My first weekend on Geneva Cottage I was kept in my room except for meals in the dining room. I felt so isolated and forgotten hour after hour with nothing to occupy my time. Molly had given me a crochet hook and small ball of string but I didn’t know how to crochet so I sat there thinking of my brothers and sister. I began to cry wondering who was helping them get ready for school and who was fixing their oatmeal. My little sister was afraid of the dark I needed to be with her in our room so she could sleep and my brother always waited for me to tell him when it was time to walk her to school, my baby brother needed bottles washed and he choked on little things on the floor.

I hated myself for running away if I had just taken another beating and gone to a corner keeping quiet I would be home now with them. The guilt was overwhelming I couldn’t stand being alone with myself. I needed to hear their voices to know they were okay and not getting hit for being bad. If I was there I could take care of them keeping them out of the way. I made another promise to God if he would let me go home I would never run away again.

Monday morning at breakfast Molly told me I would probably see my counselor today and she is the one who can help me get out of here. Smokey grabbed for my toast as she asked “you gonna eat tat?” before I could answer she had most of my food on her plate. Crow talked about her baby and how she lost visits for next Sunday with him because her Mama had brought pictures and she tried to sneak them back to the cottage after their visit. I remember being jealous of Crow because she had her mother to take care of her baby and didn’t have to be consumed with worry about his care. I sat anxiously through breakfast thinking about meeting my counselor and what I’d say to her so she could help me get home to my brothers and sister. I just knew she would understand that I had to be home to take care of them they depended on me to be there.

Soon after breakfast Miss A took me to the laundry and I got a dress and shoes, now I looked like all the other girls and had shoes to sit on my stool outside my locked door at night. When we returned to the cottage my counselor was there seeing another girl. I waited in my room for my turn to see her. Finally it was time to go downstairs and meet my counselor I was so excited to meet her. Miss K met me at her office door and in a soft voice she introduced herself as we walked into her office. She motioned for me to sit down in a chair next to her desk and opened a file from a large stack on her desk. She asked me to tell her a little about myself and what brought me to Geneva, as if I decided to come there on my own. I had practiced over and over what I was going to say to her that would help me get out of Geneva and on my way back to Hoopeston.

Before I knew it I began to cry “I want to go home, I have to go home, there is no one to take care of my brothers and sister.” Miss K sat in silence and listened to me repeat myself through uncontrollable sobbing. In the same soft voice she spoke “Brenda you can’t go back home again we will need to find other placement for you, your mother has given your brother and sister to the state.” I remember not understanding what she was saying, “the state” what does that mean? Where are they? She told me she didn’t know where they were but they would be placed in foster care or a children’s home somewhere in Illinois. She told me my baby brother would stay in the home with his father and my mother. These words coming out of her mouth was beyond devastating to hear.

This was all my fault why did I go to school that day. I was told to stay home and I seldom went to school after a beating but, I wanted to play, after all, this beating wasn’t as bad as the last one. I had missed over a week of school after the last beating when my collar bone was broken and the old neighbor lady took me to her doctor telling him I had fallen out of her tree. The old lady knew my stepfather beat me. She had seen me several times run through her yard trying to get away from him, but on this day I ran up her tree. My stepfather reached up into the branches of the tree and pulled me out by my heels. I hit the ground instantly feeling the pain from the forceful fall. My stepfather must of seen the old lady watching because he only kicked me once in the back telling me to “get home now” before he walked away. I remember I couldn’t do my work without sharp pains across my back and when I told my mother it hurt she just told me “next time you won’t have to be told twice.”

It was when I couldn’t get out of bed three days later to help my brother and sister get ready for school that my brother went next door and told the old lady his sister was hurt. The old lady came into my room carrying my baby brother and helped me get up taking us to her doctor and telling him I had fallen out of her tree. She didn’t tell the doctor I was pulled out of the tree then kicked nor did I. After all it was my fault I didn’t always listen and do what I was told. When my stepfather and mother seen the brace the doctor had put on me my mother slapped my face for bringing attention to myself. I was bad again I couldn’t seem to do anything right. So I took off the brace making it easier for them to ignore my pain.

The next week I was hanging clothes on the line with my baby brother playing with the clothes pins next to me when I looked down he was gone. I called for him and looked for him but couldn’t find him. I went in the house to wake my mother and tell her. She was so upset with me yelling and calling me names when some strange man brought my baby brother to the door saying he was in the street. That day she beat me with her fist and that night when my stepfather got home from work he pulled the cord from the lamp and hit my back and legs with it then choked my neck for letting my baby brother get in the street. I’d had enough. I hurt everyday from their abuse and I tried so hard to be good and do everything I was told. The next I went to school. I was taken to the principal and he asked me where the purple marks around my neck came from. I remember willingly telling him my stepfather did it and then showing my teacher the welt marks on my back and legs from the light cord he hit me with.

