I'm sure you've heard of the Ronald McDonald House charity. They provide housing for families of sick kids when they're in the hospital. Seems pretty innocent, right?
Well, there's another side to the charity. There's another type of Ronald McDonald House, one that not many people know about.
There's one in most big cities. You won't find it by looking for it. It doesn't have an address. It doesn't have a sign above the door. It doesn't even have windows.
No, the only way you'll find it, is if you're taken there.
That's how I found it.
I've never met my real parents. I've been in and out of foster families and group homes here in Detroit since I was a kid. I'm 15 now, and I'm what they refer to as a BAD KID.
Always causing trouble, always getting thrown out and placed with another unsuspecting do-gooder who thinks they can help me. I always prove them wrong.
My caseworker sat across the black metal table, looking weary and frazzled. On the table between us was a thick letter-sized brown envelope; my case file.
"Well, your reputation has preceded you," she said. "And now you only have two options; military school in Lansing, or the Ronald McDonald house, which has miraculously cleared you for acceptance."
I don't have the patience for drill sergeants and 5 AM reveille. And how bad could a halfway house named after a fast food clown possibly be? Ronald McDonald House, it was.
Dark clouds loomed above me the day I climbed into the back of my caseworker's town car. My few belongings in a backpack and the clothes on my back; that's all I could take. One of the few belongings I had was a photo album, filled with pictures of all the foster families I had been with. It was nice to remember some of them, even though I had royally fucked it up each time.
"I've had a few cases who went through the Ronald McDonald House," the caseworker said from the front seat. "Things went so well for those kids, I never had to transfer them anywhere else. In fact, the House took over their case files and everything."
We drove into downtown Detroit, past all the familiar landmarks. I had been thrown out of one foster home just outside town because I snuck into downtown Detroit with some neighbor kids to sneak into a dive bar. Good times.
"Well, here we are." The car came to a stop.
I looked out the window. We had parked in front of a tall, gray, windowless building, sandwiched between two other industrial buildings on a narrow city street. I noticed there was an address on the building to my left, and one on the right, but none on this particular building. Not even a sign.
"Are you sure?" I asked, hesitating as I opened the car door and climbed out of the back seat. I slung my backpack over my shoulder, clinging tightly to the strap, and followed the caseworker up to the windowless metal doors. She pressed a buzzer and spoke to someone inside, and the doors clicked to unlock. We walked in.
As soon as the metal doors closed behind us, I noticed the pin-drop silence. It was that sort of silence that is so oppressive and empty it almost deafens you.
Across the dimly lit lobby, there was a glass window with someone inside. A secretary. She was turned away, typing something intently. We walked over to the window. The caseworker rang a bell on the counter, and the secretary spun around in her chair.
Her face was painted like a clown.
Like Ronald McDonald, in fact.
She even had the short, curly red hair. Otherwise, she wore a typical white nurse's dress.