Life Goes On
“I don’t know what in the world we’re going to do. I thought when I got laid off at work; it would be no big problem to find another job. A lot of us thought we’d be called back soon. We never dreamed the damned place would declare bankruptcy and close down.”
“John, we’ll make it somehow. We can’t give up.” Becky stroked her husband’s neck as she spoke softly to him. Concern etched her pretty face and her eyes misted with emotion as she thought of the same fears he expressed.” I love you.”
John rose from the chair he sat in, stretching to his full six-foot height. He turned to her as she sat on the arm of his chair. “I’m not giving up, but we have to be realistic. The rent is overdue and all of the utilities have sent their shut-off notices. We’ve gone through most of our savings and it looks like we’re at the end of the line.”
She interrupted him before he could go on saying more things she did not want to hear, about things that seemed to have no solutions. “I get paid on Friday and that would at least keep the electric on. I know working at that sleazy motel doesn’t pay much, but it’s just temporary. Things will get better.”
He hated the thought of her having to work in such a place. It was hard work, low pay, and not safe considering the kind of clientele the place attracted. He could not bring himself to answer what she had said. He walked away from her and gazed out the window at the dirty street below their apartment. “I remember my parents talking about years ago when this was a nice neighborhood with safe streets and friendly neighbors. The house I grew up in was not far from here. We live cramped into this small three-bedroom apartment. Did you know that this place had at one time been a large house of a wealthy realtor in St. Louis? As the years passed and the neighborhood went downhill, the large stately homes were converted into apartment buildings and left to rot away like this has. Every time I climb the stairs to the top of this dump, I think of the house we were buying before all of our problems started. Now I feel like our lives are going just like this neighborhood and the homes that used to stand proud. Now they are just houses where people who can afford no better have to live as best they can. This is a place to survive and some don’t even do that.”
She silently walked to stand beside him looking out the window. “I don’t know how, but we will make it. Things will work out. They have to...” She had tears in her eyes as she said the things she was afraid had no chance of happening.
Wrapping his arm around her, he gently pulled her to him. They stood silently looking out the window. The street below them was full of life. There were gangs and drug dealers on every corner. Young girls and even older worn looking women flagged cars offering themselves for drugs or money. Two weeks earlier the trash men that emptied their dumpster had found and reported a dead body in the alley behind their apartment. They had been having their son take out the trash, trying to teach him some responsibility. That abruptly stopped. It was not safe to go out at all. That thought reminded him of another problem they were facing where they lived. Their two older children seemed unable to wait to run off to wherever it was they went. There were street gangs, thugs and all number of threats they accepted as normal life.
“I had a thought, and you may think that I’m totally crazy, but hear me out. I know we only went three or four times to visit the family I’ve got in Arkansas, but I’ve been thinking a lot about them lately.” He paused as if he were having trouble finding the words for what he had on his mind.
“I remember, but what would any of them have to do with the problems we’re having now?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things lately. Maybe it’s time for more than just a change of jobs. Maybe we are meant to make some real changes...some big changes. We don’t have anything here to hold us. My mom and dad both passed away and your mom moved to Florida two years ago. Donna is hanging out with that creature she calls a boyfriend and won’t come in ‘til all hours of the night, even on school nights. The way she’s going she’ll drop out of school when she turns sixteen next month and maybe even end up pregnant or running away with that moron. Bobby is only thirteen years old and hangs out with gangbangers. I don’t see a future for any of our kids if we stay here. Stacy may only be ten years old, but she is copying her big sister as best she can.” He paused with a frown overcastting his expression. A long sigh escaped him and the silence that followed seemed interminable.
Becky’s mouth hung slightly open with the shock of what her husband was suggesting they do. “You’re not seriously suggesting that we move to some backwoods country place in Arkansas and live, are you? I mean¾we are city people. I can’t even begin to picture what it would be like, and you know as well as I do that the kids would flat out refuse to go.”
He turned to face her looking directly into her eyes. “I’m not asking for their opinions or permission. I’m asking you to think about what I’m suggesting and then to think of the alternative of living here and what could, and probably would become of our children.”
“I don’t think I...” she began.