Miss K was talking to me but her voice was muffled I couldn’t make out what she was saying. My chest hurt it felt like a belt was tightening around it and I couldn’t breathe my ears began to ring and get hot. The next thing I remember I was laying on Miss K’s office floor with a guard and Miss A standing over me. The guard took me in the car across campus to the Dispensary where the nurse looked me over then put me in another locked room to wait for the doctor to come see me. As I sat there waiting for the doctor I tried to cry but the tears that so easily filled me eyes these past few weeks were gone.

I sat there remembering the day the Principal called the police to the school and I knew there was going to be trouble for me telling on my stepfather for hitting me. I was going to get the beating of my life this time. I saw the police car park in front of the school then the woman and policeman get out of the car walking in the school. I asked to go to the bathroom. I was told to hurry and come right back but instead I ran out the side door and down the street not knowing where I was going just that I had to run fast and far away. I ran across the railroad tracks to the other side of town and sat in the park till I saw school buses drive by and kids walking home from school. I kept walking up and down the streets not knowing where to go just that I couldn’t go home. It was getting late I could smell food cooking in the houses I walked passed and knew it was time for my stepfather to be home and I was going to get it for not being there and really get it for telling the Principal what I did. I’d walked till it was almost dark and I had been up and down all the streets on the other side of town. I knew if I kept walking I’d be spotted and sent home so I looked for a place to hid.

I seen some boys putting their bikes away in a garage along the alley and waited for them to go in the house before entering the garage. That night was a long cold sleepless night as I laid on the dirt floor planning what to do next. I saw the sun come up as the noises as the town began to come alive. I was safe I had made it through the night a little dirty and getting hungry but,I was okay. I stayed in the garage watching out a crack in the door for the boys who put their bikes away the night before in this garage to leave for school. It seemed all quiet when I turned one of the bikes around and headed out the open door on it. I peddled fast heading for the highway till I realized when I got there I’d be spotted for sure. Turning the bike around I decided I would ride down the railroad tracks where no one could see me. It was hard peddling the bike over the rocks on the tracks so I went back to the streets this time heading for my side of town.

I knew a friend at school who’s mother and father worked and she was at school so I went by her house hiding the bike in the bushes then looking through her front door to see if I was right and no one was home. The doors were locked and the windows were too big to lift so I walked around back and seen a low basement window open. Pushing the window down I was able to slide my body through landing on the fancy washer beneath it. I went to my friends room and was shocked to see her closet filled with clothes on hangers and all the toys in her room, was this all hers? I felt so dirty and was getting hungry. Hurrying I pulled off the dirty dress I was wearing throwing it under her bed and put on a pair of her pants then a shirt. I washed my hands and face in the bathroom and went to the kitchen, it was so clean. The cabinets were filled with all kinds of food and the fridge didn’t have a bicycle inter tube over the door to keep kids out of it. I wanted a bite of everything I saw in the fridge. I took a bottle of pop and made a peanut butter sandwich. That was the best sandwich I ever had so I made another one this time wrapping it in foil. I was careful to clean up my mess before walking out the back door.

Back on the stolen bike, I headed for the outside of town finally coming to gravel roads. I stopped at the cemetery and walked pasted all the headstones. I didn’t know anyone that had died before but I looked at the names and pretty flowers on the graves thinking this place would be scary to stay at night. I got back on the bike and peddled down the gravel road. There was no traffic on the back road just empty fields with tractors plowing away at a distance. My legs were getting tired from peddling and I was getting thirsty when I stopped at a little creek to eat my peanut butter sandwich. I tossed most of the crust in the water hoping to see a fish or something come up to nibble on the bread then realized how thirsty I was. I took off again down the gravel road on the bike finally coming to a long lane leading up to a farmhouse. I road up the lane and went to the house asking the lady who came to the door for a drink of water. She looked puzzled and asked where I came from. I told her I was out riding my bike and she said “all the way out here, where do you live?” Knowing if I told her she’d call someone and tell them I was there so I told her it was okay my mother said I could I just got thirsty, then hurried out the door and rode back down her lane to the gravel road.

It wasn’t long till I looked behind me and could see a cloud of dust coming up the road that lady had called the police and they were looking for me. I got off the bike and walked it through a field of dried corn stalks not stopping till I came to the hedge trees where I sat down in the tall grass. I rested there till it was almost dark and knew I had to get some where to sleep. Riding back on the gravel road I seen another farmhouse this one closer to the road and I didn’t see any cars parked in front. I looked around the house as I rode closer to it looking for the people that lived there but saw no one. As soon as I got off my bike two huge dogs came running around the side of the house barking at me. I ran with the bike hopping on it when I hit the gravel road only to have one of the dogs bite into my left leg knocking me off the bike and into the road. I kicked and yelled at the dogs till they went to the other side of the road and laid watch over me as I laid on the other side of the road bleeding and crying yet not taking my off of them. It was almost dark when a farmer came down the road driving a tractor. He seen me laying there and the dogs watching me when he stopped and threw rocks at them to go away. He asked if I was okay and, thinking I was, I told him I was fine however, my bleeding leg told him I wasn’t. He took me on his tractor down the road to the house I had stopped at for water and the lady came running out the door to see what had happened to me.

