A Masterpiece

“You’ll never guess what happened to me today! I was raped!” She said this gleefully. “But they gave me a shot in the leg so I don’t get HIV and a pill so I want to move on.”

“But I thought you went off birth control because you wanted to make babies with Joe (fake name)?” I asked, my blood boiling. “The staff says you’ve been planning for weeks to run off and have sex in the woods with him. Did he really rape you? Were you scared? Why do the tapes show that you came out of your room three times to use the bathroom? You could have told the staff this kid was in your bedroom.”

She paused a moment. “Well, I can’t lie. We did plan this, but I didn’t know it was gonna happen last night and still it’s his fault.”

“But you said you wanted him to have sex with you.”

“Yeah, but sex could mean anything.”

“Okay, so what does it mean to you?”

“It means I take his penis and put it in my vagina.”

My mind was racing at this point, but I had to stay calm. A boy with a 55 IQ was about to find himself in cuffs and then jail.

This boy is 18. The detective had already called me to share the details he’d scribbled down from M during his interview with her.

“We always have to take rape charges seriously … ” He was feeling me out. “But I have to say, the story isn’t really holding up.”

When I said I believed the incident was consensual he sighed in relief. “The social workers and nurses at the hospital were ready to lynch this boy and were coaching M to say things that would destroy the boy’s life.”

I agreed to come to the station to make a statement about M’s history of making false accusations after getting the call from M. I’ll leave out the disturbing details that she told me and the detective, but she basically admitted that she told the authorities lies because it was easier for her, and she didn’t want to get in trouble.

“So you didn’t mind that Joe would go to jail after you told him you loved him?”

“I’m dating someone else. I don’t love Joe that way. And why are you being such a fucking bitch?”

The charges were dropped. The staff members who were supposed to do bed checks (opening the doors every so often to make sure the kids were where they were supposed to be) hadn’t made any checks at all. They were given a slap on the wrist. Supposedly they did knock on M’s door once when they heard a weird noise, but M called out, “Everything’s fine!”

The detective told me that in the past a staffer at another facility actually wanted to be the “cool” worker and allowed the kids to have sex on his watch.

I dreaded M’s weekly Zoom therapy because I felt so annoyed at her and the staff.

M was wearing the new clothing we’d given her for Easter and the makeup too. I was mesmerized by the way the sun fell across the room she was in. The walls were a sort of renaissance teal that made her eyes, circled in dark eye shadow, and her sienna sweater pop. The light softened and enhanced her features as she rode the emotions of anger, regret and pride. She said when she turned 18 that she would never speak to me again, but then sobbed about wanting to come home.

“I wonder if you’re saying you don’t ever want to see Mom again because you’re afraid she doesn’t want to see you anymore,” the therapist said softly.

“Mom, I love you!” M cried, wiping her nose on her sleeve.

“I love you too,” I said with a soup of emotions.

It was quiet for a minute.

The therapist spoke first. “I gotta say, and this is totally weird, but if we could capture the way you look right now, M, the way the lighting is … you look like you’re in a painting. A masterpiece.”

No matter how M moved before that light, how she yelled and cried and blamed, it was true. She was a masterpiece for that hour, and it was impossible to look away.

How can life be so cruel? This masterpiece, so damaged and dangerous, trapped in the basement with other forgotten and damaged masterpieces, pulses still with yearning and deep sorrow. The canvas she races across is three dimensional, not just flat paper and insane stories that catch a viewer’s eye for a few seconds. She’s not a few months’ work before an easel to be forgotten. But that’s how it feels to her. Made and thrown away, shoved in a box, crumpled, deserted.


4 responses to “A Masterpiece”

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