Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

When I was younger, my mom had a few different friends. Only a few. They were single moms like her and poor like her, but they always seemed to me so unlike us. One friend was Janie. She was the only friend of my mom’s who did not live in our section 8 apartment complex, but instead lived where poverty kept a lot of other people, down past Charter Way.

Janie had three kids. Maybe four. It’s weird how it’s hard to remember certain details from your childhood but others are crystal clear. I remember Janie was skinny, with thin brown hair that was always pulled back. Her skin looked scarred from acne or like someone who’s been on meth too long. She always had a new guy and they were never nice. But I can only remember what one looked like. Eddie, he was skinny and cracked out looking too, with red hair. None of the kids were his.

The youngest was called Junior, but I don’t recall what was the name of the senior. He carried around a stuffed pooh bear, but it was one of those kind you buy on the side of the road or in Tijuana, where they are selling rugs and blankets decorated with what resembles a Disney character. There were two older kids that I remember, a boy and a girl. Maria was the girl. She was younger than I was, but she was a girl so I tried to play dolls with her. She was the kind of girl who would chop off her barbies hair and draw on them with markers. They fought all of the time and they destroyed all of their things. Their mother was always screaming at them. This was not unlike many people I knew.

I never liked going to Janie’s house, wherever her house happened to be because they were alway moving. It was always a mess and smelled like food I didn’t like. I once ate french toast at their house but they had no syrup and it was too egg-y. It tasted bad. We walked out into the cold winter air, down the rows of section 8 triplexes in South Stockton to a school play ground and took turns on a tire swing. A few minutes later I threw up all of the french toast.

I used to lay in bed and watch roaches climb up the walls. I snuck into the living room and watched MTV because the one thing they had that we didn’t, was cable tv.  I’d have rather been at home. But my mom had no family other than my Aunt who she was often fighting with. She had no one to watch her kids except these “friends” of hers.

We did not live in the kinds of areas Janie lived in. We lived in one apartment complex that was on the edge of an imaginary line. One side of the street was the more affluent school district, and the other side of the street was Stockton Unified. We did not go to Stockton Unified schools like Janie’s. In my last year of high school I was walking around my school when I saw someone who looked familiar. It was Maria and she was with her brother. They were yelling and laughing in line for lunch. I watched for a moment to be sure it was them. It wasn’t that I thought I was better than them, but that I wanted my life to do exactly what I did next, go in the opposite direction.


2 responses to “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

  1. Powerfully written, Lisa — I often think back to my mother’s family . . . they were on the downside of the poverty line, and were doing little to ever fix that. We would make trips to visit, several times a year, and we’d always bring a car full of groceries with us when we came. It was just “what we did,” and I still remember the fight that started when a cousin asked why we didn’t just give them the money for groceries, because she really preferred Coke to Pepsi.

    That started off a huge fight between my mom & my aunt . . . as my aunt hated being seen as a charity case, but wanted money for the stuff she “needed.” Apparently, in times before I can remember, my mom would drop off money, and it seldom went toward the necessities.

    That started a string of events that lead to massive barriers between my mother & her siblings . . . and after my grandmother died, nobody worked to take down the barriers, so they’re still up.

    I don’t really know where I’m going with this . . . just, well, it’s difficult to sit on the one side of the imaginary line and look into the other.

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