Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
I grew comfortable with that room within a day’s time. Not out of desire but out of necessity. Holding a 7-month-old baby 24 hours a day is just not possible. Scott reached his boiling point and screamed to be given free reign. It killed me to even let him touch the floor, but all I could do was keep it as clean as possible and wash him constantly.
Nate worked on plans for our next step, which meant me taking a taxi to the local welfare office to apply for food stamps and cash. If the police were searching for me along with him, we’d be found, but it was a chance he was willing to take to get us moved out of this room.
In the taxi, I squeezed as close to the door as possible in case I needed to make a quick run for it (I didn’t trust anyone). I kept a close eye on my surroundings, trying to get used to the idea that Chattanooga just might be my new home. The area, much like our efficiency apartment, was less than desirable, and the welfare office was located in an even scarier place. People milled about inside and out, some in line, some arguing with each other, and still others leaving in outrage that they’d been denied assistance. So many of them got into nice vehicles, and I couldn’t help but wonder why they needed help to begin with. Surely their situations were better than mine.
The taxi driver told me he’d wait, but I knew that was silly, not to mention costly. These kinds of things don’t happen fast, and so I sent him on his way, saying I would call again when I was ready. It was my first taxi ride ever, and I didn’t realize in a city of this size, the chances of ever seeing him again were slim and none.
This was a familiar process, the whole line of questioning and all. “How are you currently supporting yourself if you have no money? Where are your parents? How can you be married? Where is your baby and husband now?” I answered as honestly as I felt I could without compromising my chance of getting the food stamps we so desperately needed.
“You’ll have to call us back in ten days since you don’t have an address or phone,” the social worker said, shaking her head. I could tell she disapproved, and I also thought she might be new to this job. There was just a small spark of concern in her eyes.
When I returned to the lobby, I fished around in my purse for change to call the taxi back. Just as I inserted the coins and began to dial, a lady approached me and asked me if I needed help.
“Oh no, I’m fine,” I said, and started to turn away.
“You look like a kid,” she said. “You a runaway? You lost?”
I flashed my wedding ring at her and smiled. “Married. But thank you.”
“What? How old you?”
“Fifteen,” I said, and hung up because she wasn’t going to let me make this call right now.
“Shit no! Sorry, but no way. Can’t believe it. What you doing here?”
Desperate for some kind of compassion, I told her about our situation, leaving out the part where we were on the run from the law, ending with this very moment of me trying to call the taxi so I could go back.
“Oh hell no, girl! Let me drive you. I got a car right over there. You can pay me half of what you would pay the taxi. Whatever it was on the way over, you just pay me half that, OK?”
I thought about it for a moment. She seemed nice enough, safe enough. She was almost grandmotherly, her bosom meant for cradling little ones, her face putting her at least near 50, and I trusted her smile. I needed to believe there were good, kind people who wanted to help.
“OK, thank you,” I said, and followed her to her car.
“Well, hold up,” she said when I got in. “I drove a friend here. Let me get her.”
She walked back to the building and met up with another woman who looked very much like her. They spoke for a moment, both glancing over at me a few times, and then came back. Only for a brief moment did I have second thoughts and consider getting out of the car. But as she smiled at me again, I knew I was in safe hands.
There was no way I’d know if we were going the right way back to our efficiency or not. I just sat and tried not to eavesdrop on their conversation, letting thoughts of my own situation occupy my time.
When they pulled into a rundown apartment complex very much like where I was living, I felt the first twinge of fear in my belly. She parked the car and looked back at me, swinging her beefy arm across the seat.
“You got that gas money? I kind of need it right now.”
“Oh, umm…” and I dug into my stonewashed jean purse for the few dollars that made up half the taxi ride.
She counted it and then turned back again. “Sorry, hon, I didn’t realize it wouldn’t be very much. I’m going to have to charge you the whole taxi amount ‘cause, see, you would have been paying it anyway, so no problem paying it to me, right?”
I shrugged, feeling disappointed. But she had a point, even though I was growing suspicious. I gave her the rest of the money I had, knowing it was more than the taxi charged, but I just wanted to get out, get back to Nate and Scott.
“All right, all right, then!” she said, smiling. “You alright, girl.”
Without another word, both women got out and walked into one of the apartments, leaving me sitting there. I didn’t want to get out, too. I had no idea what was inside and no idea where I even was. I could be 15 miles farther away from what we were currently calling home.
They came back out soon enough, laughing to each other, and then climbed back into the car. “Just a few more minutes,” she said.
