{October 31, 2012}   Going Home Part II

Early the next morning, the light switch went on. It was time to get up but I didn’t feel like getting up. I was shivery, alternating hot and cold all through the night. I walked out into the hall and saw other girls standing beside their rooms and some walking into the bathroom. I leaned back against the wall and slid down to the floor. One girl came over. “What’s the matter with you?” she asked. “I dunno” I said. I cradled my face in my arms. My face was red hot. A guard walked toward me. “Get up” she said. “I’m sick” I replied. She put her hand on my forehead, then said “You’re a little warm. Get in line for breakfast. We’ll call the clinic once they open this morning.” I got in line and followed the others into a large room with rows of metal picnic tables. I sat down at a table while the other girls got in line for breakfast. I put my head down and circled my arms around my head to block the light. A few minutes later, I was surrounded by chitchat. I looked up. The girl I spoke to in the hall was sitting across the table from me. “You feeling bad?” she asked. “Yeah” I said. “Why you here?” she asked. “I ran away from home” I said. “Oh, I done that. Many times. I’m here ‘cause I won’t go to school” she said. “I hate it. I don’t know what’s goin’ on in those classes. There’s fights in the halls every day. I don’t see the point of bein’ in that hell hole” she said. “Where do you go to school?” I asked. “I live in Newnan. You ain’t heard of it, have ya? It’s a tar hole south of here.” “Tar hole…” I said, wondering what she meant. “Yeah, my mom’s got her house there. Where you go to school?” “Near here,” I said. The girl looked closely at my face. “Did you look at yer face this morning? It’s all red and blotchy. Looks like you got measles or somethin’” “No, really?” I looked down at my arms. There were red blotches of tiny bumps all over my arms. “You allergic or somethin?’” she asked. “I dunno. My throat’s sore, too. I don’t think I can swallow.” “Did ya tell anybody? If yer sick, they’ll take ya to the clinic” she said. “Yeah, I did. I guess they’ll take me after breakfast,” I said. “Sure hope yer okay. I gotta stay away from you if yer sick. I’m goin’ home in a few days. I hope, anyway” she said. “How long have you been here?” I asked “‘bout a month” she said. A month! A whole month just because she missed school? “I’m real homesick. I really wanna see my mamma. But, I’m gonna leave here in a few days, I think” she said. “I sure hope so,” I said.   She looked so sad. I wished I could help her. She really missed her mother.

After breakfast, a woman who supervised the kitchen came and said I needed to help clean up and wash dishes. I told her that I felt ill, that I had a sore throat and some kind of rash and needed to go to the clinic. “Don’t matter. Come on, now. Yer gonna wash some dishes.” I got up and went to the kitchen. There were stacks of dirty pans in a large steel sink. I rolled up my sleeves and grabbed the sprayer. I tried my best to scrape burned eggs from a pan, but I felt weak. I was burning hot, hotter than the scalding water in the sink. The supervising woman came over and said, “Come on…let me show you how to clean this” and grabbed the pot from my hands. She scoured and scrubbed until the pot was clean. “Like this,” she said. I picked up another dirty pot, but it was so heavy I couldn’t hold it. It fell to the floor. The supervisor said, “What’s wrong with you? You can’t even hold a pot?” “No, I’m not feeling well. I’m sick…” I bent over and started to swoon. The supervisor told me to go sit down. I sat in the empty room with the metal picnic tables and put my head down. A guard came to get me a few minutes later. “Yer sick, aren’t ya?” she said. “Yeah. I think I’ve got a fever. And I’ve got these spots…” I showed her my arms. “Yeah, you got ‘em on yer face, too. They’re takin’ you to the clinic today. You gotta go get ready. Yer clothes are in yer room.” She opened the door to my room and my clothes were laying on the bed. I dove into the bed and got under the covers, shivering again.

