Saturday, June 09, 2007

Almost Homeless, Nearly Murdered

I was almost homeless at an early age because my mother and I couldn't, wouldn't, and refused to get along when I was in high school and leading up to my first year in college. Looking back on it now, I'm surprised that it ever came to my living in the YMCA in Downtown Houston, given the size of my immediate and extended family.

When I think back to the incident that resulted in the deadline my mother gave me to vacate, I draw a blank. It could've been anything that caused a riff between us. We fought about my attending a predominantly white high school, my having a phone in my bedroom, money I spent on clothes I bought with my earnings, or her unrealistic idea that she was losing me, and I my identity, to a white majority.

I didn't think about losing my identity while packing the contents of my life up to seventeen in boxes and suitcases. I thought about which family member or friend of family I'd call to offer refuge from my mother's wrath.

As I stood in my bedroom with a solitary calendar on the wall--I'd removed all other wall and door adornments--I flashed back to the previous time my mother put my younger brother and I out of the house. An underage female cousin was in trouble, and my mother felt it her duty to shelter her during her time of need. She'd always wanted a girl, and this was the closest she'd come in rescuing my cousin prior to her procedure. (This reminds me of Daisy's monologue from Baby with the Bathwater by Christopher Durang. In it, his mother always wanted a girl, or a bestseller.)

That episode unfolded with my stepping in to prevent my mother from what I thought would paralyze my younger brother during one of her famous fire and brimstone whippings. We had to iron our school clothes a few days, if not a week, in advance. We were ironing and fooling around when she tore into the bedroom intent on chastising him for something, other, or another. He fell back onto a bed of wire hangers (pardon the Mommie Dearest references), and I interrupted her swing. "Stop, you're going to hurt him."

I thought about one of the hooks working its way into his spine and paralyzing him. She thought I was defying her on principle. She huffed, puffed, and had the apartment not been made of bricks, would've blown the room off the foundation.

Off she went into her bedroom, arms flailing, jaws full of air; my cousin lurking just out of sight. She regrouped, returned, and told us to get out. She forced us out of the house, barefoot, sniffling, coughing, crying. (She was always worried about what the neighbors thought, so she ordered us back inside to put on shoes, get our belongings, and leave.)

Back inside, I called every relative with a phone and a car who we thought would come to our rescue. No one volunteered, but one aunt offered, "Your mother is crazy, chile, I'm not coming over there."

After exhausting all family members, I decided to call her then best friend, may she RIP, who came to pick us up without a second thought about her friendship with my mother. She knew my mother's temperament, that she was wrong, and she was our last hope that night.

Black garbage bags stuffed with clothes, shoes, and anything that fit on top, we waited at the end of the apartment walkway for our rescuer. I recall the look on her face as she peeked through the curtains: Damn, they got away.They don't need me.
Many years later, it was a Mexican friend who lived in the neighborhood, and attended the same predominantly white high school, that backed his black TransAm (Camaro?) underneath the dining room window and helped me load my boxes and suitcases in the trunk en route to a high school friend's house. I'd called a friend from theatre class to ask for advice, help. His father answered and informed me that he wasn't home, but he was more concerned with my emotional state (crying, blubbering). Without ever laying eyes on me, knowing nothing about me, he invited me to stay at their apartment.

Mother had always feared I'd grow up white, which was genetically impossible in my case, but there I was living like a foster child with a white classmate and his father. I stayed there for about two months before I made the next stop to the YMCA. One of my godmothers, may she, too, RIP, pulled up in a her customized burgundy and white Cadillac, and off I went to register for a room.

I remember the residence hall as large, dimly-lit, and not a place I wanted to be, but had no other options at that time. I didn't think to ask, or my godmother didn't offer me a place to stay. I don't recall if it was from a place to strengthen my resolve and independence.


We see a young African American male, late teens, sitting in a darkened room, surrounded by boxes, suitcases, with assorted clothes strewn about the bed and faux leather chair. A wall-mounted TV plays in the background as he surveys the room, perhaps wondering how he ended up in a place like this.


A Rubenesque Mexican maid approaches the young African American male having breakfast, stops, looks around room before offering a verbal warning.

¡Ten cuidado, mijo!

Huh? Oh, okay.

As it turned out, the resident in the room to the left of mine had been robbed and murdered the night before. The motherly maid knew I was new, and that I was in the adjacent room. I think I'd been there two or three days by then. I found out from the murmurs and mumblings of other residents in the hallways or near the showers what had actually happened. It could've been me lying in a pool of blood, staring at my body from just above.

I immediately called my godmother. She picked me up in her Caddy, and off we went to her beautiful home miles away from the scene of the crime. I've never forgotten the maid's facial expression and voice. She responded to me as if I were her child. I'll always be grateful for my angels in life.

1 comment:

Porscha said...

This is gorgeously written, so raw, you didn't hold back much. Thanks for sharing your stories.