They say the human brain weighs about three pounds. And even though it weighs less than a bag of rice, it remains the seat of our being – the seed of who we come to be. At eight weeks old the first of your senses to develop is touch. It takes a whole eight weeks for you to recognize the warmth of your mother’s fingers brushing against your cheek. And at three months, when you’re finally able to laugh, your brain illuminates completely – the only expression that engages all five major sections.
They say that when the blood stops flowing to the brain for eight seconds, you black out. You lose consciousness and slip away to a place unknown. A place from which, no matter how hard you try, you’ll never escape, never recover.
When I was seven, I sat and stared out the window of my mother’s room, watching children on skates and bikes rolling down the curvy street. I listened as somebody else’s laughter bounced off the blossoming trees.
While other children smacked hands in patty cake, skipped, or jumped rope, I sat in a stiff gray chair across from Dr. Charlotte. Her job was to read me a paragraph about animals or plants, to ask me to summarize it for her. I couldn’t: I was too busy daydreaming about flying back and forth on the swings.
After school, and after Dr. Charlotte, when my sisters laughed and clinked their teacups together, put on frilly pink dresses to go to Cinderella balls, shouted Grease Lighting! into our karaoke machine, I trudged up the stairs to my mother’s bedroom. She shut the door behind us, sad lines forming around both our mouths. She would ask me how to spell grandma or grandpa.
Lying face down on the soft, pearl carpet of my parents’ room, biting on the inside of my cheeks, I daydreamed about the purple circus-sized trampoline in our backyard. I pictured my body flying in the air, arms thrown above my head, landing on my butt, bouncing up and down. I knew other kids were doing just that, and playing baseball, and sliding onto homemade bases, grinning and breathless. But I was stuck staring out the window of my mother’s room, arms crossed, head down, grey in the face. The laughter of a happy child buried somewhere deep within.
I knew that couldn’t be me ever again. Happiness was for other kids.
Lilly Difeo’s childhood is interrupted by a horrible moment of chance. From that moment on, there are real consequences for Lilly and her family, whose ability to hold themselves together is tested to the breaking point. Caught between an excruciating past and an unbearable present, Lilly is overwhelmed with hatred for all she has lost, finding herself on a downhill voyage towards violence and petty theft, balancing on an ever-thinning wire, with no safety net in sight.
Leaving her parents with no choice, sixteen-year-old Lilly is forced into a car and dropped off at Forge Academy, a boot-camp boarding school in the back woods of Connecticut, where she’s been saddled and forced to face her personal demons. Taken aback by Forge’s philosophy, which demands students rat out friends in the Arena of Shame in front of the entire school body, Lilly refuses to partake. As a result, Forge punishes her: Twenty-four hours of picking weeds, scrubbing toilets, and waking up for the 5:30 am workout each morning. Dean Davis makes it his personal agenda to break Lilly and turn her into one of his loyal minions, but Lilly will not budge.
Determined to get back home, Lilly breaks into an office to make a phone call to her family and soon realizes life has gone on without her. Her absence is not missed. Over the following weeks, Lilly focuses on transforming into the person her family needs her to be. With the help from her roommate, Shauna, and Meisha, a piano player who shows her that everyone is capable of finding a unique potential, Lilly begins the precipitous climb towards figuring herself out.
But after a school bust, far larger than all the others, in which a handful of seniors are held accountable for, Lilly is forced to choose between her friends, her sense of right and wrong, and a clear path home. And just when all hope seems lost, an unexpected run-in with the Dean and another student may hold the key to her salvation.
© Brittany DiGiacomo 2016