I left a year ago today. I had no idea where we would go when our time in the airBNB ran out. I had no idea where me and the Boy would be sleeping. I had no idea how we would survive. It was a leap of faith that something had to be better than where we were. It remains possibly the single most terrifying thing that I have ever done, and that is saying something. To get in that taxi cab, say goodbye to the person that helped us survive when we had no other options for survival, to be thrown out, told to get out of our only place of safety, to pack up a couple of small bags and throw them into a yellow taxicab driven by a methed out insane woman who took 14 hours to drive something that should have taken only five or six, to not turn back, to not give up, to stand with our suitcases outside an airbnb in San Francisco, trying to get in, dragging out baggage into the unknown; to not know and yet still keep going, was an act of supreme bravery on the part of the Boy. As young as he is, he encouraged me, he kept telling me that we could do this. He kept telling me how much he loved me and needed me, needed there to be an ‘us’ a family; that our little pact to survive together meant everything to him.
This is his triumph as much as it is mine. He never wavered. He never gave up. He never allowed himself to be swayed from his desire for a future and to be there for me, to be a good son. When he held my hand in that cab and whispered to me ‘I love you, let’s go on, let’s go forwards, we can do this’, I saw in him a steel that I had only seen glimpses of before. It is the same steel that withdraws his presence from those that persist in hurting him or me. He forgives and forgives and then it is over. He forgives no more. He shuts that door. He protects himself. I could not be prouder of him or his will to survive and to be the best sidekick a mother ever had. I love him so dearly.
I would walk into the gates of hell for that Boy, and I get the irritating feeling he would do the same thing for me. I wouldn’t want him to. I want him to be safe and happy. Sacrifice. Survival. Stoicism. Bravery. Keeping on. Holding the line. Not cracking under immense pressure. Throwing myself upon the unknown in the hopes of something else, something better. Something survivable.
We pulled our bags into the AirBnb, flopped onto the beds, turned on a TV. I let him go to shower first. A hot shower. Running water. We didn’t have clean clothes, but there was a washing machine and a tumble drier. We threw everything except that which we were wearing into the wash. He came out of the shower looking blissfully happy. We didn’t have any food, it was too late to order anything. Neither of us had eaten all day, not even breakfast. I went into the shower, let the hot water run over my head. Dried my hair, got dressed, retrieved clothes from the drier. Changed into something clean and gave the kid something clean to wear. We had not been able to wash clothes in over a year. We would buy cheap new things occasionally. The pandemic, the fact that laundry costs way too much, and Billy never liked stopping to do such things and would pout and pout if I asked to, left us grubby and disheveled.
With CNN droning on in the corner, clean clothes, clean bodies…..beds! Clean sheets! Our little studio room felt like the most luxurious experience anyone has ever had. It was perfect.
My phone rang. It was Billy. He was drunker than hell. “Come back!” he demanded, down a crackly phone line that betrayed his slurring and his uselessness. “Come home!…She didn’t mean no harm. She’s dumb that is all. Not malicious.” I told him to fuck off, and turned the TV over to some movie, away from the insane clown circus of Trump and the election.
“You think Biden will win, ma?” The Boy looked concerned a moment. “I mean, Trump can’t seriously be fooling people, can he?” I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t think he will go quietly even if he loses. We might get lucky. We might be ok.”..When politics starts to be something that is so personally dangerous, so terrifying, so important on a mundane day to day level, you know things have got to be bad.
The Californian sunlight streamed through the window of the studio apartment we were staying in. The noises of the city broke through the dawn. It was a far cry from duck calls and crows on the roof and the organic quiet of the forests and lakes. We were starving hungry. Pulling on clean clothes, turning off the phone, we went outside. Went walking up Noriega, up 38th, trying to find something I could eat despite the stupid allergies and celiac disease. Grabbing granola bars off a shelf, heading back, making tea, stunned, scared. Smiling.
A year ago today we left. People made their choices. Me and the Boy chose to try and survive and thanks to a little help from our friends, the kindness of strangers, and San Francisco being crazy but welcoming, here we are. People made their choices. I am glad I made this one.