Norm and Junior Battle–Part 4 (The Finale)

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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Norm and Junior Battle…Part I

Part I of Norm’s story. Follow his life as he adjusts to new surroundings and challenges.


The New Family

I ran and leapt toward the top of the old brick wall and scrambled over just as a shot burst through the gray concrete block, shattering it beneath my hand. Thrown off balance, I fell sprawling on the rough pavement below. Already, blood had been flowing into my eyes from the gash in my head, as I hit the pavement, I could feel the pain as it ripped through my cheek. I turned back as I heard Junior jump toward the top of the wall and struggle to get a grip. I thought jumping the wall might help me a little. Maybe create a delay. At eleven years old, Junior was not a tall kid and the height of the wall might have provided a couple of minutes. It looked like those minutes were reduced to seconds. Junior grabbed a handhold on the brick he just shattered at the top of the wall. The lamplight gleamed off the barrel of his gun as he hooked his elbow over the top of the wall and began to pull himself up. He got to his feet at the top of the wall and took aim.

What the hell? Hopping to my feet, I began to run like death was at my heels, because, really, it was. I still couldn’t believe this was happening. The family seemed so nice. I thought that, this time, I had found what I was looking for. After all the crappy families I had to deal with, I thought I had finally found the normal, storybook family that would take care of me.

“Norm, you son-of-a-bitch, I’m gonna kill you!” Junior shouted as another shot rang out. I have no idea what he was shooting at because I didn’t hear it strike anywhere near me. “This is your fault!”

As I dove behind a car, I thought: Maybe he didn’t see where I went. It was a wish and I knew it. I just wanted this to be over. I wanted to get out of here and find a road and leave this crazy kid and this messed up family behind. I was done with all this shuffling around and never knowing if I was going to end up beaten, used up or just dead. I’m fourteen! I shouldn’t have to deal with all the crap in my life. I didn’t ask for this! I have had too many–

The sharp metallic twang of lead hitting steel sent an electrifying jolt up my back. I looked at the bumper, not even a foot from my head, and saw the smoking dent left by the impact of the bullet.  No more time for self-pity. Junior was flailing to keep his balance as the rebound of the shot unsteadied him. It was only by luck that he didn’t keep his footing. He fell backwards with a scream. Rage covered his face as he toppled to the other side of the wall; a rage very different from the look of awe and hope that I had seen on his face when I first arrived.

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It was not even three months ago, I was sitting on a bench outside of Rebecca London’s office. For a Child Protective Services employee, she wasn’t half bad. She was older than my great-great-grandma’s bones. Her thin wispy hair a dark shade of pinkish-red because she tried to dye it, but her hair was too gray to keep the color. She was as small as a bird. Most people who didn’t know her took care when they walked close to her because they thought she was a frail old lady.

I liked her. She had worked with kids since probably my unknown mother was born. But she still cared. I could tell. All the kids could tell. If anything went wrong or anyone had a problem, Miss London was the person they wanted to talk to. I’m not saying that she was nice. She could definitely be tough. She followed the rules and made sure that all the kids followed them, too. She had a quick eye and a sharp mind that let the kids know that you didn’t try to put one over on her. She could smell a lie when it walked through the door and she knew trouble as soon as the thought of it sprang inside someone’s mind. The younger kids always said she was psychic. But, really, she was just that good with kids

I sat there wondering what I had done wrong. Maybe she really did read minds and knew I was planning on getting back at Rafael for shoving my last pair of pants in the freaking toilet last night after Tomas had used it and not flushed. Rafael was always trying to get to me. Pushing past me at lunch, “accidentally” throwing the football at my head, magically ending up with my pencils during class. It got to me, I didn’t let a lot get to me, but he was so disrespectful. I know. It’s laughable to think anyone here will be respectful. A look past all the uncaring stances and the tough-guy-I’m-gonna-kick-the-crap-out-of-you-if-you-look-at-me-wrong attitude would show that there is a certain level of respect. I learned, early on, to keep my stuff where I can see it (or find it later). Part of survival is finding what you need and taking it; so, I never left my stuff out, it was just too tempting. I, also, know not to piss off the older kids and not to let the younger ones get overconfident. There is an order to things. But there is a respect for how it all goes. Rafael doesn’t care about that. At fourteen he towers over all of the kids. He is about twice the width of most of the doorways and is as solid as a tank. Even though he’s a bit slow, if you end up in his grip you may not escape alive.  I remember one time he had me by the ankle. I felt like a rag doll as he threw me around the dorm knocking over dressers and a couple of the younger kids who failed to get out of the way.

“Norm, please come in.” Miss London was always so polite. When I was younger I used to dream that she was my mom. She would ask me to come to the dinner table and I would come and sit and we would have a polite dinner together. There would be nice porcelain dishes and glasses of milk. I would even offer to clean up after dinner. I loved those dreams.

Inside her office there were three chairs. Miss London motioned me to sit down in the empty chair; a man and a lady took up the other two chairs. I almost groaned but stopped at a severe look from London. Maybe she is psychic. She gave a small smile and motioned again. I smiled despite myself as I sat down in the chair.

