The group home is where I hear Pink Floyd: The Wall for the first time. There are 10 of us. Two teenage girls have their own room next door while the rest of us younger girls sleep in the other room with four bunk beds. The teenagers don’t usually talk to us, except to bum cigarettes or laugh at us for Not Knowing Shit. They dress in black with torn jeans and 80’s hair. They only want to hear bands with 80’s hair on MTV. They’ll ruin our game of Skip-Bo if we don’t let them control the TV. Nancy has the big black hair, and Susan has the teased up blonde. Their laughter is mean and screechy, like metal eating another piece of metal.
I keep quiet and warily study them. There were teenagers where my mom lives, too. They’d hunt us from carport to carport, and if they caught us, they threw us in the dumpsters. So I keep my distance from these teenagers, just in case they also want to throw me somewhere unpleasant.
One day it’s just Nancy and me down in the basement where the foster kids live. I’ve given her wide berth, but she flits around me like I’m a power source she can’t resist. Finally, she’s like, “Hey, kid, over here,” and motions for me to follow her into her room.
I’ve watched Susan and Nancy work magic with their Don’t Fuck With Me faces, and I do my best now to imitate the angry eyes, the “whatever, man” frown. I saunter toward her, not too slow, but not too fast, either. For all I know, Nancy’s in her room waiting to shiv me with a sharpened, un-sanctioned toothbrush.
Their room is smaller than ours and finished in white brick. A dumpy dresser with a boom box sits against one wall, a flimsy bunk bed on another. Nancy waves me toward the bottom bunk. “Here,” she says, pulling back a ratty blanket. She points down at a wet stain on the sheet. “Look,” she says, “It’s cum.”
She waits for my response, head cocked, coal-lined eyes fixed on mine. I sense a make it or break it moment. “Wow,” I say, dead serious. “Impressive.”
Nancy throws her head back and cackles. “We had two dudes here last night, and nobody knows!” She struts over to the boom box and turns it on. Crude rap lyrics tumble out. “Have you heard 2 Live Crew yet? This shit’s nasty.” She jumps around the room and shouts lyrics.
I listen, quiet, as my face turns red. The lyrics are disgusting. So disgusting they’re funny. I giggle, laugh, and after a few minutes, yelling just as loud as Nancy.
Me: Suck! My cock! And I’ll eat yer pus-sy!
Nancy: Eat! My Pussy! Eat! Eat! My pus-sy!
When the tape is over, Nancy looks me over. She flings a Metallica t-shirt from the bedpost to my chest. “Here,” she says, “wear it.” She reaches over to the dresser, picks up an opened pack of Marlboros. Places them in my hand. Appraises me. “Smoke these.” Pauses. “And listen to this,” she thrusts a cassette tape at me and smiles at her own generosity. “Now, get out.” She pushes me into the hall and slams the door. Just like that, I’m banned again.
Late that night, when everyone is asleep, I pull out the lighter and the ashtray the younger girls use to secretly smoke in the house and lay it on my bed. I rummage through my dresser drawer until I find my Walkman.
Back on my bed, I pull out the cassette tape and study the cover. “Pink Floyd The Wall” is splashed like blood across a white brick wall. I put the cassette in and place the earphones against my ears. I expertly light a cigarette—I’ve seen my mom do it millions of times—and suck in. When my eyes stop watering, and I’ve mostly stopped coughing, I hear the first faint lines of a pained, angry voice surmising the next decade of my life:
“So ya, thought ya, might like to—go to the show.
To feel the warm thrill of confusion—that space cadet glow.”