For most kids, Friday often marks the beginning of two days of no school… a family fun-filled weekend of adventures, or sleeping in or hours of playing to their heart’s content.
But that was not the case for my sisters and I. Friday often marked the beginning of anxiety and fear. What did this weekend have in store for us?
Would dad get drunk and come home in a rage of anger Friday night? Or would it be Saturday morning? Where would we hide this time? Probably in our mom’s closet where the smell of earth from the adobe walls wrapped around us… where the pile of shoes underneath our feet didn’t matter- no matter how uncomfortable they felt against our bare feet, and where somehow we thought that the clothes hanging from the bar would protect and hide our little bodies. But it was never us he hurt physically… It was always mom.
It always started with her questioning him, “where did you go this time?” she would ask. The interrogation would follow, “do we have any money left?” would always be the trigger question… the question that always changed the course of his mood.
We knew he spent it all- treating his friends to a good time at the bar that bordered the Pueblo. I always hated those friends so much- didn’t they know he had a family? Didn’t they know he would come home and beat my mom if she tried to hold him accountable for his generosity?
From that closet we heard the worst sounds. The meanest words exchanged by people who loved one another. The broken sounds of what I imagine “hurt” to sound like. I held my sisters tight.
Sometimes we would sing songs to each other to mask the screams…until I heard the cry I feared the most- the one that called my name to help her. It never failed. I would jump out the window and run as fast as I could to the gas station a mile away- and call for someone to come save my mom.
But, this time was different. This time mom knew she had enough. As they took my dad away, yet again, we were rushed into the house to grab our belongings. A whirlwind swept the house as she packed us into five Glad trash bags. I cried to take my Lisa Frank trapper keeper, I begged to keep my piggy bank, and I snuck the old playing cards under my shirt as they drove us into the city. That was it- our entire world in trash bags. And… my treasured items stuffed under my shirt.
We arrived at the woman’s shelter. Since there were four of us- we got our own room. Two bunkbeds covered with burnt orange rough-to-the-touch blankets. It smelled like sand drowning in cleaning supplies. Mom unpacked the world of four into the one dresser we would now share. She cried. So I cried.
It wasn’t too long before we got the hang of it. I made new friends in the giant dirt courtyard. They shared their limited worldly belongings with me, and I, in turn, shared mine with them. A Lisa Frank trapper keeper was friend-making gold back then. We knew why one another called this place “home” now and we were all a little kinder for it. We shared our new home like a family would.
But, we all knew we wanted to be back in our real homes, surrounded by our own things, in our own rooms- lost in childhood.
Then one afternoon as the sun began to hide behind the western buildings, shining the same burnt orange like those itchy blankets on my bunkbed- my new friends and I were called to a room we hadn’t been privy to yet. The library.
We entered the room with our eyes wide and our mouths open in excitement. There was a sense of love in that room. Comfort. I missed dinner that night because I didn’t want to leave. I sat in an old leather bean bag that had seen its best days pass and read, and read, and read.
I had finally escaped. My little mind and heart, for a few hours, had finally forgotten where I was and why I was there. It provided me a sense of escape, a sense of refugee… but most importantly, it provided me a sense of normalcy. For those few moments that I could read and get lost in a book- I was just another kid, reading a book in the library… that just so happened to be within a woman’s shelter.
This month, the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is teaming up again with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women for their annual Shumakolowa Gift Shop Giving Tree Children’s Book Drive- to benefit Native American children and families who will be spending their Christmas holiday in shelters.
Last year, the book drive brought in over 300 books, which CSVANW helped coordinate the shipment to shelters across the region. This year, IPCC hopes to bring in double the amount of books to reach more children and families.
Over 80% of all Native women and children who face homelessness this holiday season, have been affected by domestic or sexual violence. This holiday season, please consider purchasing a book to support our children who may be spending their Christmas in a shelter.
For more information about the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Click Here