Lost and Found

Copyright RTaylor/ 2013 all rights reserved

The air inside the Greyhound bus was thick with the smell of urine, garlic, and baby powder, not to mention whatever chemicals they use to try to cover up the stench that floats out of the bathroom every time some poor slob has to use it.

Of course, I didn’t have to sit next to the can. I had the bus to myself when I got on, but I like the last row. It feels more private and no one ever sits next to me, so I can spread out, and maybe not worry so much about somebody stealing my stuff if I nod off or something.

I’ve been on this rolling stink bomb for eleven hours so far, but it feels more like thirteen because of all the stops we’ve made. Thank God, we’re only an hour from the last stop…my stop. I sure wish we could get there already. Get it all over with, you know? My seat’s starting to feel small and it’s hard to stay still. 

So far I’ve made three of these bus trips before and it’s kind of tough, because no matter what I do, I can’t stop this weird antsy feeling from swirling around my gut every time we get close to my stop.

I guess it all started on my first trip when I was naïve and let myself feel excited and hopeful. Even after  things didn’t work out, I still felt the same way on the second trip, and the third.

But this time, because of that last trip, the third one…the hope’s kind of turned to dread. I haven’t had an easy life and bad stuff’s happened to me, but that family, well, let’s just say what happened was so awful I don’t want to think about it.  They just wanted the money the state gives people for taking me in…not that there’s a lot for shit’s sake. I don’t know what they were doing with it, but I sure wasn’t seeing any of it…I was practically starving to death.

Lucky for me, some social worker made a surprise visit one day, figured out what was going on, and pulled me out of there before things went too far.  I was real grateful for that, ‘cause there’s no telling what might have happened to me.

A huge sigh rattled up from my chest and I pressed my nose into the glass and rested my chin on the rubbery trim around the window.

This whole business of finding me a family was wearing me out and I pitched a fit when they told me they were sending me out again. But what choice did I have?  Maybe if they’d just give the cash to me I could figure out how to make it on my own.

A film of filth covered the outside of the window.  Even though it was nearing dawn, it was still dark enough that the low hanging stars and the highway streetlights were bright enough to see, and as we whizzed along, they seemed to blur together taking on the shape of a big streak of light racing along side of us…which was pretty cool, if you ask me.

We’re on I-95 heading south. I like 95. It’s the best road on the east coast. I know because I’ve been on it a bunch for my trips. Heading north mostly, but it doesn’t matter which way you’re going, it gets you where you’re going without having to take any creepy side roads or mysterious highways with no lights. Good old 95. Straight and predictable; just they way I like things.

I’m still up because I’m a ‘somniac, or whatever it is they call people who can’t sleep at night. I think it’s ‘cause I have these bad dreams and I get a little wild, which can be downright embarrassing, especially on a bus with a bunch of strangers.

A nurse told me that even if I didn’t want to sleep, I should at least try to rest. “Close your eyes and count sheep and breathe deep,” she said. “If you don’t, you’re going to turn into one of those sleep deprived people who go bonkers and do crazy stuff.” Then she described some of the crazy stuff she’d heard about, which scared the hell out of me. I know that’s what she was aiming for, and it worked, ‘cause I damn well don’t want to go crazy and wind up in a loony bin somewhere.  Believe me–I got enough problems.

My glow in the dark watch says it’s four fifteen.

Maybe some rest would be a good idea. It might calm me down and I’ll stop worrying about what’s going to happen when I get there.

I’ll be aging out of the program soon and if no one takes me…well, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I act cool and never let anyone know it, but being out on my own kind of scares me. Not that where I am now is a pleasure cruise…but it’s predictable and as I said, I like predictable.

Sinking deeper into my seat I let the realization of what’s probably ahead of me settle in. I’m sure nobody’s going to be there to pick me up…they never are…and I’ll probably have to walk or hitch a ride or find a city bus to get me where I’m supposed to be.    It’s hard tracking down addresses in a new town when you don’t know your way around. Damned hard. And don’t even try looking for a pay phone. I don’t know what’s ahead for me when I get off, so I definitely need to be on my game.

I pull the collar of my jacket up and the brim of my hat down over my eyes and lean against the window. I still couldn’t believe I got sent to Florida. I’ve never seen a palm tree before. Never been to a beach. And I don’t know anything about the family who’s supposed to pick me up.  They always say they’ll be there to get me, but no one ever is. Never. And when you never hear your name called, or see a smiling face looking for you, or someone holding up a sign with your name on it, it can be a real ego crusher, so I always act like I couldn’t give a shit when I get off and act like I’m supposed to be alone… just in case. No reason to let anyone around know my heart feels like it’s sliding into my stomach because some part of me’s still holding out hope that things will be different.

I guess I just can’t help but wonder if maybe someone were there to get me…if I was important enough to wait for…to want to welcome…maybe it would be a sign. Maybe things would work out. And it really chaps my ass that some stupid part of me still keeps hoping the new family will like me and want to keep me, even though the other part of me couldn’t give a rat’s ass. I really hate that feeling and hate myself for having it.  It’s real confusing.

