wasn’t the answer I wanted. I began to cry as I turned away from her and walked back toward my room. Another boy passed me and laughed. I hadn’t seen him before. A hand grasped firmly around my arm. M. pulled me backward.
“Listen to me, boy! Do you want to be stuck here for the rest of your life? Do you want to have any kind of chance at making it in this world? A very nice couple is here to talk to you. They may decide to take you home with them. Otherwise you’re stuck here with me.” I was skeptical of people who could be interested in a boy they had never met, but the thought of spending more time here with M. and the boys was considerably more disturbing.
“Okay.” I was ready. Let the meeting begin. M. put her hand on the metal knob of a white door that was much like any of the other plain white doors that I had seen, except that it wasn’t…what was on the other side of this one was looking for me. That makes a difference. The door opened, followed by a flood of emotions. Rising from the two wooden cushioned chairs were a man and a woman who seemed to be almost the same age as Mother and Father. I hoped that they were not the same.
The man was wearing a tan suit and a brown tie, which seemed very strange to me. What was the purpose of the tie? Why was he wearing a tail around his neck? I thought it looked quite silly. He had short brown hair that was held in place by some sort of super-strength styling gel. He was clean shaven, with polished leather shoes and moisturized tan skin. He seemed nothing like Father at all. He wasn’t sweaty and didn’t smell like cheap beer. He looked almost unreal, like someone from a picture in a magazine.
So did she. She wore a light blue dress that made her seem a bit less pale, though she was remarkably so. Her golden hair reached halfway down her back, catching the light as it went. Both of them seemed to be in good physical condition, much unlike M. They smiled brightly as we entered the room, with an almost eerie level of brightness. I wondered why they were smiling so happily in in a place as unhappy as this. The man spoke first.
“Hello Tristan, my name is Anthony Anderson. This is my wife, Cynthia.” He gestured in her direction.
“Hi Tristan, you can call me Cindy.” She had a very high-pitched voice. They both shook my hand, first Anthony and then Cindy. First Anthony and then Cindy…this was a pattern…Cindy’s gold necklaces made a jingling sound and I noticed them for the first time. I had never met people like these before.
“Say hello to the nice people, Tristan,” M. commanded. I didn’t say anything. Frustration began to creep across her face. I wondered if that was the only emotion M. was capable of feeling.
“It’s alright,” Anthony said. “You’ve been through a lot. Things can get better for you from here on.” He seemed sort of arrogant to me, and how did he know that I had ever been through anything? Was it just because I was here, or did he somehow find out something about my past? What did he know about me?
“Be careful, child. ‘Better’ doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.” ‘Twas the very low voice again. Who was this? Whose voice was it, and why did he want to talk to me? It certainly wasn’t M. It certainly wasn’t Cindy or Anthony. This was very strange.
“It has to be better than this.” It just had to be.
“Don’t you want to know what it’s like on the outside?” Cindy asked. I nodded my head. I wanted to know so very badly.
“Can I see Anna now?” All three of the adults then shared a look of concern. Were they hiding something from me? Why wasn’t I allowed to see her? This was unbelievable.
“Tristan, there are some things we will have to talk about once we get home. We’ll talk about Anna.” Anthony was becoming more and more confusing.
“What? Why? Where is she? What happened to her?”
“Tristan, stop that this instant!” M. was losing her patience.
“It’s alright,” Anthony said again. I wondered how many more times he would have to say that to M. to prevent her from going off on a full-blown tirade.
“We’ve talked with Mrs. Matilda, as well as a few others, about you and Anna. She’s fine. She is with another family and doing perfectly well. Perhaps one day you’ll be able to see her again, but there are a few very important things that you will have to learn first. Cindy and I would like to take you to live with us and the rest of our family. Would you like that?” I thought about his proposition for a moment. I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but I couldn’t stand to be around M. any longer.
“Okay,” I was ready.
“Yes or no?”
“Alright, wonderful!” He was apparently happy to have me. Why on earth could that be? Cindy reached out to hug me, but I stepped back.
“All in good time,” Anthony assured her. She nodded.
I was finally going to become a part of society. Suburbia and all of its mediocre trivialities, ups and downs, awaited my arrival. I was going to a much better place than any I had ever been to before, just like Anthony said. Wasn’t I? But I was not ready to experience many of the things that lay ahead.
I was certainly not ready to hear what they would tell me about Anna. I was not ready to hear what they would tell me about myself. I was not ready to accept many of the things that this big new world, which I was so suddenly thrust into, seemed to consider fundamental. I was not ready for them. They were not ready for me.