The cool air from the small circular vent blew onto my bare arms causing the thin hairs to stand like venomous needles. The temples on my head felt hot and pulsed with vengeance from lack of sleep, crying, anger, fear, and confusion. The metal cuffs around my thin wrist tightened, leaving the mark of defiance on my tanned skin. Then I felt it, the venom. It traveled from my cracked, swollen lips to the corners of my eyes. It numbed my fingers, my legs, my lips, and thoughts. The people began to fade, the seat-belt sign flickered on, off, on, and off, and my eyes curled up helplessly muffling out the growling of the giant engine of that aluminum flying tube. I wanted to scream for help. Something was wrong, everything was wrong.
I had been drugged.
They were smart, these strangers, these kidnappers, these damned 2 ruiners of my planned escape to happiness and freedom. Mrs. Betty had come into our room at 1:00 a.m. to wake me.
“Wake up honey get up,” her hoarse voice demanded.
I felt her ice cold invasive hand on my left arm. I flinched from the coldness, grunted, and rolled to my side.
“Get up, hurry!” she insisted with a good hard shake to my shoulder.
I turned my head towards her and cracked open my left eye squinting to tone down the bright yellow light that burst through the door into our quiet, peaceful dark room.
“What, why?” I whispered.
She located my shoes and handed them to me.
“You’re leaving, someone is here for you, now hurry get up!”
“You have 1 minute,” she said over her shoulder as she walked out.
That was the last time I saw Mrs. Betty. She was nice, strict, but nice to us teens at the safehouse for us troubled kids. The day before she had let us play music while we did our chores until Mr. Vern came in and scolded her for giving into our pleads for “that rubbish.” He was rubbish. I saw how he looked at us girls. His wishful eyes touched us in all the wrong ways. Safehouse they called it, please.
I sat up and rubbed my arms attempting to soften out the goosebumps that covered every inch of my body. I looked over at Vikkie who had her mouth slightly open as she let out little snores. I hated her. She always thought she was better than everyone. Ruby was on the other bed with her back to me. I could see the small poorly done tattoo of a rose along her spine. The stem was crooked and too dark. The petals were exaggerated with curves and overly thick lines that made them appear too fake. Her boyfriend’s name, Mario, was tattooed above the rose in cursive writing that looked like my 8 year old cousin had written it. She was going to give me one on my forearm tomorrow with some pen ink we had saved and had hidden in the vent near the bottom of our bedroom window. I wanted his name on me. My love, the one I had done all this for: Ian. I ran away countless of times, there was no window I couldn’t jump out of or adult I couldn’t manipulate to my will. I would fight anyone with fists or words. I was a god-awful 15 year old and I didn’t care. Ruby had helped me make a plan to get out. It was risky, but we didn’t care. We both had someone to run to and once we were with them we’d disappear deep in the streets somewhere without rules or these so called adults.
A man and woman interrupted my thoughts as they walked into the room. The stocky tall man had a blue Hawaiian shirt on and khaki dockers. His hair was too white for his face which had a 2 inch scar on the side of his chin. The blonde haired woman wore blue jeans and a black turtleneck blouse. You could tell she was once pretty, until boxes of nicotine carved lines and stains onto her tired face. I was still putting on my first shoe when they each grabbed one of my arms and pulled me up.
“Hey! What are you doing?” I yelled as I tried to free my arms.
Their grip only got harder as they tugged me toward the yellow bedroom door.
“Let go of me!” I yelled louder.
My screams had woken Ruby up and ours eyes met as I was pulled out the door. She looked horrified and that only scared me more.
“Stop!” I shouted all the way to the front entrance door.
I was so small compared to the man and the woman that my constant struggles to resist made no difference and they just dragged me on with ease like a child drags her ragdoll. The man opened the door and I saw a white Honda Civic turned on spewing out smog into the cold night. The head lights were glaring right at my face like a spot light. I was the star of the show and there was my audience. My watchers, that’s what we called the couples who were assigned to watch over us kids who had lost our parents in the cleanse, stood beside their car parked off to the side in the dark. My mother’s poker face looked straight at me. I could see the shadows of her fine lines around her eyes and mouth. She had aged years these past few months thanks to me. Seeing my father was what caused a hard golf sized ball in my throat to grow. He had tears on his dark face. He looked thinner than when I had last seen him 2 months before. My brother glared at me with disappointment while my sister shouted insults at me with her judgmental eyes and straight lips. I was the baby of the family. I had been the brightest surprise in my real parent’s lives, the joy of everyone’s life, and now I was the greatest disappointment. What would they think of this? I stopped resisting once I soaked in their looks and energy. I knew what was going on in that instant: they were getting rid of me. I couldn’t blame them, I was a snotty, defiant ungrateful teenager. The woman shoved me into the backseat. I tried opening the door but it obviously had the child lock, since I was a child. The woman slid into the seat next to me while the man shifted the car into reverse. I glanced outside towards my family which were all talking among each other. I could tell they were trying to console my father who was now crying into my sister’s shoulder. He loved me, whether I was his or not, I know he did. I know this wasn’t his idea, it was hers–my mother. My relationship with her had always been on rocks since day one. She didn’t like neither of us kids, but she grew to like my siblings because they accepted the way things were. They made me sick and we grew apart too. She didn’t understand me and she was too strict caught up in her self-righteous beliefs. I just wanted to be left alone and she wouldn’t let me at all cost. She’d finally won, I would never survive where I was going.
