Junior was climbing back over the concrete wall after falling on the other side. Frantically, I looked around for some way out of here. We had run all the way to Old John Bank’s garage. There were a few cars out here to hide behind but, unfortunately, the tools were all locked up. An 8-foot block wall surrounded the yard with the gates closed and locked up tight. I was trapped.
“You made me kill my dad.”
“Junior, I didn’t mean to do anything.” I shouted at him.
“You’re right! You didn’t do anything! You were supposed to make them happy. They kept fighting and kept fighting and then–then they said they were going to find another boy and we would all be happy. YOU. DIDN’T. MAKE. THEM. HAPPY! And now, now he’s dead!” rage and fear were painted on his face like a second skin, and, then, I got it. I understood.
I understood Junior more clearly than I had ever understood anything in my whole life
“I wasn’t replacing you.” I shouted out. Another shot rang closer to the car I was behind. “I could never replace you. And none of this is our fault. It’s not your fault!”
“I–You–They were going to be happy. Because of you.
“No! They can’t do that! You can’t do that. This isn’t my fault either! I didn’t do this. You didn’t do this and Phillip didn’t do this. It is not us. It is not our fault, Junior.” He was getting closer. I could feel it. But I could also feel him turning this around in his head; I just had to make him see.
I stood up.
This was a dumb move. Junior was not even ten feet away and he turned toward me and fired. The bullet punched through my shoulder, sending me flying to the ground. I screamed as pain rushed through my whole body and all I could do is writhe around on the ground cradling the wound with my other hand.
I thought I could talk him down, but he walked towards me and was pointing that barrel right at my head. I couldn’t move. There would be no running or ducking now. I had no place to go and I knew that I was going to die. I was going to die in this dirty garage with a bunch of junky cars and my death would be a perfect match for my life. A big nasty mess surrounded by mounds of broken and busted junk. But I found I couldn’t give it up. This life sucked but I couldn’t let it go. Lying there with my strength fading, the effort to stay conscious weighing down on me. I struggled to speak.
“It’s not us. We didn’t do this.” I said with my voice shaking.
“It is us. I couldn’t stop them and Phillip just made it worse with all his talking and they kept fighting and then, and then they said you would make them happy.” Tears were streaming out of his red eyes. his hands were shaking, the grip on the gun loosening. “They said that we would help you and there would be happiness in our home again. Not–not this. I didn’t mean to–” Junior broke down and the gun dropped to the ground.
“Junior,” I said as I felt a hazy darkness closing in on me, “We can’t help them. They are the adults. They make the problems and we can’t solve them. We can only try not to make those mistakes. They are still good. They still love each other and you and Phillip. Even if I were blind I could see that you all are a family. We can’t help them, they have to help us. They have to be there to show us what is right and wrong. And adults–Parents–they fail. But your parents try and try and try or they wouldn’t have gotten me. They are trying hard but it’s not our fault.” I knew I should be scared, or screaming, or trying to get away, but I just held out my hand toward him and he looked at me with tears streaming down his face.
“I shot my dad. That’s my fault.” His face fell into a look of despair
I grabbed onto his hand and squeezed. I suddenly understood what a parent, a brother, a family was supposed to be. Not perfect, but always there.
The darkness grew and sucked me in.
Things took awhile to get worked out after Junior lost it.
People had heard the shots and found Junior screaming for help and trying to stop the blood from my shoulder. I was taken to a hospital, where I stayed for a couple days until they moved me to a hospital close to the Kennedy Center. Miss London showed up almost every day around six-thirty. She would check to see if I was ok.
People from the state kept visiting me and asking questions.
“Did the Ramseys keep guns laying around the house?” The man’s eyes would look at me without blinking. He didn’t move much, just sat there stiffly waiting for my answers.
“No, I only saw the gun when Nick came home and went to work, I didn’t know where it was at any other time.”
“Did Junior exhibit erratic behavior?” There was no expression on his face at all. He didn’t care about Junior.
“No, Junior is not a psycho. He was usually nice.” I knew what they were going for. They were trying to find a way to put Junior in jail forever. He didn’t need that; he needed help.
“Did Mr. or Mrs. Ramsey act inappropriately toward you?” The guy said this with a meaningful quirk of his eyebrow.
“That’s gross! No!” What was wrong with these people? Geez!
“Did Phillip every try to harm you?”
“Phillip is awesome; leave him alone.” I didn’t like these guys.
Miss London would always be there to make sure these people interviewing me were letting me have enough rest and to “guide” them out when their line of questioning started making me mad. I told these guys the same story probably five hundred times before they left me alone and stopped coming around. After a week and a half they let me go back to the Kennedy Center with Miss London. Just in time, too, I was about to lose my mind sitting there all day with nothing to do. You can only walk the halls of the hospital so many times. There weren’t many kids around. Plus, it stinks there.
