Coming Home

January 18, 2009

A chorus of cheers, papers flew all around me. I simply sighed and started to gather my stuff. Another year come and gone. As usual, I was the last one out of the classroom. The hallway was a flurry of activity, kids yelling, playing catch with erasers and girls saying goodbye and promising to IM their friends over the summer. I wish! I didn’t have AIM or whatever, let alone a computer. I went to my locker, opened it and got all of my stuff out, a few folders and a binder, some odd pens and pencils and an old Jansport backpack. I noticed the trashcans were overflowing with other kids’ locker junk, and the girl’s Vera Bradley totes and the boy’s messenger bags were at the point of bursting. I closed my locker, and went outside to start my long walk home, if you could call it that. “Lucky,” I muttered under my breath as I watched kids getting picked up by
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their moms or drivers in BMWs, Land Rover, Cayenne’s and Mercedes.

1,2,3 I counted my steps, 3 more to the door. I stopped and looked up; the large brick building seemed to stare down at me. The doorknob felt cold as I turned it and I remembered what my science teacher, Mrs. Key had said, “Door knobs have the most germs of any surface.” A wave of heat that smelled like stale bread hit me as I opened the door and walked through. I was standing in a dimly lit hallway; on one wall there was a long coat rack with about 40 or so hooks. I found the one labeled “Charlie” and hung my backpack and sweater up, and checked the hook labeled “Kate” to see if my little sister was home. Sure enough, a tiny sweatshirt and tiny backpack were hanging there. I walked down the hall and went into
the huge kitchen. On the counter was an array of snacks set out for
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the 12’s. I grabbed an apple and a piece of buttered toast and went down the hall to the 3’s playroom.

“Cha, Cha!”

Kate’s tiny birdlike voice was very distinct among the others.

“Hi there girly,” I said, opening my arms for her to jump into. And of course, she did.

“How was your last day?” she asked.

“Oh,” I said while I fiddled with her ponytail, “it was…good.”

“Guess what?” Kate chirped, “I made a butterfly today.” She held up a green and blue butterfly cut out of construction paper.

“Cool,” I said, with some forced cheerfulness. “Gotta go now girly,” and with that I was up and out. I walked back down the hall and up the stairs while thinking about the future. What does it hold? I walked past the nursery and nearly bumped into a young couple
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holding a little baby girl.

“Sorry,” I muttered but they were too happy to notice. No one wants anyone but those dumb babies I thought. I took a left turn, into the 12’s bedroom and signed at what I faced. 9 beds against one wall with 9 night tables, with a cream colored lamp in the center. I walked to the last bed (mine) and gazed out the window. The other girls had offered me many things to trade beds, but I would never give up my window. I walked over to my dresser/desk combination and opened one of the 3 drawers that held writing utensils, tape, folders, paperclips etc. and dumped in the contents of my backpack. As I watched the materials slide into the drawer I though about what the other girls were doing now. They were probably sunbathing or having pool parties or beach parties I thought. I shut the drawer and reached over to the other 3 drawers
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that held my few clothes and personal belongings and pulled out a pair of dark denim jeans and a light green t-shirt. I changed out of my red plaid school uniform into the jeans and shirt. Ahhhh, much better, I sighed, referring to the itchy plaid uniform.

Just then, a young, pretty woman walked into the room.

“Can I help you?” I asked as I tossed my uniform in the “dirty” basket.

“Uhh, yeah” the lady said, looking at a piece of paper, “I’m looking for the nursery, room 303.”

“Oh,” I said, “down the hall and to your right.”

“Thanks.” She looked up and smiled. Her smile was like one on toothpaste commercial, blindingly white and straight. “I’m Lily.” She stuck out her hand and I shook it.

“I’m Charlie…er Charlotte. “
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“Nice to meet you Charlie,” she said and walked out.

I just stood there for a moment; her handshake had been solid and firm yet soft and gentle at the same time. Also, she had been the first adult (ever) that had called me Charlie right off. There was one thing I knew for sure, I liked this Lily lady.

