By Helen Frost
Macmillan Copyright © 2003 Helen Frost
All rights reserved.
HOW I SEE IT
NOW THIS BABY STEPHIE (Continues...)
My parents still think I'm their little girl.
I don't want them to see me getting bigger,
bigger every week, almost too big to hide it now.
But if I don't go home, where can I go?
Jason said, You could get rid of it. I thought of how he tossed
the broken condom in the trash, saying, Nothing
will happen. Now this baby is that nothing,
growing fingers in the dark, growing toes, a girl
or boy, heart pulsing. Not something to be tossed
aside, not nothing. Love and terror both grow bigger
every day inside me. Jason showed me where to go
to take care of it. I looked at him and said, I can't. Now
he isn't talking to me, and if he won't talk now,
I know what to expect in six months' time — nothing.
His family doesn't know about the baby. When I used to go
there every day, his mom would say, It's nice to have a girl
around the house. But they have bigger
dreams than this for Jason. All my questions are like wind-tossed
papers in the street, and after they've been tossed
around, rain comes, and they're a soggy mess. Now
I'm hungry. I had a doughnut, but I need a bigger
meal. I'm not prepared for this. I know nothing
about living on my own. At school there's this girl
I know named Keesha who told me there's a place kids go
and stay awhile, where people don't ask questions. I go,
Yeah, sure, okay. I kind of tossed
my head, like I was just some girl
who wouldn't care. But now
I wish I'd asked her the exact address. (Nothing
wrong with asking.) To lots of girls, it's no big
deal to have a baby. They treat it like a big
attention getter — when the baby's born, they go
around showing it off to all their friends. But nothing
like this ever happens in my family. Mom and Dad won't toss
me out, or even yell at me, if I go home right now.
But how can I keep acting like the girl
they think I am — a carefree teenage girl with nothing
big to worry me. As for what I've started thinking now —
don't go there. Heads is bad; tails is worse: like that no-win coin toss.
WHAT'S RIGHT? JASON
Coach keeps asking me what's wrong.
I missed the free throw, cost our team the game.
I thought I could count on you, he said,
quiet, really puzzled, those dark eyes steady,
looking through me. How can I say, Forget
the championship, forget the scholarship, college
is out of the question? And without college —
what? You want to know what's wrong?
I want to know what's right. I can't forget
Stephie's eyes, the light through her tears. The old game
plan won't work now. Are you two going steady?
Coach asked. He was serious. He said,
She's a lovely girl, Jason. All I can say
is, times have changed. In his day, you went to college,
married the lovely girl you'd gone steady
with for four years. Nothing went wrong
like this. I wish I could play the game
like that. I wish I could forget
about this baby. But I can't forget
the night it happened. Stephie said
she loved watching me play in the big game;
she loved the brains that got me into college,
but there was more than that. I was wrong
if I thought that was all she saw in me. Steady
light in her eyes. I want to be steady
for her now. But I'm not. I can't. Forget
it. It's all turning out wrong.
When I drove her past the clinic, she said,
You want me to kill our baby so you can go to college,
play basketball, be a big hero in every big game?
Those words: Kill our baby. No. This is not a game.
I need some kind of job, a steady
income. I could stay here and go to college
part-time, but I'd have to forget
about my basketball career. Whoever said
these are the best years of your life was wrong.
But Stephie's also wrong. I don't think everything's a game.
I just can't seem to say, Yes, I'll be the kind of steady
father I should be. It's hard to forget about college.
I FOUND A PLACE KEESHA
Stephie walked by this afternoon, holding
her umbrella in front of her face.
When it rains like this, all day, into the night,
that's when you need a home
more than you need your pride. She still
goes home to her folks, but she's scared
of something. I can tell when someone's scared
and I can usually guess what it's about. She's been holding
her books in front of herself, and she still
wears that heavy jacket, even when the weather's good. Her face
clouds over whenever it's time to go home.