Nick was ok. Miss London got to me after the “incident” and the first thing she told me was that Nick was in the hospital and alive, the bullet shattered some ribs and grazed his lung but he had survived. I was so relieved I started laughing and crying at the same time. Don’t ever do this if you get shot, it hurts! A lot! After the pain died down a little I made her tell me everything.
Junior was in jail, Nick was in the hospital, and Sarah and Phillip were at home and in pretty rough shape. Over the next few weeks they were all being interviewed, too. It looked like, instead of bringing the Ramsey’s happiness, I was bringing them a whole lot of hurt.
I wanted to be there. I wanted to talk to Phillip and tell him everything was, well, not ok, but it was going to work out. I wanted to tell Junior that this wasn’t his fault. I wanted–I wanted Sarah and Nick to tell me this was going to be all right. I know it sounds little kiddish, but I wanted to feel their arms around me. I wanted to sleep in my bed and shuffle around on my Yankees carpet at one in the morning cause I couldn’t sleep. I wanted Sarah to call me down to the kitchen and ask me what would help me sleep better and make me a sandwich or just hang out and talk. I wanted Nick to ruffle my hair and call me “buddy” and take me back to bed so I could get “some shuteye”. I wanted my family back.
“Miss London?” I stood waiting at the door while Miss London continued to write on her paper and enter something in the computer, her thin fingers flying across the keyboard faster than a person should be able to move. I didn’t say anything more, Miss London made it clear that she could hear you when you called her and that she would get to you when she was good-and-ready to get to you.
“Yes, Norm? What can I help you with?” She was still reading the paper in front of her but her hand was pointing to the chair in front of her desk. I sat down.
“I was wondering. I mean, it might be a dumb question…”
“Norm, you know better than that. If you want information, ask a question. Now, what can I help you with?” She was peering at me over her reading glasses, her paper forgotten.
“I just wanted–I mean–When will I be going back to the Ramsey’s?” It was a dumb question. I knew it was. There was little hope that I would ever see the Ramseys again after what happened. And even if some miracle happened and the Center let me go back, I doubt that the Ramseys even wanted to see me. I fingered the bandage over my shoulder. It’s a habit I picked up since the hospital. I quickly put my hand down and looked at Miss London again. She had taken off her glasses and was looking at me intensely, her hands folded in front of her. As always she noticed everything. She knew I was nervous and she knew I was determined.
“Norm, do you want to go back?” She asked. This question surprised me. I was expecting, you know, just a no or something that would distract me so I would stop asking.
“I–I do want to go back, Miss London. I do.” She looked at me again. Her eyes searching, looking through me. She ruffled through a stack of papers on her desk and pulled out a file.
“The Ramseys have been in constant communication with me since the–since you were injured. They are petitioning for custody of you and have made inquiries into an adoption.” She looked through the papers and then looked at me. I wasn’t sure what she meant though.
“Are you saying they still want me?” I asked surprised. “They still want me to stay with them? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m sorry, Norm. I just didn’t want to ask you with everything you have been through. I didn’t want to see you hurt again.”
“Miss London, it was an accident. I’m not saying the Ramseys are angels. They have problems, but I–I want to be with them.” Did I? Did I want to take the chance? I found I did. Things were crazy. I got shot and Nick was shot. Junior totally lost it. But I didn’t care about that. For the first time I felt like I was actually part of something…a–a family. “They’re my family.”
Miss London almost had a hint of a smile. She opened the file and looked at me. “Well, we have some work to do, don’t we?”
It took awhile. There were more interviews. I am sure that the Ramseys were being investigated as if they were invading terrorists. But it happened. Miss London called me into her office and there they were. Nick still twisting his hat as if he was called into the principal’s office for getting in trouble. Sarah nearly in tears. I walked in and fell into a jumble of arms and hugs and tears.
After a few moments, Miss London, spoke. “This will not be easy.” She said. Nick and Sarah both nodded
“It doesn’t matter.” Nick said. “We will do whatever it takes.” He looked at me. “Norm, here is our boy, there isn’t anything that’s going to change that.” I couldn’t talk. No one has ever stood up for me…No one has ever wanted me.
“Let’s get started then.” Miss London said.
“You be good for them.” Miss London said quietly, her arms held me tightly. “They need you.” She let go and ran her hand gently over my head. Her eyes touched the scars on my face and the sling holding my arm. “Be safe.” She added.
“Let’s get going, Norm, we’re supposed to be back before dinner.” Nick said and opened the back door for me with his good arm. He grabbed my bag and threw it in as I turned to look at Miss London.
The Ramseys stuck to it and kept coming to those meetings and talking to the Protective Services people. They wanted me back; they still hadn’t given up on me. Well, I hadn’t given up on them either. We would work this out because that’s what families do, right?
I waved at Miss London and even though she was crying (and I was crying) I didn’t feel like I was leaving my home behind. I knew I was just gaining a new family. I jumped up into the passenger seat, buckled myself and settled in for the ride.