“A Day” by Brandon Gonia
It started and ended a day like all others. The name’s Pete Birkett and today’s just another day. I had to wake up to the alarm clock buzzing in the room like one of those flies you can hear but never see. 6AM. Just like every other day. Wake up to get ready for work, go to work, come home. Don’t get me wrong, my life is not boring. Far from it. Sometimes I wish it was boring so I could get a descent nights sleep once in a while. Sometimes I wish it was boring so I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat ready to scream and wake up the entire apartment complex. Mrs. Rosa would love that. The old hag is already on my case for stomping up the stairs at all hours of the night. I’m sorry Mrs. Rosa that not all of us can lounge around all day in our moo-moos, enjoying a nice cheese puff coma three times a day. Such lovely people around here.
I slide out of my bed and onto the cold uncarpeted floor. The window across the empty room shines in the kind of gray daylight that everyone sees at the very brink of night and day. The transition time. The time where everything black becomes light and everything unknown can now be seen and is not quite so frightening anymore. Not for me. Sometimes I wish the eternal blackness would just swallow up images and pictures and stories and people. Not all of them. Just most of them. I’m not a bitter man, really, but when you see the things I do every day, your outlook on mankind becomes a little raw.
I put on the usual suit and tie and exit my wonderful abode. About 3 months ago, Mr. Johnson in 5B asked me to come by as I was leaving for work every morning and give a knock on his door for an early morning wake-up call. I didn’t ask why. So I go by Mr. Johnson’s room and give it a pound as I walk by and hear no stir in the room as it has been for the last three weeks, every morning. To tell you the truth I’m not even sure if old Mr. Johnson is still alive and kicking in there. Not sure if anybody really knows either. Mr. Johnson’s a creepy old man but doesn’t bother anyone so he’s fine with me. I don’t think anybody wants to check in his room for the body but I still keep knocking.
I have a feeling its going to be a long day so, just for good measure, I give Mrs. Rosa’s door a nice swift kick as I pass by. Good morning sunshine. As I exit the building the stale morning air fills my lungs beautifully, and I respond quickly to chase it with some tobacco smoke. I try to avoid walking on too much trash down the city street but there always seems to be a newspaper or old McDonald’s bag somewhere underfoot.
There’s nothing quite like a city train at 6:30 in the morning. There’s always three kind of people: the three piece suit yuppies that read their newspapers and try to forget they’re sitting right next to the second kind of person: the amazingly drunk and passed out hobo lying in his own vomit. Then there’s the third kind of person. That would me me: the ones that don’t fit into either previous category and can’t stand either of them.
Every morning I find a great pleasure in leaving the train station but only then realizing I’ve arrived at work, passing the sign I pass every morning: “The Mason Child Abuse Center.” Every day I see file cases and photos of reported child abuse cases and it makes me ill. Most employees at the Center have become numb to the violence and utter degrading attitude of humans toward their own young. Knife scars running armpit to thigh, burns from shoulder to posterior; black and blue being the predominant color scheme with some red thrown in for art’s sake. Its quite sickening.
Like I said, most people here are numb to the constant report of abuse. It’s the only way anyone can do this kind of work. Me, I haven’t received the “numbing of the dumb” as some people in the office refer to it as of yet. To tell you the truth I’m not sure I want it. For most people it reduces dramatically the night sweats and daydreams but at what consequence? What about that one kid that couldn’t last one more day because someone wasn’t driven enough to get off his or her lazy ass?
All newbies in the office can be identified immediately. Dark circles under the eyes, little creases of the flesh on one’s face are just some of the indications that they have just started working at Mason within the last six months. If someone lasts a month, they usually stay. That isn’t many, to say the least. Most new employees get stressed out within two weeks and either quit or crack up.
Then there are the old dogs. The one’s that have seen it all. Like my boss: Steve Firchow. He’s been with Mason for eleven years, the most of any current employee. Nothing surprises this guy. I could have a gun to the back of this guy’s head in a homicidal rage while foaming at the mouth and he wouldn’t skip a beat. Steve doesn’t like to talk about his old cases but he gives me a tidbit here and there. He once told me of a mother that beat her child regularly so the child soon became very stressed and withdrawn, very standard behavior. The mother was very angry with her son because he would never smile or speak in the presence of anybody, which is understandable to any rational human being. But the mother became more agitated as time went on and she eventually decided to make her son smile. This woman took a kitchen knife and cut both of her son’s cheeks in an upward motion from the corners of his mouth to each ear. Steve actually had to interview this woman listen to her lies about a kitchen accident. He had to talk to this woman without yelling, strangling or even raising his voice as anyone would have wanted to do, myself included. Steve had to then take pictures of this boy after he died of blood loss, hiding under his bed. This is the kind of thing we do at the Mason Center. This is what I wake up at 6 in the morning for.
That is certainly not the reason to do this job. The blood and the agony is the terrible part of the job. Steve also told me that it was one of the proudest moments of his life when he read in the paper that that mother had been locked in jail for the rest of her effective life. This maniac had been put away because of evidence Steve had gathered and produced for the court to convict this lunatic.
