I See Me (Oracle 1): Chapter 2, Part 1
Begin reading here: Chapter 1, Part 1
I See Me (Oracle 1)
“It was your mother’s,” Carol said as she handed me a ratty royal-blue-velvet jewelry box. It was about the length of a sunglass case, but thinner.
“What?” I asked, because I wasn’t really listening. I’d signed some papers, retrieved my passport, and was now ready to walk out of this part of my life.
“Held in trust by the ministry.”
“Sorry?” I asked. “You kept something of my mother’s for nineteen years?”
“It would have been … if you had been adopted …” Carol took off her wire-rimmed glasses and rubbed her eyes. She was a series of shades of brown. Brown eyes, hair, and freckles. Even her sweater, belt, and shoes were brown today, but none of the shades matched. Too much yellow in one, too much orange in the other. Her hair was dull, devoid of shine. Her eyes needed a day off, even though — since it was Monday afternoon now — she’d just had two.
Carol had only been assigned to my file for about a year and a half. Sharon, the social worker who’d given me the mittens, hadn’t returned from maternity leave. I’d already forgotten the name of the temp worker who’d been assigned to me in between. Carol didn’t really know how to talk to me, about anything. She saw my thick file and it made her sad.
Early on, she’d talked about the possibility of teen adoption. I’d had my name taken off the list the day I turned twelve and was legally able to express my opinion on the matter. I’d had to miss a couple of meetings with Carol, and suffer from a hallucination in front of her, before she let the subject drop.
It was nice that she cared, though. I’d just had more than enough of nice in my life. I wanted more than nice, but I didn’t believe that more existed. So I’d take nothing — and no one — on my own terms every day, starting today. Nice just didn’t work for me anymore.
“You kept this because you thought I’d lose it?” I asked.
“The ministry —”
I waved off Carol’s explanation and snapped open the box to see a gold necklace attached to an antique white rock. The quartz, or whatever it was, was about the size of a nickel and roughly hewn. The chain’s links were wide — almost industrial looking — and tarnished. The necklace was attached by gold eyelets that appeared to be drilled right into the stone, but one of them was broken. The metal of it was oddly stretched out, as if some force had pulled the chain apart.
“Did they rip it off her?” I was whispering as I stared at the broken necklace, but I wasn’t sure why.
“The paramedics,” I said. “Did they rip the necklace off her when they pulled her from the car? Or later at the hospital when she was dying and I was born?”
“I … I …” Carol replaced her glasses and turned back to the thick file on her desk. She always kept my file closed but in sight when we visited. Occasionally, she placed her hand on it when she was discussing something she deemed very important. When she’d taken over the office, she turned the desk so it was against the far wall. That way she could sit facing the guest chairs without the desk as a physical barrier. The framed inspirational quotes and the fleece throw on the third chair were also meant to add a cozy feeling to the room. Unfortunately for Carol, the item that probably got the most use in her office was the Kleenex box.
She opened my file at the very beginning and began to scan the pages.
“It’s not in there,” I said. “I’ve read all that. I’d already know about the necklace if it was in there. There’s a note about belongings, but I assumed it meant clothing that had probably been burned after she died, since I hadn’t been given anything.” I weighted that last part with every ounce of disdain that I could muster over something I’d only learned about moments before — so not much, but more than usual.
“Oh … I … you’ve read this?”
“Yep,” I answered. “More than once. It’s a bonding exercise. I guess you hadn’t gotten around to offering yet.”
“Well, I … that is unorthodox —”
I picked up the necklace. It was as heavy as it looked. “It’s broken,” I repeated.
“Yes, I saw. I thought about getting it repaired, and cleaned.”
For some reason, it incensed me that this woman had seen this piece of me, this piece of my history — maybe even touched it — when I hadn’t even known it existed.
“Is the box hers?”
“What? Oh. No, I don’t think —”
I stood up and tossed the velvet box on Carol’s desk behind her.
She flinched back in her comfy black desk chair. She gripped one of the vinyl arms, then deliberately relaxed her hand when I noticed. Her light coral fingernails were chipped at the very tips. I knew she had a panic button underneath her desk. She’d used it when I was hit with the hallucination that I’d had in her office about a year ago. If she had just let me leave, let me get some fresh air and sketch as I’d requested when I felt it coming on, then she wouldn’t have had to use the button. Then I wouldn’t have had to suffer the touch of strangers and the questions of the paramedics. I should have left without permission, but I knew that usually resulted in reprimands and restrictions. Also, they kept the front doors barred — literally gated. I had to be buzzed through both the exterior exit and the door between the reception area and the offices if I wanted to leave.