They took me back into Hoopeston to the small community hospital where I had to give my name and they had to call my mother. After a shot and a few stitches I sat in the waiting room dreading the beating I was going to get when my stepfather came to get me. A few minutes later the police came into the waiting room and said to come with them they had been looking for me. Thinking they were going to take me home I limped to the squad car and was surprised when we pulled up to City Hall. I remember the cop calling my mother and saying “I see, well oh then.”

My stepfather never came to get me nor did my mother. The policeman called an auxiliary lady from a church and she drove me to Danville to the Children’s Home. She was a nice lady. We stopped for hamburgers and cokes for the 25 mile drive. We talked about her kids and the things they did as a family and how she wanted me to go to church “before it was too late.” She told me how God was coming back and we better be ready when he ends the world or we’ll be left behind. I listened to her talk not really understanding what she was saying but I was enjoying the french fries and burger so she could talk all she wanted.

The Children’s Home was nice. It wasn’t very large and all the kids were in bed after I took a bath and went to a room with three other girls about my age. The next morning I woke after all the kids were gone, I ate some breakfast and started missing my brothers and sister so I asked the lady Miss Nita if I could call my mother and tell her where I was. She helped me dial the number and was getting ready to hang up when mother answered the phone in a sleepy voice. I told mother I was in Danville and asked if the kids were okay. I remember her telling me “what do you care running off and leaving them then telling the school lies about us, who do you think you are” then she hung up the phone. I stayed at the Home for two weeks. Each day I looked for my stepfather to bring my mother to see me but they never came. I never had to be told to help with the chores I was eager to pitch in and usually did some of the younger kids jobs.

It was a Thursday morning just after breakfast when I opened the door of the Home to a lady named Pauline H. She asked where the people in charge were then asked “where’s Brenda K” I told her I was and she looked at Miss Nita and told her we’d be on our way now and thanked her. Miss Nita kissed my cheek I could see a tear in her eye when she told Pauline H “she’s a good girl.” Pauline’s reply “aren’t they all?”

Danville was a large town a lot bigger than Hoopeston with a lot of traffic. We parked at the Courthouse and Pauline took me into a courtroom. I sat next to her listening to the man behind the tall desk talk to people in front of him, then he called my name. Pauline stood up and pulled on my arm to stand also then we walked to the tall desk. I didn’t understand what the man was saying and only remember he said “not only is she a run away but there is the theft of a bicycle and breaking and entering a resident, that will do it for placement in Illinois Youth Commission for Girls, Geneva Illinois. He hit the wooden hammer on his desk and I was taken out of the courtroom into a small room behind his desk. I told Pauline I didn’t understand what he had said and she said “Oh I think you do.” We were on our way to Geneva.

It was after dark when the doctor came in my room at the Dispensary first glancing at the uneaten food on my hard plastic dinner tray, then at me sitting on my bed. I don’t remember him saying anything except “you’ll sleep here tonight” then knocked on the door to be let out and he was gone. He hadn’t asked me anything and I didn’t say anything to him. I don’t think I even looked at him. I felt empty, no heart, no soul my spirit was broken I wanted to die. The nurse came in for the dinner tray and handed me a small Dixie cup telling me to drink it. I drank the pineapple juice from the cup noticing a slight bitter taste but said nothing just handed her the empty cup and laid on the bed. She too was out the door and gone without a word. I no longer felt like crying I welcomed the solitude and soon fell asleep. The next morning I had to be woken by the nurse telling me it was time to go back to Geneva Cottage. I saw the breakfast tray sitting there and didn’t remember hearing anyone come in the room to put it there. I didn’t want to get up I wanted to go back to sleep it had been the deepest dreamless night I ever experienced I wanted to escape back into it. Right before the nurse telephoned that I was on my way back to the cottage she handed me another Dixie cup of juice to drink then set me out the door to walk back alone.

Once back on the cottage Miss A told me to go to my room. I didn’t care I walked up the stairs and to my room sitting my state stompers on the stool then sliding the stool out my door and this time I closed my door. I laid on the bed and soon fell back to sleep only to be woken for lunch. I was later than I should of been getting to the dining room and was told to be on time next time. Smokey had helped herself to most of my lunch and Molly was talking nonstop about something she was making in school. Crow kept asking me if I was pregnant saying she fainted too when she was pregnant so I had to be pregnant and she’d help me crochet outfits for my baby. I didn’t answer, I didn’t talk, I didn’t eat. I could hardly keep my eyes open and was hoping lunch would end soon so I could go back to my room and sleep. I slept until dinner not wanting to wake up but knowing I had to follow the rules and go downstairs to the dining room.

