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I slam the wardrobe door behind me and slump into the darkness. They will not come for me here.
Here the noise stops. Everything stops, except the thump of my little heart beating out its angry song.
On the other side of the door the hockey stick I unwrapped hours earlier lies snapped in two. Finally the swinging has stopped. The bedroom windows have felt its blow and are sparkling in shards outside on the drive of the children’s home. Football players, film stars and cartoon characters collected and carefully tacked to the wall over months have been ripped to pieces. The carpet is covered. The bare wall left behind looks sorry. A lamp lays crippled in the corner. The clock radio permanently silenced. Everything here is broken.
The rage has found me again. It doesn’t care about the locked doors in my head. It crashes through them all and exposes the small boy sat in the corner weak, scared and alone. Here the snarling and the fighting are useless. The rage laughs at it all. It laughs at the distance growing between me and my mum. We are down to one phone call a month and one visit every three. It laughs at the bitter love twisting itself around me and my brother. We won’t come out of this together.
I keep trying to fight. I put up electric fences and grey concrete towers. I fill the towers with soldiers with guns and spotlights. I station soldiers around the perimeter with attack dogs who pull at their chains desperate to tear anyone apart that comes close. But the rage slips by them all.
I need help, but I am dug in. Social workers see it. They say there are professionals who can help me with letters after their name. I need a break. I need to talk. Even just for an hour, in an office, with a big leather chair and a doctor with a name badge and a smile and ears that listen because they get it and they get you and they know where you are because they know where it gets dark. They let you choose a lollypop from the dish when you leave, but only one. I’ll take two and it will be our secret to keep with the other secrets I need to share with a stranger. But I will not get the chance to sit in that chair and share those secrets. I will carry them myself because requests for help will not get past the ink of my social worker’s brio and the standard issue forms filled out in triplicate.
So I dig in deeper. Pull back further.
Around me other children are digging. We pretend not to see each other. Some are disappearing into darker places. Places that promise to numb, but without telling the whole story. Smokey places. Places of broken bottles and crushed cans. Places for flying and falling. Places where things are given away that can’t be got back.
We are children, but some forget that because we are being dragged beyond our years.
I swear I catch a glimpse of the heels of some making a run for it and I hope they will make it out. I want to follow, but I can’t stop digging now.
Social workers are giving in and giving up. The crush is coming in on all sides. The teachers prefer me outside the classroom staring at walls. The police say it’s not their job. I’m getting into more trouble.
I look back now and see that boy in the wardrobe and I listen to the stories of young people in care and feel like that wardrobe is getting crowded. Outside the pens and voices continue to scratch for help, but some of the words are losing their way and the help that does come is limping and lonely.
Care can load you up with cynicism and I find myself hacking away at it most days. I repeat myself when I say know there are some amazing souls out there doing some amazing work for young people in care, but I dream storms. Storms of change and support for these young people and those helping them. Sometimes it still feels like we’re relying on ripples. The cuts keep cutting, the help keeps halving and all the while this broken record keeps spinning and spinning.
Children will always be resilient. Perhaps too much for their own good. It starts out with innocence and ignorance, but these fade very quickly. More professional help is required out there, especially on a mental and emotional level. You can store a lot inside that if not dealt with, can spill out in all sorts of ways later in life.
I still trace my own scars. I can’t help it. They fascinate me. They mark a path to here and here works for me. Here there is a lot of love. Here people will hold onto me, even when I struggle to get away. Here they will let me dig, but they carry spades too.
I still climb into wardrobes from time to time, but now it is mainly to jump out on my girlfriend for fun. It’s childish I know, but I’m excited about teaching my son that. Who knows we may even find a snowy gateway to lions, fawns and snow queens.
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