The Packing House

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Chapter 41 | 911

The police officers come in and sit at the dining room table. Grandma goes to brew a pot of coffee and find something else to offer. Uncle Brandon, my dad, and I all take a seat. Aunt Althea gathers the children and takes them home for bed. We settle into a quiet uneasiness, although mine is warranted—I know what’s about to be discussed.

This is all wrong. I thought Mr. Faber was going to give me a week to plan and prepare. There goes another adult over to the I-can’t-trust-them team. Wait. It was Mr. Castell who filed the report; Mr. Faber’s hanging on by a thread.

Still, once it’s out there, I can’t take it back or make it go away. I have a hard enough time just dealing with my anger, even on a daily basis. I’ve found a routine, and it doesn’t include everyone knowing each intimate detail.

There is one male and one female cop in full uniform. They could be Aunt Althea’s brother and sister. I notice a visible kindness in their eyes I often see in hers. I think I can trust them. More importantly, my gut tells me I can. I hope what I see is because they know and they’re on my side. The only other time I’ve seen a cop is when my mother got pulled over for a speeding ticket. She tried to get out of it, but the cop was all business. He had a huge moustache; she got the ticket anyway.

The male officer begins, looking at his police report. The female officer pulls out a pen and notepad.

“Joel, I’m Officer Carter, and this is Officer Newborn. We’ve come to take your statement regarding a report we received today about Steven Jacobs. Are you aware of the matter we are referring to?” His voice is steady, straightforward, but has a timbre and a resonance that calms me.

Even so, I don’t respond. Instead I stare straight ahead, eyes fixed on the table. My grandmother brings in coffee, cups, cream and sugar, and pie. I eye the pie longingly. Guess I’ll have to wait until the interrogation is over. I hope there’ll be some left.

“We received the report from Mr. Castell, since he was the mandated reporter in this incident. Did you know this would be reported?” Officer Carter continues.

I cross my arms. Officer Newborn glances with meaning at Officer Carter. She writes down a few notes. Officer Carter looks hard at me, and then something about his countenance softens.

“All right, Joel. I understand this might make you feel uncomfortable. You can either discuss it here, or we can take you down to the station. Your choice.”

I glance at Uncle Brandon. He returns my gaze.

“Joel, do you know what’s going on here?”

I fix my eyes on the table. No way do I want to talk to anyone about this. I’m not ready. They can arrest me for all I care. I imagine my skin turning to stone like a basilisk.

“Joel, you need to tell these officers anything you know.” When I don’t respond, my dad sighs and turns to Officer Carter. “What’s this all about? Has Joel done something wrong?”

I start to panic. I need time to think. I wish I could talk to Mr. Faber.

“Sir, we appreciate your concern. However, this matter concerns Joel. He did not do anything wrong. Mr. Jacobs is the accused,” says Officer Carter.

“What are the charges?” Uncle Brandon asks.

“Sodomy.” All I need is for this to get out and spread around the school. I know how the students at Broad Run received my nightmares. How would Oceanside handle this?

“What? Are you serious? How did this happen?” Grandma asks.

“Steven Jacobs is charged with molesting Joel approximately ten years ago.”

“I can’t believe it,” my dad says, his voice wavering. After a breath, he steadies himself. “This is my fault. That’s what you meant before, ‘None of this would have happened…’” So he was listening. His voice trails off like he’s about to lose it.

I swallow hard.

“That’s terrible, Joel!” Uncle Brandon finishes. Everyone seems upset. Now I feel bad. How strange: I’m thinking about this like it happened to someone else, and they’re the ones who are upset.

“Joel, are you ready to make a statement? We need you to tell us everything you remember. Do you think you can handle that?” continues Officer Newborn.

I already had a practice run at school today with Mr. Faber. “I don’t have anything to say. If you have to arrest me, go ahead.”

“That won’t be necessary, Joel. Now will it?”

“Joel. If any of this is true, you need to speak up. Don’t make these officers cuff you and take you downtown. What’s gotten into you?” Uncle Brandon places his hands on Grandma’s shoulders to console her. I’ve never seen her like this.

“We don’t need to use handcuffs. I’m sure Joel will behave himself while we travel to the station. Isn’t that right, Joel?”

What am I going to do, run away? I nod at Officer Carter.

“Who will accompany Joel?” Officer Newborn asks.

Grandma and Uncle Brandon look at each other. My dad went out the back door, the sound of the screen door only now registering in my mind. Flight seems to be his go-to response.

“I’ll go with him,” Uncle Brandon answers, then to me he asks, “Joel, do you want me to see if they’ll let me drive you down to the station?”

