Chapter One – Ghetto Girl Rising (Continued)

Darkness swallows me whole. Paralyzes my every move, stopping me dead in my tracks. You would think my nightlight would ease my fear of darkness, at least long enough for me to fall asleep peacefully. It doesn’t…

Darkness and me; complete and utter darkness, have never gotten along, and I doubt we ever will.

As I lay in my bed, at Camden House for Teenage Girls, I can see the light from under the door shining through from the hallway. It is so far from my nightlight plugged in at the far corner of my bedroom, that it makes me feel trapped. Neither light makes me feel safe from the shadows dancing on my walls and floor.

The shadows the lights make cause ghost-like figures to dance in my room. The shapes remind me of shapeless ghosts on display as Halloween decorations. At night these ghosts are held fast to the white linoleum floor as they bounce off the walls they dance upon, floating in the darkness. Oh, the terrors I imagine as I try to force myself to sleep.

It did not matter that I am in a home with at least twelve other people, the ghosts can still get to me. No one can save me. I am alone with my fears and alone in life. I know this like I know my name, Topaz Marie Giles, and I am going to have to learn to fend for myself.

It is an odd feeling to feel like there is not enough light to take away my fears or to make me feel safe, but it is how I feel, especially at night when it is supposed to be dark, quiet and safe, but it is always the worst time for me. Daytime is not much better, and living here did nothing lessen my fear of the dark.

I came to this group home because I had been labeled incorrigible by my previous placements, which is the grown-up way of saying I am hella bad. This group home is my last resort. It is either here or Juvenile Hall, which is a hard pass. 

I hear juvie girls are hardened criminals, and I am sure they could eat me alive. One look at me, and they would know I could not fight. The horror stories I heard made my decision easy, so when the opportunity for the group home presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. Besides, the group home is the better alternative for someone that lacks bravery, none of which I possess. If I could not fight off my predators, I am pretty sure I would not have lasted a night in juvie.

Before I came to Camden House, I had graced the doorways of fourteen other foster homes. A couple of those homes got rid of me because of misconduct on their part. They did not want anyone to know what they did. 

Years of conditioning had taught me to keep my mouth shut. These are secrets I am never allowed to share, and I am in no hurry to tell anyone anyways. I can keep a secret, especially the ones I feel I brought on myself.

My life (up to this point) had been one negative encounter after another. Usually from relatives or people that were responsible for my well-being. I did not know why I always ended up in these situations. I came to the conclusion that I must deserve it. There is something about me that says I will comply. It has to be, right?

One of the foster home placements I stayed in, in El Cerrito, my second oldest brother Thomas was placed there with me. I never told him what our foster parents did to me. I was too embarrassed and ashamed that I had let it happen again, and this time, both parents. It had gone too far. The only thing I could do was ask our social worker Joan for a new placement. 

I was even willing to go to Snedigar Cottage, on 150th Avenue, in San Leandro. It was a step below juvie, but with no criminal element, but still bad enough in its own right. It was co-ed housing for children awaiting foster home placements or those aging out of the system. I had been there a few times. Fourteen foster homes are not always easy to come by. It was not my favorite place, but it would be better than continuing to stay with them.

The night we left for 150th, it was pouring down rain. I did not care. I had to get out of there before it happened again. Joan came for us in the middle of the night, and we left. 

I was free for now.

If I have to guess why these things keep happening to me, it has to be purely physical, or maybe it is just them wanting to possess something pure and innocent. Do they not know I am anything but pure or innocent? I am tainted and damaged goods. Can they not see this, or maybe that is what they look for. I do not know, but I am tired of it. I no longer want any part in it, ever again.

I gave up the beautiful house in the El Cerrito Hills for a dump like Snedigar Cottage, forcing Thomas to come with me. He was not too happy about giving up all his newfound amenities. Tough luck. My sanity was more important to me than his creature comforts.

I told him he could stay, but Anne and James would not hear of it. If I was not staying he could not either. I guess they did not want him without their plaything. Thomas stayed mad at me for a long time after that and barely speaks to me now.

