From the book  “Broken” by Tiffini Johnson


I had this jewelry box one time. It was made of glass. Pretty dumb, giving a six year old something made out of glass. When you opened it up, there was a beautiful ballerina in a pink tutu that twirled around and around to a melody. I loved that jewelry box. I loved it so much that I never put anything inside it, because I was afraid that it would make it dirty. It wasn’t long after Dad gave it to me that we moved again. Instead of taking it with us, I put it in a small box all by itself to pack. I thought it would be safer that way. We left Virginia for good that time, and moved to South Carolina instead. I couldn’t wait to get our stuff and unpack my ballerina box. I couldn’t wait to see the pretty glass, and the ballerina twirl and twirl.

We got a small apartment and every day after school I would race inside from the bus excitedly asking if the stuff had come yet. Finally, it got there. We started unpacking everything one by one. I looked everywhere for the small box. Mama found it first and gave it to me. I took it all by itself into my room and shut the door. I didn’t want anything to interrupt me as I opened it up. It was like getting the prettiest thing I had ever had all over again. It was like being given the bestest gift all over again. My stomach was flip-flopping, I was so nervous and excited and happy. Happy. I was happy. Really and truly happy. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t lonely. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t numbed. I was happy. But when I opened the box up and took the jewelry box out, all my stupid happiness turned to shock. I hadn’t put any newspaper in the box with it and the movers didn’t know what was in the box. They didn’t know it was glass, they didn’t know that it was glass. They weren’t careful with it. And right across the entire top of the box was a long crack in the glass. It still opened. The ballerina still twirled. But the crack on the outside of the box made the whole thing ugly.

I cried. I cried and cried and cried. I cried until I didn’t think I had any more tears in me. I stared into the glass on top of the box. The crack distorted my face. Dad thought I was being stupid because it still worked. Mama said she would try to get me another one. But I didn’t want another one. I wanted the one I had loved so much. After I got done crying and being sad, I got mad. I was mad for a long time. If we hadn’t had to move—again—then I wouldn’t have had to put it in the box in the first place. If Mama had told me to put newspaper in the box around it, it might not have gotten broken. If the stupid movers had been more careful with our boxes, it might not have been broken. If Dad hadn’t given it to me in the first place, I wouldn’t have cared about something like a jewelry box. I was mad at everybody. Dad told me to stop being a baby about it. He told me I could still use it, that it still worked perfectly fine. He didn’t get it. Nobody got it.

It was broke.

When something is broke, it is not the same anymore. When something is broken, it is damaged. When something is broke, it is ugly, even if it still works. When something is broke, it is useless. When something is broke, it cannot ever be seen the same way again. When something is broke, its value changes, it isn’t worth as much anymore. When something is broke, it becomes nothing more than trash. I was only six years old then, I didn’t know all of that. All I did know was that I didn’t want the jewelry box anymore. That very day, I walked it right to the kitchen and threw it in the garbage. Because that’s what it was now that it was broken.

That was nine years ago.

I’m not six years old anymore, I’m fifteen. I’m in high school now. I should be happy about that. All the other kids seem like they are. But I’m not. It’s not that I’m not happy about it, I just don’t care. I don’t have a boyfriend, but I don’t care about that either. I get good grades, but I don’t care about that either. We’ve been in this same house for a year now. That’s like a record or something. That should make me really happy. And it’s not that I’m not happy about that. I just don’t care.

When something really good happens, I smile and laugh and act like I’m happy. But, really, it doesn’t matter. Nothing really matters. I think about when I was six, before everything went to hell. I would open up the jewelry box and I would dance around the room. I would twirl, just like the ballerina twirled. I pretended I was the ballerina. I stood in front of the mirror in my room and put on dress up clothes. I thought I was just as good as the pretty ballerina in the pretty jewelry box. I was stupid. Now I pretend I’m invisible. Which is pretty easy to do, since nobody knows my name anyway.