“Dinner.” Connie’s call interrupted my daydream. I hadn’t even noticed all of the other girls that had come into our room and were reading, drawing or relaxing. All of the others raced for the dining room, hoping to get good seats. I got up to go and made sure all of my drawers were shut, then made my way downstairs. Just then I saw Kate at the middle step, going down. I was about to call out to her when she tripped, did a full somersault and landed with a sort of crunching sound, then lay motionless. Time itself seemed to slow down as I charged down the stairs, praying and hoping. I
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reached Kate, gathered her up into my arms and started running down the hall. I could feel hot tears starting to run down my cheeks; Kate still hadn’t moved, but just then her eyes flickered opened and she started crying. Not just crying, but sobbing, weeping, bawling, whatever you want to call it. Connie heard her cries and came running out into the hall. When she saw the blood all over Kate’s face (from a cut not deep, actually not that bad at all), she panicked and ran to call 911. As soon as she got back into the hall, she frantically beckoned to me to follow her upstairs. We passed the dining room that was full of girls, eating, talking and laughing. I followed Connie up into the “3’s” brightly colored bedroom and laid Kate down on her tiny bed. The room seemed like a copy of the “12s” room, except on a smaller scale. But instead of being dull and
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beige, it emanated cheerfulness and light.

Connie started to check Kate over, then finally she said “her cut is not bad, just a band-aid need there, but her arm looks all bent out of shape. She should go to the hospital and see is she needs a cast.”

By the time I could hear sirens outside, and see flashing lights, Kate’s sobs had been reduced to small, bird-like whimpering. Connie didn’t want me to go to the hospital, but Kate clung to me and kept whimpering “Cha, cha, Cha, cha,”

So I went. I had never been inside an ambulance before and it was cool. I sat on a cot holding Kate on my lap and telling her how brave she was. One small, sticky hand held mine, but the other was useless, just hanging at her side. The E.M.T.’s set her arm, gave her a lollipop and offered me one. I was about to refuse, but then something inside of me said NO! just stay a kid for awhile. So I did.
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I stuck it into my mouth and felt the sweetness spreading in my mouth like a good omen. When we got to the hospital, Kate picked out a green, waterproof cast.

“My arm green” she chirped happily when the doctor finished putting it on.

“It sure is,” I told her. “You gave me quite a scare” I started.

“I know,” said Kate looking down and fiddling with her cast.

“You be careful from now on,” I said, looking at her.

She didn’t say anything, so I gently took her chin and lifted it until her eyes were looking into mine.

“You got that girly?” I said softly, “hmmmm?”

She murmered “OK.”

I gave her a big hug, her hair smelled like baby powder. When the doctor came in and said $369.52 for the cast, I immediately
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started to worry. I thought about getting a job at the local market, I could make the money in no time I thought…maybe. Connie must have seen the look that I had on my face and she said softly, “I’ll take care of it.”

I knew this was practically impossible; Connie just barely supported all of the kids and staff. But I just looked at her, wordless gratitude in my eyes. She must have gotten it because she smiled her warm smile and suddenly I knew everything was going to be ok.

Because we had gone to the hospital in an ambulance, one of the doctors drove us back on her way home. The doctor drove a BMW convertible….I have never had so much fun in a car in my entire life! Kate sat next to me, her hair blowing around her face and laughing, showing all of her little white baby teeth. When we got back, all of the girls were watching movies. Kate was about to
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fall asleep so I took her into the kitchen and got her a sippy cup full of juice and some leftover pasta. I put this with some peas on a small plate that had 3 different sections. In the biggest one was the pasta, then in the two smaller ones the peas and some cheerios. I gave Kate her cup, carried her plate and led her into the TV room. I sate Kate down in a wooden chair with a tray on the front and gave here the food. She ate and then I gathered her in my lap, and, she almost instantly fell asleep. When the movie ended, I carried her upstairs and into her bedroom. All of the other 4’s were asleep. I laid her down on the bed, took off her shoes, and pulled up the covers, then I quietly made my way back to the 12’s room. The girls were all talking and reading old fashion magazines. I put on a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt. Then I went to the bathroom. In the bathroom I looked at my reflection in the mirror.
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I had dark circles under my eyes. I brushed my hair and teeth and softly padded down the hall. Everybody was asleep, or at least in bed so I quietly pulled down the blanket and sheets and slid into bed.

