Trade In

Being poor doesn’t mean have a poor attitude, it just means do better in the future.
I remember when I was 12, mama and I stayed in an abandoned garage
We were so poor, we had to sleep on a bunch of paper towels mama stole from the bakery store bathroom
One day, I went to school, and had breakfast. I ate just the toast, I ran home and gave mama the rest.
During lunch I took just a few bites, and ran home again and mama took just a few bites and saved the rest for later, so that we would have something to eat before bed.
My homeroom teacher had knitted a quilt. I knew I’d need it, it’s getting colder day by day.
My teacher was absent from class the next day, I took the quilt and ran home.
Mama took it and covered up with it. I ran back to school and the substitute teacher was passing out
Mini chocolate bars.
I was so hungry, but I had to save it.
By the time school was over, Mama would start the
Fire place, but the garage was still cold.
Mama put the chocolate away to save it for emergency food.
I went days without eating, for there was no school on the weekends. Mama and I had to deal with the hunger, until one day, I seen a cat clawing at the dumpster behind the bakery we lived near.
It smelled so wonderful, my stomach growled.
Then the cat sat still, then it jumped into the dumpster
I heard nothing but rumbling
I took a peek and he was eating.
How can so much food go to waist?
I climbed in, and ate. I stuffed my face until I was full.
I even found a bag that was in there, filled it up and took it home
I thanked the cat and noticed the cat did not have a place to live. So, I took the cat home.
When I got home, mama jumped up and snatched the bag.
All she seen were treats! Food! Mama ate, until she was full. That was the first time we had been full in years. She put the rest away and saved it.

I remember when the snow came, our door wasn’t even a door, it looked more like a wooden bathroom stall door. It didn’t touch the top, didn’t reach the bottom. So I guess we lived in something more like a shed.
I felt all the wind, while I was sleep. Every ounce of it. How can something so light be so cold?
Mama used the paper towels to block the gap on the bottom of the door.
Sometimes, it helped keep the snow out.
I remember hearing other kids play, but mama said not to go outside.
When school came back around, I did the same routine, eat a little, run the rest home for mama.
My teacher asked about the quilt, but no one said anything. Thank god. She began knitting another one while us students were working.
I heard people snickering and whispering about me, about my clothes.
I wore the same thing everyday. My overalls, but my left strap doesn’t attach to the button anymore, so I tie it together in a knot, my holey grey shirt that is dirty, but I try to keep it clean, and my shoes which now look like sandals, but I use tape to keep them together. I found this sweater outside, and I began to wear it over my bad clothing. My “new” sweater was the newest, slightly cleanest piece of clothing I had on.
Some of the kids at school, teased me because I reeked. I can’t shower. There is nothing at home, but an old rocking chair, a shelf, and a fireplace mama made. I’m not sure how she made it, but I try to keep warm with the fire. It was our only source of heat.

I remember when I finally made a friend at school, Jeremy. He brought me to his house; he and his mother questioned me. I didn’t say anything, but Jeremy, gave me a pair of his shoes, one shirt and one pair of pants.
I wore them so much, they began to look like my overalls.
Jeremy asked to come to my house and I made excuse after excuse, until there weren’t anymore.
He followed me home, and barged into my place.
He stood by the door and stared.
“this is where you live?”
I didn’t say anything. Mama stood up and mugged him. He looked at mama and turned around and ran. I shouted out the door, “see you at school!”
When I went to school, Jeremy approached me, “you don’t have to be ashamed, I’ll still be your friend. You can stop running home to give your mom school food. You both can come to my house and eat. My mom won’t mind.”
He began bringing his own lunch to school and bringing me one too. They even bought mama food while I was at school, and on the weekends we went to their place to eat and play.
But as we all know good things only last for so long. Jeremy complained about how the kids in school were mean. So, he and his mother moved away. I never saw them again.
I went back to digging in the dumpster and running back and forth to give mama food.
One day, I was dumpster diving, and Mary-lee from school and her father, had caught me in the dumpster. She went and told the entire school the next day. Everyone teased me. I ran home, and I shouted at mama
“WHY CAN’T WE LIVE SOME PLACE BETTER AND HAVE FOOD?!”
Mama touched my shoulder, “everything will be fine.” But I knew nothing will never be fine.
“”I HATE YOU!” “I HATE IT HERE!” “I HATE BEING POOR!”
I ran. I ran far away.
I didn’t returned for a whole week.
Mama smacked me, then she hugged me. When I came back.
“Just because we are poor does not mean we are not strong. We will be okay”.
I went to school the next day, and I had to go to the office.
Principal Mark wanted to speak to me about my living conditions. I didn’t speak. Until he gave me food. I felt guilty, so I told the truth.
After that, I walked home and many parents said hello to me. Many other kids spoke. Even after everyone looked at me like I was a disgusting animal.
When I returned to school the next day, there was a long line of white and black and hispanic people in suits and dresses.
They held up cameras and it flashed at me. I walked to class, and I was pulled out. A lady named Isabel Grutia, wanted to speak with me. She told me she worked for a DCFS company. She asked was I being harmed, did I feel safe and how often did I eat at home. I spilled the beans as her pen danced across her paper.
After I spoke to her, a man wanted to speak to me. Quinn Days. Quinn gave me his card and told me to give it to my mom. I told him she cannot call, we have no phone. He said never mind I will come to you. I told him there was no direct address. He said that’s okay, nevermind.
After he spoke to me, other people wanted to speak to me, but why?
I ran home to only find out mama was gone. I waited for her, but the wait was long.
Mama was gone for weeks. Weeks turned into forever.
At school I spoke with Isabel Grutia again and she told me she had a surprise for me. There was a white couple sitting in the office waiting to greet me. They looked so happy, clothes looked clean, bellies even looked full.
“This is Joseph and Lauren Harris. They want to adopt you”.
I didn’t know what that meant but I knew things were going to get better.
I bought them to my place, mama was still gone. Joseph and Lauren were in shock. They knelt down, “you can forget about this place now. Let’s go somewhere happy”.
I couldn’t leave mama. So I asked to find her. It took them months, but to only find out mama was gone for good. Mama died. I don’t know how, she didn’t look sick. I thought she was fine.
I remember her telling me she was going to find food and blankets so she may not be back in time.
Sadly, she never made it back.
I left with the nice people and started a new life. And I didn’t once look back.
So, here I am 34 years old, teaching at my old school, telling you young children, if you have any problems at home don’t hesitate to tell someone. You’ll never know what the results are. Always appreciate your parents, and do so with respect.
©Kiah-kay Holman, 2016

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