For most kids, Friday marks the beginning of two days off from school…two full days of playing, laughing and being kids.
That wasn’t always the case for my sisters and me. Friday often marked the beginning of anxiety and fear. On Friday afternoons, questions weighed heavy on mind…
What did this weekend have in store for us?
Would dad get drunk and come home Friday night? Or would it be in the early hours Saturday morning? Where would we hide this time?
Probably in our mom’s closet where the smell of rain always lingered, somehow my mom had captured the smell of rain touching the dry earth in her modest wardrobe…and it became our haven. That small room protected us from dad’s drunken rage.
But it was never us he hurt… It was always mom.
More questions. But not from me…from mom, “where did you go this time?” she would demand. The confrontation would follow, “Do we have any money left?”
We all 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?
From that closet, we heard the worst sounds. The cruelest words exchanged by people who loved one another. The sounds of hurt. I held my sisters tight.
Sometimes we would sing songs to each other to mask the yelling…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 nearest pay phone half a mile away. and call for someone to come save my mom.
But, this time was different when help came. 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 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 as many trash bags we could carry. And…my treasured trinkets stuffed under my shirt.
We arrived at the woman’s shelter in the city. Far away from home. Since there were four of us- we got our own cottage. Two bunk beds covered with burnt orange rough-to-the-touch blankets. The room smelled like dirt drowning in cleaning supplies. Mom unpacked our world 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 new place “home” and we were all a little kinder for it. We shared our new home as a family would.
But, the truth is, 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 eastern 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 allowed in yet.
The Shelter library.
We entered the room with our eyes wide in excitement. There was a sense of love in that room. A sense of 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. While the books provided me with a sense of escape, a sense of refugee… most importantly, what it provided was 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, Red Planet Books and Comics is teaming up with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women for their annual Little One Book Drive – to benefit Native American children and families who will be spending their Christmas holiday in shelters.
Over 80% of all Native women and children who will face homelessness this holiday season have been affected by domestic or sexual violence. Please join CSVANW build a stronger community for our little ones and consider purchasing a book or making a donation by clicking HERE.