I awoke and slid out of bed, my feet touched the wooden floor and I heard screaming. It was coming from the 4’s bedroom. I raced down the hall and saw Kate through the open doorway. Her cut had opened up again…. and it was huge! There was blood all over her face, body and bed. I tried to run in, but I found the play gate, the one to keep the 4’s inside their room at night, locked. I grabbed the gate with both hands and rattled it. By now Kate was losing so much blood that she was going into shock. I screamed for Connie, or anybody else, I didn’t care.

Just then sunlight streamed through my eyes and woke me up.
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Just a dream I thought, a bad, bad dream. Just to be sure I slid out of bed and speed walked down the hall to the 4’s bedroom. Kate and all of the other fours were sleeping peacefully. “Ahhhh”, I signed.
I went down to the kitchen and made some tea. I sat for a while in the cool stillness of the warm summer morning. Two cooks walked in, followed by Connie, who was in a bathrobe and looking very sleepy.

“Oh hi Charlie,” she said, “The doctor called and said that Kate might be in some pain and to give her some baby Tylenol.”

“Ok,” I said.

That afternoon I went with Connie to the local Costco. As we walked down the aisles, filled with all the staple items, soap, toothpaste, eggs, milk, batteries etc. I was talking to Connie about the three possible school choices for Kate’s kindergarten year.
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Connie suddenly said “You know that lady who was at the home yesterday?”

“Yeah,” was all I said?

“Well, she was interested in adopting a 9-month old.”
“Oh,” I said as I turned away to grab a free sample of corn chips and some black bean dip. The tangy spice seeped through my tongue. “All they ever want is babies, babies, babies, babies,” I thought.

I tossed the dip -- I’ve never been much of a bean person. Connie must have seen the look on my face, because she laughed and said “Oh Charlie, I wasn’t telling you this to make you mad.”

“Oh and why were you?” I asked as a sudden and unexpected surge of confidence came up on.

“Well, here’s the thing, she came and talked to me and said that she had changed her mind and would really be more interested in a
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12 year old.”

I looked up at her in surprise and my heart jumped sky high and then plummeted down to earth.

“What about Kate?” I asked.

“Oh,” Connie said breezily ” we haven’t really talked about it and she could be interested in Laila.”

Laila had beautiful blonde hair and deep pools of sky blue for eyes. Her mom had been a model before she died, so Laila had amazing clothes.

“Everything ok in there?” Connie asked.

“Just peachy,” I muttered.

Connie bought me a hotdog, loaded the van and we left. Back at home, Connie was going to take us on a trip to the town pool. I didn’t want to go but I knew these trips were rare and Kate wanted
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to go, so I went. At the pool I let myself relax and had run. The day was beautiful and the pool a perfect azure blue. Kate’s waterproof cast worked perfectly so she enjoyed the day too.

A few days late, Lily came again. This time she took me, Kate, Laila and Chelsea out for ice cream. Then we walked around downtown eating. I had brought along some money that I had earned snow shoveling and bought Kate a stuffed bear and myself a new set of sheets for my bed. Up until now I had had the same cream-colored sheets that everyone else had. Now my sheets were white with green roses. I loved them!

After that day Lily came around a lot, sometimes she took all of us, other times just one of us. It got to be so that I could tell her anything and she would understand. I loved this new person in my life and hoped that she would not leave.
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One day, a few months after our first ice-cream outing, I was heading downstairs for an ice-pop. I heard Connie talking with some people. I thought nothing of it and went to the freezer; I got a root beer flavored pop and started to go outside. But then I heard my sister’s name clearly “Kate.” The echo rang like a bell in my head, I was confused, it was not Lily and Kate had just been to the doctor for a checkup yesterday. I crept slowly to the doorway and saw a couple sitting on the couch. They were signing some papers.

“Nooooo” I heard myself yelling and ran inside. “Connie," I screamed, “what’s going on?”

