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A New Day
“Wait for it, wait….for…it.” I sat curled up in a quilt in the cold brisk air. “There.” I sighed as the beautiful fingers of color stretched across the sky bringing a new day. Pinks, purples, and blues filled the night awakening the world, shunning the darkness with one last burst of light. I had been sitting for an hour in the cold November air waiting for thirty seconds of pure, unadulterated beauty. Stiffly I stood up, amd carefully trudged down the slope of the roof and back in through my window.
There was a soft knock at my door. “Yeah,” I whispered quietly in the early morning air, wondering if she even heard me. My door cracked open and my favorite person peeped in. “Hey, honey come here.” She ran to me then, bounding across the room on her short chubby legs, straight into my arms. In that moment, between total darkness and morning, I hugged her, hung on for dear life, trying to find solace in her warmth. The dawn shining through the window changed, it wasn’t soft and warm, now it was bright, fierce, and cold. We would have to get up soon. “Mae,” I stroked her small head, full of dark, unruly, curls. “It’s time to wake up.” She shook her head no and squeezed her arms around my neck even tighter. “I told you yesterday that we were leaving today.”
“But I don’t want to leave.” Mae’s three year old lisp made leave sound like weave.
“Sweetheart, it’s going to be all right. We’ll go wherever you want to, maybe even to Disney Land, how about that?” Mae picked her head up, taking the bait, and smiled. “Want some breakfast?” I asked, smoothing down more curls. Mae unwrapped herself from me and scrambled to the kitchen. I was a bit slower, maybe it was the twenty years I had on her, or the fact that my bed was on the ground, or that I was just tired, physically, emotionally, and mentally. The room was completely empty, except for my sheet less bed, with ugly stains, and me, with an old worn quilt still wrapped around my body like knights armor.
Mae ran back and stood in the door way, waiting. “Momma, you coming?”
“Yeah.” She ran, squalling, back down the hall. I took one last look around the room. Closing the door behind me a single tear of fear ran down my face; it was all I allowed myself. I would never have to take another step in that room.
In the kitchen, Mae was trying to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich, but she just wasn’t that coordinated yet. “Mmmm that looks yummy. Want some milk?” She nodded her head eagerly. Inside the fridge was a quarter of a half gallon of instant milk that I had mixed up the night before and a rotten banana. Pulling the milk out I poured a glass. Mae sat on the counter and chewed her sandwich quietly, taking a sip of instant milk. She offered me half of her, butt end of the bread sandwich. “No thanks, I’ll just have some milk. You want some more?” I knew it was probably all she would have for the rest of the day. I hated myself for it but it was the ugly truth.
“Alright, time to get moving.” Mae was done eating and I was tired of hiding in a ratty garage sale blanket. Mae jumped down from the counter, I decided that a shower was worth the risk of hypothermia. I grabbed a shirt and some pants from my clothes box and walked to her room. In Mae’s room there was a box. That box, which I had found in the dumpster behind a small business, held all of Mae’s possessions, her meager amount of goodwill clothes, one pair of shoes, and a stuffed animal. It was hard to look at these things; she had never had anything new. Never knew the feeling of ownership or the smell of freshly washed clothes out of the dryer. She only knew the feeling of wearing somebody else’s clothes, the weird borrowed, never yours, the stiff scratchy feeling of clothes that have been washed in the sink and hung up to dry. I picked them up and headed to the bathroom.
The shower sputtered and shot out rust colored water before turning to clear. We both stood under the cold spray of water. It was freezing; icy droplets clung to our skin, making us shiver. Mae didn’t cry or complain, she just shivered as we washed our body and hair with a sliver of soap. The shower faltered again, I turned it off before we turned blue. “Stay right there.” I told Mae as I got out. There was no shower curtain so I was careful not to slip on the puddles of water that had been created. Realizing, that there was nothing to dry off with I grabbed my dirty shirt from the floor. Frozen to the bone, we dried off.
After getting dressed in clean clothes, I picked Mae up and tried to warm her. Sloshing through puddles, I went back to the small kitchen where I had left the blanket. Sitting on the floor huddled together we tried to warm ourselves. “That was a bad idea now you’re going to get sick.” I thought more to myself than talking. I rubbed my hands against Mae’s arms, feet, back, legs, and cupping her hands in mine and blew on them. Finally, the chattering stopped as I rubbed her back. How did my life end up like this? With a cockroach scuttling across the nasty floor, a thin baby in your arms and no idea where to go?
Some people say there is no excuse for ignorance, poverty or filth. But I give up a lot to live this way. Sometimes I wonder why I do it, but then I look down at the precious being, my Mae Elena, the only shining star I have. I live in poverty, on the shadow of hopelessness and homelessness, but I live this life for a reason. One night of stupidity, nine months of decisions, and three years of busting my a** to make sure that my little girl would never have to live like this again. Like two days of not eating anything was going to affect me, as long as Mae had something in her belly. The three years we spent in this shabby campus house would be nothing compared to life that would follow. Every minute had been set aside for Mae and pushing my self through college. I couldn’t believe I had done it either.. Last week on November third I had received my college diploma.
I would have never have walked across that stage if it hadn’t been for Mae, she had sat quietly in her assigned seat, all alone. “Charlotte Amelia Evans.” When I heard my name boom out over the speakers, I searched for Mae’s face. At first I couldn’t find her and then I spotted her, standing up in a chair, with a goofy grin on her face. That beautiful face was the only reason that I moved from my seat, to the aisle and walked up the stairs to the dean. I wanted to make Mae proud.
All six of the boxes, that held all of our meager possessions, were packed into the back of the worst car ever made, a Ford Granada. Shutting the trunk I called out. “Mae,” Snow crunched under foot as I walked back to the house. “You ready?”
“I tied my shoes, mommy, see!” It was freezing outside and the doorway where she sat was no better.
“That’s wonderful,” I bent down and inspected her knots and picked her up. “You’re getting better.”
“Are we leaving?”
“Yep, it’s time to go.”
We were almost out the door before Mae spoke up and jumped out of my arms. “Wait.”
“Did you forget something?”
“You forgot our book, momma.” Mae ran over to an upside down milk crate and picked up my chemistry book. “Okay we can go.” And she walked out the door, as simple as that. Following, I locked the door and almost reluctantly put the keys in the mail box. I didn’t know what to feel at that moment. It was a big step in my life and I had no idea where I was going.
In the car, I looked in the rear view mirror, and Mae sat there in the back silently flipping through the chemistry book, instead of Green Eggs and Ham and Itsy Bitsy Spider for bed time it was isotopes and the periodic table every night. She could tell differences between molecular formulas for salt and water but could barely recite her ABCs.
We drove for awhile in silence, I got on the highway not paying attention to signs, just going with the flow. I only had thirty dollars in my pocket, a full tank of gas, and no destination in mind. “Mae, Mae bo bae, banana fanna fo fae, fe fi mo Mae! Where do you wanna go, baby?” Mae giggled, I looked back and smiled at her in the mirror, but she didn’t look up from the book. “With you.” And just like that I had my answer. I had thirty dollars, a full tank of gas, no destination, and we were together. I could drive anywhere, maybe we would go to Disney Land, it was a new day after all. The sun was high in the sky, it was November, but it was warm.