Valerie walked into my class after break Wednesday night with her right hand in a cast (yes: AGAIN¹), wearing the same clothes she’d worn on Tuesday, telling me her mother had kicked her out of the house after beating her badly enough to send her to the hospital for the night. “So yeah,” she said. “I’m homeless as of now.”
She had a few options, but not the ones she should have. Her father wouldn’t take her. Her aunt wouldn’t take her. Her brother’s apartment isn’t safe or healthy for her. Her sister doesn’t have room for her. And it didn’t seem to occur to her that she could maybe ask Desirée, her current best girlfriend. There was a time she’d have gone to Reina’s house, but that friendship has faded.
So there was Jeovany. She didn’t want to ask him, didn’t want to have to depend on him that way, didn’t want to spend time with his mother. But it was eight o’clock at night, and the only other option was the shelter system, which would mean a trek up to the Emergency Assistance Unit in the Bronx, a horrible experience in the day time, but at least in the day time you have the chance of being given a shelter placement for the night. Arriving at night usually means spending the night, right there in the EAU. She didn’t want to go there, and talked about sleeping on the street.
Can I say how forcefully my heart stretched out to her, how much I wanted to say the words … “Come home with me.” But those would have been the wrong words for so very many reasons. I know that. I know it, but my heart didn’t want to accept it. I resisted the pull, swallowed the offer to bring her home. In the end she made the decision to go with Jeovany. She made a plan to come early to the Center the next day, to work with Damian and Jasmine to get a placement in the teen women’s shelter the Center runs. She’ll still have to go through the EAU to get placed there, but she won’t have to spend the night wide awake in the Bronx in order to do it.
I’m glad she has Jeovany to turn to, glad she knew that asking to stay with him was the best of all the options in that moment, glad Jeovany is ready to step up and be ‘friend’ as well as ‘boyfriend.’
she is in my heart
this daughter, sister, alone
she is in the wind
where is her safe place tonight
her safe place now or ever
¹ Just to be sure, I ask what she’s done.
“You know what I did,” she says, waving her cast in my face. “Same as last time.” Which means she punched a wall to avoid punching her mother.
“Didn’t we talk about wall-punching?” I ask. “About hand-breaking, too.”
“Well, it’s almost a year since the last one.”
“Hey, that’s progress,” we both say together.
And it is progress. A year ago, she broke her left hand and — as soon as the cast came off — her right hand. So one hand in a year instead two in two months really is progress.