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April

"You are NOT fucking this up for me, Laura! This is the first time I've been happy since your asshole father left me six years ago!"

What can I say to that? What can anyone? Her new boyfriend hates my guts - probably because he thought it was totally OK to grab the tits of the teenage daughter of the woman he's screwing, and I screamed and threatened to kick him in the balls if he did it again.

He wanted me out of the house, so he could move in. She wanted him more than she wanted me. She never really wanted me, anyway. She was just stuck with me.

What can I say to that? What can I do?

May

I had a friend who had an older sister who could crash me for a few days, and then her friends could take turns letting me sleep on their dorm room floors, and feed me with the leftover money on the meal cards, and share their beer with me. But the semester had only three weeks left - and then what?

At least it would be warm outside. Warmer, anyway.

June

I told him I wanted to write a book about homeless teenagers.

I didn't tell him that I really was one.

He told me his name was Predator, and he brought me back to a place to crash that he called The Pit, and he introduced me to "the others" - Demon Seed, Morticia, Incorrigible, Black Rose, Puma, Torch, Buzzed. He said he'd think of a name for me, later, if I really wanted. Because I was just there writing a book, so maybe I didn't need a name. I told him I was up for the whole experience. He seemed to like that.

July

"They're NOT your friends, you know."

The new kid - a freckle-faced scrawny redhead who had picked up the name Starving - had got me alone to tell me that. He'd overheard Predator say that my name should be Gangdogged, that they were all going to take their turn with me. He didn't know if Predator would actually do it, but....

Over at the burger place, we ran into a guy who was trying to sell us tickets to some concert, and somehow we ended up with him telling us about a place where we could stay - some abandoned building in the Bronx.

We.

Weird.

August

It was "we" now. His real name was Kevin, and we were in love. When we went to grab sandwiches and showers from Darwin House, they kept trying to get us to stay in the shelter. Well, they wanted me, and they wanted Kevin, but not together. They said if we tried to hold on to each other, we would both drown.

Fuck that. We agreed. All we had was each other, and they wanted to take that too? Not happening.

Until I got sick.

They took my temperature and it was 103. Kevin made me go into the shelter, at least until I got better. I didn't know if I'd ever see him again. New York's a big place.

September

I went through the motions of making other plans. My mother didn't want me to come back. They couldn't even find my father. Nobody knew what to do with me. I just wanted to find Kevin again.

"I'm here to rescue you from the tower!"

Kevin!

He'd found a job - and one for me, too - working at a pizza place. The boss's brother owned a building where we could have a room with a door that locked.

No more days panhandling and nights drinking. No more shelter telling us that we needed a "service plan". Better this way.

Except when our past in the Pit tried to chase us into the present.

October

"I can't believe I got fucking taxed!"

"Taxing" was what the Pit guys called mugging people who happened to walk through their turf. Kevin lost a week's pay and got a black eye and a broken nose for his trouble. Worse, Predator had said, "I haven't forgotten about that bitch!"

That bitch is me. Shit. What do we do now?

The boss lends us the money to get a cheap basement apartment out on Staten Island, and switches us to working at the pizza shop he owns out there. I hope it works - I'm not sure the five boroughs are big enough for Kevin and Demon Seed.

November

This should have worked. Really. Just two problems:

1) They found us again. We saw them, but they didn't see us. Yet. Still. This is bad.
2) I'm pregnant. Kevin wants me and the baby safe.

As soon as we can pay the boss back for helping us move, we're going to have to move again. Maybe he knows someone else who can use the place.

Happy fucking Thanksgiving to us.

December

We have bus tickets to that college town where I used to crash in the dorms, and a few hundred dollars. I remember hearing about a place there that had rooms, mostly rooms that the college kids would rent as art studios or sometimes as summer storage, but the guy would rent a room with a locking door to anyone who could come up with cash - no questions asked.

We get a room and an air mattress and a few blankets and a shelf to put our stuff on. At least it's warm. And at least the Pit kids won't look for us here.

January

I wish I could get a job, but not much luck there. I'm starting to look pregnant. Who wants to hire a pregnant girl? Besides, I can only work under the table since I'm still 17 and don't have working papers. Sometimes I answer ads to walk dogs or clean people's houses, and our old boss is always good for a reference.

Kevin found a job - under the table, of course - working at a food stand near the bus station. He told them he was 19, because they said must be 18 and people ask fewer questions if you're 19 than if you just happen to be 18.

I finally ask him how old he is, really. I mean, I'm having his baby, I should know this stuff. He's 15. Before I left home - my mom's place - I never would have thought about going out with someone younger. I never would've looked at him twice. I don't even know why we're together but now we're all we've got. And neither of us wants our kid to have a stepfather. Ever. So we're going to have to stick together.

February

In a little more than a month, I can stop living under the table. I'll be 18, and I can have ID and a job and start figuring things out.

The problem is, Kevin can't, not for two and a half years. So I'm going to have to do a lot of it for both of us. All three of us, soon. We can't do anything that will make people ask too many questions.

When I don't have a job, I go to the library, and I study for the GED. I think about college - wasn't I supposed to go to college? Maybe I still can?

