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Chapter 19

As Robby waited for his grandmother to be brought to the visiting room after the big meeting, he felt guilty that she had to visit him here at the dull grey juvenile detention center. He looked away when she entered the room. On top of the stroke she had suffered last year, she was now recovering from cancer surgery. She looked so pale and tired. He hadn’t helped anything with what he’d done. Her polyester pants and flowered shirt hung on her thin body. Hopefully, he thought, now that the surgery was over, she would gain weight and be able to get strong enough to get out of the wheelchair. That would make him very happy.

He knew this visit was tough for her for other reasons, too. Dr. Visconti had told him that his grandmother didn’t like the idea of him going to a psychiatric hospital. She kept repeating that he was an Eagle Scout and a good boy, not some crazy kid. She didn’t seem to understand that even though he was fourteen, he could go to prison for a long time. He needed to convince her to let him go to the hospital.

Robby rose from his seat and took the wheelchair from his grandmother’s neighbor, who left to wait in the lobby. He hugged her tightly and then sat in a chair in front of her, their knees touching. She looks so tired, he thought. What if she was going to die? Where would he go? He shoved those thoughts out of his mind and forced himself to smile at her.

“Robby, I just don’t know what to believe. I like Dr. Visconti, but I don’t like the idea of a psychiatric hospital. I’m not sure she is really on your side.”

“She is, Grandma. She is trying to help me. I like her a lot.”

“Sam Bernstein is your lawyer, Robby. You shouldn’t really trust anyone but him.”

He took his grandmother’s hand in his. “I’m sorry,” he said for the hundredth time since his arrest. “I’m sorry.”

She looked so sad and about to cry, but then recovered. “Robby, I love you. I’m sorry, too. We need to talk more, okay? We are going to get through this together. You made a bad mistake, but we’ll get through it. You’re a good boy. I’ll be happy when you come home.” Grandma said she loved him, but did she love him enough to accept his punishment.

“Do you think I’m crazy?”

He watched his grandmother’s face closely. No matter what she said, he could tell what she was thinking by looking at her face. She was sad, but also disappointed.

“You are not crazy. You lost your mind for a short time and made some bad decisions. You are still my grandson. I love you. We’ll get back to where we were.”

Robby felt reassured. Maybe she still believed in him. He worried that the dreams she had for his future were washed away by those few moments in the middle school bathroom. But, maybe they were not.

“What did Dr. Visconti tell you, Robby? Does she think you are crazy? “

“No, she said I’m not crazy.”

“Well, there you go, an expert’s opinion.”

“But she told me that the hospital would be the best place for me. The state will insist on a secure placement. I can go to jail or I can go to the hospital. The hospital would focus on what caused me to ‘lose my mind’ that day,” he said, using his fingers to make air quotes.

“I’m a little scared, but she thinks it will be okay. She already talked to the staff at the hospital. They are waiting for me. A bed should be open next week. And she promised to check on me a lot.” He sighed and squeezed his grandmother’s hands. “I want to know why I lost it. I don’t ever want it to happen again.”

Robby thought about how his life had changed. Six weeks ago he was playing with his army men in his room at the trailer park trying not to think about his math homework. His biggest fear was that Grandma would notice that he erased his teacher’s note in the planner. or not being able to sleep. Being grumpy about cutting yards all day for Grandma’s lawn business or wanting a sleepover at his best’s friend’s house seemed like the biggest problems in the world.

Now it was prison or a psychiatric hospital? He missed his old life terribly. What was he thinking that morning? He was in a bad mood and couldn’t shake it. If only grandma or a neighbor had caught him with the homemade bombs, none of this would have happened. Sure, he would be grounded for life, but at least not locked up with crazy kids.

“Do you think my mom was crazy when she was in the hospital?” he asked suddenly.

His grandmother looked away without answering. Robby remembered the arguments. He had held his hands over his ears and run into his room. But he couldn’t stop the yelling and the cursing. Why was there so much anger?

Finally, she took a deep breath, looked him in the eyes and began to speak. “She had drug problems that she couldn’t lick. She loved you, son. She just couldn’t help herself or you. “

“I remember that she was in and out of the hospital a lot. I promise you, Grandma, it will only be this one time for me.”

“You’ve had a lot to deal with lately, Robby. I’ve tried to love and protect you since you were a baby. I didn’t do such a good job with your mother. I never liked her boyfriend, but maybe I shouldn’t have told you about him.”

Robby looked down, his head in his hands. “It’s okay. I had to find out sometime that Dad, or Ralph, I guess, wasn’t my real father. In a way it’s better. That man who threw me through a glass door, didn’t feed me, and left me alone for hours. I’m happy he’s not my father. If he hadn’t overdosed, child services might have returned me to him and I wouldn’t have been left with you. Things worked out for the best.”

He heard her sniffle before he looked up to see tears sliding into the corners of her mouth.

“Sometimes I think you are more mature than any adult I know, Robby.”

He smiled. Maybe this is the time to ask? “I wonder a lot about my real father. Just who is he? I heard you say that I was born in a mental hospital. Was my father a patient? Someone on the staff? A visitor? Was he crazy? Was my mom raped?”

His grandmother sighed. “I don’t know. Your momma would not talk about what happened in the hospital. She said she was medicated for her behaviors and couldn’t remember much for large periods of time. I told her if she was abused, we could sue the hospital, but she wouldn’t talk about it. Let it go for now, Robby. Maybe later if you really want to, we can look into it. But for now, we have other things to worry about.”

“Why worry about a father who didn’t care about me, right?” One more person who threw me away and didn’t look back.

“Robby, we don’t know the details. If he didn’t care about you, it’s his problem, not something wrong with you.”

Robby kissed her goodbye as Officer Hammond came in and announced the end of visiting hours. The kids returned to the cafeteria. Most of them were quiet. One of the girls was crying.

The black girl with the skinny braids in back of him was definitely not crying. She was talking to the girl next to her in a very excited voice.

“Momma says she is gonna tell the judge that I can come home. She wants to give me another chance. She says it was her fault, sending me out to get cornmeal while I was still on home detention. We’re supposed to have a therapy appointment on Friday. Do you know what that means? I get to see Germaine again.”

She twirled, hugging herself.

The other girl just shrugged and shook her head. Robby saw her gaze fix on the courtyard of the detention center, at the high fences topped with barbed wire. Cameras covered every inch of the open area.

Finally, Robby heard her speak.

“Mikayla,” she hissed. “You are just going to land back here in detention. Don’t you hate being here? Besides, Germaine is a grown man. You told me he made you fuck his friends. When you said no, he beat your ass. Why do you want to see him again? You might as well just stay locked up.”

“Germaine loves me. He’s a real man. He said maybe we could even go away together, leave Florida. He’s going to take me places, give me things. He didn’t hurt me that bad. I just close my eyes and blank out when I do his friends. I make believe it is somebody else. Like a rap star, or even Germaine. “

She chewed her fingernails, now looking anxious. “I’m thinkin’ of asking him to buy Momma some new clothes. Like, she deserves some nice stuff. Plus, I need a manicure.”

The other girl turned and pranced away, Mikayla shouting after her, “You don’t know nothin’ about the streets, so shut yo mouth.”

“Mod Bravo return to the unit,” Officer Hammond shouted.

Robby hesitated. Should he tell Officer Hammond what he just overheard? That girl, Mikayla, seemed younger than he was. How could she be having sex with adults, getting beat up and then leaving the state? He wanted to tell someone, but who?

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