I often wonder after we left, do they compare notes about what they did to me, or is it their personal dirty little secret they keep from each other? It sickened me enough to endure their encounters, but it would be worse if they talked about it. The things they did to me or made me do to them. I shudder at the thought, they were sick.

I do not think I will ever understand how an adult can see a child as a sexual being, or how they can see a child as sexually appealing, but they manage to tell themselves otherwise. And the worst part is, they tell themselves that this child, they are abusing, wants them this way… 

For as long as I can remember, people have commented on how beautiful they think I am, but I do not see it, nor recognize it, or appreciate it. 

All I ever see is the face and body of someone that others want to possess, hurt, abuse, and use, that can’t be beautiful. I thought as I stood in the bathroom, in the group home with its multiple toilets and multiple showers, staring in the mirror at the face that stared back at me. Telling myself I am not special, I am just easy. This has to be it. I never put up a fight. I just do whatever they want me to do.

**********

Coming to live in this group home, made me change my way of thinking and living. There are rules and consequences for everything, but I eventually get used to it. 

When I arrived at Camden House for Teenage Girls, I was shocked by how big and industrial the building looked from outside. I could not imagine why a building that looked like this one is sitting in East Oakland, but there it was in all its glory consuming the entire corner it occupied with its presence. 

When I entered the foyer, I could not see anything but a pale-wood door, with a sliding square for someone to peek out and see. On my left, a plexiglass window with a metal speaker plate to talk through and a metal tray at the bottom to give items to the staff. I had no idea what awaited me on the other side of that wooden door and I was terrified of the possibilities. 

My first impression was that of a half-way house. Not like I had ever been in one, but it is what I thought one might look like. Growing up in Oakland, I knew plenty of people that had been in jail or were still in jail. They told stories about going to live in half-houses. So I started calling it the compound.

The intake counselor led Joan and me through the wood door to an office right off the kitchen that had a long dining table with several old wooden chairs, as well as all the other things kitchens tend to have. 

Across from the kitchen was this large open-area room with a floor model television, two old long worn couches, and a ping-pong table. I assumed this was the rec room. I was sure a tour would follow the completion of the paperwork.

As we walked to the office, I noticed a payphone in the middle of a long hallway that ended with stairs that lead to the second floor. The intake counselor, along with Joan and I, reviewed all the paperwork which required many signatures and took a very long time to complete, by the time we finished my fingers were sore and numb. 

But forget about the enormous amount of paperwork I signed, the house rules got my undivided attention. There were about fifty rules in all, leaving nothing to chance. 

The ones I hated right off the back were all about curfew restrictions. New residents had to be on-site by six o’clock every evening for the first thirty days. After which, Sunday through Thursday evening at eight o’clock and Friday and Saturday by midnight. 

And oh, the ones about the damn payphone really irked me. How were we supposed to have a decent telephone conversation in fifteen minutes? It was utterly ridiculous. Not to mention only having a couple of hours an evening to use and share a telephone amongst ten other girls. How could that possibly work? But I guess I should not be too hard on the counselors, at least in an emergency, we could use their office phone. 

Another thing I was not too fond of, was completing chores on Saturdays before leaving the compound. The final straw was the absurd bedtime during the week, ten o’clock, Sunday through Thursday nights. What… Did they think we were children? 

I mean, if I overslept for school, it was my fault and I would be the one held responsible for it, not them, letting out a huff, I continued to read their ridiculous expectations, finishing by signing my life and my freedom away. I now belonged to Camden House for Teenage Girls.

After completing my contract with the devil, Joan and I toured the facility. There was not much else to the first floor, except a single bathroom marked “Staff” and the laundry room which housed an industrial-sized washer and dryer. The bedrooms, bathroom, and individual counselor offices were all located on the second floor.

We walked up the stairs to the second floor, landing in a corridor long enough to qualify for a 40-yard dash with low lighting and what looked like hundreds of closed closet doors. It was all quite strange. My nerves and pulse quickened at the thought of possibilities of what might be lurking in the dimly lit hallway.

As we walked by each closed door, the intake counselor called out what they were, “Resident room… The next five doors are resident rooms on this side of the hallway, then the bathroom, as well as the other resident rooms, and the counselor offices on the other side.” She informed us as we continued our walk down the long corridor.

