The P.A. system blared, rousing me from my dreamless sleep and I wearily sat up. The other girls in my room at the shelter were already up, packing away their belongings and chattering excitedly about Valentine’s Day coming up. As they compared the romantic values of the various soup kitchens in town, I stepped into the bathroom and threw cold water on my face.
I looked in the mirror, noting that even after just a week and a half, my face had thinned and paled considerably. My pants were too loose and I didn’t have a belt. I rummaged around the bathroom and found some floss. Using it as string to tie two of my belt loops together, I sighed. I had walked from the shelter to nearly every pharmacy in the small city, trying to find out where my parents had filled my prescriptions. It was half of the proof I needed to void my father’s recommendation to my recruiter that I was unfit for service. When I switched off the bathroom light and returned to the colorful, bunk-filled room that was home, I noticed everyone had already left for the day.
Some of the other homeless people in the shelter had gone to handle their 10 hour per week volunteer requirement and it was assumed that everyone else was out looking for work. I knew better; they were hanging out at a homeless respite called Kandu Island, where there were pool tables, a television and WiFi. I preferred to keep warm in the city library, where I could bury myself in the pages of another person’s reality. I finished pulling on my sweater and thin orange windbreaker, swung my sad backpack containing my precious laptop over my shoulder and headed down the hall. I wanted to snag a cup of watery coffee before slogging long miles in the wet snow, but I had to hurry before the lunch room closed.
As I approached the lobby, adjacent to the lunch room, I heard shouts. It wasn’t unusual at all for a cop or two to be present, but this time there were four policemen in the lobby. A man’s voice was screaming bloody murder; I realized it was Cisco, held in the midst of the officers. He broke free from the policemen’s grip and charged. My eyes widened. He was coming straight for me. As he vaulted past the open doors of the lunch room, a second blur appeared and collided with him. The two men grappled for a moment as the police closed in, securing Cisco. For a split second, I saw the knife in his hand before it was wrenched away.
The other man stood up and dusted himself off, then quickly approached me with concern and love in his eyes. It was my buddy, Al. I had met him after just a couple of days in the shelter on the day his daughter was born. He had all but thrown himself off the bus to get to the hospital, glowing with a deep joy that I hadn’t seen in a soul. He and I had hit it off, walking together, bickering and sharing our addiction recovery stories.
“Are you ok? We got the cops here just in time.” Slightly breathless, he managed a casual smile.
“Uh yeah I guess. I mean, he didn’t touch me or anything. What happened? How did the cops know?” I was confused.
As Cisco’s screams of rage faded while he was cuffed and dragged into one of the police cruisers parked outside, we strolled into the lunch room and grabbed a couple of cups of watery coffee.
“He was in my room. Last night he kept pacing back and forth shouting about how he was going to kill ‘that bitch’. I didn’t realize he was talking about you at first until he mentioned your orange coat. I was so nervous. As soon as 5am came, I ran straight to the office to tell them. The cops took forever to come and we were all afraid you would get up too early. Guess it worked out!” His face split into a warm smile as he realized he was the one that had saved me.
In spite of having some form of a routine and managing to reclaim small elements of normalcy in my life, I was still emotionless. I felt as if someone had twisted the faucet of my feelings so tightly that once it rusted into place, I couldn’t access them even when I wanted to; This was one of those moments. In the last five minutes, I had almost been stabbed, my life had been saved and I had gotten a cup of coffee. I didn’t feel alarmed or relieved; I was just existing.
“Al. You saved me. Thank you. How is your baby?” I packed as much emotion as I could into my words.
“She is perfect. Such an angel. You will have to meet her. What are you doing today?”
“I need to walk to a couple more pharmacies, but I think today is it. I think I’m going to get that receipt.”
“Wish I could go. I’m seeing my kid today but promise to let me know how your search goes?”
“Of course! Got a smoke before we go?”
Al handed me a cigarette as we put our cups away and headed outside. We shared it and as the cigarette burned down to a nub, he offered me the last puff.
“Want the heroin?” He said as he passed me the butt.
I started. Heroin? I had gotten clean; I hadn’t even heard the word for some time. I wanted heroin dearly, and the reminder bubbled an old hunger in my stomach. I looked at him questioningly.
“The heroin. You know, the last part of the smoke.” He gestured to the last bit on the cigarette and I relaxed.
“Ha. Sure. You know me; I’ll never turn down a good dose of smack.” We laughed.
The bus rolled in and I hopped on. Before I started my walk I wanted to go see my best friend, Charish, at the community college. I hunkered low in the back of the bus, watching for any of Cisco’s gang members. A heavily bearded man in his early thirties sat beside me, telling me about his newest strain of marijuana he called “White Widow”.