We drove for over an hour. I kept asking questions, but they ignored me. They just played country music which I hated. Some guy sang about being lost in his endless sips of whiskey since his lover never returned home. Just like I would never return home to Ian.
After what seemed like an eternity of torture to my ears, we arrived at LAX. That’s when I freaked out.
“Where are you taking me!” I demanded.
“I’m not getting on any stupid plane!” I said with a growling tone.
Still no answer.
When we parked, the man came around and opened the door for me and finally spoke.
His voice was deep, intimidating deep.
“We are going inside and boarding a plane, you will not run, fight, or ask anymore questions or else I will break your arms, legs, and then each finger one by one, understood?”
My feet when numb as I realized these two were not joking. They handcuffed me like a criminal and they each took me by the arm as we slithered through the crowds of people. People threw judgmental looks at me like they were ready to stone me. The man handed our three tickets to the attendant. She glanced up at me, suspicion dancing in her eyes.
“Are you the minor’s legal guardian?”
“Yes,” he replied while handing her some type of document.
“What! No he’s not!” I snapped at them.
The woman yanked me away with a force that almost through me off balance.
“Do not make a scene, this is your last warning,” she gritted between her yellow teeth.
The next thing I knew we were loading the plane. I saw the sign that read “Spokane.” I had no idea where that was. Maybe I should have paid more attention in geography class, but I was too busy trying to make it in with the cool kids and school was not cool. I slumped into my assigned seat 33B right in the middle. I asked to go to the bathroom, but the woman had to go with me to make sure I didn’t try anything stupid. I was planning to. I planned on booking it for the exit while throwing, shoving people behind me so they’d fall and block the aisle giving me more time to escape. But instead I was peeing with someone stranger looking at me in a cramped restroom designed to only fit one person. When we got back from the bathroom there was a cup of water sitting on my table. I was so thirsty I didn’t think twice and gulped down the strange tasting water: venom.
Several hours later, I woke up in a truck. I had no idea where or how I got there. The man and woman I was with were gone. The driver was a middle aged man with a matted brown beard and red trucker hat with some faded white words on it. A plump woman sat next to him was with her black hair pulled back into a tight bun. The man looked at me from the rear view mirror.
“Rise and shine doll we’re here!” he said sarcastically.
I was so shocked and afraid I couldn’t find my voice. He pulled up to a dirt road hidden among some tall trees. We were deep in the mountains. I was definitely not in my hometown in Southern California anymore. This place was something else. The trees, the air, the people, how would I get out of here? Once we passed a curve I saw it, my new home for the next 9 months. The buildings looked like cabins made out of logs surrounded by tall grass, trees, and deer. It was beautiful, but that turned out to be a fake cover to hide the ugliness of the juvenile institution it really was. I saw groups of teen boys walking in 2 rows of 5. They were all dressed the same. Khaki pants and burgundy sweaters. Their pale mal-nutritioned faces heaved miserable warnings my direction. Was this the place rumored about?
We got off the car, and they walked me to the entrance of a small brown trailer. Inside, some papers were signed and the woman at the desk handed the couple an envelope of cash that the man ruffled through with a smirk as he walked out the door. I was sold like an old unwanted piece of furniture on Craigslist. Happy to be rid of. Worth more to be sold than decay the visual appeal of a happy home. The lady at the desk handed me a pair of khakis and a burgundy sweater.
“Welcome to Crowell kid. Your number is 4417. Just be good and do what your told and you’ll be out of here within a year,” she said with a bored face.
“Where am I?” was the only thing I was able to muster out of my dry lips.
“Montana,” she replied.
I had no idea where that was, but this was my new home. Good ol’ Montana.