I walk into the white, fluorescent saturated, office and Marie, my secretary, says hello in her usual monotone voice. Since I have only been here about a year, I have the job of sifting through all the letters that kids or “concerned individuals” write in. Very seldom do the children themselves write to our foundation but usually brothers, sisters, cousins, neighbors, or teachers speak up and ask us to help. Every so often a child that is being abused will write us because of one of our commercials or flyers he or she has seen. My job is to go through the vast majority of these letters and determine the urgency and legitimacy of their letter. Every now and then a false letter will be sent and it is my job to find these and determine if they are legitimate complaints or not. If the letter is from the so-called abused, the vast majority of the time it is just a child complaining about their parents for stupid reasons. We cannot waste our time on issues like these. I took a long training course on how to determine these letters. If the subject in the letter is the so-called abused and specific accounts of abuse and neglect are noted then the letter is most likely a prank or ruse. This is because children of abuse are so afraid of their abusers that they are very unlikely to send us a letter much less recite the specific events of the abuse. Anyway, it’s a very involved procedure that includes mass amounts of very dramatic and heart wrenching reading in any case. I am to then pass the letters and what I have derived from these letters to a case worker: one of my superiors, more experienced and have most definitely been touched by the angel of numbness, not by choice of course but by necessity. Guess that proves Darwin right then huh?
This particular morning I walked into my equally white and florescent drenched cubicle and immediately saw a letter on the top of my In box with the irregular handwriting patterns of a child. These letters I try to read first out of all because they are usually the most urgent or the most useless. I sit down on my leather- padded chair with a slight squeak and the day begins. I open the letter, which is curiously yellowed from abundance of saliva on the back of the envelope and aging of the letter. This tipped me off immediately as urgent because first of all the writing is obviously in a child’s script, and the yellowness of the letter shows that it has been kept somewhere for a relatively long period of time. A child with a difficult lifestyle will do this because he or she will not be able to have the letter delivered immediately as the parent will check and recheck the child for any foreign objects or marks in order to mask the parent’s abusive nature from society. These are the kinds of things I’ve learned in my training course. Fun stuff huh?
The letter read as follows:
”Dear Mason People,
I don’t know if you can help me but if you can it would be nice. Whatever you do please don’t take me away from Mother and Father, they would be ever so angry and it would make me sad. I don’t like it here though. Maybe you could talk to them and ask them to be nicer. Just don’t tell them it was me that told you they were hurting me. I don’t like it in my room, it isn’t a nice place. Mother and Father keep me in a dark room with only one tiny window at the tippy- top that I can’t reach or see out of. Some of my brothers helped me get this pen and paper and they hope that someone can come and help us in some way. Some of them even are thinking they might want to leave Mother and Father. If father finds this letter then he will come in here and hit me with his black stick again. When Father hears one of us being bad he comes in our room and hits us with his big stick until we be quiet. If we bleed on the floor then Father makes us clean it up. It doesn’t taste very good. I don’t like it. Please help Mother and Father so they aren’t mean anymore.
This is how the letter ends. I quickly recheck it for a return address or phone number of any sorts: nothing. This is very curious. A letter from the child himself citing specific abuses will be disregarded very quickly but there’s something about this letter. Frederick huh? Frederick doesn’t mention us giving him help specifically, and possibly him away from his parents seems to hurt him. Very typical of an abused child, his blind and innate love for his parents sets him apart from any rational understanding of his own well-being. All this technical crap aside, I have a feeling this is a legitimate cry for help, and a blatant one at that. The complete lack of address or phone number is an instant tip off. Frederick was either too absent minded being a child to include some contact info or is too afraid to. Look at what these people to this child! I’ve never heard of anything so vile. Licking up his own blood for God’s sake. No, God has nothing to do with these people.
Damn it. There is absolutely nothing we can do until we hear from this kid again with some contact info. I can file it as urgent but that won’t do too much good until we can find little Frederick. Frustration is my least favorite emotion. This is why it’s good not to have to feel anything for these poor kids. Ah shit. “Marie, could you get me a towel and some band-aids please?!” I’ve broken the skin of my palm with my fingernails again. I have to stop doing that.
Noon. Lunchtime. I’ve done enough work today to tell myself it can all get finished when I get back. I know it won’t. Feels good to say so though. As I’m leaving I notice another yellowed envelope that was slipped under the office door. I pick it up gently and read the front, it reads simply, “Mason Child Abuse Center.” I quickly tear the envelope open at once recognizing the handwriting: Frederick’s. Damn it.
I scream at everyone and anyone out of frustration: “Mertle! Mertle! Did you see who put this under the door?! When did it get here?! Anybody?! God Damn it! This is important! Pay attention! WHERE DID THIS COME FROM! WHO DROPPED IT OFF!?”
