A Sense of Security
I had no memories of my father, although my mother promised he existed at some point. He decided to leave, she told me, and I accepted it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter because he was not a part of my life. He had never been. It was just my mom and me. It was our little, loving family. She was both provider and protector. To her, there was nothing more important than her son.
My mother told me how fortunate we were to have such a large home. She was sweet to have a positive outlook on life, but I understood what it meant to be homeless. We were able to roam free, interact with others – the lifestyle had its perks. Then there would be those nights – cold, wet and dark. I would’ve given anything for a warm place to stay.
She studied the sky and understood weather patterns well enough to prepare for what was to come. Some nights, we sheltered beneath garbage. If lucky, we found safe haven under a staircase. I’d be tucked underneath a staircase while she stepped away to retrieve dinner. On the fully-sheltered nights, she somehow procured complete meals for us both. I salivated over juicy chicken and potatoes, savoring every bite. Unfortunately, most nights were not as fortuitous. Even as we roamed the streets in fair weather, the search for food was inescapable.
My mother continuously encouraged me to assist in finding our next meal, although I knew better. Her lead ensured we didn’t go without food for too long. Onlookers walking the streets were occasionally generous, but in trying times, Mom ensured I was first to eat. It was crucial to see her son thrive. She wanted a better life for me than she endured.
One sunny day, outside in a park, grass green, laughter in the distance, she had found us pizza for breakfast. I felt so lucky.
“Always remember that I want a different life for you.”
“How so?” I smiled.
“You shouldn’t have to deal with these worries . I want you to have options for food, to know you have a, safe place to sleep every night.”
“That sounds nice Mom, but as you say, ‘the whole city is our home.’ We are free.” Although I knew what it meant to be destitute, I never wanted to devalue her words. She gave me that concerned look, proficiently crafted by mothers.
“Let me tell you a little secret,” she teased, as I waited in anticipation. “If you get lucky and play your cards right, you can have a safe place to live, never go hungry and still be able to explore the town.” I smiled, aware of my surroundings. There were others like us, in search of food and shelter. Then there were others. There were those who looked like us, yet not quite the same.
They appeared clean and often overweight from glut. We clearly lived contrasting lives. While I partially envied them, they missed one important component – awareness. They obliviously walked, unappreciative of the greater world. Spoiled by luxury in their daily lives, they took for granted the simple, basic pleasures life bestowed. For as long as I could remember, my circumstances never made me feel anything less than fortunate. It was then that the thought came to me. How was my Mom familiar with an alternate lifestyle? Did she once have a home? I was shocked that I had never considered this before.
“Mom…how do you know all this? How can you be so sure?’” As we laid on the grass, wind rustling our hair, silence fell, but only for a moment.
“I was lucky once. At one point in time, my life was very different than it is now.”
“Really?” I replied, wide-eyed. “Where did you live? What happened?” Suddenly I was flooded with questions. How had her life changed so drastically? Did we have a chance to experience better lives? Was I the reason?
“That…is a story for another time, son. It was a time long ago, before I knew your father.” I was eager for information, but respected my mother. She would tell me when she was ready. “Though…there is something we should discuss. You’re growing up and will eventually have to protect yourself one day. I won’t always be around to help.” The concept of death was not foreign to me. My mother used to share the story about how dangerous it had been to give birth to me. Due to injuries she had sustained, I barely survived. Mom had been terrified, but fortunately, in the end, she had her son.
“What is it Mom?” I asked.
“You know the city is our home and we have freedom to explore.” I nodded. “Well, that is mostly true…but there are people who may not like it. There are some who find us appalling, even disgusting.”
“…really?” I understood some may not care for us, but to think we disgusted them troubled me.
“Yes. I’ve worked to avoid them since you were born but the more exposed we are, the higher the risk.”
“So are we at risk right now?”
“Not quite. The area is bustling so we’re not as suspicious.” Her words confused me. “I know it’s difficult to understand, which is why I waited to tell you.” My mother looked around, trying to find something…someone. “There.” She nodded behind me and turned around.
“You see that man in the distance with the blue uniform, black hat?” the man turned around, faced us, but didn’t look in our direction. “That gold badge – that is how you know for sure.”
“Yes, I see him.”
“That’s Trouble. You must be very careful when you see them.” I was suddenly scared.
“Should we leave?”
“No. Doing so only brings more attention to us. We must watch him closely, and be sure to avoid eye contact.” It seemed daunting.
“Okay…” I said, feigning comprehension.
“You want to be aware of their presence while eluding their detection.”
“What happens if they see us? Why are they Trouble?” I insisted. My mother hesitated. She chose her words carefully.
“They take us to an awful building, and lock us in a cage with others like us. It’s not a place you wish to be. It’s not safe. You must stay away from them.” As she spoke, Trouble walked off in the opposite direction. “Okay, he’s gone. We should casually get up and leave this field – find another place to be. Never linger in one place for too long.”
“Okay Momma. Let’s go.”
The conversation would be forever etched in my memory, because for the first time, my mother was honest with me. She treated me like an adult, capable of responsibility. It felt amazing to know my mother trusted me. I felt closer to her than ever before.