I really hadn’t wanted Carol to see me in the grip of a hallucination. Part of me hated her for having seen me so vulnerable. She’d talked about it as a bonding experience afterward. I’d kept my mouth shut.
I coiled the necklace in my palm, then tucked it in the inner zippered pocket of my bag, along with my passport and the big wad of cash I was more than ready to unload. I turned to leave.
“Wait,” Carol cried. “What about … will you be staying at the Residence tonight?”
“Doubt it,” I answered as I sauntered out through the door. Social workers always kept their doors open during client meetings to thwart any accusations of abuse. And, of course, so they could call for help. Though as previously noted, they also had a panic button for that. I didn’t think any of us foster kids were supposed to know about the panic buttons.
“You need to check in,” Carol said as she jumped up from her seat to follow me into the hall. “You need to be careful about stress and … and … everything.”
I quickly crossed by the other open office doorways. It was almost four o’clock, so most of the offices were empty for the day. At the top of the stairs, the room to my immediate right was painted in what was supposed to be cheerful colors. Kid colors. Egg yolk yellow, deep sky blue, and grass green. The room was filled with a tidy array of toys, low plastic chairs, and a navy blue cushy couch that had seen many better years than this one.
I looked away. I’d always hated that room. I’d met two of three sets of prospective adoptive parents in there. I’d also spent an entire day captive in there — three times — after I’d been voluntarily surrendered to the ministry, but before I’d been assigned my next foster placement. Everyone here was overworked and underpaid, including the foster homes. The rest of us were stuck in the nowhere that was between the two.
But not anymore — not me, not now, or ever again.
“Check in with me,” Carol continued. “With your doctor, with your —”
“Shrink,” I said. “Yeah, I know. How about we leave the counseling to the experts?”
“I’m a certified —”
“I know to get my white blood count levels checked once a week,” I said as I trotted down the stairs with Carol at my heels. “I also know that there will always be a room for me … if I give you enough notice. I get that you aren’t tossing me onto the streets.”
I got stalled at the locked glass door inside the front waiting area. This door could only be opened by code, or by remote if the receptionist was around. She wasn’t.
Unfortunately, this meant that Carol caught up to me and managed to drag me in for a hug. Being all of five-foot-three had its disadvantages, and overly emotional hugs from chesty people was one of them.
“Right,” I said, as I withstood the unwanted human contact without screaming. “Great.”
I patted Carol’s back.
She didn’t let go. “I just loved that picture you drew for me. I’ll always cherish it.”
Carol finally drew back from the hug, but she didn’t let go of me. “Oh, no! I bought you something. Special pencil crayons.”
Great. I didn’t draw in color. “I’ll grab them from you later.”
“Oh? Okay.” The loose promise of a visit got me a smile. She was teary, but not crying.
“Is this your first aging out?”
“You’re doing great.” I really hated to lie, but I really had somewhere to be.
“Really? I was so worried when you were late —”
“Buses, you know.”
“I’ll miss our monthlies.”
I hated it when she called our meetings ‘monthlies,’ like we menstruated together or something. “Okay, sure, but I’ve got to go now.”
“All right. Be safe, Rochelle,” Carol said. “I’ll always be here for you. I care about you.”
I nodded. This motion caused the migraine I’d just fought off to ping-pong through my head. Carol wasn’t being false or anything, but I just needed to go. I needed to think about the necklace, and I had more errands to run. Errands I’d been planning for months. I didn’t want to get derailed.
My entire life had been dictated by other people’s tragedies and shortcomings, but now I had a future that was just mine. A hallucination, a mushy social worker, and a dead mother’s necklace weren’t going to slow me down.
“Thanks for everything, Carol.” Then I said what I needed to say to get clear of the door, of the building, and of all the many caring-but-overworked-and-underfunded social workers that Carol represented. “I’ll call you next week.”
“Perfect,” Carol said with a teary smile. “Happy birthday, Rochelle.”
She even managed to say that — to wish me well on the day of my ill-fated birth — without a hint of irony.
She buzzed me through the door, then through the exterior door with one last wave.
I wasn’t going to call Carol next week. I might check in later, just so she didn’t send the police looking for me. Though I might be brain-damaged, I was polite. Some might say I was well trained by the system that had raised me.
I thumbed the automatic lock on the secondary security gate that stood two steps in front of the exterior, then slipped through it onto the sidewalk. The ministry was serious about protecting its workers. And with some of the loopy, estranged parents I’d seen raging around here, that wasn’t surprising.
The gate clanged closed behind me. The sound made me smile.
I was never going to hear that again.
Chapter 2, part 2 (Sept 30)
Chapter 3, part 1 & 2 (Oct 1)
Chapter 3, part 2 & 3 (Oct 2)
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