Mama’s calling my name. It makes me jump and pull the sleeve down over my wrist, so she can’t see the crack. It must be time to go. We have to go see my dad. My stomach flip flops and panic bursts in my bones. But then I smother it. I grab my black, small purse from the floor and run out the bedroom door. Mama’s ready to go, standing at the door. She’s in a hurry. We have to be there before visiting hours are over or we won’t get in. As it is right now, we’ll only have an hour. I could drag my feet and kick and scream. I could go to the bathroom, pretend It has started and take forever. I could stall. It would make Mama furious. She probably wouldn’t speak to me all night. Even if we go, when we get back, she’s going to go into her bedroom and cry. That’s what she does all the time. I could make it worse. But I don’t. Because I don’t care. We get in the car and the whole drive, that’s what I tell myself: I don’t care.

The knot in my stomach grows bigger when I see the barbed wire fence with the big circles at the top. It looks like a factory. But it’s not. I know it’s not. It looks civilized, maybe even like a small apartment complex might. But I know it’s not. It’s really chaos inside. The parking lot is dead silent. We walk into the building and there is noise. Three black women stand ahead of us, they are whispering. One is laughing. There is an older lady at the front of the line. She is standing with her head up, her arms clutched together in front of her. Mama rustles in her purse. There is two minutes to wait before it all can start. Behind the desk, there are four cops. One of them is a lady. She sits behind the desk. She is the one that will watch us write our names in the Visitor’s Log. There are two male cops standing up. They have guns on. Their uniform has always made me nervous. There is another cop standing too. This one is a girl. I eye her. She is the one who will search me, because girls are not allowed to be searched by the boy cops. Only female cops can search girls. I eye her. She’s got her dark hair pulled back into a bun. She is Mexican and her skin is smooth and tan-like. Her eyes are dark and narrowed.

Finally, the cop sitting tells the older lady to go ahead and write her name in the book. It has started. First, we write our names. Then we are searched. The female cop takes the older lady into a side room, and they come out a few minutes later. The older lady moves on to the next area of the room, where she will wait until everyone else gets through. It’s funny. This is the part I dread the most, not when we actually see him.

It is my turn. I have to spread my arms and legs wide. The girl cop asks me my name, then takes a black wand-like thing and runs it over the top and underside of my arms, then my legs. I have to take off my shoes because I might have a knife in them. I even have to open my mouth so she can make sure nothing stupid is in there. She takes my purse, opens it and goes through the entire contents. I wonder what she thinks when she sees the Wrigley’s pack of gum, the compact mirror and lipstick. I wonder what she thinks when she sees the tampon. Most of all, I wonder what she thinks when she sees the tiny stuffed rabbit I carry with me always. It looks like it’s a little kid’s. But it’s not. It’s mine. I carry that rabbit everywhere; I found him in the woods in the back of our Indiana house. I thought it was such a cool thing to find. And rabbits’ ears are supposed to be lucky, did you know that? If the rabbit’s ear is lucky, I bet the whole rabbit is even luckier. Not that I believe in luck.

Everyone is through now.

The really tall male cop pushes a button next to the steel gray door and it opens. It is time to walk through. Mama has stopped talking now too. It is a long and hard thing, to get through the security. And we are always a little nervous. We walk into this huge room that looks like a cafeteria. There are tables everywhere and men in jumpsuits sitting at them. Some of them are standing, but they are all looking at us. Mama spots Dad first, and he waves.

Mama walks quickly ahead, I lag behind. They are hugging when I get there. Dad knows better than to hug me, so he just smiles and asks how I am instead. I lie and tell him I’m good. I get some change from my purse and say I’m going to get a Coke. I walk away, happy for the few minutes of freedom the Coke machine offers.

I don’t even know why I have to come. When I get back to the table, all I do is sit and listen to them talk. I don’t even know what it’s all about. But it’s the weirdest thing. I was all nervous and stuff being searched, and I didn’t even want to come at all, but now… The numbed feeling is back. I don’t care about anything he says. I see his mouth move, but I don’t hear anything. I don’t care about anything at all.

I don’t want to admit it or anything but I know why. Nothing he says matters. Nothing he does matters. It doesn’t matter that I have to spend an hour of my time here. The memories don’t matter. Why? Because you can’t hurt what’s already broken.