He softly touched his finger to her lips silencing her as he continued to speak. “I’m not talking about living way far back in some wooded area. I’m talking about living near or with some of my family until we could get a place of our own. Even if we had to live in a shack with no electricity, it would be better than the streets here. We can’t get caught up on the bills and you know the landlord would not hesitate to put us out in a heartbeat. If we could find jobs there, we could get our kids away from all of this. They have cities there too.” He motioned out the window.
She shook her head in wonderment. She had no idea he had been thinking such thoughts. “Slow down a little. This is all new to me and frankly, I just can’t picture us living in Arkansas. The jobs there don’t pay anything and... Well...”
He led her to their small kitchen table and took the seat across from her. The sunlight streamed into the tiny kitchen that needed a good paint job among other things. In the silence between them, the dripping of the faucet sounded magnified.
He looked away avoiding eye contact with her as he began to explain more of what he had on his mind. “I’m not saying I would decide anything without you agreeing, but I had to do something to give us some options. I felt like my whole world was falling apart. We got no decent jobs, or place to live, the kids are running wild on us no matter what we try to do. All around us, it seems like there is nothing but things that would end up eating all of us alive. The examples of what normal people are like for the kids to see on these street corners and in the neighborhood are unreal. Arkansas may not have the highest paying jobs around, but they don’t find bodies in the dumpsters outback either. From what I’ve heard they have some new factories and there are new subdivisions going up all over.”
She could wait no longer to reply. “They don’t have dumpsters or a lot of other things. Man, they are like centuries behind the rest of the world. Everybody there talks with that Arky accent, and they act like they don’t even like anyone if they and their whole family have not lived there since time began. Your family was great, but the rest of the people we ran across... I can’t picture what the schools are like. Where would we live? Don’t even begin to give me that shack with no electric stuff or even think about telling me how the pioneers did it because I was born and raised in the city and definitely not a pioneer.” She was out of breath as she stopped speaking.
He did not hesitate to answer. “All right. We’re all used to the city. If we moved there it would not be them that had the accent, it would be us. Trust me, you could get used to that. That would be the least of our problems. I give you a year or two at the most and you’d get a bit of an accent yourself.” He was smiling as he spoke.
His voice picked up a touch of enthusiasm as he continued. “Most of the people are friendly and when you get to know them we just might start to fit in ourselves. As far as the schools go, at least they don’t have gangbangers like they do here and the kids could go to school expecting to come home safe and sound. They might actually come home after school instead of wherever it is they are hanging out now. The college near where my family lives is nationally accredited and has students that go there from all over the world.”
She stopped him before he could continue. “Are you really serious about this? I can’t believe that you would think we could just pick up and move to Arkansas. This whole thing sounds crazy to me. I admit that we got a lot of problems and I have no idea what to try with the kids, but moving to Arkansas is like moving to another planet.”
She noticed the excited look on his face but could not believe he was serious. She thought he might be talking far-fetched ideas in his desperation about their situation, until he continued. “I called my Uncle James and talked to him yesterday. I had to do something. He didn’t hesitate at all. He offered to help us. You don’t find attitudes like that too often in life.”
“Wait a minute. What do you mean when you say that he offered to help? Help how? We haven’t even talked about any of this and now you tell me that you’ve already called an uncle and then what?” She was flushed in color and taking short quick breaths as she finished speaking.
He got up as he started to explain and got them both cups of coffee before returning to his seat. “I wasn’t going behind your back about this. I just wanted to find out if there was any way that it could work and what our options were for when we did talk. I needed to know if we did try something like relocating, if we were talking about a shack and uncertain future or if we would have a decent and safe place to live until we could get our lives back on track. I needed to know if there were jobs we might be able to get or if... Well, I just needed to know something to tell you when we did talk.”
He paused and then continued. “I worked for a long time at my job and we had bought the house of our dreams and life was great. It was like a nightmare when the company folded and we lost our home. I don’t want to give up or lose our family. Things could be different, but we would have a chance if we were willing to work hard and try. All we need is a chance and this might be the chance that we need.”
She slowly sipped her coffee then cleared her throat. “Go on. I know there’s more. It sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind about what’s best for us. What’s this uncle like and what kind of help did this uncle offer?”
“To start off, I’ll explain about Uncle James. He inherited Grandma and Grandpa Prichard’s old house. It’s older, but it’s nice. It has three bedrooms, and two baths. He said there is a room upstairs they always used for storage that is plenty big and could be made into an extra bedroom too. He lives there by himself. He said we were more than welcome to stay there for as long as we needed to or wanted to. He even said it would be no strain for him until we got on our feet.”
