Let’s say you’re a kid who’s small for her age and some other kids who are way overgrown decide it would be the most hilarious thing in the world to shove the new kid in the house into the clothes dryer and slam it closed. I can tell you how to get out of that dryer by kicking and screaming bloody murder so that the foster mom with the bald spot on the top of her head rescues you in front of the entire snickering ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha house full of kids.
I can also give you the complete rundown on the most common varieties of foster parents you’re likely to run into. Like the look-on-the-bright-side ones who go on and on until your head is ready to explode like a potato in a microwave about how lucky you are that you weren’t born a foster kid in 1846. Or the one I nicknamed Miss Satan because she was so evil and I bet she’s still alive because everyone knows you can’t kill pure evil. Or the one who won’t like you screaming bloody murder even when the family dog sticks its nose in your crotch and who says things like, “A little, bitty dog never hurt anyone.”
Oh yeah, well what about The Demon Dog from Hell?
Man-oh-man, I can tell you other things too. Important things you need for survival, not baby stuff.
Like how to jump down and shimmy back up to a second-story window.
And how to kick heart disease in the butt. Scary thought, right? I have the scar right down the center of my chest to prove it.
I can tell you how to slip some quote-unquote souvenirs from a foster home into your pocket without anyone noticing a thing missing.
But there are a few things I don’t know much about. I admit it. Trees are one. In the World of Whitney, that’s just something I never needed to know, so why waste a bunch of words on it? In some places, the people have a hundred different words for something that’s important to them. Like, in Alaska, the people have to have one word for wet snow—say, oogabloga—and a totally separate word for the big flaked kind of snow—like moogablogo.
For me, one word for tree has always been good enough and that word is tree. There are small trees and big trees, trees that stay green all year and trees where the leaves fall off. Those are called decidingus trees because they all decided to let their leaves fall off for the winter. And there was the tree that I used for sneaking out of my sixth foster home after they duct-taped my bedroom door shut to keep me from being a night howl. That means I like wandering around and making lots of noise after dark.
That’s about the whole sum total of it for trees and me.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be heading to Foster Home #12 where there was bound to be some real tree nuttiness going on. How did I know this? I saw a map of California and way at the top, there was no big • (big city) or even a medium-sized • (medium-sized city). Where I was headed, the map was a blob of green with hardly any \\\\\\\ (roads). That meant trees, lots of them.
On a Saturday morning, the social worker from way up north came all the way south to the Land of Concrete to pick me up from my old foster home and take me to the new one. I was in the back seat of her official Department of Children’s Services car. My newest pet pill bug, Ike Eisenhower the Sixth, was curled up in some leaves in a mayonnaise jar on my lap. I was working through a super-sized bag of sunflower seeds—crack—spitting the shells out the window and sizing up my immediate future.
Here’s the way I saw it. There are two true, never-going-to-change facts of life for me. I’m going to die someday. And I am not going to last long in this new foster home. There’s no getting around either one of them. Crack. Especially the second. Crack. No matter how things seem at first… crack. No matter how much the people tell me they want me around… Crack… I’m going to get under their skin like a bad heat rash. Like a rubber band growing tighter and tighter around their throats. Crack, crack, crack!