Sitting down, all the things Miss London had done in the last week came together in my head. Insisting I cut my shoulder-length shaggy black hair down to a clean cut and short with a trimmed-just-over-my-ears look. Making sure I showered today so my light skin shined just right. Sending me to get my eyes checked with the Doctor staring at my blue-gray eyes as if they might explode. Having me go change after I dropped a little bit of my lunch on my worn jeans. It all made sense. I knew what this was. A meeting.

Everyone here knows what these meetings are. The younger kids…they always look forward to these meetings. They still hope that there is a chance they will meet the perfect parents and they will go off and live a “normal” life with baseball games or dolls, a triple-scoop ice cream (with extra toppings). I don’t hold any of that against the kids. I still want those things, too. But I have been to homes. I have been called in to Miss London’s office with those “parents” who are so eager to choose a kid and raise them and show them how to grow up properly. They have all these dreams, just like the kids, that once they get a kid their life will be happy. They bring the kid home and get him a dog. They show the kid off to their neighbors and family and have barbeques to celebrate the occasion. And then the kid accidentally knocks over a picture. Well, parents need to teach kids the way to take care of things so they smack the kid across the face and make him pick up after himself. When that kid gets a C on his report card instead of an A, well, lock the kid in a closet for the weekend so he will study more. If the kid finds a parent’s stash of pills and powder, well maybe the parent should shove some down his throat so he never does drugs because they make him so ill he wishes he were dead. If a parent comes home completely drunk and horny–

“This is Nick and Sarah Ramsey, Norm.” Miss London said.

“Hey Norm. Nice to meetcha.” The man said, standing up and offering his hand.

I shook his hand and the lady’s hand. “Hello.” I said after getting another look from Miss London.

I realized that the parents were nervous. The man sitting and wringing his cowboy hat in his hands, the lady turning to look at me every few seconds like I was a puppy who might bolt out the door and get hit by a car at any moment. They had a hard time talking, it was so bad. They each stumbled on each other’s words trying to tell me how wonderful their life was and he was a cop and she was an artist, gardener, and whatever else. And then they said:

“We have two other boys. A little younger than you.”

“Why do you want me then?” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. As if that weren’t bad enough, the words were so full of–I don’t know–just this anger. It was like a forest fire had sprung up in my chest and threatened to burst out and burn these two to a crisp. I clamped my mouth shut with a mumbled “sorry” as I looked at the shocked faces. But the guy smiled.

“I don’t know.” The man said. “I, well, I guess I just had a good life. I have Sarah and the boys and, well, I thought we could share that. I’ve seen a lot of stuff, some really bad stuff, as a cop and I thought maybe I could do something besides just busting the bad guys and putting them away. I would like to see some really good stuff happen.”

He was looking at me and the lady was looking at me with these tears in her eyes. If I were a samurai warrior or some bulletproof-vested army guy, I think this would have gone better. But I’m a kid. I heard him and he sounded so sincere. That vision clouded up my mind …eating at the dinner table…brothers…a mom and a dad.

“Could I go to the bathroom?” I asked. Miss London looked at me. Her eyes were searching me, seeing inside my head. I almost ran out when she gave a slight nod.

It was Rafael who gave me the answer I was looking for. I got to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror crying like a stupid three-year-old when the door opened and I heard the familiar grunting of Rafael trying to squeeze his mack-truck frame through the tiny bathroom doorway. I quietly bolted into one of the stalls, locked it, and nearly jumped on top of the toilet seat. I took long, slow, quiet breaths and wiped the tears from my cheeks. All I needed was to walk out of here with wet toilet paper shoved down my pants or stuck in my ears. I could hear him thumping through the bathroom and going into the big stall and shutting the door. I sat there waiting for him to sit down before I could escape when it hit me.

Here, at The Kennedy Center for Children, there were all these kids and adults that I had to contend with. I was always watching my step with every new kid who walked through the door. I was not the biggest kid around and I was almost always the first one the new kids decided to bully. It wasn’t because I couldn’t defend myself; I’m actually a pretty good fighter. It was because I look like an easy target. I’m so small that people just think they can take advantage of me.

And then there is Rafael. For some reason he has it out for me. He would be happy if he could tie me up and hang me as his personal punching bag. I was finished with this. I could not live scared anymore.

I unlocked the door with a new purpose. At least at this new house I would only have four people to contend with. If the parents sucked then I would just leave. I would find another way to make it in the world. I was just done with being a victim all the time. There was no noise coming from the big stall so I walked stealthily out the door and headed back to Miss London’s office.

The Ramseys were filling out paperwork so I guess they hadn’t given up on me. I walked back in and they were all smiles again. I smiled back this time, though I’m sure my eyes were puffy from all the stupid crying. The man and lady took turns signing papers and patting my back or ruffling my hair. I had been through this before. This time, though, it seemed more–real. Maybe this was the storybook ending the little kids always hoped for.

I squashed that thought like a bug. This was an escape plan. I wasn’t going to be taken off guard. I may not be a samurai, but I was putting on my armor and it was not coming off. After I had been with them for a while, if things were going well, I would re-assess the plan. For now, these parents were my ride out of this life.

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