At night in the rec room I’d sit quietly at Molly’s feet while she braided my hair and try to keep up with her rapid nonstop talking, smiling and nodding every so often to make her think she had my undivided attention while all along I was thinking of getting back to my room. I stayed in my room only coming out for meals and rec time until Miss K told me it was time to go to school. The next morning I walked back to the cottage from the Dispensary where again I willingly drank the bitter juice dreading the thought of going to school. As all the girls were lined at the door to go to school I told Miss A my stomach hurt really bad I had to go to my room. There I slept till lunch then refused to leave my room to eat. That night at dinner I told Miss J my stomach hurt too bad to eat so I stayed in my room. I no longer cried I no longer felt anything except the desire to be left alone to sleep. I was taken to Miss K’s office the next morning where she told me I had to get with the program and go to school. I couldn’t stay in my room it wasn’t healthy and against the rules at Geneva. No more excuses were going to keep in my room. I had to go to school.

I followed the girls to the school noticing all the leaves were gone from the trees. I wasn’t sure what day of the week it was or what month it was just that it was getting cold and I didn’t want to go to school.

My reading teacher was an older man that kept staring at me as I pretended to read from the book he had given me. His glares and smiles were making me feel uneasy. Every time I looked up at him he was looking back at me. Before the end of school this teacher had come to me asking for my help putting the books away in a closet. I followed him to the closet noticing several girls were watching me as I collected books from the tables. My second trip to the book closet with him he grabbed my arm pulling me close to him then feeling the front of my dress at my flat chest. I didn’t know what he was doing just that he wasn’t suppose to touch me like that. I screamed so loud he pushed me hard out the closet door. I fell to my hands and knees hearing laughter from the girls that were in the room. I ran from the room only to be stopped at the front door by a guard. I told the guard I was sick I had to go to the cottage, he notified the cottage I was coming back.

At the door of the cottage Miss A looked at me so disappointed and told me Miss K wanted to see me now. In Miss K’s office she told me if I wanted to get out of Geneva I had to obey the rules and prove I had change. I remember thinking changed from what? What did they want from me? I told Miss K I left school when the teacher touched my chest. She shook her head saying “Brenda why would you say something like that, you will go back to school and stay there till the end of the day.” I went back to school that day and the following days. I avoided that teacher as much as possible sitting as far away from him as I could. I had no interest in talking to the other girls and they didn’t talk to me only to call me “weirdo” or “fool.” My room had become my refuge, my safe zone where I could sleep and escape this place. After a month in Geneva I was becoming agitated and irritable I needed to sleep more but wasn’t allowed. Now on the weekends when there was no school Miss J removed my sheets and blanket making it harder to sleep when I refused meals. Finally I gave up and started going to meals without trying to make excuses.

One night at dinner Molly’s nonstop chattering was annoying me and I didn’t care to hear another word about Crow’s baby. I don’t know what got in to me but when Smokey reached for the food on my plate as she did every meal, I picked up my fork and jammed it deep in her forearm. All hell broke loose in the dining room with Smokey screaming in pain and the other girls in the dining room threatening to kill me. Crow screaming “she done gone nuts and stabbed Smokey.” Molly saying “I told you Miss J, Smokey was taking her food, I told you so.” In no time there were guards surrounding me dragging me out the door of Geneva Cottage and to Oak Cottage.

Oak was the “hole” where those that needed discipline went to be put in a one piece jumpsuit and locked in a room with a shiny toilet sink combo that was flushed once a day and the water turned on for 10 minutes in the mornings. No hard plastic trays here instead the food came on a paper plate slid under the door. I was still feeling nothing, no emotions from stabbing Smokey and I wasn’t homesick. I welcomed the isolation sleeping the best I could on the coils of the bed frame. Three days later the man that ran the place Mr. Holbeck came to the hole to see me. He told me Geneva wasn’t a bad place to live he and his family lived there on campus. I told him I was going to kill someone if they made me stay in Geneva much longer, he left. The next day I was given my clothes and taken to see another doctor a shrink. This doctor was so nasty all he could talk about was boys touching girls and how did the boys touch me and did I like it when the boys touched me, then he touched himself between his legs. I told him I was going to hurt someone worse than I hurt Smokey if he didn’t tell them I needed to get out of Geneva. I felt like I had fallen in a well yelling for help to get out and all these people above me with no one hearing my calls. From this pervert’s office I was taken to the Dispensary and put back in the small tiny pink room I stayed in when I arrived at Geneva. This time I didn’t stand at the window and cry or think I was going to die instead I prayed I’d die. I had nothing to live for.