Rodney, Everyone Else, and Paul
I had just shifted into third gear when a red goblin walked in front of my car. I should have expected it or have been more careful, goblins are known for their sneaking around. Swerving as hard as I could, I crashed head on into Mr. Ghoda’s Soda Emporium. Blue and pink liquid dripped onto my head. It smelled like raspberry lemonade and gasoline. Acid can be fun. Acid can also lead to a juvenile detention facility.
Rodney was my bunkmate. He was from the ghetto, and wouldn’t stop talking about it. I tried telling him how I didn’t care that he was disadvantaged since birth, but he kept on saying it. Rodney had gone into a mall by his house to steal from a women’s clothes store. Why not a men’s, I have no idea. After trying to sneak out with some shirts the manager started chasing after him. Thinking he was smart, Rodney tried jumping down to the first story to get away. But, when he did, he landed right on top of a security guard. Rodney’s foot knocked him out cold, but it definitely didn’t help with his sentence-six months in juvenile detention.
Rodney and I hung out with each other most of the time. Everyone else was in their for either a violent crime or for being crazy in general, so we stayed away from most people.
One of my favorite least-favorite kids there was pencil-lead Paul. Paul was a lunatic. His weapon of choice was, of course, a pencil. His goal would be to stab you with it, and then break off the lead in hopes of giving you an infection. He tried a few times on me. I’d be in the bathroom, and in the stall next to me I’d hear some heavy mouth breathing. Immediately, based on the sour-milk smell of the breath, I knew it was Paul. I’d slowly look over and Paul would be peaking over the top, wide-eyed and shaking.
“Are you going to stab me with a pencil?”
“Can you not?”
And that happened two more times until Paul ended up leaving. He stabbed one of the counselors in the neck and they almost bled to death. He got sent away to an institution.
Erin was one of the few that I wasn’t terrified of. She was in for taking prescription pills from family members and kids from school. Erin was blonde, short, skinny, and had very bright blue eyes. She also always had bags under her eyes, but I don’t know if it was from her being tired or not. Rodney, Erin, and I would sit at the picnic tables a lot.
Rodney’s parents left him when he was eight. He thought it was because of his big brother for always yelling at them. He lived with aunt until then. Erin was molested by her neighbor for the four years leading up to going to juvenile detention.
I didn’t say much to them about what happened to me.
Nothing happened to me.
I had two loving parents and was wealthier than most. I went to a good school and had good friends. I got good grades. I was good at sports. I had no one to blame but myself. They weren’t the problem.
About halfway through my time there, Rodney started crying every night when he thought I was asleep. The cabin would be silent, besides this gentle sobbing, trying to stay hidden. I remember waking up to Rodney telling me he was sorry. I asked him for what, and he just asked if I accepted his apology.
I did of course.
Erin would draw me pictures. They weren’t of anything to do with me usually. She just drew whatever came into her head. She was really good at drawing dogs. My favorite drawing she ever gave me was of a dog with a mustache. It actually wasn’t even funny, but when Erin laughed I couldn’t help but laugh too.
One night there was a huge fight in the cabin next to ours. One of the kids snuck back a knife from the cafeteria and stabbed his bunkmate. All of the guards and counselors and officers were surrounding that cabin, not paying attention to anyone else. Rodney and I just stared out of the facility’s entrance. If we wanted, we could just walk right out. We didn’t of course; we would just be brought back. But, we always talked about what would’ve happened if we did.
I only had two weeks left when I told Erin I had a crush on her. She said she was flattered, but wasn’t interested. I told her it was fine, and never saw her again. Ten years later she jumped into traffic.
Rodney and I shook hands, and I walked away. He called me “his n-word” and immediately got scolded by the officers. Rodney went on to work for some factory, and then moved to Europe with a girl.
I went back to school and turned out like everyone else.
more by TYLER CLIFTON
photograph by Patrick Donnelly