Connie looked up at me with tears in her eyes. “They,” and she gestured to the couple who smiled and waved, “are adopting Kate.”

My heard stopped, but then a thousand different reasons came
into my head. “They’re talking about a different Kate,” I finally
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Connie sadly shook her head no.

“Then they’re taking me too?”

Again the shake of the head

“How could you do this to me?” I asked Connie after the couple left.

“I’m so sorry Charlie, but they can legally adopt anyone that they want to.”

My life was over.

The next day they came to get Kate. They had to pull her away from me and she was crying and screaming “cha, cha!”. Connie held me back while they left. I didn’t do anything after that. I stayed in my room and only picked at the food Connie sent up for me. I stared out the window wishing that I were going to wake up
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soon. But, this was not a dream; this was life. I never slept; I just lay awake looking up at the moon, knowing that somewhere Kate was looking at the same one.
One night I decided to take an unplanned visit to Kate. The next morning I got the address of the people who had taken Kate out of Connie’s desk and went back upstairs. I took my backpack and put in 2 pairs of my no-brand jeans, 4 t-shirts, 1 pair of shorts, socks and various underwear. I put the blanket from my bed in it and slid it under my bed. That night at 1:30 am I crept out from under my covers and packed my new set of sheets. I didn’t know what I could use them for, but I wanted them anyway. I stood up and opened the window very slowly and carefully. I dropped my bag in the bushes below and climbed out the window. I slid down the fire ladder feeling the cool biting touch of the metal. When I reached the
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ground, I looked up at the open window; it looked sad and lonely. I quickly put these thoughts out of my head and grabbed my bag. I started across town. Everything was eerily silent and dead looking. How could this be the same place that I had gotten ice cream and walked in the sunshine? I bit my lip and headed on.
Presently I came to a long, dark narrow train bridge spanning a great expanse of black water. I knew that if a train came by, I was toast, so I decided to go the long way around. As I walked away from the bridge I shivered involuntarily.
I reached the other side of town in record time and started searching for Dane Way. No luck. Just then I saw two bright lights, oh wait….headlights. I came to my senses way too late and dove out of the way. Suddenly the world was spinning around me and
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then BLACK.

WHITE, BRIGHT BLINDING WHITE. Sobs, whispering voices like a breath of wind on barren trees in an otherwise silent night. Blurry images swam before my eyes. And soft, warm sunshine. I opened my eyes and looked around; I could see a window and blank white walls. I knew where I was. I could hear someone being paged over a PA system and smell the antiseptic smell of a …hospital! Just then Connie walked in followed by Lily.
“Charlie.” Lily dropped the starbucks coffee she had been carrying and ran over to my bed. “I’ve been so worried!” Lily cried with relief.
“What day is it,” I asked.
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“That means I’ve been sleeping for…” I paused while my groggy brain scrambled to calculate “six days?” I screamed.
“Shhh, easy, it’s ok,” Lily said.
I sank back onto my starched white pillows, not having enough strength to continue sitting up. I was feeling crazed and I was a little out of it; I guess from all of the drugs they had given me and I couldn’t feel my left leg.
“Wha...., What happened to me?” I asked.
“Well a car hit you in the middle of the night…downtown?” Lily said with a questioning look in her eyes.
“Yeah, I think I’ll just go back to sleep now,” I said, avoiding her eyes. I turned over and slowed down my breathing; I even added some fake snores. They didn’t buy it.
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“Charlie I know you are worried about Kate” Lily said, coming around my bed and taking my hand. “But I assure you that she is fine.”
The next day the doctor said that I was well enough to go home. So Lily drove me home. We pulled into the driveway of a house. It was big and beautiful, the kind of house that I’d wanted to live in all of my life.
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“Just going to see a friend of mine,” Lily replied.
I went with her to the front door. As soon as the door opened, I saw Kate and Connie. There was a big banner that said WELCOME HOME CHARLIE AND KATE. I turned to Lily astonished.
“Wha…?” I started but I was speechless with joy. Lily took a stack of papers out of her pocket and signed on 3 different
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dotted lines. I ran and picked up Kate and rushed into Lily’s arms. I was finally home.
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Hayley Kushner

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