I pinch myself as hard as I can. I have to do it. Otherwise, all those stupid feelings take over and make me feel weird and antsy in ways I don’t like.  Sometimes they make me want to cry and I’ll be damned if I’m letting that happen.  So, I pinch…real hard, because it hurts so much it helps me ignore the feelings for a while. No one notices, except the nurse. She’s totally on to me.

And she got real upset when she realized what I was doing. Told me I was self mutilating and that was a bad thing. I don’t know about that. All I know is that when I pinch myself enough, I get numb and don’t feel so lonely anymore.

I pinched the skin near my armpit where I’m super sensitive.  It hurts a lot if I do it right and after about ten pinches, the pain starts to feel sort of good. I don’t’ know why. It just does.

Unfortunately the pinching doesn’t help with the nerves.  And my nerves are shot.

What will the new parents be like? The way people sound on paper isn’t always the way they really are. I’ve learned that the hard way.  Sometimes I think that if I got to pick the family, things would be different. But that’s never an option. The program decides and I go where they send me. I have to do what they say. That’s how it works.

I heard Florida used to be a swamp and gators are always crawling around looking for something or someone to eat. They have these vicious looking jaws and really sharp teeth. I hoped I never ran into one.  What a way to go.

Swamps, gators, the family. What did they tell me about that family? I was trying real hard to remember when a smooth, deep voice barged into my thoughts asking,

“Excuse me. Is this seat taken?”

What the hell? We hadn’t picked up any new passengers in three hours and there were still at least five open rows up front. Why did some clown want to sit next to me all of a sudden? Then it hit me-maybe the shitter’s occupied and they want to wait in the seat next to me until it’s their turn.

I edged the lid of my hat up real slow and peered into a smiling man’s face leaning towards me. It was lined and wrinkly, but the eyes were bright and the teeth were almost as white as the front of his perfectly starched priest collar. Father Creepy. A chill ran up my spine.

“Remember me? I saw you when you got on. Such a coincidence that we’d be on the same bus, don’t you think?” he said, chuckling.

My gut tightened.  It had been awhile, but I remembered him all right. Real well as a matter of fact, but I’d be damned if was going to let him know it.

“No, don’t believe I do, sir. I know people like to sit here when someone’s in there,” I nodded to the can and noticed that the “available” button was lit up.

“But you’re lucky, it looks like it’s empty. You can go on in,” I said.

He glanced over his shoulder, then back at me and chuckled again. Then the shiny smile and brightness in his eyes disappeared.

“Oh, I’m not here for that. I came for something else,” he said, plopping down next to me. He patted my knee and said something about how I’d grown so much since he’d seen me last. I held my breath and stared straight ahead, wondering how I could get him to go away.  Then I had an idea.

I stood up and placed a hand over my belly. “Well, if you aren’t going, I guess I will. Too much coffee, you know?”

His hand slipped away from my knee and he brought it up to his face and studied his nails.

“Coffee? We’re drinking coffee now?”

He smirked and chuckled again, probably amused that someone my age drank coffee. Or maybe it was something else.  It was hard to tell.

“Well, I really need to go. Excuse me, please,” I said, trying to inch my way past him without letting my ass touch him or God forbid, any other part of my anatomy.

He shifted sideways as if to let me out, and relief shot through my body. My plan was to get into the aisle and run for the front of the bus. But right as I reached his knees he spread his legs, then he clamped them shut around me, squeezing me between them the way I imagined a gator would use his jaws to capture and kill its prey.

His thighs were strong and he twisted his body to shove me towards my seat. I hit the window, then he let go and I slid to my knees and fell face first into the ass smelling cushion. I scrambled to get up, but he’d already wedged himself behind me.

The sound of his zipper being pulled down caused an icy prickly feeling to erupt just under my skin. I started to yell for help, but he clapped his hand over my mouth and pressed my head backwards into his chest so hard, I thought for sure he’d snap my neck.

I kicked and jerked around, trying to fight him off, but he was too big, too strong, and too hungry for what he’d come for.

My mind became foggy. Tears stung my eyes as he tried to get my belt off and that’s when I think a part of me floated away, up to the ceiling of the bus, where I watched us like we were in a movie. He got my belt undone, then yanked my pants down and shoved his hand between my thighs. Bits and pieces of a buried memory flashed before me and then I realized-actually more like remembered, exactly what he was going to do to me.

A sea of red dots appeared before my eyes blocking my view and when the rage took a hold of me, I didn’t realize I was back in my body again until I felt the cracking of bones as I bit down on his hand and tasted his blood in my mouth. He moaned and jerked away, swearing under his breath. I was able to slide out from under him and crawled towards the aisle. But he caught me by the leg and pulled me back.

God, how could no one hear or notice what was happening to me? I tried to yell for help, but my voice disappeared into the threadbare carpet where my face was buried. He grabbed me by the stomach to pull me up and get back to his business, and that’s when I saw it…my little red Swiss army knife, just a few inches away. It must have fallen out of my pocket when he pulled down my pants. I clutched it, and by sheer force of will, was able to roll over to face him. Then I started screaming and stabbing at him like a lunatic.

