I sat in the passenger seat next to Ms. Kramer, my social worker, lookin’ out the window. I watched the dried up fields go by. Every now and then a house or cow or rest stop would come and go just as quick.
It was Saturday. Again. I swear to God I fuckin’ hate Saturday now. Saturday is supposed to be family day. Hmph. Family.
Family. I ain’t never really had much family. What family I do have don’t care. They ain’t never cared. I been in and out of foster care since I was five. My momma try to get her shit together and they send me back to live with her. She do okay for a while. Then she meet some bum ass nigga, get in trouble again, and I’m back to livin’ with strangers. Some of them be okay, though. Some of them just want the money, leave me wantin’ to get out. I tried to run away one time after one of my foster fathers tried to touch me. I got picked up by the police. They wanted to take me back but I told ‘em how nasty he was. They put me with a lady that already had five kids and nowhere for me to sleep. I slept in a bed with a five year old girl who couldn’t hold her bladder. It was cool though. I rather be wet.
My mother got herself locked up. Again. She got caught tryna boost purses from Macy’s. The judge gave her three years. She hopin’ to get parole in a year and half. I hope she stay in there.
Ms. Kramer made a right, another right, then a left. I could see the same ole ugly gray building come into view. It was surrounded by a fence about twelve feet high or so and had barbed wire coiled at the top. We slowed behind a long line of cars and my stomach felt that feeling it always feels on Saturday mornings. Fuck, I hate Saturdays.
I turned my head and looked at Ms. Kramer. She stared straight ahead as if she was tryna avoid looking at me. In a way, I’m kinda glad she didn’t look at me. She tries to be nice to me and I can see the pity in her eyes. I fuckin’ hate that look. I been gettin’ that look my whole life. It’s a cross between wantin’ to hug me and hose me down like I got lice or somethin’. Now I just avoid eye contact with people. If I don’t see their eyes then they can’t feel sorry for me. That’s the last thing I need.
We eventually made it to the guard shack. The guard, a fat white dude with a ketchup stain on his pale blue shirt, stuck a clipboard in the window. His mustache twitched as he looked in the car at me. “ID,” he said without takin’ his eyes off me. Ms. Kramer reached behind my seat to get her purse. She pulled her wallet out and handed him her driver’s license. He looked down at the plastic, then at the clipboard. He handed the plastic card back to her. “What about you, girl?” he said. I could see the slightest snarl beneath his mustache. I wanted to claw his eyes out.
The sound of Ms. Kramer’s voice pulled me outta my own head. “Where’s your school ID?”
I reached in my pocket, pulled out my ID and handed it over. He looked at it, then at me. He handed the ID back to Ms. Kramer. “Left at the end of the road. Building G.”
The guard rail went up and Ms. Kramer followed the road to Building G. “Stupid fucking prick,” she said under her breath. “Same shit every week for the last five months. Geez.” I turned my head and looked out the window again.
Finally, Ms. Kramer parked her SUV. “Ready?”
What was I supposed to say? No? “I guess,” I said.
She began her ritual of takin’ her ponytail down and removin’ her jewelry. I didn’t need to take my hair down. My baby dreads don’t even hang yet. I don’t wear any jewelry except for some tiny gold hoops that my grandmother gave me. How I’ve managed to keep ‘em all these years is crazy. The only time I ever take ‘em out is when I come here. I handed the earrings to Ms. Kramer who put them in her purse. “For safekeeping,” she told me the first time she brought me out here. One more reason to hate Saturday.
There was long line that moved real slow into the buildin’. I hate this line. It doesn’t matter if it’s 12 degrees and snowing or 90 and blazin’ hot, this line never seems to move any faster.
We found our way to the end of the line. The first few times Ms. Kramer brought me out she tried to make small talk. She would ask me about how my week went, how school was going, if I liked my foster family. I never really talked to her; eventually she stopped tryin’. That was just fine with me. I don’t really like to talk. I used to love to talk when I was a kid. But then this mean foster mother I had told me I talk too fuckin’ much and told me if I kept talkin’ she was gonna slap me in the mouth. I was so scared I shut my mouth quick. After that, I just stopped talkin’ period unless I had somethin’ important to say. Whatever that means.
