We were sitting on the bus, flipped over the back of the seat, our little legs dangling, talking and laughing when Amanda's mom pulled her off the bus. I was not sure what is said, even though I had my face glued to the glass window staring them down, but I did know that a few minutes later our teacher was pulling me off the bus and was telling me I was going to be in her group. I made three, the other two little boys were the trouble makers that no one wanted in their groups. I was no longer allowed to be in Amanda's group and I needed to move my backpack from the over head above our seat and move to the front of the bus, away from Amanda. I asked why. I didn't get an answer, but my teacher looked sad.
The trip wasn't as planned. I had butterflies in my belly every time I saw Amanda. She was giving me weird looks, curious glances, and she stuck her tongue out at me. We would pass each other but were never left alone; we were never left to talk. I didn't understand. We had lunch at the reenactment and then when the day came to a close we loaded the buses and headed back to Illinois. In route we stopped at McDonalds for dinner. Thirty kids and chaperones getting off a bus at McDonalds was quite chaotic. I had a five dollar bill and I knew exactly what I wanted, so I was in front of the line. To this day I know exactly what I ordered, McDonalds was a treat for me not something I got often, but when I did I got the two cheeseburger value meal with sweet and sour sauce for my fries. I sat a plastic booth and waited for Amanda to join me. I just assumed she would. We were getting the same thing, we had planned this out.
But she got chicken nuggets.
And she sat with her mom and our two other friends that were supposed to be in our group.
I remember it all like it was yesterday, part of me is that nine year old girl again. Part of me is sitting at that McDonalds with the huge red Ronald McDonald statue next to me, alone in a booth, eating my food. No one sat with me. Not even my teacher. I could have moved, could have joined the others, but I was confused. I finished my cheeseburgers before everyone else had even ordered their food and I asked my teacher if I could go back to the bus.
I went back, grabbed a book out of my backpack and hid behind it. My wall, my escape route, something I had been doing since I learned to read. I was the most advanced reader in the grade, read the most words per minute and my comprehension was through the roof. I scored outside of the charts for the entire school, to include the fifth grade. You see, when I got into books, I really got into them. I became the characters, I drowned out everything around me and I was in the book. That's what I did all the way home.
Gail, my foster mother, asked if I was going to say goodbye to Amanda, and then asked me how the trip was when she picked me up. I think she was expecting me to be thrilled and filled with bubbly chatter the entire way home. I wasn't. Im sure I replied with a "fine." I wasn't the kind of kid to open up. I am still not.
The following Monday I went to school. Amanda passed out invites to her birthday party. The rule was in order to pass out invites in class you had to pass them out to all the girls or all the boys or the entire class. She didn't follow that rule, I didn't get an invite. And she made a big deal out of passing me by. Lunch came, I sat by myself and all the kids laughed at me. I had no idea what was going on. What did I do?
Then recess happened. Amanda came up to me and asked me if I wanted to play. Boy, did I ever. We went to the playground and I was informed we were playing house. The equipment was the house and we each had a role in the family. I was the family dog. I didn't want to be the dog. Amanda put her hands on her hips and demanded, "Do you want to play with us or NOT?" I did. I would be the dog.
I crawled on all four in the woodchips. I barked. And then they started hitting me. And kicking me. And spitting on me. I wasn't just the dog, I was a stray dog that no one wanted. I stood up, tears streaming down my face, and I asked one question to Amanda, "Why?"
"You are a FOSTER kid." She said. The word came out like venom. It was a life sentence, dealt down, a blow harder and worse than any they had given me on the playground. Amanda was holding court now, several other kids had gathered around. "Foster kids are bad. Their parents do DRUGS and KILL PEOPLE. They grow up and do the same thing. I can't be friends with a FOSTER kid." It was done. She made up her mind. And there was nothing I could do about it.
This wasn't an afterschool special, this was real life, and she wasn't rebelling against her mother and the machine but was going with the flow, doing what she was told. What she was told was that I was bad, a criminal, infectious and she couldn't be friends with me anymore.
And I didn't understand.
And I didn't care.
And my rose colored glasses shattered around the ground at my feet.
And I left my innocence on the playground.