Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Game of Surviving (Ch. 21)

Half way through 4th grade my mother managed to get welfare services to give us a housing voucher and we moved into a studio apartment right next to Newmark Park.  Our little apartment had the smallest kitchen I had ever seen and an old style fridge from the 70's.  It was what my mother called a ca ca green color.  In front of our duplex there were these enormous dips in the road because of a rain-wash.  When you drove through them it was like you were on a roller coaster.  Up and Down... up and down.  There were two dips.  I was beyond excited to have our own home.  This was the first time we had ever lived on our own.

The first week my mother bought groceries and invited Fred over and cooked dinner for us.  Our fridge was FULL of food.  I couldn't stop opening it and rearranging it.  We had our own house and our own fridge and it had food in it!  I could go in there whenever I wanted to get something to eat or drink.  The happiness I experienced made me overly excited and I lost the ability to walk anywhere, I could only run!  I ran from the kitchen to bathroom and from the bathroom to the living room.  If my mother asked me to get something I jumped five feet off the sofa to get it.  I was on top of the world and my grin reached from ear to ear.

The next week my mother didn't go grocery shopping, instead she took me with her to the gas station where she sold all of her food stamps for half the cash they were worth.  She did not spend the cash on food.  I hated her.  She saw my expression and said, "don't worry!  I'll get food later... you are such a worry wart!"  She didn't get food later.  When the money ran out, her drugs ran out and Fred didn't come by because they had gotten into a fight.  Without drugs, my mother did nothing but sleep and I was left to fend for myself.

Newmark was a baseball park and at night and all day on the weekends they held little league games there.  I hung around to play with the other kids and sometimes their parents would buy me snacks from the snack bar not knowing they were really buying me what would be my dinner.  The manager of the field was a man named John.  After each game John would pay all the kids a dollar for every bag of trash they picked up from under the bleachers.  I took advantage of this opportunity as much as I could.  The other kids were bigger than me though and most of the time they beat me to the trash before I could snatch it up first.  So when the bags were handed out and all the kids ran to the bleachers I waited till no one was watching and got all my trash right out of the trash can.

I filled two bags of trash everyday and got two dollars.  Then I walked more than two miles to Burger King and bought two whoppers for .99 cents each.  I was always a dime short, but they let me slide.  On the way home I would stop at the grocery store and steal two king sized Symphony candy bars.  I would eat mine before I got home and then I would give the other Whopper and candy bar to my zombie mother.  Everyday I had Burger King for dinner and every day I brought home dinner for my mom.  I stole the candy bars because they reminded me of the battered women's shelter.  Maybe if my mom got candy bars she would be happy.  I remembered the lack of candy bars at the shelter seemed to cause a lot of turmoil for her...but the candy bars I brought home didn't make her happy.

It seemed like I was always having the problem of not having any clean clothes to wear to school.  I couldn't stand it!  I didn't want to be made fun of anymore.  I started washing my clothes in the tub with shampoo if they looked dirty.  I only washed the clothes you could see though.  I didn't worry about  underwear and socks since no one could see them.  My socks would get crusty and stiff with filth.  Instead of washing them I would just pull the sock down more on my foot and fold the dirty part over.   I managed.  I became a scavenger and a thief.  I mostly stole food or candy. 

I worked the parents at the ballpark to buy me hot dogs or I talked the kids at school into asking their parents if I could come over for dinner.  Children my age became a sort of pawn for me.  I needed them as a cover to get what I needed from their parents. I was in a game of survival.  You win you get to eat, you lose you go hungry.  Sometimes when I was playing with the other kids I wanted to scream at them, "I'm only playing with you because I have to!"  I was so lonely, but I didn't want the other kids companionship.  They lived in another world than me and they irritated me with their naivety.  I wanted to steal their happiness from them.  I tried to ruin Christmas for them and told them there was no such thing as Santa Claus.  I got angry when they told me about the Tooth Fairy leaving them a dollar.  There was no such thing as the Tooth Fairy, and they didn't need that dollar.  I needed that dollar...but there was no Tooth Fairy for me.

Fred would make an appearance every once in a while and would take me to Rosa Maria's when he could.  Rosa Maria's was a little taco shop that had the best taquito's you will ever try in your life.  I couldn't afford to eat there with my two dollars a day and whenever Fred came over I would beg him to take me there.  My entire life revolved around getting food and feeding myself.  If times were tough I ate Whoppers, if it was a good day, I got Rosa Maria's taquitos.

One day Fred came over and took me to get taquitos and on the way home we stopped at his house and he gave me a baby cockatiel.  My lonely days were over.  I named the bird "Bird-Bird" and he became my best friend.  I spent hours teaching him to talk and sing.  He use to sit on my shoulder and go everywhere with me.  When I got home from school I was greeted with a little high voice that said, "hey bay-be!"... "Hi Bird-Bird!"  I would say back.  I loved that bird.  One day I took my bird out side to play and had forgotten to trim his wings.  He took off and I watched him fly away down the wash... 

I screamed at the top of my lungs!  Losing Bird-Bird would mean I would have nothing to care about now... I needed something to care about, because just caring about myself was too scary...  I didn't want to be alone.  I cried and cried and fell to my knees on the ground.  My mom came out wondering what all the screaming was about and I tried to tell her in between my sobs.  Then she put her hand over her mouth and pointed at the sky, "Oh my God baby!  He's flying back to you!"   Bird-Bird tried to land right on my shoulder, but missed and hit the ground hard.  His little heart was beating so fast!  His chest was moving up and down so quickly it was like it was vibrating.  I wished he were bigger so I could hug him.  I didn't want to share my joy over his return with my mother.  I took him inside and whispered to him that everything was going to be OK and ignored her.  I blamed her for Bird-Bird flying away.  Of course he wanted to fly away from there.... I wanted to fly away too...


  1. wow, very powerful. It's amazing to see how one little animal can change your life; I literally depend on mine; like you they're my best friends. It's good you finally got one :)

  2. That was so... Wow. I have no words to explain how I felt reading that. It was amazing.

  3. Thank you so much for your comments. It makes it easier to keep writing this knowing someone out there is reading it. :)

  4. Amazing story...! I have just followed you through google connect. Please follow me back.

  5. yours was bird-bird and mines was Angel...unbelievable....we are too much alike....