We finally made it to the door where the metal detectors and COs wait to search people. I really hate this part. Being searched like I’m the one that committed the crime is bullshit. The guard damn near strip searched Ms. Kramer. I hate the way they do that to her every week. She don’t deserve this shit for real. She here to do a job. And I’m sure we both wish she didn’t have to. After a real unnecessary search we’re allowed to go to the family area to wait.
We picked a table next to the wall. I look up to see inmates and their families sittin’ around talkin’. The inmates wear stiff, light brown jumpsuits with short sleeves. I always notice how the younger kids always look so happy to see their moms. The older kids look like they wanna be anywhere but there. I feel their pain. And yet, deep down I wish I could be like the little kids. I wish I could be happy to see my mom. I stopped gettin’ excited to see my mom about nine.
Ms. Kramer reached into her pocket and pulled out a couple of crumpled up bills. “Chips,” she said with a small smile on her face. She slid the bills across the table for me. I picked them up and went to the vending machine where I looked for the salt and vinegar kettle cooked chips she likes and the Milky Way I always get. I made my way across the room and back to our table. I gave Ms. Kramer her chips and opened my candy bar. I never really eat it. I just buy it to make her feel better. She opened the bag and started crunchin’ away. I looked across the room and watched this inmate holding a baby boy that looked like he was about a year old. He looked a lot like her. He cried while she tried to comfort him. They both looked really awkward. I felt kinda sorry for her. She looked like she was really tryin’ but he wasn’t havin’ it.
I noticed the door on the other side of the room open, and about five or six inmates were being led in by a CO. One of them was my mom. She looked around until she spotted us sitting in the corner. She started walkin’ faster until she was close to the table. Then she slowed down. When she got to the table she pulled out a chair and sat down. I looked at her face. It was so much like mine. I used to hate when people said I looked like her. These days it’s hard to deny. Her brown skin is the same as mine; her eyes and nose and upper lip just like mine. She started growin’ dreads about a year ago and hers are a little longer than mine. She can pull them back in a short pony tail already.
“Hey,” she said. Her voice is much deeper than mine. She always sound a little hoarse, like she got a cold or somethin’. She smiled, showing a small chip in her tooth.
“Hey,” I said back, looking down at my hands.
“How you doin’?” she asked. I didn’t say nothin’. “You look good. Yo dreads are growin’ real good.” She reached over to touch my hair. I flinched a little. Her hand stopped midway. I looked up at her. She put her hand back in her lap and smiled a crooked smile at me. She turned her attention to Ms. Kramer.
“How is thangs goin’, Rachel? Everythang okay?”
“It’s fine, Melanie. How are you holding up?”
“Bout good as it can be, I ‘spose. Bein’ in this place you can’t be too happy, you know?” she sniffed, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’m toughin’ it out though. I been workin’ on getting’ my GED. I’m thankin’ that maybe when I get outta here I can take some classes, you know. Maybe go to weldin’ school or somethin’. One thing I know fo sho, I gotta get my shit together so me and my little girl can be together again.” She looked my way again, smiled, reached for my hand. This time I didn’t move but I wanted to.
Ms. Kramer looked at my mom, then at me. “I think I’ll let you two have a few minutes together.” She stood up to walk away. I hated when she left me alone with my mom. I wanted to grab her leg, hold it with all I had, beg her not to leave me with my mom. But I didn’t. I watched her walk over to one of the guards. They started talkin’, about what I don’t know.
“How you doin’ in school?”
“Fine,” I said.
“Fine? Just fine? You was always a good student. Never brought home a single B.” Her smile was big and toothy. “I used to love showin’ off yo report cards, ‘specially to yo grandma and Auntie Regina.”
I smiled. “Auntie Gina used to give me a dollar for every A.”