When we got to the bathroom we went inside. She offered me solid advice about not going in there without shoes of some sort on my feet, which made sense.

“Foot fungus is a real problem among a lot of residents.” She stated as I continued my survey of the bathroom.

The walls were painted a pale seafoam green with gray-tiled floors The toilet stalls’ partitions matched the floor. The bathroom was colder than the rest of the compound. The hallway we had just left was certainly warmer than standing in the paleness of this gymnasium-style bathroom.

Naming this place the compound was indeed the right choice, with its many jail-like features and excessive rules, but in reality, it was just a large rooming-house for wayward girls. There were enough rooms to house twelve teenage girls at a time. Currently, there were only ten girls, which was too many if you asked me. 

We left the bathroom and continued our tour. She continued to identify the closed doors until we got to the room I would now be calling my new home. For how long I did not know. I just knew that if this place did not work out, Juvenile Hall would be my next stop, no exceptions.

She had left the key downstairs in the office, so she could not open the door for a quick peek. All the resident rooms locked, which made me feel a bit safer about living here. Besides, I was too worried about how the other girls would take to me and if I would like any of them. Time was sure to tell.

We finished the tour and went back to the first floor. The intake-counselor provided me with my room key and copies of my signed paperwork, which she instructed me to put in a safe place once I got settled. I nodded and waited for what happened next.

“Well, that’s it. You can go and get your things and get moved in. Let me know if you need anything else. I’ll be here for another half hour or so,” she announced as she headed into the main counselor’s office, leaving me and Joan standing in the hallway looking at each other like, “Okay then…”

Thank goodness I did not have much stuff. Just a suitcase with my clothes, a boombox, and a digital clock. Joan helped me carry the boombox and clock to my new room. We dropped my things off, went back downstairs, and said our heartfelt goodbyes.

“So kiddo, I hope you like it here. I don’t have to remind you, right?” she asked, hinting at my “Last Resort” option. I got it and I knew the consequences if this did not work out.

“Yeah, I think it’ll be okay. It’s not like I have a choice.”

“You got that right kiddo, and please know there would be nothing I could do about it. So keep that in mind when and if you decide you want out of here.” With that, we hugged and she left.

Group home life. What can I say, it FREAKING SUCKS! 

Well, it beats juvie, there is that...

**********

Coming to live in this group home, made me change my way of thinking and living. There were rules and consequences for everything, but after a while, I got used to it.

When I arrived at Camden House for Teenage Girls, I was shocked by how big and industrial the building looked from outside. I couldn’t imagine why a building that looked like this was sitting in East Oakland, but here it was in all its glory consuming the entire corner it occupied with its presence.

When I entered the foyer, I couldn’t see anything but a pale-wood door, with a sliding square for someone to peek out and see. To the left, was a plexiglass window with a metal speaker plate to talk through and a metal tray at the bottom to give items to the staff in their office. I had no idea what was on the other side of that wooden door and was terrified of the possibilities.

My first impression was that of a half-way house. Not like I’ve ever been in one, but it’s what I thought one might look like. Growing up in Oakland, I knew plenty of people that had been in jail or were still in jail. They told stories about going to live in half-houses, that were as strict as this group home appeared to be. So I started calling it the compound.

The intake counselor led Joan and me through the wood door to an office right off the kitchen that had a long dining table and several old wooden chairs and all the other things kitchens tend to have.

Across from the kitchen was this large open-area room with a floor model television, two old worn long couches, and a ping-pong table. I assumed it was the rec room. I was sure a tour would follow the paperwork.

As we walked to the office, I noticed a payphone in the middle of a long hallway that ended with stairs that lead to the second floor. The intake counselor, along with Joan, and I reviewed all the paperwork which required many signatures and took a very long time to go over. My fingers were sore and numb when we finished.

Forget about the enormous amount of paperwork I signed, it was the house rules that got my undivided attention. There were about fifty rules in all, leaving nothing to chance.

The ones I hated the most were all about curfew restrictions. New residents had to be on-site by 6:00 PM for the first thirty days. After which, Sunday through Thursday 8:00 PM and Friday and Saturday midnight.

