Jersey's Lost Innocence




I opened my eyes and watched the shadows from the leaves on the tree outside the window dance swiftly across the ceiling. The pain in my stomach wasn’t as bad, but my mouth still tasted of bitter grapes mixed with the salty flavor of my tears. My tears began to fill my eyes and soak my satin butterfly-covered pillow, but I didn’t even bother to flip it to the other side as I wept in anguish and frustration. I sat up in bed with an anxious feeling in the bottom of my gut. My crying eventually slowed to a sullen whimper as I looked over to watch my two younger brothers sleep, trying not to wake them.


The heavy spring rain and wind beat against our window and kept me in a state of uneasiness. The tree leaves spread shadows across our white bedroom walls. If I focused hard enough some would look like dancing birds, others like little monsters that found their way out from under my bed. I was never scared of them, my brothers were. I was like their protector, crawling under our beds each night to prove to them that little creatures would stay at bay and wouldn’t bother them and nibble on their toes while they slept. 

The warmth of my flannel pajamas and thick purple blanket kept me glued to the bed. The heat wasn’t on. They hardly ever turned the heat on, and it was exceptionally chilly tonight. I pulled myself out of bed and crept over to the window, careful not to wake Rick and Travis. Oh my God. Travis’ snoring sounded like a car without its catalytic converter. How though? He was only two years old. Maybe he was dealing with a sickness that I was too young to know about. He was a little thin with a big head, but so cute as he laid cuddled under his blue and red turtle blanket. I gazed over at Rick. A couple of years older than Travis, but also very small. Rick is only a year younger than me and is the most active of the three of us. He looks less like me than Trav but sticks to me like glue. 

The window seal was a little damp. Old house. I grabbed the bath towel from the end of my bed and placed it along the window seal so that my favorite flannel pajamas didn’t get wet as I propped myself on my elbows and gazed out of the window. There wasn’t a soul outside. Not even a dog. I figured all of the stray cats and dogs were huddled together in the big yellow abandoned house across the street and hoped they were warm and safe. I’d feed them if I could.

We don’t have a dog. I wish we did. My bros and I are very close, even at a young age, but loneliness was all too familiar to me. A pet would have been the perfect addition to our trio. All of the kids in the house would play hide-n-seek in the basement, but I could often be found in a corner somewhere daydreaming of a life outside of this house. I’m only five, but my mind is constantly flooded with thoughts and visions of me being a published writer and child counselor. At five years old, I had my mind set on what I wanted to be in life. The day’s events planted a seed in me that I’d spend my entire life struggling to water. 

The small storage room in the basement is my favorite place and is where I go to daydream. I’d sit on the old tan couch pillows in a corner with my arms pulled into my shirt and stare at the walls, daydreaming until my thoughts felt like reality. A loud bang of thunder brought me from the thought of the dogs and my favorite room and back to reality. I let out a deep sigh as tears fell from my face. Today was a long day. I was so tired, but the soreness kept me from falling asleep. Today was a very long day.


***


The other kids spent a large portion of the day downstairs in the playroom. There was a huge wooden toy box that was painted black and light blue in one corner and a small slide that sat in the middle of the floor. I, however, spend all of my time in the storage room. My favorite room. The walls were painted sky-blue with glittery pink, and purple butterfly stickers all over that were fading and peeling. I assumed the room belonged to a young girl at one point. It smelled of baby powder and mildew. In fact, the entire basement, while clean as a whistle, had a faint scent of lavender and mildew. Old house.

I’ll always remember every detail of today’s events. I fell asleep while sitting in the corner on my couch pillows while listening to the other kids play and woke up to wet pants. Oh my God, I’m in trouble. I ran past my brothers and the other kids and crept upstairs to the first-floor bathroom, careful not to disturb the two adults in the living room - a female adult and a much older gray-haired man who was sleeping. Matlock was on. They’d always grab their coffee and donuts and sir with their eyes glued to the enormous box TV for hours or until it was time to fix us something to eat. I learned quickly that this was their Saturday afternoon ritual. I was pretty sure they had sores on their butts from all the sitting they did.

I was able to make it to the bathroom without disturbing them. The bathroom’s walls are the ugliest I’d ever seen. They are pink and outlined with green, blue and yellow floral wallpaper. The vanity, wall shelving, and towel bars are white. The female adult should have hired an interior decorator because the decorative towels are black and gold. The first-floor bathroom is the ugliest room in the house. I hate going in there. Anytime I walked in there it felt like I was in an abyss with my ankles being pulled at by scary green, blue and yellow demons. I got a visual of that very thing happening and cringed as I crept through the door.