“He told me they just opened a new factory in town and I had a good chance of getting on there and you too if you wanted to work. If we didn’t get on right away, there were other jobs he said he was sure I could get in the construction field. You might find something you like in town.”
He watched her for her reaction as he went on with his idea. “The school the kids would go to is small but scores higher on their basic skills than the city schools here do and they don’t have near the dropout rate. The school bus even picks them up right at the end of the driveway.”
“I remember going to family reunions with you a couple of times, but I can’t place an Uncle James. What is he like?” Becky was frowning as she tried to accept that her husband was seriously considering relocation to live in a place far away with people they did not really know, even if they were family. He could be a really weird and crotchety old man.
John thought for a few moments before trying to describe the family. “My grandma and grandpa had five kids. Uncle Brad is the oldest. My dad was the next, and then they had a girl. I can’t remember her name. I just remember hearing some of the old folks talk about one time when the kids were swimming and she drowned when she was little. I had an Uncle Mike but he died in the Viet Nam war that Uncle James was in too. When my dad died that just left Uncle James and Uncle Brad left in their family.”
Becky waited for him to continue and tell her more. She really wanted to know what kind of a person the Uncle was that he was considering moving all of them in to live with. He refilled his coffee, sat back down and continued. “Uncle James? I didn’t really know him very well. I know what I’ve heard. They say he was pretty messed up when he came back from the war. His brother was dead and nobody knows what all happened to him because he would never talk about the war. He was shot and that’s all anyone knew. He met a woman, got married and they had a son named Scott. I remember him. He was about thirteen or fourteen years younger than I was. We lived here in St Louis and I never really got to know any of them well, but we had some great times visiting on vacations. Scott was always wild. He hung around with a wild bunch. John and his wife got a divorce and she couldn’t handle him so he went to live with his dad, Uncle James. I don’t know the story. All I know is that there was an accident and Scott was driving and killed. That was about six years ago. Uncle James took it real hard. You can imagine how we would feel if something happened to Bobby. He’s lived alone in that big old house ever since. I’d tell you what kind of personality he has or what he’s like, but I really don’t know. All I know is that he did not hesitate at all when I called just telling him some of our problems. I think he really cares. If someone cares, that should mean a lot.”
“That shows that kids can go wild wherever they live if that is what they decide to do. I don’t know what to say.”
Their conversation continued until a knock at the door interrupted.
Becky remained at the kitchen table deep in thought as John answered the knocking. The frown on his face as he returned told her he had not received good news. When he showed her the eviction notice he had been given, she felt the same frustration and hopeless despair over the situation.
Becky and John continued their discussion. Becky finally agreed to John’s idea with fearful dread of the unknown future they were about to attempt. They had no choice. They had lost his job, lost their home, and were about to lose the apartment, leaving them no place to go.
Becky brought up the problem of informing their children of the impending move. John felt that to tell them as soon as they came in from school would be the most logical approach. Becky stressed that she feared they would do more than refuse and throw fits. She believed it was a strong possibility that one or more would go to extremes to avoid moving. The thought that they might try to run away was more than possible; it was probable of at least one of them. Becky was sure that Donna would choose to stay with her boyfriend any way she had to. She thought Bobby might try to hide out with some of his gang friends to avoiding a move to Arkansas.
School would soon end for the summer. The eviction notice allowed them ten days. The options Becky had hoped for did not seem to be forthcoming. They agreed that they would postpone the announcement to the children until the last moment or when they noticed the packing that would have to be done. John explained he would call his uncle and make all of the arrangements. They would have to use what few funds they had and Becky’s paycheck to finance their move.
Stacy came in from school with all the noise and vigor of a ten year old. Becky and John asked if she knew where her brother and sister were and a shrug was her only reply on the way to the room that she shared with Donna. She came out with headphones on and music so loud both John and Becky could hear it before they removed them from her head.
John was in no mood for the usual smart talk or evasive answers. “I asked you before if you knew where your brother and sister were. I want you to tell me if you know where they went when school let out.”
“Man, why are you on my case. I came home from school and this is what I get for it. They were just smarter and had places to go and people to see.” She marched back into her room and loudly slammed the door.