I stared out the window, trying to watch them out of the corner of my eye, completely aware they were smoking some sort of pipe. Old childhood memories hit me as I recalled riding with my last stepfather as he cruised a neighborhood known for drugs to buy a dime bag. I felt stupid. I’d obviously made another mistake.
A sickly sweet smell filled the car, one I knew was not pot, and the women laughed like hyenas. Every once in a while, one would look back at me, sitting so still and quiet, and it would cause them to laugh louder. I just wanted to get out of the car, run as fast as I could, and find someone to help me. But I wasn’t sure what was better at this point – being inside the car or trying to navigate this scary neighborhood in this city so unfamiliar to me.
The lady driving finally started the car and asked me again where I was staying. She smiled at me, that same smile that made me trust her, and I allowed myself to believe that she was probably still a good person. She just had a problem, that’s all.
As we pulled through the front entrance of the efficiencies, she said, “Girl, you can’t be living up in here with these whores and crackheads. This ain’t no place to be!”
I nodded. I knew that, and I didn’t need her to tell me.
She drove right up to our door, and as I stepped out, Nate came out of our apartment and furrowed his brows.
“What the hell?” he said, not caring that the woman could hear him.
“She gave me a ride, that’s all. Better than waiting for the taxi,” I explained. I didn’t want to say anything to make either one of them mad.
“Look here,” she said. “I know a place that is much better than this for you and your family. Probably cost the same, too, if not less. This place is for druggies, not families.”
“Yeah? Where at?” Nate asked.
“I’ll come by tomorrow, take you there. I can’t have it on my conscious that you people be living like this here. I be back tomorrow.”
“She won’t be back,” he said, as soon as she left. And Nate was right — she didn’t come back the next day, but she did come back on the second day, full of apologies.
“Come on,” she said. “I take you there, introduce you to my friend, and show you where the apartment is. It ain’t the greatest, but it’s better – and safer – than here.”
We loaded up and she drove for about ten minutes before pulling up to the curb of an apartment.
“That it right there,” she said. “But we can’t get out and look right now, because my friend don’t know we comin’ yet and someone might call the law.”
It looked decent enough, so we agreed to move on to the next step.
She drove again for about ten minutes and finally came to a small house. “I be back.”
She came back out almost immediately. “He don’t need to meet you. I told him all about you and how I found you living in that place, and so he say it’s OK. He can hold it for you for $70 if you need time to come up with the rent. But either way, he just need the $70 right now, and you can pay the rest as soon as you move in. You got that much right now?”
Nate looked uneasy. I could tell he was wrestling with whether or not to trust her. I looked at him and raised my eyebrows, not sure what to say. Maybe it was too good to be true and maybe she was scamming us, but we both couldn’t help but wonder who would go to so much trouble just to scam us. Surely she had a heart.
He reached for his wallet and counted out the money she needed. “You ain’t trying to cheat us, are you?” he asked, still holding the money.
“Man, please,” she said, looking offended. “If I’m lyin’, may God strike me dead.”
Nate wasn’t a religious man, but he let the money go regardless. It’s not like it was our money to begin with. She went in and was gone for almost a half hour. “Here, sign this,” she said, showing us what looked like a regular apartment contract. “See, I ain’t lyin’!”
We signed it, she left again, and when she finally came back, she was smiling. “All right, all right. You can move in tomorrow.”
She drove us back and assured us she’d be back by ten the next morning. But when ten rolled around, we were still waiting by the door, our few bags packed. By afternoon, we were sure she wasn’t just running late. And by the next day, we gave up.
“I bet she really spent that money on drugs,” I said, angry that this woman had taken advantage of us, and even more angry that we were so stupid to fall for it.
“What would make you think that?” Nate asked, and so I told him what happened when she drove me home that first day.
“Damn, baby, that’s crack. The bitch is a crackhead! Why didn’t you tell me that sooner? She just fucked us over!”
“I didn’t know!”
“We’re screwed. She ain’t coming back, we don’t have any more money. We’re just fucked. Thank you very much for bringing her right to our front door!” he screamed.
I knew it was my fault. We were easy prey. Desperation must have been written all over my face. I just wanted to make things better, and instead, I made them worse.
“This is why I take care of things, baby. You’re not smart enough to. You don’t know how the world works. That’s why you have me!”
With that, he threw our bags across the room, and he and Tim left. I was alone again, but I still held onto the hope that maybe, just maybe I really hadn’t screwed up. If she came back and took us to the apartment, that would show him that I was smart enough after all.
But she didn’t. And for the rest of the night, no one came. It was just me and Scott.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!