Chapter 21

Fortunately, I was wrong. In less than two weeks, all of us were gone, every girl in the entire place… but by then, it was too late. I don't think any of us have ever left New Hope in our minds- not completely…

The next day Adam and Aaron and Leonora got us up at normal time, and made us carry out a normal day's schedule. If you think it was easy to run three miles after seeing Claudia dead in a hysterical Ursula's arms, if you think we could bear their yells and insults, you are obviously someone who has never had to go through such pain.

They acted toward us as if nothing had happened, as if they had no knowledge of Claudia's death. But they had to… I had seen the way they'd flicked little glances at each other when they thought I wasn't looking, seen them ignore the fact that all of us were cuddling close in our beds- lesbian behavior, of course- and that Anah and Claudia's bed was empty. They made no mention of Claudia at all, as if they were trying to make us forget her.

I know someone at New Hope eventually called Claudia's parents and told them she had died. What I don't know is when… it could have been the day after, the next day, even a week later, for it was ten days before we were all released. What I do know is that they believed whatever crap story the staff told them- at first. Who knows what the aids said- "oh, 65-pound Claudia attacked 220 pound me, so I had to force my big fat hands around her skinny neck and choke the life out of her in self-defense"? I doubt it- whatever they told Claudia's parents was plausible enough that they believed it- until the coroner told them otherwise.

Of course, I don't know any of this because I witnessed or saw it- I was told afterward after everything was over. At least as over as it will ever be for me…

I don't really remember the weeks after Claudia's death. Even after being told what went on, none of it seems like a true memory to me.

I was told that when New Hope finally handed Claudia's body over several days after her death- a stupid move on their part, because it looks guilty to hoard a body a few days before handing it over- the coroner could tell immediately, even a few days later, that Claudia's death may have been accidental, but certainly should not have happened. When he told her parents what he had inferred had really happened, all of a sudden they apparently turned into the indignant, concerned, self-righteous parents they should have been in the first place, before their daughter got killed. They came the same day to yank their other daughter out of New Hope, the one who was legitimately drug-addicted, apparently causing a big noisy scene as they did so. Later, I'm told, they also contacted the police, because within a week they showed up to check out the place and ended up finding all kinds of things apparently illegal going on- even things I hadn't thought about like safety hazards and health codes.

New Hope was closed down, and several of the doctors, including Dr. Long and Dr. Paula, and of course, Bryan and Houston, were arrested. And all of us went home… well, actually, not. We were scattered everywhere- some of us went home, me included, but some of us went to institutions, to rehabs, to other relatives, foster homes. I really don't know for sure where a single one of my ten other roommates are.

They were saving us, I guess, or trying to- but it was too late. By the time they'd gotten us out, we had been there too long, saw too much, had too much done to us. You can't be there in New Hope for months, even years, without making it a part of you, making it engrained into your mind and heart and soul…

I don't even remember the cops coming, or anyone being arrested, any of us kids being taken into police custody. I don't remember anyone's parents coming to take them home. Even Claudia's parents, coming for her body- even mine.

I'm living with my parents again. They're very quiet and concerned about me now- of course, they should be after what they made me go through. I know they feel guilty… they don't yell at me or fight me, and they pretty much let me get away with things. Of course, I don't give them much reason to yell or get mad at me. I'm pretty subdued now.

I'm going to school, but I'm absent a lot. Some days I just can't deal with getting out of bed, let alone going into a group of teenagers and authority figures who can remind me so much of the people at New Hope. I'm doing pretty badly academically.

I'm not doing well, I guess. Some days I don't want to talk at all or even look at people. Other days I have to be around people, I have to be close and touching them, if possible, just to assure myself they're alive, I'm alive, I'm out of New Hope. Sometimes all I can think of is the other girls, and I just cry.

I have nightmares… of Claudia, the other girls, of the aids. I wake up crying, sometimes shaking so badly I physically ache. Even during the day I have flashbacks any time I see a blonde little girl… I picture Claudia's petrified face, her staring eyes…. The angry marks around her neck. Every time I see a girl with colored hair, I see Athena's taped hands and mouth, Ursula crying as she holds Claudia on the floor…. And any time I hear someone being cruel to someone else, I begin to shake, remembering Dr. Paula…

I'm seeing a psychiatrist now. The first time I was told I would have to, I absolutely freaked out, crying and screaming and basically scared shitless. I was certain it would be just like with Dr. Paula, that I would have flashbacks after flashbacks of New Hope. I had to have both my parents in with me for the first two months of sessions before I trusted my counselor enough to go in alone. Even then, I cried and hyperventilated for the first three sessions.

I don't want to remember anything, I just want to forget, to believe none of it ever happened… but I can't. To forget New Hope would be to forget Claudia, and I owe it to her to remember her. As much as I want to not think of her and the other girls, I can't help but wonder and worry about them.

Daniela- was Daniela talking yet? Was she in rehab, or back at home? Was Noelle able to come back into the real world to talk and think about something other than Japan? Had she gone back to live with her strict religious parents, or had they sent her somewhere else?

Tamara- was she getting help somewhere? Was she still clawing at herself, or had she began to cut herself again? Was she with her parents- was she even still alive? It was too easy and painful to imagine Tamara dead by her own hand…

Had Rivkah gone back home? Was she still promiscuous, using sex to feel close and needed by someone- or had her rape turned her off of men for good? What about Rhea- was she back with her insane family? Was Jessa- had they taken her back even if she was a lesbian? And Danae… how were all of them doing, having to cope not only with Claudia's death, but also their own rapes?

Athena… was she angry again, using it as a mask to hide her sadness? Or was she crying, as she had with us? Anah, poor little Anah, was she living with her mother and her boyfriend again? God, I hoped not…

Ursula… was Ursula still as shattered as she'd been? Or had she toughened, put on the imperturbable expression she'd perfected so well? Was she like me, unable to sleep without seeing Claudia's face as she died, as Bryan killed her, without feeling her dead, lifeless body held in her arms? Could she ever go through a day and feel normal, ever?

I doubted it. I doubted any of us could.

I could not make myself feel even a little sorry for Claudia's parents. Sure, they had lost a child- but they had been the ones who had not believed her when she spoke the truth, who sent her away. They still had a second chance with their older daughter- something they did not deserve in my book. I could forgive my parents, for I can admit now how some of the things I did, although not really that big a deal, could have worried them with their conservative lifestyles and mindsets. But Claudia did nothing… Claudia was only twelve years old.

Claudia Lisa Dryden… a name that will not erase itself from my thoughts.

They had sent us there to help us, to cure us… Claudia's parents too. How could they cope with that, knowing that their attempts to cure her had killed her, when there was never anything she needed to have cured in the first place?

I couldn't… but then, it's enough for me to cope with each day right now. Maybe one day I'll be able to feel normal, like a person instead of a victim. Maybe all of us will… but now, that day hasn't yet come.

The end