Kevin works and works and works, as many hours as they'll give him. He brings home the leftovers for dinner. We have granola bars and bananas for breakfast and I eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. No dishes. No place to wash them.

March

Soon.

Soon we can stop washing our hair in the sink down the hall.

Soon I won't have to worry about how on earth we're going to put a crib in here along with the bed that already takes up more than half the room.

Soon I can find a way to get us to live in a place where people are meant to live.

Soon. I hope.

April, again

The food stand is closing. We'll have to figure something else out, something for one of us to do. The sooner the better.

But we'll be OK. I hope.

We have a place to live. A real place that's meant for people to live in. Finally.

I signed the papers for the trailer today. It might as well be Buckingham-fucking-Palace.

Someone was giving a trailer away for free if we could pay the lot rent. We can, for a few months, at least until the baby is born. Then we can figure this out again.

I hope we can. Kevin's taking it pretty hard, losing the job. He doesn't know what he's going to do. He says he has to work, so he doesn't have time to think. It's what keeps him out of trouble.

But hey, we got this far, right? Somehow, we'll keep going, right?

---
Credits: This is loosely based on a scenario (one of the more optimistic ones!) from The Runaway Game, from the perspective of one of the other characters.

Comments

( 35 comments — Leave a comment )
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myrna_bird
Mar. 6th, 2011 08:34 pm (UTC)
A convincing look at how some kids on the street manage to survive. Well costructed. Easy to read and follow. I enjoyed it.
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you found it convincing. I was trying to walk the line between not setting up a totally hopeless scenario and not having a bunch of unrealistic rosy optimism.
(no subject) - myrna_bird - Mar. 8th, 2011 01:28 am (UTC) - Expand
thursdayschild
Mar. 6th, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
It's sad and beautiful all at the same time.
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :)
solstice_singer
Mar. 6th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
This sounds so much like the stories I heard from young women I talked with when I worked with homeless people. They're always planning, always trying to be a step ahead, but, when they can't, they just live in the moment, and hope for the best, hope that they'll figure something out when the time comes.

What is the Runaway Game?
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
The Runaway Game started as the master's thesis of an MSW student who did street outreach for fieldwork. It's a Choose Your Own Adventure type of story, where each set of choices brings you to a different point. It's centered on the character I called Kevin, and Laura is a character that shows up if you start by riding a bus out of town.

I moved the action from Los Angeles to New York City because I know the area better, and I also wanted to tell Laura's story. I found her one of the more compelling characters in any scenario, and what happens in October was the ending from the game the first time I played it through. It's one of a small handful of relatively happy endings that don't directly involve going into a shelter.
(no subject) - roina_arwen - Mar. 10th, 2011 06:39 am (UTC) - Expand
basric
Mar. 6th, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC)
Terribly sad, but well written.
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks. :)
faerie_spark
Mar. 7th, 2011 01:03 am (UTC)
Riveting and heartbreaking. It's easy to forget that this is reality for too many kids. Very well-written; I was on the edge of my chair during the entire piece.
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
Not so easy for me to forget, since I work with the programs that are supposed to help. One of my biggest gripes, incidentally, is that so many programs do try to separate any youth who want to stay together, except for siblings. I think that if there was more willingness to treat couples as couples, even very young couples, some youth might be more willing to accept help. Just a theory at this point, with only a few small bits of evidence to back up (a survey I was responsible for compiling the results of, that asked about social support for youth in foster care who had gone on to college - a significant minority did mention a boyfriend or girlfriend as primary social support).
dawnstar
Mar. 7th, 2011 01:42 am (UTC)
This was an AMAZING read. I was hooked and experiencing it the way one experiences a good book or movie, by the 2nd month.
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
Wow! Thanks!

...and to think I was really worried about this one. :P
team_jessie
Mar. 7th, 2011 02:20 am (UTC)
I loved the journal entry style of this. It really clipped along and made for an excellent read!
cheshire23
Mar. 7th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
ecosopher
Mar. 7th, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC)
What I loved best was the optimism of this. A really authentic piece. Great writing.
cheshire23
Mar. 9th, 2011 03:57 am (UTC)
I don't like for there to be no hope, and in the original Runaway Game most scenarios are comparatively optimistic for Laura even when they aren't for the Kevin character.

I'm glad you enjoyed it!
shadowwolf13
Mar. 8th, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC)
Nicely done.
cheshire23
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:01 am (UTC)
Thanks, glad you liked it.
soprano1790
Mar. 8th, 2011 11:54 pm (UTC)
Cool. I love this. There like little snapshots into their lives.
cheshire23
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:01 am (UTC)
Thanks. :)
lawchicky
Mar. 9th, 2011 12:10 am (UTC)
This seemed very realistic- well done!
cheshire23
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:01 am (UTC)
Thank you!
tigrkittn
Mar. 9th, 2011 03:42 am (UTC)
This grabbed me right from the start. Loved it. I like the terse style.
cheshire23
Mar. 9th, 2011 04:01 am (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)
nyxocity
Mar. 9th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
This was really good, and pulled me in and made me care almost instantly. So well-written!
locknkey
Mar. 9th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
Nicely done- engaging and hear felt. The starkness fits the theme.
hosticle_fifer
Mar. 10th, 2011 03:28 pm (UTC)
Tough and well written!
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