10 days I was in Quackerdale; a facility in Newton IA for “troubled” youth. Although, I wasn’t what the administrators probably considered troubled nor was I 14+ years old like all the other kids that were there it seemed.
I was told this was the closest facility with a bed available, 45 minutes from my family and 35 miles too many for any escape plan I could conjure. The 10 days I spent in Quackerdale were probably the longest 10 consecutive days of my life. The kids were mean and heartless, the staff was worse. The only light at the end of the tunnel was knowing that my dad was trying everything he could to get me out, just not as fast as I hoped.
Shortly after arriving I was informed that the younger of my 2 brothers (11 at the time) Bret, was at a hospital somewhere; strapped to a bed. Confused as to what that meant and with the hours of time I had to think about it, I’d come to the conclusion that he was being restrained for some reason. Instead of a hospital I pictured the room being hidden in a back building at the same facility I was. I couldn’t help but go to a darker place when I envisioned the sight. I Imagined a dark room with no windows like something out of a movie taken place in an ancient building you’d see In a paranormal movie or a horror series based in a 1930’s insane asylum. In my defense the world had yet to show me it had any intention of justice or truth. I would cry at the thought, and even more when no one would give answers to the questions I had.
I was assigned a room with a roommate. For name sake, we’ll call her Keesha. I wasn’t intimidated by Keesha at first. She didn’t seem frightening and was very polite when the staff was around. Even after the staff left and we were left alone I didn’t think anything of her other than thankful that she was black. In my experience; white girls were aggressive liars and ruthlessly manipulative. Granted, I’d spent my early years being taught by the queen of them all.
The room was furnished for two people; there were 2 twin beds on 2 metal frames. A high thin window located at the foot of our beds that you couldn’t see out of unless you were standing on something. The window resembled that of a prison cell I could remember seeing in movies and overheard family members describe, except ours were free of metal bars. Night came fast and before I knew it we heard “lights out” from the other side of our door.
As we both settled in our beds and I prepared for my nightly silent cry fest, Keesha was the first to speak.
“Hey girl” I heard from across the room
“Ya?” I replied
“Let me get them eyeballs girl”
I froze, for a second I thought maybe I was dreaming. Although the lights went out just second before so maybe I was daydreaming?
With hesitation I responded with a troubled “huh”?
Then, more clearer and almost as if her bed had gone from across the room to right beside mine she said it again, but this time giggling while she did
“*haha, let me get them eyeballs girl”.
I was shocked, what was happening? Is this for real? I was so scared I didn’t even open my eyes as I felt for the door knob and shot out of our room running down the hall to the staff desk.
Instead of a hello or concerned greeting I was met with glares and a growly “what are you doing”. My eyes fixed themselves on the game of poker they were playing before I could hear the panic in my own voice relaying what had just happened to me. I expected them to change from growly to concerned but instead I got laughter.
They were laughing at me! Why did everyone think the words this girl was saying was funny? Was I missing something? Some kind of inside joke I’d only known about if I hadn’t been the newbie that showed up just hours before? I didn’t know what to say or how to react… Out of all of the reactions they could have had, laughter was the farthest thing from my thoughts.
I started to cry and immediately thought back to all the horror movies I had ever watched in my 10 years of life and realized that maybe this is how I go out; maybe my time comes at the hand of the Antichrist that’s taken the form of a teenage girl named Keesha that was just feet away from where I stood.
The staff did not care about my tears, they did not care that I was being threatened or that I might actually lose my eyeballs tonight. Instead, they sent me to my room and said not to come out unless there was an emergency. As I walked back down the hall to my room I couldn’t help but wonder what the heck an emergency was if this wasn’t it!
When I returned to the room I stood outside and reached through the cracked door to switch the light on before letting the rest of my body enter. I fully expected Keesha to be laying down facing the wall asleep, as if the staff was right and I was overreacting and what I heard didn’t actually happen.
Hoping the trauma of heartbreak I’d endured those first few weeks in the system was the contributing factor to my hysterics, I was shocked walking into the room to see; sitting upright on the edge of her bed, as straight as a board, Keesha staring at me dead in the face.
She reached her foot towards the door and kicked it shut. Still standing I could feel every crevice of my body sweat. Before I could think of what to say or do she was on her feet charging at me. No noise was made as she backed me into my own bed. Standing over me with her knee wedged between my legs, we locked eyes as she said “you see this?” holding up an earring already removed from her ear. “I swear to God if you go out there again I’ll shove this earring into your eyeballs and take them out myself”.
Now, maybe If I was brave, or even more callused… Or maybe if I got suspended last year for more than a silly rap written on a piece of paper, I would have been able to say ‘yes ma’am and stopped my body from shaking. Or maybe I could have decked her in the face as fast as she knocked me on my ass but I was not in control of my body or my voice.
I screamed so loud I thought for sure the fire alarms and sprinklers were going to start blaring sirens and spraying water. Cuffing my hands around my eyes, I screamed and screamed and screamed.
Within seconds the staff were at our door. I opened my eyes to see Keesha lying quietly in her bed with her front towards the wall and head covered. Crying, sweating and tripping over my words I screamed at the staff while pointing at Keesha across the room. Every word that came out of my mouth was accompanied by a sobbing scream.
By this time, multiple youth were standing outside their rooms trying to see and hear what was going on. I begged the staff to do something, anything! What was concern on their face when they first arrived had turned into annoyance. I knew they were going to try and leave me with her again as they began yelling to match the pitch of my hysterics. I was told I was being manipulative and I needed to stop “or else…”
In that moment I pictured my brother strapped to a bed and wondered if that’s what my fate held if I couldn’t stop. But I didn’t know how; I was scared. More scared than Id ever been in my 10 years of life. Sure, I’d had a nightmare or two through the years but at least when it was over I could find comfort in the fact that my fearless brothers were sleeping close by or my hero of a dad was snoring in the room just a few feet away.
Before they could get out what would happen if I didn’t stop; I covered my ears, tucked my head as far into my chest as I could, and screamed.