The bathroom for the kids is upstairs, but there was no way I could make it without interrupting the adults. They’d for sure see my pee-soaked pants, and I’d be in trouble. I grabbed the pink floor rug from the ugliest room, wrapped it around myself and proceeded back down to my favorite room. The couch pillows in the corner of the storage room were surprisingly comfortable. I fell asleep shortly after daydreaming about my family. I was sorely missing my mom and wanted so badly for her to pick us up. She was taking too long, and we hadn’t received any updates. I guess, for now, I’ll wish upon a star and dream of her existence.


***


It felt like I had been sleeping for hours when I was awakened by the female adult.


“Jersey, wake up. It’s time to wash up for lunch. We’re having burgers and fries. How’s that sound?”

“Ok, I’m so hungry.”

“Why are you covered in the bathroom rug?” She asked puzzled.

“Uhm, I was cold.”


I could tell by the look on her face that she could smell what I was covering. I smelled it too. I’m in big trouble.


“Jersey, did you wet yourself?”


I put my head down and removed the rug. My black shirt and purple pants were covered in its shedding pink material. Tears began to stream down my face, and she could see that I was terrified. My mom never whooped me, but I remember my dad yelling and threatening my mom and me after coming home high and drunk. It was his routine, but she never let him lay a finger on me. My mom always told me that I was a quiet baby. She’d hide me in a closet or drawer, and I never made a sound. He’d be looking for me for a while and would give up and leave, following his urge to go and find another drink or more drugs.


“Am I gonna get a whoopin’?” I asked the female adult.

"We don’t believe in whippings in this house. However, I want you to stand in the corner for a while. You’re five years old and the oldest of the young children. We need you to be an example."


She walked me up to the ugly room to bathe. I sat in the tub for a few moments after washing up and thought; she’s not so bad. I heard Trav, Rick, and the other young kids run up the stairs, ready to stuff their faces with fries and ketchup. Those burgers smelled so good. I left the ugly room and stood by the dining table, watching the female adult make our plates. Her son was upstairs, so she yelled for him to come down and help us get seated. 


“Erik, you and Mike get down here and help me with lunch!”


Erik was about 16, I think I heard the female adult say once. Brunette hair with pale bumpy skin and deep brown eyes. His face looked like someone poked a tomato with millions of pins and let the fluid leak and dry up. He was ugly. I always wondered what he did in his room all day. His best friend Mike, on the other hand, had clear skin. He was even paler. It seemed like every time he came to visit he wore the same black t-shirt with a red skull on the front. I don't think he ever washed it.


“Erik, you and Mike help the kids get situated. Ya’ll can make your own plates.”

“Straight up Ma? I’m technically still a kid. Can you make my burger bun toasted with butter?”

She gave him a playful evil eye. 

“No problem. Hold your breath until I’m done.”


He gave a sarcastic laugh and tossed toothpick at her. His friend Mike was always friendly to us. He ran around outside with us and would play hide-n-seek, helping us find the best hiding places while Erik would play basketball in the driveway. He was particularly fond of me for some reason. 


“Ms. Janice, how old is Jersey?” He asked

“She’s five. You’re sister’s age, right?

“Yea, I was just about to say that she reminds me of Tessa. They should have play dates sometimes. Tessa is the only girl. My mom was happy to have three boys, and then along she came.” 

“That would be a great idea. Have your mom call me this weekend, and we’ll set it up for them.”

“Cool.”


Mike picked me up, gently placed me in my seat and smiled after rubbing my short nappy hair.

I can’t remember how long ago it was that our social worker dropped us off here. It seems like it has been forever. Couldn’t have been too long ago, ‘cause my hair hasn’t grown back. The female adult cut my hair low like my brothers’ the day after we arrived. She said she doesn’t know how to manage black hair, and chose to cut it instead of letting me walk around looking like a homeless child. My small kinky afro was a sandy brown and looked almost honey blonde in the sun. The older boys gave us our food and juice and began to eat their own food.


“Ma, Mike wants to know if he can stay the night tonight?”


Mike smiled and hopped up and down gleefully like a 3-year old receiving cake on their birthday. The hopping stopped, and he positioned his hands in the praying position. 


“His mom said he could. You can call and ask her.”

“Uhm, sure. But you better clean your room, or he can go right back home.”

“You’re the best!”

“Whatever.” She said smiling.


Erik and Mike scarfed down their burgers and fries. I can’t imagine they even tasted the food. Erik playfully put Mike in a headlock, and he headed out of the kitchen and back up to his black, red and white skull-covered dungeon. Mike looked around on his way out to make sure no one was looking, smiled and then winked at me. He rubbed my head again focusing on the back where my hairline met the skin of my neck.



“See ya kiddo!”


