“I Am” Home

el coyote

By: Maria Elena Morales ∞

(Narrator)

I remember I could feel the sticky humidity on the back of my neck on this hot September evening when I came across something out of the ordinary. I was taking a stroll through downtown San Diego when I saw a young lady holding a baby in her arms sitting on the front steps of an apartment complex with two little girls’ right next to her. Maybe it was my empathetic heart that pulled me to the tears that this young lady was wiping from her cheeks, or the fear that I saw as she attempted to sooth the two little girls. I can still see the confusion that was molded on their faces, as they couldn’t have been more than three and four years old. I wanted to reach out and envelope them in my arms yet something stopped me as I watched this scene continue before my eyes. Then suddenly the young lady stood up with a renewed look of strength on her face and put whatever she could fit along with the baby into the stroller. I hear her speak the names Angelica and Maricella as she softly tells them to stay right next to her as they begin to walk down the street. I don’t know where they are going or the story they share but I know I cannot leave them alone.

(Me)

“Silence as I sit on the front steps of the apartment complex, where I had just been shoved out of, in a city I was lost in. Surrounding me were my worldly possessions, my two little daughters and my newborn son Eugene. What had just happened? Where was my dad? I can feel the tears running down my cheeks but I must hold them back because these two set of big brown eyes are looking at me in confusion—depending on me to keep them safe. Yet, how can I keep them safe when obviously I cannot keep myself safe? I had to find some strength so I packed as much as I could onto the stroller, whispered to my girls to stay right next to me and we started walking. Where we were walking, I had no idea but I knew we needed to go somewhere. I needed a home, I needed my dad.”

(Narrator)

Somehow I found myself like an angel in this families wake. My soul longed to help and to give them what they needed yet all I could do was watch from a distance. I can see the lost look in their eyes as they stood in the shadows of the streets of downtown San Diego. Where was their home? Was there no one to help them? I scream inside wanting them to hear my pleas, “I am here with you, you are not alone”. When suddenly a car pulls up to the family and calls the young lady over to them. She slowly walks to the car with her head down with what feels like shame. After a small conversation a young man gets out of the car and comes and talks to her family. He then proceeds to help them load their stuff into his car and they drive away.

(Me)

“I remember our first night so clearly, homeless and desperate on the streets. We had finally found my dad coming from an AA meeting and I told him what had happened. I needed him to tell me everything was going to be ok, that someone would help us but yet he had no answers. The evening turned into night and we just walked until we found ourselves standing under a storefront, hiding in the shadows. I wanted no one to see me with three little children and no place to go. I suddenly notice a car driving back and forth watching us as my shame deepened, when it finally pulled over and stopped. A man called me over to his car and I didn’t knowing what to expect but maybe this was help? I was so desperate at this moment. I remember him asking if my kids and me were ok and if we needed help. I told him our story and that we had nowhere to go. So he got out of his car and spoke to my dad and offered us help. I felt such a relief when he said he wanted to pay for a night at the hotel where my dad’s car had broken down. We then piled into our angels car and headed towards a fate unknown.”

(Narrator)

The next night, inside a lone car in what looked to be abandoned in the parking lot in the back of a motel was this beautiful family as they quieted for the night. I can feel so many intense emotions penetrating from the car, excitement from the Angelica and Maricella, helplessness from the young ladies father and utter fear and terror from her. What had happened to this family that could bring such immense feelings that overpowered the joys of life? The night got quiet as they began to rest.

(Me)

“As the night got quiet is where the shadows of my shame lurked. My dad asleep in the driver’s side, my newborn snuggled in the middle as my two little angels on their own little camping adventure in the back seat. I was in the front passenger seat covering the windows with towels, thinking, “if I can’t see them, they can’t see me”. Praying no one would see us sleeping in the broken down car in the parking lot of the Goodnite Inn in Chula Vista. Would they notice us, the family with no destination? Was this our home? The night slowly turned into day…”

(Narrator)

It’s been a long night for the family, I can sense a feeling of hopelessness as the front door opens and the young ladies dad gets out of the car. What has caused all this deep sorrow that lingers in their wake? I began to feel helpless as I want to let them know it will all be okay and that they need to stay strong. I wrap my arms around them in my mind and know my faith will bring light to their day.

(Me)

“As the sun rose, I can feel my dad leaving the car with his used McDonald’s coffee cup. I know that’s where he finds sanctuary, with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper. It’s where he can hide from the reality of our world. After trying to rest for another hour before the kids wake up, my dad comes back revived. He encourages my daughters to go have breakfast with him at “the restaurant” which in fact is St. Vincent De Paul’s free meal program for the homeless. My ego is to prideful so I’ll just stay in the car. I feed my baby and get cleaned up for a day filled of walking the streets of San Diego. There would be hours spent at the welfare office, begging for any kind of help they could assist us with and at the WIC office to make sure we could get anything extra. It would be the beginning of many mornings of tears flowing over dried WIC cereal for me.”