She'll go home again tonight, but one night
soon, she'll find her way here. Just watch — Sunday night
or a week from Tuesday, she'll show up scared,
like she's the first girl that ever ran from home.
I know how it is. The night I ran off, holding
on to my picture of Mama, like her face
could talk to me or something, I still
believed someone would come after me. I still
thought the cops or somebody would look for me all night,
and Dad would say he didn't mean it. His face
when I left, so tight and dark. I'm scared
when his eyes flash like that — Don't come back. Holding
his bottle like a gun. What would a real home
be like? An everybody-sit-down-at-the-table home?
I remember when Mama was still
alive, sitting on that brown couch holding
Tobias. He had an earache, he cried all night,
and she stayed up and tried to quiet him. She was scared
of Dad. I remember his face,
so angry when one of us cried. And her face,
softer when he wasn't home.
I'm never going to live like that, scared
of what a man will do to me. I'm still
in school. I found a place to sleep at night,
and I'm smart. You won't see me holding
a baby anytime soon. I'm still trying to hold
my own life together. I face each night
by calling this place home. No one's going to see me acting scared.
HOW I SEE IT DONTAY
They'll be sayin' I ran
off, but that ain't how I see it. To me —
I went to Carmen's house
where all my friends chill out,
and when I called home for a ride,
my foster dad said, You got there on your own, son;
you should be able to get home. They call me son
like that. But if I was, they'd run
out in that fancy car and give me a ride
when I need one. It ain't no home to me.
It look like one, sittin' on that green lawn, out
in the suburbs. My caseworker say, This house
has everything. Four bedrooms, three baths, the house
of your dreams. Sound like she sellin' it. Their real son
has a bathroom to hisself, and a sign that says Keep Out
on his door. He got the whole crib on lock, runnin'
the whole show. But me —
I feel like I'm beggin' if I ask for a ride.
I hafta ask if I can eat! I got a ride
home last Thursday, and when I went in, the house
was quiet. They was all done eatin', nothin' left for me.
My foster mom said, Sorry, son,
you need to learn, if you want to run
around with those kids, and stay out
past suppertime, you can't expect us to go out
of our way to feed you. Where they live, you need a ride
to go get food. You can't just run
to the corner for a sandwich or go to a friend's house
and eat with them. Carmen's grandmama call me son
too, sometimes, but if I'm hungry at their house, she'll feed me.
So now I don't know what to do. It's gonna look like me
messin' up again. But to me — they locked me out!
If I had my own key like their son,
I coulda got in last night when I finally got a ride
from Carmen. It was midnight, and the house
was dark. Carmen thought I'd gone inside. I tried to run
and catch her, but she didn't see me standin' out
there in the dark street — no house, no food, no ride.
I didn't run off. I shivered in the backyard, waitin' for the sun.
SOME LITTLE THING CARMEN
I'll be sixteen in seven months,
and I know how to drive.
When Dontay had to find his own ride home,
Grandmama was asleep. I know where she keeps
her keys. I borrowed them and drove as careful as I could
out to that house he's stayin' at. By the time I left
him off, it was after curfew. I turned left
on Main Street, thinkin' 'bout the time we all got stopped last month
in that same place, thinkin' I could
go a different way. Shoulda done that, but I thought I'd drive
that short way, take my chances. Tried to keep
an eye out, but I got stopped before I made it home.
That is, to Grandmama's house — what I call home
since Mama and her boyfriend left
for Cincinnati. I keep
thinkin' she'll be back, but it's five months
now, and I've about stopped hopin' she'll drive
up any minute. I guess it could
happen — prob'ly won't, but could.
Anyhow, for now, Grandmama's house is home.
Or was until she woke up to flashin' lights and saw the cops drive
up. They gave her back her keys, told her I was DUI. Left
me handcuffed in their car tryin' not to cry. I'll prob'ly get two months
this time. Don't know why I keep
on gettin' in this kind of trouble. I keep
tryin' to do right — thought I could
help out with this month's
rent. Now it looks like I won't be home
or makin' any kind of money for a while. I'll miss what's left
of school, or at least too much to make up. This could drive
you crazy: Just try to do some little thing like drive
a friend that needs a ride, and you keep
findin' yourself locked up, nothin' left
to do but sit around thinkin' how you could
be out with friends — or home.