John was so angry his face flamed. “I’ve had it. Bobby has an attitude of a little gangbanger and thinks he doesn’t have to listen at all. He comes, goes, and acts like there is nothing we can do. Donna has attitude and mouth. Now Stacy acts like she is trying to be just like both of them. If I had a way, I’d pack them all three up right now and we get the hell out of here.”
Becky knew there would be no way to discuss anything about the children with her husband as angry as he was at that time. “Maybe you’re right about moving away from here. I would never have thought of moving all the way to Arkansas, but the way things are right now, we don’t have a lot of choices. I think it was very nice of your uncle to offer all he has to help us. I admit it scares me to think about all of this. Seeing the way the kids are growing up scares me too. What can we do? Anything we do they call abuse. Years ago, a parent could spank a child or ground them from things they liked. Now, the kids just ignore you and when you’re not looking go and do whatever they want. I love them, but I don’t know what to do. I feel like I don’t even know them anymore. If we get evicted, where will we go? The only places are the shelters that are dangerous and always full or with all of the homeless you see in the back alleys and places like under the bridges. Oh, John...” Becky started to cry.
John forgot his anger and wrapped his arms around his wife. Neither of them noticed that Stacy had come out of her bedroom and stood frowning with concern at seeing her mother cry. John spoke softly to her. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I promise you one thing. Our lives will get better and if we have any chance of saving our children, a change like this might be what it takes. I don’t think it will be easy at all. I think that for a while we might think it’s even a nightmare. Changes don’t happen overnight, but if we try hard enough and keep trying long enough I really believe we’re doing the right thing.”
She dried her eyes on her shirtsleeve and gazed at the man she had loved and married. “Where you go, I will go. We’ll make this a family again somehow. Our children changed so much after we had to sell the house and move here. In a lot of ways, I don’t blame them. This is a mean part of town to have to survive in.”
When she finished speaking, she saw the look on Stacy’s face. They did not know how much of their conversation she had overheard. “Honey, come over here to momma. You may be growing up, but I’m still your momma and I need a hug.”
Stacy slowly walked over to them with an expression on her face showing she wondered if they had gone crazy. “What was all that talk about changes and where Dad goes you will follow and all that stuff?”
Becky was cautious in her answer. She knew that any information Stacy got that the other two did not have would be something she could not wait to tell them. What they were contemplating would be accomplished with less fighting and easier to coordinate if they were not told any sooner than was necessary. “You know we’re having some hard times since your dad got laid off at work. We don’t have the money to pay our bills and things don’t seem to be getting any better. When I said where you go, I will follow, it meant that we stick together even in hard times. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do for the family, like me working at the motel where I do. We do what we have to do, to make it in life. That is what we will do. You don’t worry about any of this right now. We’ve always taken care of you guys and done what we thought was best. Everything will work out, just you wait and see.”
The front door flew open and in came Bobby. He had no books from school. He never had any books he brought home. He demanded money and said he had to go and meet some of his friends. John was in no mood to be pushed any farther. He firmly put his foot down and told Bobby he was staying in. When the boy started for the door, his father blocked his path. “This is one time you’d best not push me too far, son. I want to know where your sister is, if you have any ideas.... and I’m letting you know right now... you are not going anywhere tonight.”
“I’m not her keeper. She does what she wants and goes where she wants. She’s probably hanging out with that boyfriend of hers. This is bullshit. I’m not going to be a prisoner in my own house.”
The argument continued for a short time before Bobby saw the determined and forceful look in his father’s eyes and realized he did not need to continue at that time. Becky left for work and John went back to look out the window of their living room hoping to see his daughter headed home. His hopes were in vain.
Donna did not return until nearly 8:00 PM. John was almost too angry to speak. When he did ask her where she had been, she told him she had been with friends. She arrogantly expressed that she thought he was treating her like a child and out of line in his attitude. He told the children that after supper they could watch television, go to their rooms, play video games, or even clean their rooms, but no one was leaving the apartment unless it was on fire.
After they had eaten their supper, the three children gathered in Donna and Stacy’s room. John quietly neared the door hearing their hushed conversations.
Donna was expressing her opinion. “I personally think that dad has gone nuts. How weird can a person get? If he thinks this is the way things are going to go from now on, he can think again. If I have to, I’ll move in with Kevin and his mom. If I decide to, there is nothing they can do to stop me. If they push it legally, I’ll end up in foster care for a while, but even that would be better than house arrest.”