***


Six small children live in the house, including me and my brothers – four girls and two boys. All of us brown skinned with sandy or dark-brown colored hair. The other girls share a room, and I share with my brothers. We are close in age, but at five years old I always looked out for them as if they were all my blood siblings. I had no one to look out for me, though. That short amount of sleep I had in the basement was the best I’d have for a while after today. My focus shifted back out my bedroom window, but I was quickly brought down to my knees after a sharp pain crept from my lower stomach area and spread to my legs and my upper body. I laid in the fetal position and held my breath for what seemed like forever until the pain went away. 

I got up, grabbed my blanket, kissed my brothers on the cheek and headed out of the bedroom and down the stairs. The stairs made a little noise, but the adults and Erik always slept heavily. Nothing short of pushing them out of bed would wake them. The house was pitch black with no night lights to help us see in case we had to go to the bathroom. The female adult would always say the lights aren’t cheap and don’t need to be on unless absolutely necessary.

I made my way to the basement and into my favorite room. I threw myself on the tan couch pillows and wept. I could still see his face and smell his skin as my mind forced itself to replay the evening's events.



***


We had lasagna, veggies, and garlic for dinner. It didn’t taste like my mom’s, but it was pretty good. We could never have juice at night. The female adult said it would cause us to be too hyper and we’d have trouble falling asleep. She didn't want us to be too hyper and wake up her dad. Rich cried when she placed his cup of water on the table. He wanted the grape juice we had for lunch. I reach over and gave him a tight hug and told him to be a big boy and not cry. His sobbing turned to a light whimper, and he commenced to drinking his water. 

Erik and Mike ate their food in Erik's dungeon, so I helped give all of the kids their plates.


“Jersey, you’re such a big helper. I swear sometimes I think you’ve lived on this planet before.”

I smiled with a feeling of achievement and contentment.

“Ok, it’s time for everyone to wash up and head for bed.” The female adult said.


She walked over to the stairs and yelled.


“Erik, come down here so you can help the boys get ready for bed!”


The boys always bathe in the ugliest room while the girls wash in the upstairs bathroom. The upstairs bathroom is beautiful and looks as though a lot of thought and effort were put into the décor. What I like most is that the tub is separate from the shower. The shower has a sliding glass door with a towel bar on it. The female adult would allow us to use the shower sometimes and would playfully spray us with the detachable shower head. Living here isn’t bad, or so I thought for a moment. But it's not my home and will never be. I hope.

Erik ran down the stairs and picked up Trav. Erik is the only child, and Trav became his favorite quickly. He and Mike were playing football in the backyard last weekend when Mike tackled him, causing Erik’s lip to bleed. We were all running around by the small playground they had built for the small kids when Trav ran to him crying, thinking he was badly hurt. Erik picked him up, assured him he was fine and let him run around with the football until Mike signaled for him to continue their game.

I walked up the stairs with the other girls to get my bed clothes together. I always asked to be washed up separately, without anyone in the bathroom with me. My personal time and space became important to me early on, and I hated being bothered while washing up. The other girls washed up first and ran downstairs for milk and cookies. I grabbed my purple and white floral print towel and headed to the bathroom. I could hear the female adult send Mike up to turn the bath water on for me. He came up the stairs with a frown on his face, turned the water on, made sure the temp was right and then asked if I knew how to turn it off. I nodded that I could, and he ran back downstairs. 

The water filled about halfway. I easily turned it off and tossed in my rubber bath toys. Mike came back in about five minutes later and asked if I needed any help. I was a big girl and could wash and dress myself. I smiled and shook my head no. He closed the toilet lid and sat down.


“You’re such a sweet and pretty little lady.”


I covered my chest with my arms and turned my head towards the shower wall. 


“I think we could be the best of friends, especially since I’m going to make sure you and my little sister Tessa become friends. Wouldn’t you like that?”


I shook my head in agreement and switched my gaze towards my reflection in the tub water. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, so I began washing up in an attempt to show him I didn’t want to be bothered. He smiled, stood up and headed for the door. Before walking out, he turned around to me.


“Ya know, friends care about each other, right?


I shook my head yes.


“Well, friends do things to make each other happy. Don’t you agree?”


I smiled at him. He walked out, closed the door and headed down the stairs. I turned the water on, quickly rinsed off and ran downstairs to watch cartoons while the other kids scarfed down their snack. Eating milk and cookies after bath time is our nightly ritual. Usually I'd partake in the ritual; however, I wasn’t feeling so great today. Physically I was okay, but my mind was cloudy. I couldn’t focus on anything. I was ready for bed.



***


The female adult went to bed before I finished bathing, so we were all up past bedtime watching cartoons. 


“It’s time for bed everyone,”  Erik said, standing up to stretch.