At the clinic, there were a lot of people waiting. A guard sat beside me until they called my name. A clinic worker took me into a waiting room. She had a chart. “So, you’ve got a fever, sore throat and splotches…” she said, popping a thermometer in my mouth. “Yeah. I guess I’ve got measles or something.” “Have you had measles before?” “Yeah, when I was a little girl,” I said. “Okay. I need for you to undress and put on this,” she handed me a paper gown. I put on the gown and waited on the table. I felt so bad, I fell back and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, two women clinic workers came in the room. “I need for you to get up off the table and take off your panties,” she said. What? “Why do I need to do that?” I asked. “We have to do a body cavity search” she said. “Why? I don’t see why that’s necessary…” “We have to check to see if you’re hiding anything. Everybody from the Juvenile home who comes here has to be searched for drugs and weapons.” “Don’t you think if I had anything hidden there that I would’ve taken it out by now? I mean, please…”  “Just cooperate now, and this’ll be over. Bend over the table” she demanded putting on rubber gloves. I bent over the table and squeezed my eyes shut.  She stood behind me. She squirted a gel and then I felt her fingers probing me. I felt like screaming. I thought–this is kind of like being raped. But, it’s not a criminal who’s raping me. It’s the state of Georgia. When she was finished, she said, “Sit on the table and wait for the doctor.” I sat on the table like she ordered. I felt even sicker now. It was creepy that the state ordered them to do that to sick kids who came in from the juvenile home. Some of them were much younger than me. The doctor walked in. He asked me who I was and then looked at my face with a bright swing arm lamp. He scribbled something on his chart. He looked at my chest and arms and legs. I had tiny red bumps all over my body. He looked in my throat with a flashlight and wooden stick. “Looks like Scarlet Fever to me” he said. “Scarlet fever? Isn’t that what killed early settlers back in Colonial days?” I said. “Yeah. We call it ‘Scarletina” nowadays. There’s been an outbreak of Scarletina lately. Looks like you’ve got a pretty bad case. High fever. Sore throat. Rash. You’ll need to take antibiotics and you’ll have to be quarantined. Scarlet Fever is highly contagious” he said.

When we got back to the center, I took the antibiotic and was taken directly to my room by the guard.  The guard said they were notifying Miss Russett about my illness. She would have to get in touch with the emergency contact person that my parents gave them on my form. I’d have to be picked up because of the risk of giving Scarlet Fever to others at the facility. I asked for a book to read, but the guard said there weren’t any books. I pulled the scratchy woolen blanket over my head and tried to sleep. Then, I heard a tap on the door window. It was the girl I talked to at breakfast. I got up and went to the door. She held up her palm up to the window. It read “Wanda” in black magic marker. Wanda waved at me and walked down the hall.

The next day, aunt Cheryl came to pick me up. I was feeling a little better but the red splotches had gotten worse. After Miss Russett finished the paperwork, she handed me my flowered suitcase and told me to get well.  I followed aunt Cheryl outside to her car. “I’m sorry, honey, that you’re having such a rough time” she said. Her eyes were large and brown, and had the soft quality of a doe’s eyes. “Yeah, it’s been pretty rough. Are you taking me home?” I asked. “Yes, I’m driving you to your house. You know, your parents aren’t home–they’re on a cruise” she said. “But they left food in the fridge and you can rest in your room until they get home. You need to be quarantined so the Scarlet Fever won’t spread. Your brother and sister are staying with friends. But, If you need me for anything, I’ll be right over. I know you’ll be fine at home. I trust you, Hun.” I loved aunt Cheryl. Even though she was Mother’s sister, she had no idea what her sister was really like. Mother had a false allure she used to charm others and they always swallowed her act, unaware that when they were out of range, she’d cut them to shreds with her ridicule and disdain. Cheryl didn’t know that about her sister. Cheryl turned in the driveway and walked inside, carrying my suitcase. Everything was exactly as it was when I left. The heavy green curtains that hung over the sliding glass door. The brick fireplace. The TV guide on the coffee table. I told aunt Cheryl I’d be fine. I heard her car drive off and collapsed on the couch, feet resting on top of my tattered suitcase.



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