“You should have heard the way he talked to me when I got in. I told him I needed a little cash and was going to hang out with my friends and he physically blocked the door and looked like he was about to kick my ass. He may think he has brass balls and be as big as a house, but he’s getting old, if you know what I mean. I thought about just trying to shoot past him, but what the hell.” Bobby shook his head over the situation but maintained his air of macho about him.
Stacy did not want to be left out. “I think that...”
Bobby interrupted her before she could get started. “Shut up, turd. We don’t give a damn what you think. We’re not even sure you can think.”
“Make me, dickhead. You weren’t here when mom was crying.” Stacy saw the look of surprise on both of their faces and felt satisfaction knowing something they did not know.
Donna spoke sweetly to her little sister to gain information she knew Stacy might not want to tell after suffering the comments of Bobby. “Wait a minute. What do you mean about when mom was crying?”
Bobby was intently listening and keeping any smart comments he might otherwise have said to himself as she smiled and stuck her chin up in that stubborn way she had. “I thought you guys didn’t want to hear anything I might know. I’m just a turd.”
“Listen honey, I didn’t say any of those things and you know that Bobby didn’t mean what he said.” Donna was trying her best to get Stacy to finish what she would have easily told before she got her feelings hurt.
“I think he did mean what he said. He’s always saying mean things to me. He doesn’t care about any of us. All he cares about are his so-called friends.” She was speaking to her big sister, but glaring at her brother with every word she spoke.
Bobby knew when to turn on the charm and off with the sarcasm. “Stacy, I’m sorry for what I said. You know I care about you. You can ask anybody. I don’t allow anybody to mess with my little sister. I guess I’m just a dickhead like you said, but I’m not sure you really did see mom crying. Things been hard ever since dad got laid off, so I can’t see what would make her start bawling now. I think you just made that up because you were mad at me.” He smiled with satisfaction feeling sure she could not resist the bait he had put before her.
He was right. It was a challenge she could not resist. To prove she did know more than them, she told all that she had overheard. It was not enough to let them know what was going on, but enough to make them start speculating on what might be going on with their parents.
John thought it would be an opportune time to call his uncle and starts making some firm plans while the children were occupied speculating instead of listening to his conversation. John felt nervous as he dialed the number. To talk about such a radical change was one thing. Doing something that would or could change the future for all of them was frightening. He still felt awe that his uncle was so willing to do so much for them after no more often than they had been able to visit through the years. It seemed impossible anyone would go to such lengths as to take them all in and provide a chance at a new life.
John had just finished speaking with his uncle when the three children came quietly from the bedroom. Donna took the time to look at her father before she spoke, and saw the lines of worry about his eyes, and the concerned expression on his face. He looked so unhappy and uneasy and seemed to look older and worn out. “Dad, we’re sorry for the problems earlier. If there is something wrong, you can tell us. Is there something going on or something that’s gone wrong?”
John’s thought had been far away. He had been thinking of when he was a child and he used to go with his parents visiting the family that lived in Arkansas. He had never had a desire to live there, but had had some good times during the visits as a child. He blinked back the thoughts as he turned and looked at the three children beside him. He knew their curiosity would have no end until they discovered whatever they thought were the secrets of the family. He thought that just might be good for them and keep them busy. “What makes you think there is anything special going on or going wrong more today that any other day?”
Donna smiled realizing this would not be an easy task to extract information from their father if he chose not to tell them. She smiled sweetly like when she was small and found it often worked for her to get what she wanted. John had to smile, recognizing the tactic. “Dad, answering a question with a question is not an answer. We care about the family is the reason I asked.”
Before she could say anymore, Stacy spoke up. “I saw mom crying and talking stuff that didn’t make sense. I know something is going on. Why don’t you just go ahead and tell us?”
John thought about the children. This would go on until they found the answers. He chose to tell them half-truths. The other half he would save for the last moment when it was too late for them to try to go live in other places as they had mentioned in the bedroom. He had them sit down for a long discussion and hoped he could find a way to make his plan work. He took a long time explaining about the finances and how hard things were. They all knew those things but sat patiently waiting for the real news they were sure he was working up to disclose. He went on to tell about the shut-off notices and the eviction notice he had received that day. That accounted for the tears Stacy had seen from her mother. He extended the conversation as long as he possibly could hoping they would tire of it and finally be satisfied with whatever he told them.
