Thursday, November 10, 2005


i dont remember her name. and i barely remember what she looked like. What I remember is she was white and she told me she was a lawyer. she wore a brown pant suit and said to call her if i thought my mom couldnt take care of me anymore. her tone was low and professional, and i instantly realized she was treating me like an adult. she was offering me a service should i need it. i put her card in my back pocket with my bus pass and my free lunch card and told her i would if i did. i didnt even look at it, i could barely look up at her. her tone wasnt cold or unsympathetic but serious and businesslike and when i called three days later she didnt sound surprised at all to be hearing the voice of an eleven year old boy asking to be taken from his mother and put into a foster home, she just told me in that same serious and business like tone to pack what i needed and that i would be picked up in the morning.

it wouldnt be the first time i was in a foster home. i was in and out of them constantly throughout childhood. There had been plenty. there was the old black couples place in the upper middle class neighborhood by SF State, with the house a pale pink color I never agreed with and a big backyard that was bare and boring. and there was the super old lady that introduced me to chopped up hot dogs in mac 'n cheese and had cable tv and one time she fell asleep early and i got my first little baby hard on while watching the movie porky's. yeah, there were plenty, but at eleven, you dont go to foster homes. you go to group homes.

houses of five troubled kids with no symbolic parental unit. Just a rotating door of counselors whose chief duty it was to make sure that no one killed themselves or any one else. You had chores to do and were wise to hide the things you held most precious, but other than that the group homes were cool. it was good to be around a bunch of kids that understood your circumstance. it was comforting. It almost made having a broken mother easy to deal with, like it was normal even.

But thats not why i choose to go there. not even the half of it. i choose to go there because i was done. I was finished. i was eleven years old and i was getting sick.

thats what i called it. sick. my mother was clinically schizophrenic and when she would have her episodes, sporadically losing her grip on sanity, thats how I explained it. thats what i said she was: sick. and i was sick of it.

i was sick of the filthy house that I could never invite my friends to. I was sick of the dishes caked in scum and the stains in the carpet and on the walls and the overflowing ashtrays that never ever moved. I was sick of eating eggs because it was the only thing I knew how to cook. i was sick of not going to school just because i didnt have to. i was sick of kids whispering when they passed and teachers looking concerned and psychologist asking me what it was i saw. I was sick of worrying about the rent and the phone and the power. I was sick of reminding her to take her medicine and to lock the door and turn off the oven. I was sick of not wanting to be at home. i was eleven years old and i was sick. i was done. i was finished.

so i had decided i was leaving and it was morning and the usual fog hung above the San Francisco. i packed everything i needed; my clothes and a book. she was awake, at the other end of the house, in the kitchen. it was early, but i already knew she would be awake. she never slept when she was sick.

i remember i smelled bug spray and winced, i hated the smell of bug spray. It smelled like disease and poison or a crippled house that never got cleaned. its foul odor grew stronger and stronger as i walked towards the back of the flat and by the time i reached where she was, where she sat in her robe, staring at the stove and smoking a cigarette, the acrid stench of RAID was palpable. I could almost taste it. it loomed above the thousands upon thousands of dead cockroaches she had massacred the night before. She had gotten behind the refrigerator, i could tell. that’s were all the nest were and if you got back there real good you could maybe get most of them, for a little while at least. They would all crawl from behind the fridge and die. If you did it at night by the time morning came the entire white tile of the kitchen floor would be a horror of little brown carcasses. And that’s what the floor looked like that morning.

she said, noticing me and smiling and eyes widening at my arrival, -well, you are awake early. I lowered my head and took a breath and gagged from the stink. it was a school day so i should have been awake at that time anyway but she hadn’t noticed. i told her i was leaving and that i had a car waiting and that i wouldnt be coming back for a while. her short plump body jerked for a second, as if galvanized by logic, and i became terrified. She was going to hold onto me. she was going to tell me to stay. She was going to smile warmly and tell me that she was ok and she had taken her medicine already and that she had a job interview that day and that I should get ready for school. She was going to keep me. she wasn’t going to let me go. I braced myself for it but then she slumped back, eyed the fridge with the same empty curiosity she looked at everything with those days, and delivered the perfect out: she simply said "Oh."

the doorbell rung and she was still staring into the kitchen mess when i told her i had to go. in a moment of brief maternal gentleness she asked me to call her and tell her where i was when I got there. then she reached out and hugged me tight and violently, squeezing me until i had to push her away. I swallowed back tears and sickness and the urge to say goodbye and I grabbed my bag and headed downstairs.

the lady in the pantsuit wasnt in the car that picked me up, it was just some guy. he looked sober and it wasnt a cop car so i didnt care. it was a big station wagon and the guy asked how i was and i said I was ok and added that i didnt need any help with my stuff when he reached for it. i got into the backseat so that I could be next to my bag and before we pulled off i looked up to the third floor window but no one looked back, not her, not even her ghost.

I knew she was somewhere in there though, probably in the bathroom washing pills down her throat so she could enter the day or maybe get some sleep. probably still sitting in the kitchen smoking a cigarette with that unglued stare and her naked feet surrounded by dead roaches. I couldn’t tell for sure because as we drove off and the third floor disappeared behind a hill the last thing I saw in the window was the blue gray reflection of the city’s morning sky.

enough with this. read this author & check out some old school jungle


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:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at