Mike jumped off of the couch and walked over to Erik, grabbing his arm and whispering in his ear. I was ready for bed, but not as sleepy as the others, so I was still very much aware of my surroundings.


“Aye, Erik. Let her stay down here.”

“Mike, not again. I did this for you with Chelsea.”

"Come on man! I tell my sister you did a solid. She'll go out with you for sure."


Chelsea left two days after my brothers, and I arrived. She was a cute light-skinned girl with waist-length black hair. She had to be about seven years old. I remember trying to play with her the day we got here, but she spent the entire day crying in my favorite room. I sat with her on the tan pillows for a while and tried to talk to her. She asked when my mom would pick us up, and said she hoped it would be sooner rather than later. She didn’t speak again after that. I overheard the female adult say that her new family had arrived and was ready to take her home with them. I watched out of the window as she climbed into the back seat of a blue van. The look on her face was not one of excitement, but of relief. I wondered if I’d ever see her again. 


“Come on man. This is the last time, I swear.” 

“You said that the last time Mike. I refuse to take any heat for you.”

“Alright man, I’ll be cool. Let’s put the other kids in bed.”


Mike smiled at me, licking his lips. They walked the other kids upstairs and put them in bed. Mike and Erik came back downstairs. Erik sat on the couch, and Mike sat down next to me on the area rug.


“That’s a pretty nightgown, J. Do you remember what I said earlier about being friends?”


I nodded yes, but kept my eyes on the TV.


“Well, friends have to prove their loyalty to each other.”


He grabbed my hand, and we headed towards the ugliest room. I stood by the sink, and he pulled out a glass bottle of brown liquor. I knew what it was because my dad would drink it almost every day. He tilted the bottle and took a big gulp, but not before pulling a purple sucker out of his pocket. Grape. My favorite flavor. His eyes were almost bloodshot red, and his breath smelled horrible. He put his hand behind my back and pulled me closer to him. 


“It’s hot in this bathroom. Don’t you want to take off your pretty gown so you won’t be so hot.”


“No, I’m fine.”


He smiled and began to take off my gown. My panties were next. I stood, shaking with my arms across my chest. He kissed me on the cheek and put my left hand on the middle of his pants. 


“Now that we are officially friends I have a present for you.”


He pulled out the grape sucker and took off the wrapper.


“This is for you.”


I took it, put it on the sink and put my arms back across my chest. He took another gulp of the bottle and proceeded to unzip and pull down his pants. 


“Go ahead and put the sucker in your mouth. Isn’t grape your favorite flavor.” 


He picked up, put it in his mouth and then put it in mine. He rubbed the sucker around his private parts and put his hand behind my head. My eyes began to swell with tears. I had never seen a man’s private before, but I knew and felt that this should be happening. 


“It’s okay. We’re friends, right?”


He pulled my head down and made me put my mouth on him. He took another swallow of alcohol and kept putting my mouth on him. I began to choke, so he sat back and stopped.


“Stop crying Jersey. This is what friends do. You have no friends, and you sit in that basement all day long. If you want to be friends with Tessa you have to grow up. She and I are friends, just like you and I are now.”


He picked me up and sat me on his lap. He squeezed me tight, and I began to feel pain in my private area. I screamed, so he placed his hand over my mouth. It was sweaty. I couldn’t breathe, and the pain got worse as he squeezed me tighter. He stopped when Erik knocked on the door.


“Come on man; you’ve been in there long enough.”


Mike lifted me off of him and tossed my gown at me while he pulled up his pants. 


“Get dressed. You better not say a word to anyone or you and my sister will never be friends.”


He pulled a bottle of children’s pain medicine from the medicine cabinet and gave me a large dose. He wiped the sweat from his face and washed his hands before quietly closing the door behind him. I fell to the ground and quietly wept for a few minutes. It took all of my energy to put on my gown and all but crawl out of the bathroom to my room and in my bed.  



***



Wiping tears from my cheeks, I continued to gaze out of the bedroom window. I must not have been reflecting on the day too long, because my brothers never shifted their positions in their beds. My thoughts drifted to Chelsea. I wonder if she was friends with Mike like I am and if she’s enjoying her new family. I was sorely missing my mom but was beginning to hate her, especially after tonight. I want a new family too. Maybe God will send someone to pick up my brothers and me soon. I hope so.

I stared at the butterflies on the walls of my favorite room. I could hear that the rain had slowed down and I pictured the stars. I closed my eyes and wished to be picked up by someone other than my mom. I've only been here for maybe a few weeks, and strangely enough, now, I'd rather stay than go back with her. She abandoned us and left me to be lonely. She's never coming back, but at least I have a new friend who's gonna let me be friends with his sister. Maybe we'll have a good life with these people in this old house.








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