“Just get some clothes together,” she tells him. It is becoming harder for her to control her emotions. A tear leaks from her eye.
“Can I take my toys?” Daniel asks. He’s just a kid.
“No, honey, not right now. We’ll come back for them.”
“Where are we gonna go?” I ask.
“I don’t know yet, honey. I don’t know.” Tears now flow down my mom’s face. She tries unsuccessfully to steady herself. “Make sure you have all of your school stuff. Don’t worry, honey. It’s gonna be all right. God will provide.”
Sobbing now, she says, “I’m so sorry this keeps happening.”
The apology rings hollow. Disillusionment with my mother grows. I can no longer keep from crying.
We spend the next few months in what my mom refers to as the Sleazy-Eight Motel. The ambiance of the place fits quite nicely with the boarded-up restaurant next door and Pacers across the street — I always wondered who showed up to a strip club in a limousine. On more than one occasion I’m sure that I ride the elevator with a hooker. I desperately try to avoid the malodorous guy who loiters on the oversized electrical box in front, ranting about the devil’s inappropriate relations with his wife. There is also a time when the whole staff is in hysterics because someone has left a pig in one of the rooms.
Days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months. At last my mom proclaims that she’s found us somewhere to live. My brother gets excited. He cannot contain the grin that lights up his face. For someone so adept at make-believe, I don’t know why I feel I have to bring reality crashing down onto his head. I fight the urge to blurt a remark that will make him cry and upset my mother. Instead, I adopt his hopeful tone and ask our mom where this next place is.
“It’s right up the street,” she says, smiling. “It’s a house, too, not an apartment. I’ve always wanted my own house. I saw the For Rent sign and called. The guy is going to get back to me next week. Do you want to go look at it?”
“Yeah!” my brother says excitedly.
“Sure,” I say, trying to simulate his enthusiasm.
We walk the two blocks from the Sleazy-Eight to the driveway of the new place. The three of us stand there. There’s a chain-link fence and a locked gate.
My mom exclaims, “This is our house!”
I can’t take it anymore. I don’t want to get my hopes up. “No, it’s not,” I snap. “Not yet.”
“Yes, it is,” she says. “I’ve claimed it in the name of Jesus, so it’s ours!”
I try not to roll my eyes.
“Let’s pray.” She grabs my brother. “We are gonna lay our hands on this fence and claim this house in the name of Jesus!”
I do as instructed and close my eyes.
“Amen,” I repeat as she finishes her prayer. My hopes are up.
For once, I’m not disappointed. A week later we get the good word. We pack the few belongings we have at the motel and make arrangements to get the rest of our stuff out of storage. Finally, I am going to be a normal kid. I’m not going to have to pretend anymore. Everything is truly going to be all right.
∗ ∗ ∗
I remember how hard it was to breathe when I found her stash. I remember the feeling of isolation and all the questions. Was it my fault? Pangs of guilt, fear, betrayal, anger. I remember the weight of the burden that had just been placed on my shoulders. I remember my little brother. Oh God, my little brother. What am I supposed to tell him? I know I am going to have to raise him myself.
I find the syringes while moving into this new place I am to call home. It is late, around 10:00 p.m. The syringes are in a large ceramic Winnie the Pooh, an item I’ve never seen before. Used hypodermic needles rattle around in Winnie’s head. There must be 20 of them. I finally have answers to questions I should never have asked. The numbness sets in. I know that the money problems my mother is having are not the typical ones faced by most single parents. I am only 13, but I know that my life will never be the same again. My mom lied to me.
Trembling, I carry Winnie, filled with drug paraphernalia, to confront my mother. I find her in the kitchen with the usual — Popov, straight, no ice. She recognizes what’s in my hand. Our eyes meet. Hers tell me everything I need to know.
“Mom,” I say, keeping my composure. “What are these? Why do you have them?”
The lies spew from her mouth and hit me with such force. She sounds so sincere. I know she is capable of lying, but until now I didn’t realize how easy it is for her. My mother is a Monet in the art of deception.
“Where did you…uh…what do you mean, honey? What’s that?” Her eyes are glazed. She’s drunk, and possibly stoned. I don’t yet know how to tell the difference.
I’m surprised at how calm I am. “I found this in your room. It’s filled with needles. Why do you have them?”
“Oh, honey, I’ve never seen that before. Where did you say you found it? I have no idea where it came from.”
“Are they Michael’s?” I ask. Michael’s this guy my mom has just started dating. I barely know him, but apparently he is moving in with us.
“No, honey, absolutely not.”
I pretend to accept her denial. I practice her art. I spend the rest of the night alone and crying.
She and the boyfriend spend more and more time secluded in her bedroom. A beat-up brown Cadillac pulls into the driveway with increasing frequency. I steal money from Mom after she cashes her welfare check, to buy food for my little brother. Not only do I have to deal with the insecurity of being one of the few poor kids attending Point Loma High School, I also worry about not having a home or a mother to return to in the evening. My fears are not unfounded.