And I was still stabbing him even after we’d reached our stop, the driver waved down a cop, and all the people ran off the bus.

The cop was the first to reach us and he tried to get a hold of me, which wasn’t easy ‘cause I was flat on my back and still swinging away.  The perv had backed himself into the window and I was happy to see that not only had I almost bitten his hand in two, but he had a couple of nasty bloody cuts all over him as well.

“You. You don’t make a move,” he said to the priest, pointing a finger at him.

Then in a much softer voice he said, “He can’t hurt you now. Let me have the knife.” His big hands were on my shoulders.

I twisted around to look at him.  He was on his knees behind me. His eyes looked nice and he was definitely big enough to handle the priest if he made any moves.

The priest lunged for the aisle, but the cop shoved him back in his seat.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he said, his voice booming.

Father Creepy hunched into himself and didn’t say a word.

I took another swipe at him and the cop grabbed my arm, gently.

“Come on now. Give me the knife,” he said again, holding out his other palm.

“You’re safe, okay?”

I searched his eyes and handed it over. He slipped it into his shirt pocket, took my shaking hand and patted it.

“Officer, this little hoodlum was trying to rob me. I can explain everything,” said the priest.

“Oh, I’ll bet you can, buddy,” was the cop’s reply.

The perv’s pants were still down around his ankles just like mine and for some reason this made me start laughing hysterically. The priest stared at me in horror and the cop called for an ambulance before pulling me to my feet and helping me get my own pants back up and buttoned.

A bunch of other cops had stormed onto the bus and we had to back into the stinky bathroom to get out of their way as they handcuffed the priest and dragged his ass off the bus.

I guess that’s when I fell to the ground and started sobbing like some pansy.  Hell, I was shaking so hard I could barely breathe and I was still so afraid, I actually grabbed onto the cop’s legs and wouldn’t let go.

Eventually he managed to get me on my feet, but my knees were all wobbly and I couldn’t seem to walk. So he carried me off the bus like a little baby and I sobbed into his chest saying, “thank you for saving me,” over and over again.

“Nothing to thank me for. You saved yourself and don’t you ever forget it. You’re pretty tough and mighty brave, if you ask me.”

I didn’t feel brave. I felt helpless and so scared I didn’t want to let go of the cop when we got to the ambulance. Then I remembered my backpack and started shrieking, “My backpack with my stuff, my stuff! It’s still on the bus…it’s all I own. My stuff! I have to get it!” I started flailing around and he put me down, even though he held onto my waist pretty tightly.

“Calm down, calm down, I’ll get it. Let these nice people take care of you.” He glanced over to the ambulance guys. “Be right back,” he said, handing me over to the one with glasses. Then he took off.

The guys put me on a stretcher, started taking my pulse, listening to my heart, and writing things about me on a clipboard.

That’s when I noticed the people standing around…staring. I turned away in shame and tears filled my eyes.  This time I was too tired to be mad at myself and I couldn’t reach my armpit to do any pinching.

They rolled down my face into the pillow, soaking it, but I didn’t care. I squeezed my eyelids shut so I didn’t have to look at the people and pulled the sides of the pillow up, covering my ears so I didn’t have to listen to their whispering.

And then it hit me.

Where was the family who was supposed to pick me up? Obviously, no one had come. Not one person in the crowd had even walked over to find out who I was or if I was the kid they’d come for. I began to feel little and helpless and all the hurt I never let myself feel began spreading through my body, filling me up so full, I thought I might burst.

The ambulance man in the glasses gave me a shot to calm me down and within minutes I started feeling groggy. Something bumped the side of the stretcher and the cop appeared before me, holding out my ratty backpack.

I reached for it, but he held it to his chest and said, “I’ll keep it for you. Don’t worry. You need to rest.”

The ambulance guys hoisted the stretcher into the ambulance and the cop climbed in with them and sat on the bench next to me.

I was pretty out of it by then, and as I was starting to slip away, I started feeling panicky. Remember…I’m not used to sleeping.

As if he knew what I was feeling, the cop said, “Just try to relax. You’re safe now.”

He smiled and took hold of my hand. It was big and warm and I didn’t pull away.

I tried to speak. God knows what I must have sounded like since my tongue felt like a lead weight in my mouth, but I had to say it. I didn’t know where they were taking me or what would happen next.

“Please don’t let anyone hurt me again. Please don’t leave me, please. ”

He squeezed my hand and said, “Sleep. Sleep now.”

His face and everything around him became blurry and as much as I fought it, I did fall asleep.

And it turns out, that the cop who saved me was my new dad. He’d been at the bus stop waiting for me. He’d been there to pick me up and he even brought balloons, although I never saw them since flew away when the driver yelled for him to get on the bus.

Someone had finally come for me. Me. Someone was actually there…waiting to pick me up. And he was waiting there when I woke up in the hospital too, along with my new mother and older brother.

I finally had a family just like I’d always hoped for…and this time they kept me.

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