The Packing House

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Chapter 42 | Statute of Limitations

I wish there was a statute of limitations on my mother. Why is it the people you rely on the most to come through for you instead turn everything into something about them? This is not about my mother or my father. This is about me. Not that I want the attention—I don’t. But why is my mother the victim here?

It happened to me, and I myself have no interest in waving the victim flag. I don’t want to throw a “poor me” party or demand everyone feel sorry for me for the rest of their lives. Sadly, however, this is what my mother intends. It’s so pathetic. I can’t even hate her for how childish she’s acting.

This is what I think about, rather than respond to the selfish crap blaring out of the telephone in my ear.

I came home from school, and Grandma followed me into my room to talk to me. I think she’s been concerned since the police visit and the revelation that I was abused by Steven Jacobs. She sat on my bed while I was at the desk.

“How are you doing, Joel?” She wasn’t asking out of courtesy but out of genuine interest in my well-being. Tears crowded in the corner of my eyes. How did I manage to keep a grandmother who’s actually normal?

I swallowed the urge to cry and clenched my jaws, teeth on teeth, until it passed. Instead, I chewed on my lip. I couldn’t lie to her.

“Some parts are okay, some are pretty tough. Dad showing up, the police, and now all of you knowing, I can’t hide from it like before.” I had to look away, in case.

“Maybe you shouldn’t… have to hide it. When terrible things happen, family and friends are meant to help you through it. God doesn’t mean for us to walk it alone.”

“Where was God when all this happened? Dad left, my mother was too busy to notice, but shouldn’t God have? I thought He was ‘all-powerful’ and ‘all-knowing.’ Why didn’t He stop that from happening to me?”

My grandmother nodded, thinking about what I’d said. She knew I was serious, that this wasn’t a joke.

“Joel, I do have an answer to your question. But it’s one best held until you are ready to receive it. God didn’t forget about you. It broke His heart to see you suffer. No one should have to go through that. He was there then, and He’s still here now. He will wait until you’re ready to ask Him yourself.”

I try to ignore the precipitation sliding down my cheeks and plopping onto my shirt. I stare out the window. The neighbor’s children ride pedal cars up and down the sidewalk, unaware of our conversation.

“I wish I weren’t so angry all the time.” I turn toward her, wiping my face. I think of the wall I smashed up in the hallway. It’s been repaired, but I feel the ghost of that hole every time I walk by. I’m glad my dad never saw it.

“Feelings aren’t wrong. That’s what makes us human. It’s what you do with those feelings that can be good or bad.”

“I’m so… ashamed. Confused. Tired. Angry. And lots of other things besides. It’s like this well that keeps bubbling up inside me. I had to crawl my way back out. I don’t know how to contain it sometimes.”

“You go ahead and feel whichever way you need. Maybe I’ll start dancing around the house and wail right along with you.”

“You won’t be angry? Ashamed?”

“I couldn’t be ashamed of someone I love, Joel. And I’m not angry, not about this. I’m surprised you never heard me outside your door. Praying. Too many nights to count.”

I sat in stunned silence for a minute. My grandmother walked over to me.

“Joel, do you want to go back with your mother and your brother when the school year is over?”

“I miss Jonathan. It’s weird being away from him this long, but my mother and I don’t get along.”

“I thought you might say that. I was hoping you might stick around a while longer. I could use the company and the help, to be honest.”

“Is Dad staying? I’m not ready for that. I haven’t even figured this out. Why is he even here?”

“Joel, you’d be surprised how similar you two are. What you’ve been through. Maybe you could help each other through the rough parts.”

She left me to my thoughts but returned when the telephone rang. It was my mother. She talked to Uncle Brandon and now wants to know why I didn’t tell her myself.

“That was a very difficult time for me, Joel. Your father had just walked out on me leaving the two of you to take care of, and I had to go to work. We couldn’t just freeload on his family forever and a day. I can’t believe you’d make all this up, like some desperate cry for attention. It’s ludicrous, Joel. What kind of counselor are you seeing that puts these thoughts in your head? I can’t even imagine—”

After a while, I let my mind wander again, until she gets it all out. I know this means an end to our relationship, for now. At least until I can get a better handle on things. Parenting her through this? Not a chance. I let her rattle on from the inside of a cage I have constructed in my mind. I think the sign Don’t Feed the Animals would be redundant at this point.

When the call is over, I take my bike ride to the beach and return home to write. Home. I like the sound of that. Now it’s more like home.

I receive a call from Officer Newborn. She informs me that the statute of limitations does indeed affect this case, and currently a judge is reviewing it to determine whether the psychological trauma present would rule out the rights of the accused. She said it may take as long as six weeks or longer, if Steven Jacobs provides his statement, before a determination can be made. All I know is it’s up in the air. All I can do is wait.

I receive a letter in the mail from Princeton University. When I open it, it’s from the head of the English department. This year’s contest received more than 5,500 entries. My poems were among the top twenty in the nation.