And oh, the ones about the damn payphone really irked me. How were we supposed to have a decent telephone conversation in fifteen minutes? It was utterly ridiculous. Not to mention only having a couple of hours a night to use and share a telephone amongst ten other girls. How could that possibly work? I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on the counselors, at least in an emergency, we could use their office phone.

And another thing, I wasn’t too fond of was completing my chores on Saturdays before leaving the compound. But the final straw was the absurd bedtime during the week, 10 o’clock, Sunday through Thursday. Did they think we were children?

I mean, if I overslept for school, it was my fault and I’d be the one held responsible, not them, letting out a huff as I continued to read their ridiculous expectations, signing my life and my freedom away.

After completing my contract with the devil, Joan and I toured the facility. There wasn’t much else to the first floor, except a single bathroom marked “Staff” and the laundry room which housed an industrial-sized washer and dryer. The bedrooms, bathroom, and individual counselor offices were all located on the second floor.

We walked up the stairs to the second floor, landing in a corridor long enough to qualify for a 40-yard dash with low lighting and what looked like hundreds of closed closet doors. It was all quite strange to me. My nerves and pulse quickened at the possibilities of what might be up here.

As we walked by each closed door, the intake counselor called out what they were, “Resident room… The next five doors are the resident’s rooms on this side of the hallway, then the bathroom, as well as the other residents’ rooms and counselor offices on the other side.” She informed us as we continued our walk down the hallway.

When we got to the bathroom we went inside. She offered me solid advice about not coming in here without shoes of some sort on my feet, which made sense.

“Foot fungus is a real problem among a lot of residents.” She stated as I continued my survey of the bathroom.

The walls were painted a pale seafoam green with gray-tiled floors The toilet stalls’ partitions matched the floors. The bathroom was colder than the rest of the compound. The hallway we’d just left was certainly warmer than standing in the paleness of this gymnasium-style bathroom.

Naming this place the compound was the right choice, with its many jail-like features and excessive rules, but in reality, it was just a large rooming-house. Enough room to house twelve teenage girls at a time. Currently, there were only eleven of us here, which was too many if you asked me.

We left the bathroom and continued our tour. She continued to identify the closed doors until we got to the room I would be calling my new home. For how long I didn’t know. I just knew that if this place didn’t work out, Juvenile Hall would be my next stop, no exceptions.

She couldn’t open the door because she forgot the room key in the office. All the residents’ rooms locked, which made me feel a bit safer about living here. Besides, I was too worried about how the other girls would take to me and if I’d even like any of them. Time would tell.

We finished the tour and went back to the first floor. The intake-counselor provided me with my room key and copies of my signed paperwork, which she instructed me to put in a safe place once I got settled. I nodded and waited for what happens next.

“Well, that’s it. You can go and get your things and get moved in. Let me know if you need anything else. I’ll be here for another half hour or so,” she said as she went into the main counselor’s office, leaving me and Joan standing in the hallway looking at each other like, “Okay then…”

Thank goodness I didn’t have much stuff. Just a suitcase with my clothes, a boombox, and a digital clock. Joan helped me carry the boombox and clock to my new room. We dropped my things off, went back downstairs, and said our heartfelt goodbyes.

“So kiddo, I hope you like it here. I don’t have to remind you, right?” she asked, hinting at my “Last Resort” option. I got it and I knew the consequences if this didn’t work out.

“Yeah, I think it will be okay. It’s not like I have a choice.”

“You got that right kiddo, and know there would be nothing I could do about it. So keep that in mind when and if you decide you want out of here.” With that, we hugged and she left.

Group home life. What can I say, it FREAKING SUCKS!

Well, it beats juvie, there’s that...

*********

Author Notes: Hello to all my coming-of-age enthusiasts. Thank you for stopping by and giving this book a read. I am deep in the heart of revisions.

Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions. It is your comments and suggestions that will help make this a spectacular book in the end.

Please continue to practice social distancing to stay safe and healthy.

Peace and blessings – CV Davis

© 2020 |CV Davis, All Rights Reserved

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