A VOICE BELLOWS THROUGH THE DOOR. “San Diego Sheriff’s Department, open up!” I wonder if cops learn how to do that in the academy.
“It’s gonna be all right,” my mom says, feigning confidence as the tears well up in her eyes. She takes a deep breath.
The sound of the deputy’s banging fist tears through the house like the Pacific Surfliner.
“I’m coming,” my mom says. She wipes her eyes and opens the door. I see the familiar brown uniform. I recognize the stern look on the deputy’s face. A beam of 7:00 a.m. sunlight glistens on one of the seven points of his badge.
Standing behind him is another familiar sight, a locksmith waiting impatiently. Is he the same one as last time? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before, but I recognize the maddening clink of his tools as he fidgets on the porch.
“Ma’am, your thirty days are up,” the deputy says. “We’re here to remove you from the property.” This is blunt. Could he be a little more polite? No, probably not.
“Okay, let me get a few things together,” my mom says dejectedly.
“You’ve got five minutes.”
This is our third eviction in five years. I am 13, my little brother is 11, and we have spent countless nights in Midway motel rooms, eating dinner out of vending machines, watching the free HBO. I keep asking myself why my mom can’t keep a job, and where do all her government checks go? But maybe I should just deal with the uncertainty, because coping with the truth is worse.
I do what I’ve always done: escape to the refuge of school. It’s the only place safe from the insanity. Here I can play make-believe. I ape the actions of the normal kids. I participate in class and get good grades. I know that a solid education is the only way to wake up from the nightmare. And all the while I pretend I’m not sharing a bed in a cheap motel room with my little brother, that I’m not wearing the same clothes I did the day before. I laugh through the embarrassment and smile through the pain. At school, I believe, everything is all right.
It isn’t always easy, keeping up the façade of emotional stability. One day, shortly after one of our many evictions, I am sitting in my U.S. history class, following one of my teacher’s entertaining lectures about “red pinko commies” — he’s a Vietnam vet — when he makes an announcement:
“Starting next week, I want all chapter outlines to be typewritten. Computers are where it’s goin’.”
As grumbles from the class subside, the anger in the pit of my stomach surges. How am I supposed to get a good grade if I have no way of completing the assignments? My family usually doesn’t have a place to call home, much less a computer to use. This teacher is intentionally making it harder for me to succeed. I’m a victim of our capitalist society, and he’s an unjust instrument of The Man. I decide to see my counselor and demand to be transferred out of the class.
First thing in the morning, I storm into the counselor’s office. I am instructed to sign in and have a seat. As I stare at the wall clock, the disdain I have for the system grows in direct proportion to the amount of time I must wait.
“Come on in, what can I do for you?” my counselor chirps, when she finally emerges. Her name is Mrs. White. Though she happens to be Asian, the name still fits. She maneuvers her five-foot-nothing frame around the desk to sit in an enormous black-leather chair. She smiles sweetly.
“I need to be transferred out of my history class,” I announce firmly. “I don’t have a computer!” I cannot contain the rage.
Her tranquility is a stark contrast. She tries to soothe me with her gentle tone. “We have other students that don’t have a computer, which is why we provide….”
“I’m sick and tired of everything being so hard.” My voice cracks, anger giving way to despair. Tears well up in my eyes. “I don’t deserve this. It’s not fair. What did I do?” I drop my face into my hands.
Mrs. White darts out of her gigantic chair, closes her office door, and grabs the flowery pink tissue box on her bookshelf. “What are we really talking about, David?”
A year’s worth of concealed anguish, frustration, and disappointment gushes as I relive the saga of recent days. I vent so much that I miss my first-period class.
∗ ∗ ∗
The deputy’s stiff khaki uniform bunches oddly at the shoulder as he motions to the locksmith, who moves swiftly in his faded jeans and T-shirt. Our eyes meet as he jingles toward the door. Then his gaze darts around the room, searching for something less pitiful to look at. He seems relieved as he crouches in front of the door and begins to fiddle with the knob. The emotional numbness I have felt so many times before sets in, and I stare in detached fascination as he goes about the task of ensuring that I can no longer get into my house.
I am jarred back to reality by my mother’s hollow voice. “David, honey, go upstairs and pack up some of your clothes. And wake up Daniel and tell him to do the same. Everything’s gonna be all right.”
“Yeah,” I say. It’s all I can manage. I dutifully walk upstairs and do as I’m told. I shake my younger brother awake. “Daniel, Mom needs you to get up and pack some clothes.”
“Why?” he asks groggily, in his high-pitched voice.
“We’re getting kicked out.”
“I don’t know, just get up.”
“Mom!” he yells. He throws off the covers and runs downstairs. Highly annoyed with him, I start stuffing clothes into the trash bag I’ve brought upstairs. A minute later my mom appears at the door of our room, holding my brother’s hand.