“Yes, she did,” my mom laughed. “She used to say you was gon be a doctor or lawyer one day. She used to say she would work ten jobs if she had to, to put you through school.” She looked away, still smilin’, but I could see the sadness startin’ around her eyes. “Yes, Lawd. Gina know she loved her some you. I sho miss her, too. Talk about funny. Boy, that child could make Jesus fall off the cross from laughin’ so hard!”
I didn’t want to but I smiled, too. “I miss her too,” I said quietly.
My mom looked back at me almost like she forgot I was sittin’ there. “You look just like her when she was yo age. Same colorin’, same features. People thank you look like me but you really look just like Gina. If I didn’t have you I woulda swore you was her child.” She got quiet for a couple of minutes. Finally, she said, “You know, I’m sorry I can’t be there for you, Ladybug.”
I looked up at her. Don’t nobody call me Ladybug no mo but her.
“I thank about you every day and every night. I’m gonna get outta here and I’m gon come get you and we gon be together again.”
I could feel the tears burn my eyes and I instantly got mad. I didn’t wanna waste no tears on her. Not no mo. It was the same ole shit heated up. She been promisin’ to get her shit together since I was little. I’m fifteen now. I don’t want her to get nothin’ together. I just want her to leave me alone.
“I mean it this time, Ladybug,” she kept talkin’. Imma get a job and a place, maybe a two bedroom so you can have yo own room like you did when we stayed with Big Momma. ‘Memba how much you loved that room? The window looked out at the back yard with the swing that Pop Pop put back there for you? ‘Memba that?”
“Yeah. I remember,” I said. “I also remember how I had to stay with Big Momma after Pop Pop died. You was gone fo so long I didn’t think you was gon come back for me.”
My momma began to sniffle. “I know, baby. I’m so sorry. I was real messed up back then. I didn’t know how to deal with –”
“Don’t even give me that!” I said, louder than I wanted to. “You wasn’t neva there for me! You was always ‘messed up’. You left me over and over and over again. Big Momma and Pop Pop and Auntie Gina was the only ones that was ever there for me.”
“Watch yo mouf, little girl. I been through a lot in my life and God only knows I ain’t neva had nothin’. But I always tried to do right by you.”
I felt the tears rollin’ down my face. I wiped them away with the back of my hand.
“You my child and I love you. But I ain’t boutta let you tell me to my face that I ain’t been there fo you.” She looked around like she was lookin’ for somebody to walk up. “Anyway, like I was sayin, I’m thinkin’ about takin’ some classes when I get outta here so I can get a job and get us a place.”
I looked down at my hands wishing the hour would end so I wouldn’t have to hear this bullshit again. It was the same ole song with her all the time. Sometimes she would actually try to do better. She’d come home, find a job as a grocery store cashier or cleaning offices or working fast food. She might even do good enough to find a raggedy ass, roach-infested apartment for us to live in until she lose her job and skip out on the rent. Before long she leavin’ me again and I’m back to livin’ with strangers.
My mom kept talkin’ and talkin’ about the future and all the things she want to do. To keep from rollin’ my eyes I looked around the room at all the other mothers having visits with their kids. I wondered how many of them were havin’ the same conversation. I saw Ms. Kramer coming back to the table. It was almost time to go. Thank God.
“I hate to do this to you Melanie, but it’s almost time for us to leave,” she smiled kindly.
“Yeah, I guess it is,” my mom said. “Well, Ladybug. I gotta run.” She grabbed my hand. “You take care of yoself, okay? I’ll see you next week.” She gave my hand one last squeeze, let go and stood up. She turned and walked away. I watched my mom walk back to the door she came through earlier. She turned around, smiled again and disappeared.
“You ready, Kanisha?” Ms. Kramer asked.
I stood up to leave. “Yeah, I’m ready.”
As we walked toward the exit, I looked around the room one last time. “Ms. Kramer. I ain’t comin’ back next week.”
She turned around and looked at me with a surprised look on her face. “Are you sure?”
I looked her dead in the eye. “Yep. I sure am.”
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Photo credit: Matteo Catanese