My tantrum only receives blank stares and half assed shoulder shrugs office-round. I run back to my desk and quickly tear the letter open. Yes. It’s the same handwriting as Frederick’s letter earlier this morning. Where in the hell did this thing come from? The letter reads as grotesquely and heart wrenching as the first:
I wrote you before but I don’t know if you got it. This is the last letter I’m going to be able to write you because this is all the paper I have left. I decided to write you another one today because I can’t go anywhere. My legs aren’t working too good today. Father caught me climbing up to see out my window because it gets ever so dark sometimes in here. Sometimes I just like to sit in the little square of sunlight on the floor that is coming from the window and pretend I’m playing outside with all the birds chirping. I thought I could get up to see out of the window to look at the really big ice cream across the street. I like to pretend I’m eating it. It makes me less hungry and my tummy even stops making funny noises some times. Father went to take me to see Mother yesterday just like he does every week. I don’t like seeing her. She makes me cry. Father took me down the big hallway and into Mother’s room where she is always waiting for me behind her desk. She told me if I don’t stop misbehaving they are going to have to bring the hose into my room again. That makes me unhappy when they bring the hose in my room. They spray me with it and leave water all over the floor so I can’t get into any trouble. Sometimes Mother is nice to me and even gives me some bread when I see her but she can be even worse than Father sometimes. Mother doesn’t hit me though. She just talks to me. That’s even worse sometimes. I have to hide this. I think they’re coming.”
End of letter. That’s definitely Frederick. How did he know my name? How did the letter get here? A concerned party must have delivered it for him. Why didn’t they come forward with some information though? Damn it. These people always have to make things harder. Alright. No deliberate intention of current address but a big ice cream cone… what could…oh my god. The Tasty-Freez on Ashford street. It has a massive ice cream on the roof for advertisement. I’ve got to move on this now. Screw the caseworkers: I’m going myself. The letter was addressed to me personally so I can’t get fired for it and obviously everyone is too busy with his or her own affairs to notice a letter being slipped under the door. How did this kid get my name?
I tell Marie I’ll be out for the rest of the day hop in a company car. These things are terrible. They all reek of smoke and cigarette burns, like the guys using the car can’t keep their butts in their hands. How in hell do you get a cigarette burn on the ceiling? That takes talent. Alright. Now where the hell is this place….. you have to love how people drive in this city, any city. Someone will cut another off and screaming ensues like the person that got cut off has never done the exact same thing, probably hours if not minutes earlier.
Tasty-Freez. Here it is. I park the car here and look across the street. Nothing. No house at all. Wait. At the bottom of that building is a small window facing right here. That has to be it. That’s not a household though. What is that place? No better way to find out than to get a close up look.
We call the people at the Center caseworkers but they’re more like spies. Before any interviewing is done a thorough search of the premises must be done. The best part is its all legal. Caseworkers can delve into your life and back out again without anyone knowing but themselves. The law can’t do a thing about it. Pretty scary huh? I cross the street and peer cautiously through the window at the bottom of the building. The window is barred and the room seems too dark to even see into. After a minute I see a figure sitting on the ground in the dim square of light that the small window is casting on the wet floor. The figure looks up with bloodshot and sunken eyes as my shadow blocks some of his precious light. The figure is a man with a full- grown beard, soaking wet, and bleeding from various orifices of his body. He looks up at me and drops his head slowly back down to looking at the water covered floor he is sitting on. This can’t be it. This also can’t be legal. Its got to be something. Frederick can wait a day. I hope. Why does this man look familiar? Its strange how one can connect the human condition one is in with any face you choose.
I quickly enter the building and immediately see a sign that reads “Ashford Clinical Mental Hospital.” You’ve got to be kidding me. These people are out of their minds. If I’m lucky I can get the department of heath to close it down within the year, if any of the patients survive the rest of the year. I have to haggle and argue with the receptionist to give me that particular patient’s file. I have specific credentials from Mason that allow me access to any files I need to solve a case. The bitch still has to argue with me so I have no choice but to get loud with her. After about an hour of debate she gives in and hands over the file.
The file reads:
“Solomon, Frederick. Age: 28. Condition: Child-like pychosis resulting from traumatic child stress and abuse. Symptoms not prevailant until job recently aquired and terminated at the Mason Child Abuse Center. The patient exhibits symptoms of…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..”
Frederick. This is Frederick. Little Frederick. Little broken Frederick. Big broken Frederick. The sad thing is I don’t even remember this guy. He’s just one of the many that come and go in a place like ours. It hurts to see something like this but it doesn’t shock me. That’s bad. The numbing process has begun I guess. There’s nothing at all I can do here. This is a private asylum for the insane. They signed themselves in and agreed to any treatment that was deemed necessary. Now that I see this I wonder, how much good are we actually doing when it all eventually comes full circle like this? And it always comes full circle.
I get in the car at the Tasty-Freez, the only symbol of hope for poor old Frederick. I head back to Mason fill out the investigation termination papers as the gray daylight that everyone sees at the brink of night and day envelopes everything. It started and ended a day like all others.