This is quite an epic first for Epic Reads: a guest blog post from a character of a book! Everyone please welcome Noa Torson, star of Don’t Turn Around, by Michelle Gagnon. She’s here to tell all about one of her firsts — her first time in juvie.
My First Time in Juvie
By Noa Torson
I’m not an idiot—obviously if I’d thought things through, it all would’ve gone differently. I’d like to think that I’m smart enough to have gotten away with it if there’d actually been some planning involved. But instead it was one of those ill-fated, spur-of-the-moment decisions that never turn out to be a good idea.
I was thirteen years old, and had been in the foster care system for more than half my life, ever since my parents died in a car crash when I was six. That’s what brought it on, really. I’d been in and out of The Center, a kind of holding facility for foster kids, ever since. In the interim, there had been placements with foster families, which ranged from the decent to the bad to the just plain ugly.
My latest placement was with a couple who claimed they took in kids because they couldn’t have any of their own. I realized pretty fast, though, that what they really wanted was a bunch of slaves around to do their bidding; the steady check from the government that came with us was a bonus for them.
Don’t get me wrong, the Patricks weren’t as bad as some of the “families” I’d gotten stuck with. They didn’t hit us, or burn us, or lock us in our rooms at night. But there wasn’t exactly a lot of, “Hey, want to throw the ball around before dinner?” or “Let’s have a movie night!” either. Which was fine by me. I preferred it when we didn’t have to pretend to be a family, since we were really just a bunch of strangers thrust together by circumstance.
The other kids were okay, mostly. Two girls and a boy, all a bit younger than me. They’d been there a while and seemed to have adopted a “keep your head down and don’t make waves” attitude that I found refreshing. Together, we kept that house looking like something out of a budget home-and-garden spread. The floors sparkled, there was never a speck of dust anywhere, and the laundry was washed and folded practically before it had even been worn.
Three months in, I was getting comfortable. I’d even allowed myself a tiny spark of hope that I could maybe ride things out here until I hit eighteen and was kicked out of the system. I didn’t harbor any illusions that Joan and Jimmy Patrick were going to be anything like replacement parents. But given the alternatives, they weren’t a bad option, and I’d certainly experienced worse.
That was the mistake I made. They seemed, at heart, to be decent people. A little greedy and self-involved, but decent. So I thought that maybe, just maybe, they’d consider driving me to visit my parents. My mom and dad were buried in a cemetery fifteen miles away. This was the closest I’d ever been to them, and yet since their funeral, I’d never once had a chance to go back. My only memory from that day was of two ominous piles of earth, mounded higher than the surrounding grass, twin scars blighting the landscaped surroundings.
I thought it would be nice to see if the grass ever grew in, and if anyone had ever bothered to put up markers. Maybe drop off some flowers, and say a few words. I was old enough now to do that, and still regretted that during the funeral, I’d been too young and shell-shocked to do anything but stare at what was left of them. I’d checked the local bus schedules, but none of them even went close to the cemetery, and it was way too far to walk.
Of course, the Patricks said no. They were nice about it, but they had stuff to do that day. The next weekend too, apparently, and every weekend after that. It became obvious pretty quickly that what they were really saying was that there was no way they were going to put themselves out for any of us. And that ticked me off. I mean, here I was getting up at dawn to make breakfast and scrub their floors, and they wouldn’t drive fifteen measly miles to spend ten minutes with me at a cemetery? We could be there and back in an hour, easy.
Well, I’ve never been very good at keeping my head down and not making waves. So one day, when Jimmy and Joan headed out to a movie, I decided to borrow Joan’s car. She barely used it anyway, and it was just a battered Volvo, covered in dents; I figured that even if the absolute worst happened, they wouldn’t notice one more.
I took the keys off the hook when the rest of the kids were down in the rec room watching TV, enjoying a few hours of respite from our constant chores. I made it out of the driveway all right. I was tall for my age, nearly as tall as Joan. And the car was an automatic, not a stick shift, so it only took a few minutes to figure out the basics.
A few miles away from their house, I was feeling pretty good about my plan. I knew that the other kids wouldn’t say anything; they’d probably get in just as much trouble for not stopping me. By the time I got there, I’d have this driving thing down; ten minutes in the cemetery, then I’d turn around, park in the exact same spot, and they’d never even know the car had been missing.
It would’ve worked out that way, too, if it hadn’t been for the truck. An enormous moving van, turning the corner to approach me. It was way too big for the small, narrow street. I watched as it set tree branches swaying overhead, my palms slippery with sweat as it came closer, and closer. . . .
I shifted the wheel to the right, trying to allow space for us to pass each other . . . but I wrenched it too hard, and the car veered toward the sidewalk. Panicked, I tried to overcorrect, but that sent me skidding across the street in the opposite direction. I must’ve pressed the accelerator, too, because next thing I knew, the engine was roaring as the car shot over the curb, and a mailbox that had been carved to look like an enormous hunched over gnome was approaching at light speed.
I totaled it. The whole front of the Volvo ended up wrapped around the mailbox, which apparently was no mean feat according to the cop who showed up at the scene about ten minutes later.
Needless to say, Joan and Jimmy were not pleased. There was a lot of yelling, and talk of suing, and they didn’t even let me back into my room to get my things. I walked out of that house in handcuffs, leaving behind what little remained of my personal possessions; all I had left to remember my parents was the jade bracelet they’d given me when I turned six.
Even though I was so young, the Patricks insisted on pressing charges, and I ended up sentenced to nearly six months in juvie. And the worst part was that after all that, I never even got close to seeing the place where my parents had been laid to rest.
When I finally bailed out of the system at sixteen, I used my first paycheck to take a cab there. It was late fall, and most of the leaves were already off the trees. It took a while to find their graves; no headstones, just a couple of really small plaques in the ground with their names on them.
But the grass had grown in, and there was a willow tree overhead, with long branches that swept down above them protectively. I liked that. I sat there for a long time as dusk swelled around me, bringing the cold with it, listening to the silence. It wasn’t a bad spot. And I realized that, in the end, I had nothing left to say to them.
Do you have an epic first you’d like to share? Check out our new Epic Firsts Facebook app!