(Narrator)

Days are now turning into weeks, and I am now fearful that no one will help “my family” as I see them as now. I have walked with them as they struggle to grasp at any hope. It feels like it has been many days walking with no destination. You can see the exhaustion and weariness in their walk and the smiles have become less and less in between. Angelica and Maricella seem to be holding up a lot better than their mom and grandpa. They seem to be the only reason they continue to push forward. “Please don’t give up” I whisper in their ears as they sleep and wish them pleasant dreams as they attempt to rest their souls. Tomorrow is another day…

(Me)

“Our days have now turned into little field trips to Seaport Village. Our food stamps are our only resource but they provide us picnics with the pelican with a broken wing and beautiful views of the San Diego bay. As our days slowly come to an end and after the kids have bathed in the motel pool, they climb back into the car to rest. This was the time I would attempt to find a payphone, any payphone that would allow me a collect call. These are the moments I break, pleading and begging my mom to please let us come home. Desperation deep in my cries, anger rolling down my cheeks disguised as tears. It always ends with me screaming “please mom, please let us come home” , and all I can hear is the dial tone at the other end of the phone. I always feel my world come swirling to an end at that moment. Emptiness fills my heart. I’ll try again tomorrow.”

(Narrator)

“Why? Why? Why?”, is what races through my mind as I shed a tear.

(Me)

“Nights have turned into days, and days have turned into hours and hours are turning into dragged on minutes. It has taken weeks for us to be saved but the moment is fast approaching, I feel it. It’s another night of me covering the windows, hiding our shame when I hear the sounds I have feared but longed for. I hear the knock on my window and I open my door. There are three cop cars and one to many police around the car. They let us know that they had a call about a family living in a car in the motel parking lot. We let them know our situation and they ask us to come down to the police station with them. They let me know if I cannot find a safe place for my children that they will have to notify the Department of Social Services and have my children removed from my care. But all I hear is that “I am an unfit mother who does not deserve her children” in their voices. My heart is racing and all I know is that I can’t lose my babies. I have to find a safe place for them. I call everyone but no one can help until finally someone stood up for me. I never knew what that felt like until that moment. The sergeant of the Chula Vista police department called my mother back after her initial “no, this is not my problem” response and told her that she had a responsibility to take my children and me in. Someone believed in me, they felt I deserved to be helped. They then took us to have dinner at Denny’s and got us a hotel room. I slept like an angel that night, my soul at peace.”

(Narrator)

Relief! That was way to close. My little family will finally be going home today. I see hope in Maria’s eyes but there is still a deeper sadness lingering in her heart. Why is she still so sad? They were saved last night. Shouldn’t she be filled with happiness and not those unshed, lingering tears that I feel and see. I don’t understand???

(Me)

“We are going home today, back to Indio. Yet, “we” does not include my dad. I have such a broken heart as we wait for a police officer to pick us up from the hotel. They will be dropping us off at St. Vincent De Paul’s to apply for a free Greyhound bus tickets for my children and me. It’s going to be a long day of just waiting.”

(Narrator)

“What?” I don’t understand. Why is her dad being left behind? Where will he go? What will happen to him? “Why? Why? Why?”

(Me)

“As the Greyhound pulls up and we get ready to board, my heart struggles to allow me on the bus. How can I leave my dad on the streets all by himself? What will happen to him? But my dad promises me he will be okay and that I need to take care of my children. How can he be so strong? Isn’t he scared? My dad is my world and I feel like I am abandoning him. He urges me to get onto the bus and I hug him so tight not knowing what will happen to him. As the bus begins to pull away all I can do is wave goodbye as tears run down my cheeks, unable to find the strength to hold them in any longer.”

(Me)

As the bus heads forward and my heart is searching for a way to calm and me and my children head towards safety a lady sits across from me on the bus. She smiles at me and for some reason I feel this wave of love easy my heart. Then softly she tells me “I have been with you, through every tear you have shed, through all the anger and disappointments, the fears and loneliness you have felt and now as your heart is heavy I am with you. I will be with you until you learn to find your voice; I will not abandon or give up on you. I will teach you that you are worth more than you believe. I will fight for you and envelope you with love when you feel you do not deserve to be loved. I will be your strength when you feel like you will fall. I will be that step that takes you further. My name is Maria Elena and I will hold your hand as we walk through life together. You are not alone, I am your home.