Once I jumped off the bus, I hurried over to the building where Charish had class. My time with her was life-giving. We would get into our usual shenanigans throughout the day, cracking up over our off-the-wall imaginations and making up names for our ridiculous antics. Eagerly, I waited. I stared out the window. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating at what I saw, but as I squinted hard, I knew I was seeing reality. My mother was walking into the building.
I sat, frozen in an overwhelming mixture of wild rage and panic. I hadn’t had the chance to think about my family or what had happened with them once I was gone. They had known I was in the shelter, yet there my mother was, walking casually with book tucked under her arm, looking exactly the same as usual. For the first time in my life, I hated her. I hadn’t done anything wrong, yet my thinning body was living in a shelter, trudging through slush and desperately avoiding gangs to undo the damage they had done while she continued her classes, living on in her own snow-globe. Did she truly not understand how much suffering she had caused me? How could she possibly justify destroying my chances of a better life in the military and then throwing me out?
Charish put her hand on my shoulder. I hadn’t realized her class had let out and I turned; she saw something was wrong.
“Give me your keys.” I spoke robotically but it was impossible to hide the intense hate in the undercurrent of my tone.
“Give me your keys. I’m not driving your car or anything.”
“Is everything ok? Here.” She handed me the keys, concern filling her round face.
I seized the keyring and ran down the steps, towards the parking lot my mother had come from. I knew what she drove: a forest green Subaru Outback. Seeing it, I approached the hood, dug Charish’s keys deep into the paint and dragged them the length of the car. I had never keyed a car before, and I felt my rage lessen as I watched the paint and metal filings curl away from the surface of the paint. As I reached the back hatch, I looked into the window and my stomach dropped. Wrong car.
Horrified and filled with guilt, I jumped away from the Outback. On the other side of the parking lot, I spotted my mother’s car. The two vehicles were identical. My mistake had completely deflated my rage, but I felt after keying the wrong car, I was obligated to vandalize the right vehicle. I keyed my mother’s car halfheartedly, stopping at the driver’s door to scrawl “Fuck You” into the side. As soon as I had reviewed my handiwork, I scurried back to Charish and told her what I’d done. She shared the same mixed feelings of remorse and satisfaction that I had expressed.
We goofed off, throwing a Frisbee around in the snow for a while and then it was time for her to leave for work and for me to start chasing the elusive medication receipt. I didn’t even know if the receipt would be enough evidence; I hoped there would be some kind of proof that either of my parents had paid for it. I began walking in the direction of the hospital.
An hour and a half later, I had arrived at the last pharmacy on my list. Dusting myself off, I entered the building. There was nothing I could do to hide my soaking, freezing shoes and pants; the cashier watched me carefully as I made my way to the register.
“Hey…uh…I think my parents filled a prescription for me here. Do you have any way to look it up? My name is Skye Galvas.”
Still watching me, the cashier tapped away on his computer, searching my name.
“Looks like we had several prescriptions filled for you almost a month ago here. Is that what you’re asking?”
I had found the place! My days of walking for hours through the freezing snow were over! My face split into a slightly crazed, elated grin.
“Yeah yeah! That’s just what I was looking for. Hey, so I didn’t fill those prescriptions. One of my parents did. Is there anything you could print for me that shows as proof that it wasn’t me?” I stared intently at the ever-more confused cashier. This was the moment of truth; could I get proof? If not, I couldn’t come up with the evidence I needed to get out of the shelter and join the military.
“We require a signature every time a prescription is filled, so I can print out the receipt and it should be on there. Does that work?”
“YES!!” My voice was so hysterically relieved the cashier stopped to stare, but I wasn’t worried about appearances. I had 50% of my life back. I just needed one other item of proof for my recruiter.
He printed the receipt, sliding it across the counter and dismissing me. I stood, clutching the paper with both hands that contained my mother’s signature as the signer for the medication. Tucking it carefully into my sad backpack, I all but danced back into the Michigan winter and my elation flew me back to the shelter in record time.
As soon as I was buzzed into the lobby, one of the staff members threw open the sliding class window and called me over. She told me my case manager needed to speak with me urgently and to wait in the lobby for her to come get me. I wondered what Annie wanted; we had already had our appointment for the week. After less than a minute, Annie called my name and I rose. As usual, her golden hair was done up in large curls, framing her heavily blushed cheeks and blue eyes. I followed her back to her office and plopped down in the cheap plastic chair by her desk.
“Annie! Look what I got today! I found the receipt and it has my mom’s signature on it! All I need now is the evaluation from a psychiatrist and I can join the Air Force!” I was buzzing with joy, but when I looked at her face, my spirits dampened; something was wrong.
“A former guest here has made some very concerning threats regarding you. I can’t tell you who it is but I can tell you that they are no longer here and that I highly recommend getting a restraining order and being very careful with where you go.”