He even reminisced about what the neighborhood had been years before. He mentioned all of the families before them that had lived there and about the history of the building. He reminded them of the many things they had found stored in the basement.
Stacy became enthusiastic. “I still have the books from the boy named Steven. His name is written inside of the cover. Bobby has the old metal fire truck. I bet it once belonged to the same little boy. I wonder why he left so many of his things behind.”
Before she could continue and they never find out what was going on in the family, Bobby interrupted her. “I could care less about any of the people that lived in this old dump before we came here. I know it has nothing to do with what made mom cry.”
The conversation returned to the present. John continued to explain about some of their problems. They exchanged glances when he told about the eviction notice. They thought that was the reason Stacy had seen their mother crying. The realization of how dire their circumstances were began to dawn on them one by one. Donna felt the urge for tears her self, when she thought about them being thrown out of the little apartment. She had hated the little place and dreamed of someday things getting better and them having a nice home of their own again. The apartment looked beautiful compare with having no place at all. She could find no words in response.
The youngest of the three was the first to speak her thoughts, after hearing the announcement from John. “If we get evicted from here, then where will we live? They can’t really make us leave can they? What do they do, just send some big goons in to throw all our stuff and us out on the street? What will happen to us?”
The three of them sat rigidly waiting for John to give them the answers. He explained that they could make you leave and that they do not send goons out, but can send the law to evict you. They also can throw your things out on the street or just keep everything. He told them that they usually were allowed by law and did keep all things left behind in the apartment when they were forced to leave.
The last statement broke their silence. All three of them spoke at once in outrage that everything they owned could be kept if they did not find a way to move in ten days or less. John felt sorry for them as he gazed at the stricken expressions of fear and outrage on their faces. There was none of the smart talk going on or arrogant macho attitudes. They were once again three children looking to him for answers. He knew he would have to choose his way of answering carefully. He did not want to lie to them, but knew they would never accept what they were about to do.
Bobby spoke up in a small voice. “Maybe that is how so much stuff from so many people got left and stored in the basement. I found some things from way, way back. They are even older that you and mom. I don’t want some kid going down there years from now and finding all of my stuff stored in some old box.”
John sat quietly for a moment thinking of what to say and how to say it. He cleared his throat and looked the children briefly in the eye as he began their talk. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like we acted and worked as a family. Here in the city, there are a lot of things that people substitute for their families. Some people turn to gangs or friends in place of their family. Families can be a pain in the butt sometimes. When you get older or things in life get really hard, you would all be surprised how much it can mean to have a family that loves and cares about you.”
Stacy interrupted her father, as she was unable to wait for more of his explanation. “Is that why Mom was crying? Does she think we aren’t a family anymore or that we don’t love her? We love you guys, even if we don’t say it.”
John had to smile as he gazed at his youngest daughter seeing the concern and care on her small face. “No honey, that’s not why momma was crying. With me not working, we have not been able to pay our bills and we did not know what to do.”
Stacy could not restrain herself to hear more. “I don’t want us to lose all of our stuff or get kicked out onto the street. What are we going to do? I could get a job and help too. I could try at least.” She jumped off the couch and sat on the arm of the chair John was sitting in.
He curled his arm around her and drew her close to him as he continued. I found a way to buy us some time. School is almost out and I found a place we can stay temporarily. We will store all of the things we don’t need, and be able to stay there for at least three months. I will find a job by then and we will get someplace nice for us to live instead of a dump like this old place. Our big problem now is that we don’t have much time to pack all of our stuff. Mom was crying about us going to be evicted. That was before I found us a place to go. I don’t care what it takes or what we have to do...I’m not going to let that asshole of a landlord we have keep any of our things. Can I count on you guys to help us make this work?”
Stacy perked right up at the thought of her father needing her help. “You can count on me to help. I can do a lot. I’m not just a little kid anymore.”
John thought the conversation was working wonderfully. That was before his oldest daughter spoke what was on her mind. “You can count on us. What I want to know is where we will be moving. There is no way I’m leaving my school district. I have friends here and there is just no way for me to go away too far.”
