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I was 12 years old when I heard a knock on the door, late one Saturday night. When I opened the door two police officers were standing there with their flashlights on my face. I turned on the porch lights and they lowered their flashlights. They asked me if I was “my name”, and I was nervous, but said yes. They proceed to tell me that my mom had been arrested for driving under the influence and since it was her third offense she would be going to jail. They asked me if an adult was living with me, and I don’t know why I told them that my older brother lived here, he was 19, because he did not; I hadn’t seen him for months. They said OK and went on their way. I was surprised they did not ask to talk to him. A couple of days went by and I received a phone call from my mom, letting me know that she was ok and not to worry. I later heard from someone else, not sure who, but they told me that my mom was convicted and had to complete a three-year term, possibly less for good behavior and something else. I did not know what that meant or what it meant for me.
That was when my 13-month crisis started. I think back and ask myself; how did my mom continue paying for rent, electricity, water, and phone while she was in jail, it boggles my mind even today. Now think a minute, this was back in the early eighties, social media did not exist and the internet was not something homes had. There was no Pay Pal or Venmo back then or let alone cell phones. I always wondered but never asked how she did it. The one thing that she was not able to do was provide me with food, home essentials like toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper; yah it is amazing the little things we use daily that we do not think about. I was a twelve-year-old boy, living alone with no money and I did not know who to ask for help. The good thing was that I was in school, I did eat breakfast and lunch for free. Come dinner I had food for a while, but I eventually ran out of food about two months into my ordeal. There were days I went over to a friend’s house after school and I would get lucky and eat something. I never did tell anyone; I was too embarrassed.
Now, getting to school was something for the ages. You hear stories about grandpas walking miles in snow and rain just to get to school, but let me tell you my daily routine. The good thing was, that I had a city bus pass, that now that I think about it my mom somehow paid for that as well. I live completely on the other side of town from where I went to school. Class started at 7:35 am, so I would get up at 3:30 am each day to make it on time. I would leave the house about 4:00 am and walk about 45 minutes south – I remember the streets and now that I am older, I know the four cardinal directions. I would then turn right going west and walk about another 15 minutes to a bus terminal. There I would catch my first bus at 5:05 AM, which took me an hour to get to the second bus. I would have about a 5-minute window to catch the second bus which was at 6:10 AM. That bus ride was about 40 minutes. I would arrive about 6:50 AM to the third bus, but most of the time I would miss third bus by about five minutes and I would have to walk the rest of the way to school. I would make it to school about 7:15 AM or so – some days I would make it at 7:05 AM if I was able to catch the third bus. Once at school, I would rush to grab breakfast and well school started.
My ride home was a bit longer, but I did not mind, because I read a lot of books or studied a lot for school during those bus rides. I eventually got to know the bus drivers, and I remember one time, this was about 6 months in, I was running late about 5 minutes, and the first bus driver waited for me. He said he got nervous that he did not see me, so he decided to wait. He called ahead for the second bus and he waited for me as well. I was totally surprised and grateful. I had some good conversations during the bus rides with both bus drivers – I happen to sit at the front on both bus rides so I talked with the bus drivers quite a bit. I realize now that, even though I had friends, I socialized at school, the real-life conversations were with two complete strangers.
The summer was horrific, I did not have any food and I would go days without eating. The thing that I believe kept me alive that summer was the neighbors having weekend Carne Asada’s, they would always invite me – I sometimes wonder if they knew. After the BBQ they would offer me a plate of food to take home, which they would pile up and it would last me a couple of days – maybe they did know.
When I got back to school one of my teachers asked me if I was ok, I said yes. He said that I was looking thin and pale, I told him I did not realize that. The thing is I had lost nearly 35 pounds. I was normally about 130 back then. So, I was about 95 pounds when the teacher asked. I was about 5 feet tall back then, so I did look a little skinny, but not much. I guess it was noticeable. Anyhow, a year had gone by, and I was not sure anymore. I remember that month because it was so hard. Every evening going to bed without eating, I tried to shower but had no soap, toothpaste ran out so I rinsed my mouth with water, and sometimes I added a little salt – only because I remember my mom putting salt in water and making me gargling it. I was not sure if that worked, I just tried. I also realized that I had no detergent and I had no clue how to wash clothes, so what I did was rinse them in the sink and hung them outside to dry – no detergent, but they were clean somewhat. The little things we do not think about, is amazing.
I remember being curled up on the bathroom floor after I showered one day, I was lost, I did not know what was going on. It was then I heard her voice, my mother – it was weird but she sounded far away like in a tunnel. She was in tears and all I felt was her arms around me, but I wasn’t sure if it was her. I could hear her sobbing and scream, but I thought it was only a dream. My mom had found me laying on the bathroom floor, she thought I was dead – what she found was a small shriveled-up boy, that weighed 70 pounds. I woke up the next day and I looked around, but my mom was not there. I think I lost it and started to cry and thought how real it was. The thing is my mom had gone to the store early, bought food, medicine, shampoo, and it looked like she bought the store. She prepared food and had me take another shower; it was nice, what the difference shampoo and body soap make. I changed my clothes and ATE, but I got sick afterward, so I had to go easy. My mom got a hold of my older brother, and she put a beating on him – you know what I mean.
My mom was released from jail for good behavior. My mother had taken nursing classes while in jail so it was a combination of things that allowed for her early release. All I know was that I was glad she was home. I honestly do not think I would have made it through another summer. Those 13 months had opened my eyes to many things about the kind of person I wanted to be when I grew up. Now that I look back at those 13-months and the person I am. I wonder, if I became what that kid was thinking about. I wonder if social media would have made my life different, would I have been in foster care, or something else could have crossed my path, I don’t know. I just know that those 13-months of my life I will never get back.
Thank you for reading, I hope you are having or had a wonderful Memorial Day. My deepest respect to those that have served, thank you. I leave you with this thought, “life can get tough, and sometimes nearly impossible, but never underestimate what you can do, and keep pushing – never give up”.