You think about that stuff for months,
and when those months are finally over, everything you left
behind is different. You feel like jumpin' in the nearest car and drivin'
outta town, keepin' goin' till you find someplace that feels like home.
THAT ONE WORD HARRIS
I got invited to the winter dance.
Think how that's supposed to be: Mom, Dad,
there's someone I'd like you to meet,
someone special in my life, someone
who loves me as much as I love him.
Freeze frame on that one word: Did you say
him? I used to try to think of how I'd say
it, how I'd let them know there'd be no dancing
at my wedding, no grandkids. Finally I just told them about him
and watched my world explode. What it meant to Dad
was that he didn't know me. I turned into someone
he's hated all his life. He wouldn't meet
my friend. Why would I want to meet
the person who ruined your life? I couldn't say,
No, Dad, I ruined his. They couldn't imagine just someone
I loved who loved me. Now Mom and Dad and I can't dance
around the subject like we used to. Dad
said if I didn't have enough respect for him
to act normal, how could I expect him
to keep supporting me? I couldn't meet
his eyes when he said that. I was ashamed of Dad
and myself at the same time. I didn't say
much, but after that, the winter dance
seemed like a childish game. Overnight, I became someone
different — older, tougher, on my own. Someone —
me — with no parents to support him.
I was scared enough to ask a girl to the dance,
thinking I could bring her home to meet
my parents. Maybe they'd let me come back. I'd say,
It was just something I went through — really, Dad,
it isn't true. But she said no. Anyway, Dad
would never have believed me. I can't pretend to be someone
I'm not. No matter what Mom might say
(and she's not saying much), to him
I might as well be dead. There's just no way to meet
halfway on this. I didn't go to the dance.
What made me think I could have danced with him
in public? Now I can't even say his name out loud. Dad
scared me into breaking up. I don't even want to meet someone.
MY CHOICE KATIE
I sleep in my sleeping bag in a room
with a lock in the basement of the place
on Jackson Street. And I feel safe.
If Keesha wants to talk to me, she knocks
first, and if I want to let her in, I do.
If I don't, I don't. It's my choice.
There's not too much I really have a choice
about. Mom would say I chose to leave my room
at home, but that's not something anyone would do
without a real good reason. There's no place
for me there since she got married. Like, one time, I knocked
her husband's trophy off his gun safe,
and he twisted my arm — hard. I never feel safe
when he's around. I finally asked my mom to make a choice:
him or me. She went, Oh, Katie, he'll be fine. Then she knocked
on our wood table. I blew up. I stormed out of the room
and started thinking hard. In the first place,
I know he won't be fine. I didn't tell her what he tries to do
to me when she works late. In a way, I want to, but even if I do,
she won't believe me. She thinks we're safe
in that so-called nice neighborhood. Finally, Katie, a place
of our own. And since she took a vow, she thinks she has no choice
but to see her marriage through. No room
for me, no vow to protect me if he comes knocking
on my door late at night. He knocks
and then walks in when I don't answer. Or even when I do
answer: Stay out! This is my room
and you can't come in! I could never be safe
there, with him in the house. So, sure, I made a choice.
I left home and found my way to this place,
where I've been these past two weeks. And I found a place
to work, thirty hours a week. Today Mom knocked
on the door here. She wanted to talk. I told her, You made your choice;
I made mine. She wondered what she could do
to get me to come home. But when I said, It's not safe
for me as long as he's there, she left the room.
My choice is to be safe.
This room is dark and musty, but it's one place
I do know I can answer no when someone knocks.
Excerpted from Keesha's House by Helen Frost. Copyright © 2003 Helen Frost. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
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