Bobby had his own thoughts about what they had heard. “I agree with you on all of that family stuff. You can count on me to help. You can also be sure that there is no way we can move too far from here because I have connections. I have some business things in the works and friends that are important to me. If you think we will just pick up and leave the area we’d better re-think all of this. I’m not a kid anymore and I just might be able to get in on a deal to make some real bucks. There’s no reason to panic. I can just talk to the right people and make some arrangements.”
The determined look on Bobby’s face told John there was no way he would go along with their plan. John feared he and Donna might resort to drastic action to avoid moving. He knew the ways Bobby might obtain big money and none of them was how he wanted his son to live or be involved.
“Your mother and I have both taken all that you just mentioned into our consideration. Our main objective is to survive. We want to all to be happy and safe. Being evicted onto the street is not either of those. We remember back when we were kids and how we felt. Family is important but so are friends. Really good friends can last a person a lifetime. I remember back when I was no older than you guys...” He went on to tell them a long-winded story about when he was young. That had always been guaranteed to get them to leave you alone.
Stacy interrupted him. “What can I do right now to help?”
“Right now it’s too late. It’s time to get ready for bed. Tomorrow you can sort through all of your stuff and decide what you have to have everyday and what can be store for a little while. None of this is permanent. We are just not going to let our damned landlord take everything we own right down to our underwear.”
“You got that right, Dad. To hell with him is what I say.” Bobby forgot the original question of where they were going to go. As they talked, the conversation took a turn to them against the landlord to keep what was theirs.
Donna was frowning and thinking her own thoughts. She did not voice either her thoughts or opinions. John noticed her reticence and smiled at her. “We’re going to make it, you know. We are a real family and we are from a long line of tough people who made it through a lot harder times than this. Trust me.”
The children went to bed and John waited up for his wife to get home. She hated to work the three to eleven shifts. She did not get to see her children, and by the time she got home, John was in bed or so sleepy they had no time for themselves.
This night was different. John was not in bed or sleepy. He had checked occasionally on the children to see if they were sleeping. It was almost time for Becky to get home. He was glad he finally heard the faint snoring noise Donna always made when she got into a sound sleep.
When Becky got in the door she was tired but not in the least sleepy. She wondered if she would ever be sleepy again with all of the things she had on her mind. John could not wait to bring her up to date on the plans he had made with his uncle and the talk and events that had taken place with the children.
When she heard the whole story, she felt like she was in shock and that if she pinched herself she would wake up to find that it had all been a bad dream. “Did I hear correctly? Did you really say that the day after tomorrow we would be loading up and leaving to go live in Arkansas? This is Wednesday. You said that your uncle would be here with a truck to load everything we have, and go on Friday when the kids got home from school. Is that right?”
He reminded her of the conversations he had overheard from the children. The last thing they needed was for one or more of them to run away. While they were in school, John and his uncle would load as much as they could in the truck. When the children got home, they would finish and hit the road before they could take action.
Becky was speechless. She had no better solutions or even temporary things to try. She silently shook her head in agreement. “I’ll let them know at work that tomorrow is my last day. I feel like we are planning the kidnapping of our own children.”
“I think you should just let them know the address to send your last check to you, and count tonight as your last day at that fleabag place. It would mean a lot more if you were here to help run interference with the kids and help pack. We’re about to start a new chapter in our lives and we can make this work.”
“I know you are enthusiastic about all of this, but John, I have to be honest with you. This all scares me. I know the kids will hate it with a passion and I can’t picture myself being happy there either, except that we will be together. Have you really thought all of this over?” She sat tensely on the couch as she spoke.
John got up from his usual chair and sat beside her. He cupped her face in his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. “I love you. I love our children. I believe with all my heart and soul that if we stayed here we would be sorry for the rest of our lives. Our kids would end up statistics. I want them to have a chance and a future. I want us to have the same things. Our being evicted seems like the worst thing in the world, but in the long run it may be what saves us. Here, there are drugs everywhere. There are gangs, murders, prostitution, and schools that don’t even teach the kids to read and write. They drop out by the thousands, and why not? They don’t get an education, they get survival training to adapt and live the street life until that life kills them in their prime. Every time they leave to go to school, we don’t know for sure if they will come home safely or come home at all. I know you can’t see it that way right now, but can you trust me?”
