After reading Joshua Norton’s strip mining blog I was thinking about rh and lh and their cousins who used to live next door to me up in the Santa Cruz Mtns. The youngest was 7, rh was 11 and lh was 10. Their family situation was fairly complex.
The younger cousins lived in the grandmother’s house with their mom – all crammed into one tiny attic room. The grandmother, a total nut case, owned the house, two scary violent chained dogs, and custody of A., the oldest cousin age about 14. Her main occupation was chain smoking and muttering to herself at the kitchen table while reading magazines. She had so many magazines that the countless giant 4 foot high stacks of them counted as one of the main furnishings of the house. Her only income was the foster care payment for custody of the 14 year old, and she spent it all on magazines.
So, the grandmother got a bedroom and A. got a bedroom. The oldest daughter, D., was allowed to live in the tiny attic room with her two younger kids (and later her new baby). One of her other kids was living in another state with the dad. She had been some kind of biker chick and been in jail and at some point been injured with acid in the face or burned somehow – horrible allusions to some incident too dreadful to tell. She had gone to jail because her girlfriend (referred to as “my old lady” in hick lesbian fashion) had sent her into a pharmacy to get a prescription filled but it turned out to be a forged scrip for some illegal drug and when the police showed up, her old lady, who was waiting in the car outside, just drove off.) I really liked and admired D. who was making a heroic effort to be a good parent despite her intolerable situation with the crazy grandma, crowded conditions, no car, and no possibility of any kind of job or boyfriend since there was no bus service and the fucking bitch grandmother wouldn’t babysit. Once she confessed to me that she was constantly tempted to just cut and run. She was maybe 35 but looked 50. Okay, she left home at 15 or 16, fell in with the wrong crowd, made some bad decisions, seemed to be incompetent at birth control, but she was so good hearted and sincere that I thought of her as a hero.
Meanwhile, in the driveway we have a run down RV trailer with the other sister – the family scapegoat apparently – her sleazy, skeevy boyfriend – and rh and lh, her two kids.
I met this pack of kids when they came to ask if they could wash my car for money. I gave them 5 bucks and suggested they draw some business cards and pass them out in the neighborhood. From then on, I was like their god.
I just got way too involved with this family for anyone’s good. When I realized that rh and lh were nearly always starving – their mom and her boyfriend were on every kind of drug and had no food but ramen noodles which the kids were required to cook themselves – That rh and lh were not only hungry all the time but were only allowed in the “big house” at all at the uncertain whim of the crazy grandma, and therefore often couldn’t take showers or baths but washed themselves at the sink of the trailer –
Oh man! It broke my heart.
The older boy rh was filled with rage. I think if he could have worked up the nerve to kill his mom and especially the boyfriend, he would have. He hated them like poison but mostly silently. It would only come out in bitter comments once in a while. He seemed to have given up hope completely. He had trouble reading, but over time, seemed inspired to read by computer games and “Magic: the Gathering” cards.
His sister was outgoing and talkative. She was the one who would come to my door and tell me about how she had eaten ramen noodles for like her 10th straight meal because the boyfriend got the munchies and ate all their food (always things like cheap cereal in bags or white bread) Her brother would start beating on her to make her stop talking about it, because he was embarrased or ashamed. Anyway I often fed them. Shit would happen, like, where they’d send her to walk 5 miles up the mountain to the little store to buy some milk, and she knew she could come around the corner, knock on my door, and I’d drive her. There were other pathetic situations like when the mom and boyfriend would suggest that she and rh “go camping” which meant sleep in sleeping bags on the porch of the big house. They would get stung by wasps and bitten my mosquitos and come over to my house crying in the morning before school…
Now, one of the more horrible things was the lolita-like way she’d behave in that disturbing seductive way that sexually abused kids sometimes do… And I was like, shit, what are the odds here, she has lucked out that I am one of the sane nice people who isn’t a total child molester (and also not some weird born again christian do-gooder). The “boyfriend” almost certainly was only hanging around the skanky mom in order to have access to her very lovely young daughter. It made me just want to puke.
lh would ask me weird questions about sex, sexuality, porn movies, and stuff like that. I always tried to answer her honestly but I tell you, it was also scary just to discuss anything like that with her, for fear that someone else would hear about it and then accuse me of molesting her. L. was with me once when lh asked us both “why do girls in porn movies go “uh uh uh” when they have sex and why do they squeal (in delight, presumably) when they see a penis?” What an appalling though reasonable question to come from a 10 year old… It had this assumption like “Well, when _I_ see a penis I don’t feel excited so why do these porn movie girls? What am I missing?” Then, “and why do people want to have sex? And why do guys want to watch those movies?”
Once she came over alone and asked me “do gay people have a hard time in life?” I explained that yes, sometimes, they did have a hard time, but they did better if they found a community of other gay people to be supportive of them. I also explained about AIDS a little bit in case she had any weird misinformation. She was quiet for a while and then said “Well good, because I think I might be bi.” I nodded sagely, and then made her a fried egg sandwich while we talked about how when we were billionaires, we would furnish our jet planes with hot tubs.
I was helping them with their homework and going to their school to talk to the teacher at their totally rich kid school (who considered them horrible problems and didn’t have much sympathy). I had to explain to the dumb bitch teacher that they had no place or peace to do homework. They had no desk, no table, no reliable supply of things like paper, notebooks, or pencils. Basically they’d get home from school and the adults would tell them to get lost until bedtime. But no,the teacher had them labelled as “bad kids”.
Once she had to write her autobiography for a school assignment and I offered to type it at her dictation. It came out to be 10 pages and was one of the most appalling things I’d ever read. Though now the guy who wrote “strip mining for whimsy” might just beat it. After the autobiography the teacher did seem just a TAD more sympathetic.
I was in so far over my head. I was always having to go to the emergency room with them, or there’d be some other weird crisis… so many stories. At the time I was on disability but K. was paying more of the rent than I was and I often ended up spending half my disability check on their school clothes and big birthday parties and stuff like that. Since their birthdays were just ignored. It got to be so nuts.
It was also like torture for me because I could not rescue them. I did a lot but was not always reliable myself. And I had no real power over them. I kept fantasizing that I could persuade the mom to let me foster parent them. But it didn’t seem likely that would really happen. When I moved away, to move in with M. in New Mexico, they were very bitter that I was leaving. I felt more guilty than I thought possible.
I stayed in touch for a couple of years and visited once. When I showed up at their house I was immediately sucked into some crisis, needless to say.
Frankly I just couldn’t handle it anymore and stopped writing out of despair. I feel really guilty about this. Sure, I was nice to them for a few years, but so what? I flaked out in the end. Maybe it just taught them even more that you can’t trust anyone. Now I live in the area again and have periodically thought of calling them up, but chickened out.
The thought of lh as a 17 year old scares the fuck out of me though – she is sure to have some scary boyfriends. When she used to talk about her future she would say things like “When I’m 16 and kicked out of the house, I’ll do (whatever thing).” When I think of contacting the family, I feel near certainty that within a week she, or maybe one of the cousins, would end up sleeping on my couch. I would be unable to say no. I’d probably be arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor or harboring a runaway.
At this point I have my own family and it’s “us first”. How wrong is this?
*sigh*. I’ve been here for 2 years. Should I contact them and yet try to keep my boundaries intact?
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