Meg and I had been enjoying some serious quality time on the couch in VA’s front room when Meg suddenly froze – she’d heard something.

I froze, too, and we both listened. I said, “It sounds like a girl crying,” and as far as I was concerned she could cry herself back to sleep.

But the moment had been ruined and Meg said, “I better go see what’s going on.”

We began dressing, commenting on the crying girl’s incredibly bad sense of timing.

But then there was a loud ruckus in the back of the house and we heard bare feet running across the kitchen floor. Meg and I exchanged a look of extreme alarm, threw on our clothes in great haste and ran to the hall. Three girls in nightgowns and bare feet were running up the front stairs – a place they were never, ever allowed to be.

“Hey!” I hollared.

The girls screamed and fell back against the stairwell wall. They were obviously as startled to see us as we were to see them.

“What the hell’s going on?” I demanded, stepping all over Meg’s authority without even realizing I was doing it.

There was a brief pause and then they all started yelling and crying at once and we couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. “Knock it off!” I shouted at them, “One at a time!” I pointed to the oldest girl and said, “You – what’s the trouble?”

She was crying and hyperventilating and hiccupping but she finally managed to stammer, “We was … we was comin’ to get you, Mr. C – it’s Angie, in the bathtub!”

It took my brain a second or two to get its arms around this piece of information, but fortunately my body was already in motion. I raced to the back of the house and took the stairs three at a time. Outside the second floor bathroom two girls were wailing loudly but I blew right past them and ran to the bathtub at back of the room.

Sure enough, there was Angie, floating in a pool of pink water.

I knelt down and got my arms under her and lifted her out – she seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. As I cradled Angie in my arms blood poured out of her wrists, covering my shirt and pants and pooling onto the floor. Meg rushed into the bathroom, gave a little cry, then shouted, “I’ll get the first aid kit!”

I laid Angie down on the bathmat, which quickly turned red, and grabbed two washcloths. I folded them over and pressed them hard against Angie’s wounds. I was gripping her wrists so tightly my hands were beginning to cramp up, meanwhile whispering, “It’s okay Angie, you’re going to be fine, honey, don’t worry.”

Meg ran back into the room and cried, “For God’s sake, can’t you at least cover her?” She grabbed a towel and placed it strategically over Angie, then opened the first aid kit and, working quickly but calmly, began to set out what she would need: compresses, iodine, sterile pads.

Meg pulled long strips of surgical tape off a roll, tore them with her teeth, and stuck the ends of them to her jeans. As she began adeptly bandaging Angie’s wrists I was reminded that she was a doctor’s daughter.

While we were waiting for the ambulance to arrive – service was painfully slow out in that rural backwater – and while Angie seemed to be in shock, Meg yelled at the crying girls in the doorway to get a blanket. None of them moved. I said, “I’ll get it” and stood up. I took a step toward the bathroom door but then turned back to Meg and said, “Your tee shirt’s on inside out.”

We got Angie covered up and as warm as possible and then knelt on each side of her, staring down at the poor girl and wondering if this was about that loser, Arnie, over in Island Pond. I looked up at Meg and saw that she was staring hard at me. “What?” I said.

“This is really, really bad,” she said.

“Oh no!” I said. “You think Angie’s going to die?”

But Meg waved this away. “She’ll be fine,” she said. “I mean it’s really bad for us.”

And truer words were never spoken. A “Committee of Inquiry” was formed with three members from juvy hall and two from the Department of Social Services, and that Committee quickly got to the bottom of what had happened and of all the rules we’d broken.

In the first place, it turned out that, technically, Rich wasn’t supposed to be away from VA overnight without getting prior written approval from juvy hall. But that was ridiculous, since Rich rarely knew what his schedule would be, and so Rich had completely ignored the requirement.

More important, when Rich stayed in Boston overnight, something he’d done many times, he’d left in charge of VA two people who weren’t yet legally adults. I was nineteen and Meg was twenty at a time when the age of legal majority was twenty-one. As the Committee of Inquiry put it, Rich had “left children in charge of children.”

And Meg and I hadn’t exactly covered ourselves in glory. Under the rules we were required to be in our third floor rooms by eleven p.m., and obviously we weren’t. Those rules also prohibited fraternization among staff members, and we’d certainly been “fraternizing.”

The Committee came to VA and took testimony from everyone – even the boys, who’d slept through the whole thing. Then they’d gone back to Rutland and summoned Rich to what he described as a “Star Chamber” hearing, berating him over and over and not letting him defend himself – or us.

The Committee would eventually turn in a full written report, but the chair and vice chair arrived at VA early one morning to give Rich the bad news. They were in Rich’s office with him for almost ninety minutes and we could occasionally hear voices raised in anger in there.

Eventually, the Committee representatives left, grim-faced and sober. Rich’s door remained shut for another half hour, but then it opened and he summoned Meg and me in.

Next up: VA, Part 20

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