I shake my head no.

We head for the door and load into the squad car. Uncle Brandon sits up front with Officer Carter. Officer Newborn sits in the back with me. There’s a metal grate dividing the front from the back. With a blip from the speakers, Officer Carter picks up the intercom for the radio.

“This is car 4219. Officers Carter and Newborn. We are en route to the station with a minor, Joel Scrivener, for questioning. He is accompanied by his uncle, Brandon Scrivener.”

When we get to the station, Officer Newborn lets me out. We are escorted into the red-brick building then turn down a series of hallways before heading into a room with a table and chairs. The walls are blank. The only thing I see is a mirror on the wall behind us. I wonder if it’s a two-way. My stomach flips as I sit. Maybe I should have just talked while we were back at the house.

Officer Newborn pulls out a tape recorder. “Do you mind if we record your statement, Joel?”

I shrug and wipe my hands on my pants.

“If you want to know what happened, why not start with my dad. He’s the one who left us.” I clench my teeth as anger burbles up like the heat on my neck and face.

“Joel, do you even know why he left?” Uncle Brandon interjects. “Your mother cheated on him.”

“What? Are you serious?” Then I remember the letter. I must be blind to have missed the most important phrase that comes flooding back: get your affairs in order. How did I miss that? Because I’ve been wrapped up in myself and my stuff, that’s why.

“Yes, and you seriously need to stop with the stubborn act and answer these questions. We’ll stay as long as you need. It’s time to face it,” Uncle Brandon adds.

I’ve been running so long, I don’t know what it’s like to stand and look fear in the face. But I think I’m ready to get it over with.

“Recording your statement is the best way to ensure we keep an accurate account. This is what we will use to arrest and prosecute Steven Jacobs. It’s important that you only tell what actually happened and you state it as simply and directly as you can,” Officer Newborn says.

Officer Newborn begins recording, then continues.

“Statement taken from Joel Scrivener, a sixteen-year-old Caucasian male.” Officer Newborn lists today’s date, my birth date, and identification number before proceeding.

I feel foolish for refusing to talk. Eventually, I’ve got to face this, or it will never go away. If I have any hope of resuming a normal life, I’d better get this done.

I start at the beginning and recall the first time it happened in the farmhouse and then describe each subsequent time I remember. Since the first one, I’ve recalled at least a dozen different scenarios—either things he made me do to him or he did to me.

I watch my uncle’s face pale and go ashen, horrified by each occurrence as I describe them. It seems terrible to put my family through this.

I’m tired all the way down to my bones. Hit by a tsunami of exhaustion, I’m pressed under its sheer weight. I manage to get through the entire statement, and then the officers finish up with a few clarifying questions.

“Joel, according to your statement, you have described repeated encounters with Steven Jacobs that transpired over a six-month period, totaling a dozen different instances of sodomy and aggravated sexual assault. Is this correct?” Officer Carter asks.

“Yes, it is.” I stare hard at the plain table in front of me, watching the tape spin inside the recorder. The spindle goes around and around. I hear Uncle Brandon exhale as I watch him clench his fists.

“Do you know if Steven Jacobs is still in this area?” Officer Newborn asks.

“I don’t know. He disappeared when a neighbor’s son was found dead. They said he choked or something. I don’t know what happened.”

“We will investigate that. Thank you, Joel. You did a great job. We’ll take it from here. Once we file the police report, our commanding officer will issue a warrant, and we’ll begin a search to bring him in,” Officer Carter says.

“Can we get a restraining order to protect Joel in the meantime?”

“Certainly, sir. We’ll get right on that,” Officer Newborn replies, making a note of it.

I’m hollow and numb, an empty shell kicked beneath the table. Uncle Brandon comes over and puts his arms around me but removes them when I jolt reflexively.

“I didn’t mean to jump.”

“It’s understandable, Joel. You’ve been through a lot,” Uncle Brandon replies.

Officer Newborn stops as she passes me at the door and crouches beside me.

“It’s going to be okay, Joel. We’ll get him and hold him accountable for what he did to you.” She looks directly at me. I’m overwhelmed a complete stranger would care in the slightest.

I’ve reached the tipping point; tears flow unchecked down my cheeks.

“Why didn’t I say something? Maybe I could have stopped that boy from being hurt. I hope he didn’t do it to anyone else.”

“Joel, you aren’t responsible for something a grown man chose to do to you or anyone else. That’s on him. You don’t have to beat yourself up. It’s enough that you’ve survived.”

“If anyone could have done something, it should have been my mother.”

“I guess we’d better call her, too,” Uncle Brandon suggests.

