*This is an excerpt from a longer essay titled, “Into the System.” (W.I.P.)
They live in a rich community, and they can’t get pregnant. They feel sorry for me. They bear a vision of how I will be, with just a little polish and shine.
Their house looks like a furniture brochure. I look like a dust ball on their carpet. Stephanie takes me shopping. Blouses and pantyhose. A haircut and new earrings.
I get my own room upstairs, so clean and white. I can’t relax. I tip toe to the bathroom. I steal salami from the refrigerator.
I dream that they will adopt me and we’ll go on exotic vacations. They’ll fix me, and I’ll be their daughter. The child they couldn’t have.
Stephanie instructs me how to make lemon meringue pie. We talk. My voice sounds thick and unwieldy in the stainless steel kitchen. I strive to dazzle her with my charm and wit. I’m obedient. I’m a quick study. I’m worth keeping.
Sometimes I make her laugh. Sometimes I think she likes me.
I stay away from Bob. I don’t want to be alone with him, just in case. He works all the time. I wonder if I’m here as Stephanie’s project. I don’t mind.
Things are looking good for me.
She lets me have a sleepover. I show my friends around, proud. See what I landed. See how big my room is. See my new pretty family with sophisticated tastes. They are my family now, all mine. I get comfortable.
I get careless.
I want to be good for Stephanie. But I can’t tame my hair. Or my anger. Or my crying jags. I can’t smile all the time. I’m not organized. I’m not obedient. All the nice stuff they give me does not cover up the dents and dings.
I sense her disappointment. She is pulling away from me, finding new ways to occupy her time. I hide in the bathroom. I steal cold hot dogs from the refrigerator.
After school, I find the Social Worker on the couch with Stephanie. Stephanie has some issues. She has some concerns. You don’t clean your room, Stephanie says. You don’t use soap in the bath, she says.
I used the gel, I say. That’s for shaving legs, she says.
I’m sorry, I say.
She’s talked it over with the Social Worker. They think I would do better somewhere else. They are not the right people for me. I panic and beg. I plead until I run out of breath. I promise a spotless room and a clean body and perfect grades and the right attitude, anything if I can just stay.
One more day, I cry.
Go get your things, they say.
But I have no things to bring.