Character Three - LIL
I don’t know how my kids feel about bein’ homeless. I guess they’re too young to know they are. Mainly, they seem okay as long as I’m with ‘em. But I’m ashamed to have ‘em out here like this. I suppose I’m not much of a mother.
Sometimes I take Jody and Sammy and Zach beggin’ with me because we need money for food and people give better if kids are there. But at the same time, they look at me like I was some kind of monster. Maybe I am but I love my kids with all my heart and I’m deathly afraid of losin’ ‘em.
Jody’s only three. She’s smart as a whip. Sammy’s 18 months and doesn’t cry much except when he’s real hungry. Baby Zach is 9 months and he’s beautiful. He cried a lot at first ‘cause I had trouble nursing ‘im but he’s okay now.
The thing is that each of my kids has a different father and I’m ashamed of that. No denying I’ve done some dumb things in my life but who hasn’t? People in the welfare office kept threatin’ to take my kids away and put ‘em in foster homes. I know those people mean well but I tell ‘em no one can love my kids like I do. Taking ‘em away from me would hurt my kids, hurt ‘em bad. They’d shrivel up inside, I know they would.
I tell people there are more important things than livin’ in a nice house and havin’ plenty of food and stuff. What’s more important is havin’ a mother’s love, havin’ someone those little one’s know would die for ‘em if it came to that. My kids are young but they know I’d do that.
When they stopped my welfare checks I told those welfare people that there’s lots of homeless kids livin’ in nice houses and eatin’ good because they don’t feel as loved or safe as my kids do. They laughed at me and threatened me again when I said that. That scares me so I try to keep my kids hidden out of the way where no one will find ‘em and take ‘em away from me. I don’t think that’s wrong to do. I don’t think bein’ desperate poor is no sin. I use ta’ be a nurse’s aid until things got tough. I lost that job and now who wants to hire someone like me anyway?
It is terrible hard though. People say get a job. I tell ‘em I’d like to. I try to. But what’ll I do with the kids? They say somebody'll take care of ‘em ‘til I get on my feet. Somebody? Yeah, sure! Besides, I tell ‘em I am on my feet. All the time. Movin’ around, lookin’ for food and a dry place to sleep.
What I need is somewhere to get off my feet, a warm bed for me and the kids without some fool crawling in there with me, you know, making promises for the favor and then disappearin’ afterward. And most jobs I can get don’t pay enough for me to get together a security deposit for even a dump of an apartment like I got tossed out of after I lost my last job a bunch of months ago and couldn’t find no other one.
So I tell those people like I tell anybody, not to judge me for the dumb things I’ve done but for the love I got for my kids. I’m takin’ care of the best way I can and I’ll keep doin’ that. And they're doin' okay. I just could use a break, a little help.
But I admit I’m awful ashamed to be out here like this, homeless and all. And because of not bein’ able to find a good payin’ job on accounta’ havin’ dropped out just before high school like I did and not bein’ educated enough. But I’m not stupid. I just need some education and trainin. But people don’t seem interested in givin’ that to me ‘cause they already decided I’m stupid.
The thing is, it’s hard havin’ little children countin’ on you, dependin’ on you, trustin’ that you’ll take care of ‘em. Especially when you’re not sure at all you can do it right. I wonder if maybe most mothers and fathers feel that way. This season, when I think about Jesus’ being born of poor parents like he was, I bet Mary and Joseph felt the same as me. I bet they did. Bet a lotta people do, workin’ or not.
A while back, I found some beads somebody musta dropped outside a WAWA. I know they’re called rosary beads ‘cause sometimes when I sneak the kids into catholic churches to try to get warm for awhile, I see people runnin’ their fingers over beads like these. I asked one lady about ‘em and she just said, “They’re my rosary beads. What are you doing in this church if you don’t know that.” She walked off before I could tell her what I was doing there.
Anyway, at night after the kids are asleep, I do like I saw those people in church doin’. I kneel down and run my fingers over the beads and I say prayers askin’ for God’s help. I ask for Jesus to help, too. And Mary’s help, because maybe, a mother like her will take pity. I don’t suppose I’m doing the rosary beads right, but I hope God will forgive me and help me, ‘cause I sure need it. I can’t do this alone, taking care of my kids and all.
Sometimes in this season I start thinkin’ of the shepherds watchin’ over their flocks that night Jesus was born. I mean when I’m watchin’ in the dark over my kids to be sure nothin’ happens to ‘em and prayin’ like that, or when I’m watchin’ what’s going on in the streets all night, especially those last couple hours before dawn Maybe it’s pretty vain of me, comparin’ myself like that to people in the Christmas story, but I don’t mean it that way.
What I mean is, I’m just one, but there are a lot of shepherd types out here in the night, not just homeless. Like nurses going to work in hospitals, cab drivers and bus drivers takin’ people home, ambulance drivers and firemen respondin’ to calamities, police drivin’ around lookin’ for stuff going down, cooks and waitresses in all night restaurants, guys dropping off newspapers at the stands which, by the way, we sometimes flitch a couple to put under our sweaters or stuff in our shoes to help some against the cold. Anyway, there’s lots of shepherd types around.
So when I’m prayin’ and fingerin’ my beads at times like that, I keep a sharp ear out to see if I’ll hear an angel saying stuff like “Glory to God and peace on earth” or “don’t be afraid, a savior is born to you.” Sometimes I think maybe I do hear stuff, but since nobody else seems to, I’m not sure. Still, prayin’ and listenin’ like that does make me feel more peaceful and hopeful and that’s not bad.
But one night, when I was prayin’ like that, and watchin’ I did hear something. It was Hank telling Maude about his daughter who dropped out of school and ran away and he’s been lookin’ for all these years since she showed up unexpected at the Bed and Breakfast he had but he didn’t recognize her and turned her and her friend away.
Since I dropped out of school myself, and never knew my Dad, and my Mom died of drinkin’ too much when I was 12 or so, I felt a mysterious kind of warmness in me about Hank’s story. It felt like an angel message, sort of. I felt close to Hank, missin’ his daughter so much and none of us never knew. Me or Maude or Daryl or nobody knew. So it just came to me that we should go find that Bed and Breakfast and hang out there ‘cause Hank’s daughter, Maggie, might come back lookin’ for him there. So that’s what I blurted out right on the spot, still kneeling like I was. And Hank and the others thought it was a good idea.
So that’s what we did. We walked across town to that Bed and Breakfast and it was like we were shepherds, watchin’ over each other, includin’ my kids. All of us goin’ together like that, and bein’ here and waitin’ and watchin’ seems sort of like a special gift. To me it does any way. A gift like the shepherds got by goin’ to see the baby Jesus.
I mean, me and Maude and Hank and Wisey … that’s what we started callin’ Dayrl … us four had been more or less together for quite a while. Then somethin’ happens, somethin’ kind of mysterious, and now we’re together different, like what seems for the first time. I bet the shepherds felt like that when they went to Bethlehem that night. More than that, I bet they were feelin’ they were really bein’ cared for themselves by another Shepherd. The One in the stable. I bet they did, ‘cause that’s what I feel like right now.