By Bill Boyles
This is a hard one for me to tell because in this one, I get my ass kicked and kicked good. It’s somewhat embarrassing and the only two points I can offer in my defense are that getting your ass kicked on your birthday was pretty common at Paradise Cove, and I did not know this at the time so it came as a complete surprise. I didn’t even know that my family knew it was my birthday, but my case manager must have let it slip. So I blame her, one more offense in a long list. But I digress…back to the story. At Paradise Cove, our lives as Lower Levels and to some extent as Upper Levels were ruled by a daily schedule that varied little except on weekends and subdivided down to the quarter hour. This schedule was adhered to with pedantic efficiency by the staff. One hour of every day was designated “Water Sports Period”, in which we were compelled to go swimming in the ocean, whether or not we wanted to. Wait a minute, you may be saying. Why wouldn’t you boys want to swim and snorkel in the beautiful waters of the South Pacific? Well, for several reasons. The first reason was that the water was so freaking cold you would think you were swimming in the Bering Sea, not the South Pacific. The second was that getting that seawater on yourself was asking for a fungal infection called sunspots, and the only way Paradise Cove had to treat sunspots was to burn the affected areas off yourself with a 10-15% acid solution. Why doesn’t you as the reader take a moment to consider what THAT felt like. Yes, exactly. Pretty damn bad. The third reason not to go swimming was that the coral reef was mostly dead and had been taken over by tons of a kind of starfish called Crown-of-Thorns starfish. I learned all about them when I first got to the program. One day my first week I almost stepped on one barefooted. I was stopped from stepping on it by a boy named Steve C. (he figures in later in the story too, as well as another story coming later. As a side note, he is dead now at his own hands, another victim of Paradise Cove.) Steve explained to me that they were poisonous. As the nearest hospital was over an hour away, stepping on one was risking your life.
The last, and most compelling, reason not to go swimming was that every sink on the beach, as well as the showers discharged untreated into the water. And even worse, the septic tanks discharged into the water, too. So we were swimming in a soup (sometimes literally, since the kitchen sinks are included) of absolute nasty vileness. I shudder to this day thinking of it. I mean that literally. I just did as I wrote that. So those were the extremely valid reasons not to go into the water. There were only two reasons anyone would even want to: because it was a rare chance to talk amongst ourselves without getting overheard or in trouble, and because we would try to catch fish which we would then try to get away with eating (technically against the rules). We would eat them raw, and by raw, I mean generally still alive as we bit into them. That should tell you something about the nutritional situation at Paradise Cove. What normal teenager acts like that at the beach? None I’ve ever seen. So, enough backdrop. Back to the story. We’re getting there, I swear. So my family was at Water Sports Period. It was 15th birthday, although I didn’t remember since the exact date was utterly unimportant in the program. I was swimming around in a particularly deep part of the area, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I got snatched by the ankle and dragged with no warning down under water. I didn’t even have a chance to grab a breath. That’s when the blows started raining down. Someone was kicking me in the head, and my head was bouncing off this big outcrop of coral over and over again. Since being in Paradise Cove, I had witnessed at least 24 acts of brutal violence (that’s a conservative number- I arrive at it by taking the roughly 24 weeks I had been in Paradise Cove and saying one act of violence a week, which is so low for PC as to be laughable.) That was my mind frame, and I’m not ashamed to tell you that with all that random violence floating around in my head, I was afraid I was the victim of that week’s act. There was a rumor going around that if a boy died in the program, the whole place would be shut down and everyone would go home. I thought they were trying to make me that boy. I was starting to run out of air. I was seeing black spots and seconds from breathing in a big lungful of seawater when they finally let off. I surfaced, took in a huge breath of air, and let loose with every expletive I knew. That’s when they all started saying happy birthday. They were all laughing like it was hysterical. I understandably found it someone less funny. In fact, I was incredibly pissed off. I could have snitched and gotten them all in trouble. I could have told them off. But as the saying goes, snitches get stitches, and besides I just wasn’t a snitch in my heart. I also didn’t want to seem like a bitch, so I put on a smile and faked a laugh and acted like I had just been on the receiving end of a particularly witty prank. I also pondered the irony of my family remembering my birthday when I hadn’t, but using that knowledge for evil. I received another birthday beating at Paradise Cove, but it wasn’t nearly as judicious or memorable. I also witnessed and participated in many, many birthday beatings, but out of all of them, only one stands out as memorable. Only one was worse than that one I went through. But it happened to someone else. Maybe I’ll change the name and tell the story eventually, but at least for now it’s someone else’s story to tell. That’s the story of my birthday beatdown, and this was Notes From Tha Cove.