KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
CNF Essay: 986 words


by Colleen Kearney Rich

It’s not a good night in group. Sarah has come up dirty on her urine test, and there are concerns her parole officer might “violate” her.

Sarah is a scrawny 16-year-old girl with the straightest blond hair I’ve ever seen and beautifully sculpted nails that her father must be paying for. She dropped out of high school because she “couldn’t see the point of it” and admits that she is lazy.

I know this from other sessions. It has only taken me a session or two to get down the jargon. “Violate” means a parole violation, which could lead to getting “sent downstate” where she would do time.

Patrick’s parents also fear that he will violate his parole and get sent downstate. Patrick has just turned 18 and wants to move in with his mom. He still resents his father and stepmother for redecorating his room while he was in residential treatment. This is a recurring theme.

“We had to,” his stepmother tells us in their defense. “The room was destroyed. There were huge holes in the walls.” She motions with her hands to show us the size of the holes, but we aren’t taking sides.

I try to look sympathetic, and I am careful not to cross my arms or legs in a negative way. Patrick’s father looks like he’s been punched in the chest. He doesn’t want Patrick to leave.

When the counselor asks Sierra about her week, the roundish girl with purple streaks in her hair relates a story involving Skittles and super glue. She is practically whispering down her sleeve as she picks at the real or imagined glue on her fingertips, and refuses to make eye contact with the counselor.

From what I can make out of her monologue, she was bored at the center. She found some Skittles in her backpack and decided to glue them to the cinderblock walls. A woman named Barbara sits beside her, but their body language is very strange. I don’t believe the woman is her mother. I’m not sure exactly what a “center” is, but I am guessing it is an alternative school for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. Or maybe the one of the places they send you when you get kicked out of the public school system. I will have to ask Alex later.

Our counselor for tonight, Maria, actually sounds interested and tries to draw Sierra out about her “sculpture.”

“Did they take it down?” Maria asks in an animated voice. She is a tiny woman with bird-like facial features, wearing this voluminous skirt that engulfs her. She makes me think of Emily Dickinson although I can’t imagine Emily would’ve ever chosen to be a counselor here. Maria uses a little girl voice as if we are all mentally impaired in some way.

Alex is sighing and cracking his knuckles while the rest of us are straining to hear Sierra’s responses. At one point, I kick his shoe. When it is his turn to report on his week, he begins ranting about diagramming sentences in AP English and questions what good diagramming sentences is for anybody.

Sienna’s mother/guardian/friend is murmuring the words “AP English.” I can feel myself cringe and actually scramble around my brain looking for something to throw out there. Did he cuss out his stepmother this week? Did he miss a curfew? Did he lie about something? I come up with nothing. All I can think is: What are we doing here?

Alex is here because he was caught drinking on school grounds. His father, my ex, is paying for the treatment. There are weekly urine tests and another group without parents and individual counseling. I think it is all overkill.

When group is finally adjourned, Alex and I quickly head out to the parking lot. Alex is faster than I am as he hustles to put distance between himself and that room. Patrick has gotten there before both of us and is already smoking a cigarette, leaning against a nearby car.

He and Alex exchange words, but I can’t make them out. They are carried away on the wind. It has started to drizzle while we were in the session.

Patrick nods to me as I approach. I smile and nod in return.

“Tuesday night. Always a good time,” he says and drops his cigarette, crushing it with his boot.

I’m not sure what there is to say so I move toward my car and Alex follows, calling a “see you, man” over his shoulder.

“What’s the deal with Sierra?” I ask as I unlock the car.

“Who knows, who cares,” Alex says.

I turn on the windshield wipers, and we sit in silence a moment. Alex reluctantly tells me that Sierra used to go to the magnet school, the local high school for science and technology that students must compete to get into. Then something happened—that’s the big question mark.

He doesn’t want to talk about the people in group. He wants to act like group never happened.

“And where is Sarah’s mother?” I really want to know. Sometimes I lie awake at night actually worrying about her.

Alex looks thoughtful. I worry that sometimes he tries to protect me when I should be protecting him. I start the car.

“I don’t know,” he says finally. He has been tolerant of my attention to Sarah. “She doesn’t talk about her. Mom, she’s really messed up. She’s been in trouble since the eighth grade. Really messed up.”

“Drugs,” I say as I glide out of the parking space.

“No, she was in trouble before she started smoking pot. First time she was picked up by the cops was for stealing puppies.”


“The neighbor’s dog’s puppies.”

“What was she going to do with them?”

“Exactly,” he answers.

I shiver and tell myself it is because of the rain.

Colleen Kearney Rich
Issue 1, Fall 2014

One of the founding editors of the literary magazine So To Speak: A Feminist Journal of Language and Art, Colleen Kearney Rich is currently a reviews editor for Literary Mama. Her writing has been published in the Washington Post, Phoebe, Minerva Rising, and the anthology, Amazing Graces: Yet Another Collection of Fiction by Washington Area Women, among others. She lives in Virginia and is at work on a novel.

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