The old fashioned radiator hissed at a soprano note cutting through your concentration while spitting small specs of moisture into the air as it maintained the eight nine degree temperature. The living room window was propped open but was not our savior. The one bedroom apartment situated on the top floor of the low income housing apartment was suffocating.
The entire living space was illuminated by the dim yellow light bulb covered in years of dust in the miniature kitchen. The walls were once painted white but were now an orangey yellow from the years of no touch ups and the millions of cigarettes whose smoke dispersed in its presence. There was also some light that came from the boob tube.
The television hummed in the background and was turned to channel 41 Telemundo to the Sabado Gigante variety show. The skanky skimpy dressed woman with long indigenous hair pranced back and forth across the stage at Don Fransico’s every beckon call. They danced and laughed to some cheap mariachi carnival type music. It disgusted me, at times, how the images of Latinas are projected to society in the form of sex objects with no intellectual essence.
My mother in law sat on the tan and brown couch that felt like sand paper to the touch and looked like it belonged on That 70’s Show. She was scratching and bobbing her head in and out of sleep mumbling she was tired. After a while, she began to ask for water. That hit must have been some real good shit. I couldn’t help but wonder what the fuck she stole this time to catch that chariot ride as I walked to the sink to serve her some tap water out of a cup that probably had a few cockroaches walk across the brim.
I then suddenly asked myself, who am I to judge this woman that sits in front of me? I was 19 years old and two months out of high school with no real place to go and a tentative college schedule that starts in less than a month. Just twenty minutes before I served L her water I inhaled a blunt of some purple haze just to numb away the fact that I became a stereotype. That my son’s father would hit me and the abuse got worst with each encounter. Just twenty minutes before I served the drink I watched the red ring on the Dutch dance closer and closer to my fingers with every puff. I listened to the crackle and watched it disappear. I was riding my own chariot.
The only room that held a bed was in the far left corner of the apartment. There was a full sized bed that held me, my son and his father whenever he decided to come home; at all hours of the night from selling those bundles for some big dealer that had a street name that made absolutely no sense. Nor did it bring forth any fear in any one’s heart if you simply heard it. However I can’t even remember it now.
The room smelled of baby. Baby wipes, baby lotion, baby puke all mixed in a tin bowl with breast milk. I kept the room door closed at all times to keep that horrendous cigarette smoke out. I wanted the air my son breathed as clean as possible. I’d spend days locked in here with him. Dreaming. Crying. Praying I’d find my way soon. Smoking weed when I needed to escape this reality.
In high school we were required to read books that held over 300 pages. The then almost 200 year old Quaker boarding school had halls lined with wooden benches. Simple made benches that were used as meeting spots. They were hard and cold. They were part of what made my high school years memorable.
During one of my classes we read Greek mythology. I pictured horse driven chariots in places where my limited exposure to culture couldn’t accurately place other war equipment. They were simple wood carved instruments. Brown like the benches in the hallway.
I’d spend hours sitting on those benches. Soliciting conversations from other to students who walked by during the down weekend hours. I’d have my books with me. I’d read during the moments when the halls were as silent and empty of bodies as a graveyard was. I’d lay down and stare at the ceiling wondering if the chariots were big enough to sleep in.
I’d breath in and exhale. Dreaming. Smiling. I was on my way. I read William Faulkner, and Homer and Walt Whitman to make them part of my new reality.
L would whale and rock back and forth on the couch by 8 am in pain. Heroin withdrawal was ugly. It has long crypt creeper fingers wrapped around her neck. It kicked its hair covered feet into her gut. She scratched. She pleaded that her son give her money for a hit. And he did. She’d dress in last night’s clothes. Walk out the front door. Return in ten minutes and got high in the bathroom. Sometimes she returned with someone to get high with her.
I bought my son a blue and green stripped stroller from K-mart with my recent welfare benefits. It was a monstrous sized baby car when it was inside the apartment but a tiny little chariot for my prince when we went for walks in the spring temperatures. With the weather getting warmer, the block gets hotter as well. Our walks were to the bus stop to jump on the overly crowded 39 bus to Kearny and the walk back up the hill upon our return. But I’d sit him in it. I’d watch him wiggle and drool and make a mess of his food. I’d wipe the handles and the cloth material. His chariot was made for a king.
His blue eyes made me dream bigger, pray harder, plot for a way out.
I haven’t spoken to L in over ten years. Probably more. I ask my now 17 year old if she’s still with E?
“Of course mom, who else is she going to be with? She’s old.”
We once drove to a rehab center in NYC to see her when my son was about a year and a half. This was the first time she’s ever made this type of recovery attempt. She sat next to me and introduced me to E. They were both there for the same shit.
“I told my son he needs to get it together so you guys can be a family.”
About a year before this visit, I had packed my things and left him one morning after he went to work. I looked back many times but never returned.
I couldn’t stop dreaming. I never stopped praying. I found my way out.
© 2017, Lopez. All rights reserved.