There is a period of my life of which I do not speak. While watching something on Netflix tonight, I was reminded. The story was about a kid in foster care and the scene was a conversation wherein the kid had critical information, but wasn’t willing to talk because he just knew it would mean he’d go right back into the system and lose the family he finally had found.
The writer’s of this episode got it precisely right. Even as they missed a lot. It’s the little things that make the difference between feeling empathy and actually feeling it. Hard to explain, but I’ll try, because this is the last bit of shadow and I reckon I should stop toting it around.
The sentence that triggered me was about garbage bags. The lead was telling this little boy about garbage bags and how they never let you pack in suitcases. In the scene, the kid chokes and cries and nods agreement and talks about how the kids at school make fun of him because he smells like garbage bags. I never thought about that. I never smelled it. No one ever made fun of me for that. There was more than enough fodder otherwise; they never needed that one.
But yes, garbage bags.
It was always garbage bags; they may as well tell you that everything you were and everything you had was garbage. Why would they spend any time thinking about how you felt to forever haul your life from one house to another in garbage bags? How it felt to arrive somewhere, on a stranger’s doorstep, and do so announcing to them that you were just another piece of garbage that no one else wants and oh, look, everyone knows it… which is why they never let you pack like “normal” people from “normal” families. It always felt like some secret code to make sure everyone knew and you could never hope to get away from the horrible, ugly, lonely truth — you were unwanted. You were nothing; less than nothing; just… garbage; something to be toted only as long as you had to; something that was always a relief to be able to dump on another doorstep.
At the children’s home, even our holiday presents arrived in garbage bags. I remember very clearly coming back, year after year, from the holiday dinner to a hallway lined with garbage bags containing donated presents and those that we picked from catalogs; the passbook savings accounts handed out just after Thanksgiving and we got to pick what we wanted out of Sears and JC Penny catalogs. But it always arrived in garbage bags.
We ignored it, of course. Pretended it didn’t matter. Dug into wrapping paper and presents and, for a time, forgot. I just realized something; I never buy those black garbage bags. I always buy the white ones. What an odd thing to suddenly realize.
I am calm. History is history and garbage is garbage, but neither of these are me.