She had to smile back at him. He had always had that effect on her. “I trust that you believe what you are saying. I’m just afraid this is all going to blow up in our face and we’ll find we are living in a nightmare and stuck in Arkansas.”
Neither of them slept soundly that night. They both tossed and turned, each with their own nightmares. John kept dreaming that his two oldest children had run away right before they were going to load up and move. Bobby had gone to live with his gangbanger friends and Donna went with her sleazy boyfriend.
Morning came and the children were running late as usual for school. John was glad that there was no time for conversation. He was sure that they would not wait long before pinning him down about where they were going to live.
The telephone rang shortly after they had left for school and Becky had called in to where she worked, to give them her notice and address in Arkansas. John recognized the voice of Uncle James. “John, I got done with the job I was doing early and a friend of mine offered to come and help, if we could change the day.”
John was happy that his uncle was talking about changing the day instead of changing his mind about letting him, his wife, and their three children move in with him. “We appreciate all you are doing for us. I still cannot believe... I know it won’t be easy to have all of us crowd in on you. I know the kids are going to throw fits and... and....”
James laughed at what John had said. “Kids don’t scare me, I scare kids. Right now, you need to quit worrying about all of that and just take things one at a time. I got to talking to my friend Jerry about all of this and he had a suggestion you may think is crazy. If it wouldn’t hurt the kids schooling none, would you consider moving tomorrow? We could wait until they get home. I know that’s short notice, but my friends Jerry and his brother Terry would come with me. We got a truck and with all of us, we could have you packed up and ready to go in no time. That would save you from having the kids try something drastic. If you’re gonna move, then it seems like one day is as good as another and you would have plenty of help.”
John told his uncle he would call him right back. He wanted to talk to Becky and planned to call the schools the children went to, to make sure they did not have any final exams they needed to complete. He and his uncle discussed their plans and decided that the sooner they could manage to move, the better it would be for them all. Waiting would only afford more opportunities for complications.
The school assured him that they would not miss anything important. They had planned an assembly for the morning and would be letting them out right after lunch. Becky appeared to be in shock and simply agreed with John that one day was as good as another if they were really going to do what he had planned. She had dreaded the thought of the children and their reaction to the news. All they would have to do is to get through the night and they would be on their way, for better or for worse. John’s uncle and his friends were planning to arrive as early as they could. They would help with any packing that was not finished; load the truck and family and leave to start their new life.
The children had thought a lot about what they had heard from John. When they got home they were full of questions, but John and Becky were prepared for them. They had gone and got boxes and tape and all they would need to do their packing. He knew that Uncle James said he would be there and ready for action by 9 AM or before the next morning. They had a lot of packing and things to throw away before they went to bed. When the questions got awkward, Becky and John redirected the children in their own packing and sorting of their personal things. They ate a quick supper together and continued with their work. Bobby tried demanding answers, but the formidable look on John’s face quelled his ire. The reminder that anything he could not or would not get ready to move the landlord would take, helped to redirect his attention and inspire him back into action.
Twice they caught Donna on the phone to her boyfriend. They feared she might be planning something with him and vowed to keep a close eye on her. It was almost bedtime when they checked in on the children and found Donna crying. She would not elaborate on the cause. Their hearts went out to her and they knew better than she did how much more intense her reaction would become in the morning. John was happy that his uncle had suggested an earlier departure date and time. He realized this would be one of the hardest things he and his family had ever done and delay would not make it any easier.
John could not remember a time when he was more exhausted. He and Becky had worked all day packing. They had the added emotional stress of dealing with the children and their packing until bedtime. What they had left to do they could easily do in the morning with the help of his uncle and his friends.
As John slid into bed beside Becky, he curled up close to her. He gently caressed her and whispered in her ear. “We made it babe. All we have left to do is do it. If you can just believe in your heart that we have good things ahead of us... I love you.” She softly murmured her trust in him and they held each other until sleep overcame them.
The alarm clock blared in the early morning hours. It sounded louder than they had ever heard it. Becky sat up rubbing her eyes. Her brown hair was fluffed in messy, but attractive disarray. Her face was pale as she rose from the bed to dress for the activity that would soon descend upon them. Her shapely form seemed thinner than John had ever seen it. He did not know if she had not been eating well, attempting to ration their food, had lost her appetite from all of their problems, or simply worked herself to the bone, attempting to support them. He was determined that things in all of their lives were going to change for the better.