She was talking about Cisco; the events of the day had pushed him far from my mind. She hadn’t told me anything that Al hadn’t already filled me in on, but I didn’t know I could get a restraining order.
“Is he in jail? Or is he on the streets again?” I needed to assess the level of risk.
“I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you that I highly recommend a PPO (personal protection order).”
I got the hint: he was walking free.
“How do I get one of those?”
“I will drive you to the Women’s Resource Center and they will help you submit the request. It has to be approved by a judge, but when it is, you just go pick it up from the courthouse and the police will notify Cis- um….the…..person” Her blush turned even redder from her slip. I pretended to not notice.
We got into her dark blue X-Terra and drove across town to the Women’s Resource Center, not even a block away from the pharmacy I’d danced in hours earlier. It felt strange to ride in a car again; staring out the window, I wondered how my limited dignity had become so eroded in such a short time; I felt unworthy even to ride in a car.
Annie dropped me off and I walked inside alone. I was met by a middle-aged woman named Susan with shoulder length, raspy-brown hair. She helped me fill out a request for and a physical description of Cisco. At one point she called the shelter for additional information, and I was shocked to see he was 37 and actually had just been released after serving 17 years in prison. This guy was more dangerous than I had thought.
I walked again back to the shelter for the evening, exhausted from the emotions of the day. My knee had begun to ache in the cold; an old injury had flared up from so much walking. I had logged many more miles on foot than usual that day and as dark fell, I limped along, praying I would make it in before curfew. I didn’t have a watch or any way to tell the time, save for the laptop growing ever heavier on my shoulder.
I trudged past a drug-infested mobile home park roughly two miles away from the shelter and heard snow crunching. I stopped, glancing into the park but it was too dim in the evening light to make out any figures. I continued on.
I hadn’t taken twenty more steps when the sound of crunching footsteps resumed, this time growing louder and faster. I spun around just in time to feel a hand close around the strap of my backpack. The man tried to wrench my precious bag away, but my sudden turning had thrown him off-balance. My backpack hit the frozen asphalt and I heard something break. I seized one of the straps in one hand and a handful of gritty snow in the other. When the man charged again, I tossed the dirty snow into his face and swung my backpack, letting the main compartment collide with the man’s head. He fell, not getting up.
I stood over him, panting. I’d gotten lucky and I knew it, but our exchange had cost me precious time; If I didn’t make it back to the shelter before curfew, I’d be kicked out. I limped along as quickly as I could, with my hope draining away. It didn’t occur to me to do anything but carry on once I had handled the mugger; for a moment, I wondered if my lack of alarm or distress was an indicator of the craziness my family alleged. No, I thought. In the near month I had been in the shelter I had watched multiple people die, people get stabbed and even more get dragged away by the cops for some heinous crime. The attempted mugging, in my world, was small potatoes.
I heard a vehicle approaching behind me and turned to see a small city bus pull up next to me and the doors swing open. The destination indicator on the front read ‘Garage’; the city buses were done for the day. Confused, I stared up the steps into the face of the female bus driver who always called me “Sass”.
“Sweetie, what are you doing out so late? This is a dangerous spot to be walking in the dark.”
I stared at her, realizing she was on her way back to the garage and then home for the night. How had she recognized me?
“Sass! Get in. I’ll take you back. Quit your lollygagging or I’m leaving your baby ass behind.”
Still staring, I wordlessly clambered into the bus. As she drove, the bus driver chattered on about how dangerous it was for a single, female teen such as myself to live in the closest shelter to the state prison. Did I ever know, I thought.
Pulling up in front of the shelter, the driver threw the doors open. I found my voice, stammering a quick thanks and then rushing through the shelter entry. I had made it with only three minutes to spare.
I grabbed a bag of Cheetos from the lunch room table, suddenly realizing I hadn’t eaten all day and hurried back into the safety of the Women’s Wing. My room-mates, Erin and Shena, were waiting for me, pushing me back into the women’s lounge the moments I swiped my card and entered. They whispered that we had a new room-mate: one of Cisco’s girlfriends, and she was bunking beneath me. This was no coincidence, I realized. I called down to the staff office but without being able to reach Annie for the night, there was nothing they could do. Exhausted, I sat on my bunk with my belongings gathered closely around me. Unzipping the bag, I pulled out my laptop. I had expected for it to be completely broken, but only the corner had broken off and the mother board was still intact. I breathed relief. I watched as the door swung open and shut as everyone prepared for the night. Finally, Cisco’s grilfriend entered.
The woman looked to be around her late thirties and her face was lined in exhaustion, framed by her roughened long brown hair. Her eyes connected with mine and we both stiffened. We knew why she was here; it was going to be a long night.
TO BE CONTINUED….
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