I run screaming through the house, because I can, to share the news with Grandma. She is elated. At school the next day, I show the letter to Mr. Castell before class. He takes it to the principal, who asks me if he can read it over the morning announcements. I am lauded throughout the day by my teachers.

Princeton University! Do I have a real chance of making it in? I’m not even a junior yet. I cannot believe it. The validation definitely helps, considering the invalidation the statute of limitations has given me, like it never even happened. I must have made it all up, like my mother said. Trust me, no one asks for this, and if they’ve lived through it, they certainly never effing made it up.

I’m completely unprepared when Mr. Castell announces in English class that I am this year’s recipient of the county arts council writing award. I will receive my scholarship at the awards ceremony. Maybe I am supposed to be a writer. Maybe I have found my voice.

I am significant.

It’s like the book we’re reading to close out the year: the main character is a piece of work, Holden something-or-other… Caulfield. He and I have a lot in common. We’ve both been in and out of a lot of schools. We’ve both run from our lives in some way for a long time. Then there’s the obvious thing we both share.

If he were alive today, I think we could get along. Of course, maybe we’d rub each other the wrong way. I guess I couldn’t say for sure, unless I knew him and could talk to him.

“. . .What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though. . . .

I wish I could call up Holden on the telephone. I know what I’d ask him first. Heck, I’d settle for Amber in a heartbeat. I miss my friend.



My butt has an indentation of the front porch embedded in it, but I can’t seem to move. If I sit here long enough, maybe it’ll become permanent. I hear the door open behind me. It’s Grandma.

“Whatcha doing out here all alone?”

“Turning to stone. It’s a slow process.”

“I see. Well, it’s nearly time for dinner. Any ideas?”

“I’m not really hungry.”

“Or talkative, but here we are.”

“Yeah.”

“I’m not going to go away until you tell me, so you might as well spill what’s got you bummed out on my front porch.”

“I was supposed to go somewhere but decided not to.”

“Suit yourself. We can have dinner whenever you’re ready.” Grandma retreats back inside.

I pull my hoodie more snugly around me, as if I could wrap myself in silence. Nothing works. When I look up, I see Padma and her entourage—Marques Bellamy, Shanae Moody, and Osita Quiñones—exit Marques’s sedan and head up the sidewalk, eyes fixed on me as my skin hardens in anticipation. Ezra Kingston isn’t with them, since he’s the one with mono whose spot I filled.

“Joel, did you forget the slam’s today? C’mon, we don’t have much time to get downtown,” Padma beckons, twirling the ends of her head scarf.

“Get it in gear or we’ll use your porch to stage an intervention.” Shanae cocks her hip to the side and juts her chin way out. It goes perfectly with her purple-and-black fauxhawk. “We haven’t got all day. Grab your portfolio, and let’s move.”

“That’s the thing. I’ve decided I’m not going.”

“What? Are you serious? Joel, there’s no time to find someone else. Without you, our team will forfeit.”

“And I refuse to go down like a chump,” Padma adds.

“You’ll be fine. Let’s go. You’re just having last-minute jitters,” Osita says.

“Happens to the best of us. Don’t sweat it, Joel. C’mon, let’s roll,” says Marques. “My engine’s still on.”

As I stand, coldness spreads out across my posterior. Maybe my ass did turn to stone after all. It’s like the time I had that nightmare in study hall and the whole school found out. Part of me wants to just slink into the background and disappear. But the part of me that agreed to take Ezra’s place knows silence gives only a false sense of security. The truth is in finding the right way to speak and the right path for sharing what happened on my own terms.



[From the journal of Joel Scrivener. First public performance at the Poetry Slam.]

FISH OUT OF WATER

“You have made men like fish in the sea … The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks…”

—Habakkuk 1:14, 15

In sleep, I fear water’s weight, pressed down, drowns me

each time the air seeps out. Stunning, the stab

of throat, accustomed to lightness of air, darkness of water.

Down dream’s womb, panic to plunge back, shock of air,

rebirth, exquisite death of consciousness, knowing darkness,

myself, a harbored shadow thrown against the wall.

What remains in shade but the drowning truth of light?

Hardened hands in earth at 5 a.m. rout out the fatted meat

dirt passed through flesh, worms in black soil.

Softened by deliberate work—take in filth, attain purity—

their bodies baited, opened, cast into dark waters;

air leans in, cuts through current, another dying. He clutches

the stringer, stripping basket, dressed to receive the feast.

What is fishing to me now—the practice of his hands thread

pieces of me on hooks—thrusts beneath the surface of the water!

The clustered claustrophobia presses in, tightens, clench of teeth,

tensing up, rigid rigor mortis, tiny death in wakefulness.

His sweat an urgent haste, skin thrusts to satisfy, gratified, I die.

Laden, laid in graves clothes, I pass from stringer’s chain

to stripping basket, casket stokes the choke of light, weight of sight.

My unlived life a fathomless dream;

seamed by the death I live with him;

worn revelation of shame mourned, torn in water, reborn.

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