“Could you make the call?” I ask. “I’m not up for going through it all a third time today. I’m pretty tired.”

Uncle Brandon agrees. I don’t even want to know how she will react. I’m too tired to think straight.

The officers lead us back through the hallway maze, and we head out to the parking lot. When we get back home, my grandmother meets us at the door.

Grandma looks at Uncle Brandon to see how it went. He nods.

“Joel, that’s a brave thing you just did. You make me proud.”

I don’t know how to respond. After a huge yawn, I ask, “May I go to bed? I’m wiped out.”

Uncle Brandon thanks the officers and shuts the door. “I’ll let your mom know what happened.” I head to my room and collapse into bed. Kicking my shoes and socks off, I crawl between the sheets and dive into the ocean of sleep that has been demanding my immediate attention.


My alarm does not go off.

I forgot to set it. My grandmother has to come in and wake me. I grab a quick shower, get dressed in under five minutes, and give my grandmother a kiss before heading off to school, carrying breakfast with me out the door. I don’t see my dad anywhere. Good.

I’m determined to go on with my life. First on my list of ignoring the large rhinoceros in the room is to select the poems from my portfolio that I will submit to Princeton for the Secondary School Poetry Prize contest. Fortunately for me, everyone is focused on the Underclassman Formal. I go quietly through all of my classes. My poetry club teammate Osita tells me she is going with Marques Bellamy, that guy with long braids down to his shoulders. No one else ventures to talk to me, so I busy myself with work or a book.

I am left alone.

A week passes. I go to school, I go to class, and I meet with Mr. Faber. I don’t have to go to the Writing Center anymore, so I stop. When I went to get some new books from the library, I found Amber sobbing in the Writing Center. She was too preoccupied to notice me, so I kept going. I think something bad happened at prom, but it’s none of my business. Right now, I’m just trying to live and be normal, whatever that is.

One day after school, I head to the library to research a paper for English class. We’re writing a persuasive essay on someone famous who has influenced us in the past year. I’m researching M. C. Escher, the tessellation artist. I’ve been studying his artwork, the Metamorphosis series, and how he transforms one object into another. I’d like to figure that out myself.

I pull out a few books and sit at a computer to type up my notes. Hopefully, this will save me a step later, when I write the actual essay. I don’t even notice someone standing behind me, studying the pages I have open, until she speaks.

“Wow. Where’d you find this?” Amber asks, taking a seat at the computer next to me.

“I learned about it in art class. Tessellations.”

“Is that what they’re called?”

“Yeah.”

Amber doesn’t respond. She picks up the book and looks more closely.

Hm. Nothing but crickets.”

“What?”

“You seem quiet, lost in thought.”

“Yeah, that. I’ve been distracted lately. My parents separated, and my boyfriend turned out to be a jerk.”

“I never thought I’d hear that word in connection with your parents. Wow. And I thought you and your boyfriend were getting serious.”

“Yeah. It didn’t turn out that way.”

“Really?”

“He stood me up.”

“What? That’s terrible.”

“Yeah. It kinda was terrible…”

We’ve come right up to the edge of the truth, the secrets we’ve long-guarded clicking against the back of our teeth. I know she’s not telling me everything. She probably knows I’m keeping things to myself, too. We won’t go any farther until we can trust each other. Most times, we shrink back, doubting our intuition to guide us and keep us safe. Instead of recoiling, we should go with our gut.

“Sure you don’t need me to go pound him?” I whisper.

“No,” she says, laughing. “He’d probably pound you, no offense.”

“None taken. I’m not that buff. My grandma could probably take me if she wanted to.”

“I see.”

“In fact, you could probably take me out. I thought you were mad, so I’ve steered clear of the Writing Center.”

“I was mad. Not at you in particular, not anymore, just… boys in general.”

“I didn’t want to be caught on the receiving end, so I laid low.”

“Well, I don’t hate all guys anymore, just most.”

“Where does that put me?”

“I’ll let you know.”

The heart is a strange, unknowable beast at times, a kind of monster all its own.

“Well, I’ve gotta get to work.” Amber heads into the Writing Center.

I return to my research. Once I’m done, I try to start a new poem. I haven’t written in a few days. Writer’s block. I stare at blank paper until the lines blur on the page. Thankfully, this didn’t happen before I finished my portfolio.

Mr. Castell tells me my portfolio is also being considered in the county-wide Arts Council awards. One student from all six schools will be awarded a $500 scholarship. I try not to think about it. Instead, I ride my bike to the beach, write a few pages every day, and I tell the rhinoceros it must have been some other boy who got hurt all those years ago.

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