Tired. Bone tired.
At Rice Food Market, on my feet six nights a week, I worked the cash register, sacked and lifted heavy brown sacks loaded with groceries from 5 PM until closing at midnight. By the end of my shift, my feet swelled. My back ached. But the job provided health insurance and a six-month maternity leave with pay. This was an answer to my prayers; God had provided.
I normally didn’t get home until one in the morning. To my good fortune, I worked directly across the street from our apartment on Bissonnet. A teenage neighbor watched our daughters for a couple of hours and fed them before my husband arrived home. I’d leave work at break time to check in on him and the girls in the evenings.
Too often, I’d find my husband draped across the couch out cold.
“Donny . . . Donny . . . .” I stood over him shaking his arm. “Dammit Donny, wake up.”
“What? I am awake!” he spat and turned over.
“You’re supposed to put the girls to sleep before passing out. Remember?”
“Theyrslumppnng . . .”
“What—? You make me sick!”
I stormed away to check in on my sleeping angels. Before I opened their door, I heard whispering and giggling coming from the kitchen.
I never imagined how I’d find my girls entertaining themselves. On the floor amidst my pots and pans, they sat with the refrigerator door open. Five-year-old Anna Marie pretended to cook. She mixed her sisters a concoction of whatever she found in the fridge: raw eggs, ketchup, Pepto-Bismol, mayonnaise, grape jelly—and Lord knew what else—stirred in for good measure. I got home in the nick of time. Good Lord, I think I even smell beer in the mixture!
I wanted to quit work. But I needed to hold on to those maternity benefits.
A few nights later, I discovered the two youngest girls precariously hanging out the window of our second-story apartment—fearlessly leaning on their bellies, legs flying in mid-air—my heart swelled in my throat. Concerned for their safety, I didn’t want to frighten them or have them keel over the windowsill. And I happened to be extremely skittish about heights.
¡Calmete! I told myself. You don’t want a repeated episode of having your baby early. I held my breath. I snuck behind them, grabbed them, and pulled them in.
For me to repeatedly find the girls unsupervised and unattended became too much to bear. They deserved better. They didn’t need to see their father’s belligerent drunkenness. They didn’t need to hear their parents fighting, name-calling, and screaming. What they needed and deserved, was a non-hostile environment—a safe refuge—filled with love, security, and self-esteem. And as their parents, we failed to give them that.
I imagined what our neighbors thought about us whenever uproars detonated through the walls of our apartment.
One evening I found out.
A couple of police officers knocked on our door. I wasn’t too surprised, but by then, all was calm. Donny, in a drunken coma, had passed out.
The cops noticed I’d been weeping; however, I hadn’t any visible bruises on me. I never pressed charges against my husband before. Call me stupid. But I wasn’t going to then either. After some specific questioning, they gathered that I needed help. They asked if the girls and I had any place else to go or relatives close by. Naturally, I thought about fleeing to Miami, but even if we were to get there, then what?
Seeing our substandard living conditions, they handed me a Child Protective Services’ calling card. They strongly advised I take the girls in for a routine medical examination in the morning. How many times had my mother dealt with them when I was a kid? I knew nothing embodied “routine” when CPS became involved.
Early the next day, I bathed and dressed my girls in their prettiest dresses. I silently brushed their hair in pigtails, making ringlets with my fingers. I listened to their chatter, blinking away tears, and savored the moment to admire their beauty and uniqueness.
“Mommy, where we goin’?” Angela asked. “Put dis ribbon in my hair.”
“Lookie, Mommy, I can tie my shoes.” Anna Marie grinned.
“Ouchie! Don’t pull my hair, Mommy.”
“Balloon?” Diana asked, thinking we were going to the store.
“Mommy, are you sad?”
“Your tummy is gettin’ big again, Mommy.”
A few hours later, heartbroken and devastated, I was silently praying for their quick return.
(To be continued.)
This is a short excerpt from “Running in Heels – A Memoir of Grit and Grace,” Chapter 32. In this snippet, I reflect back to a time when my role as a young mother wasn’t so easy. With Mother’s Day soon approaching, I felt it was appropriate to share this with you.
© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved