A place to lay my head
Joel comes home from Lincoln Middle School to find his mother passed out on the couch wearing only a long grey t-shirt and panties, hair pasted to her scalp. Knowing the social worker will be coming to check on him, he does a quick scan of the surroundings. Booze bottles litter the floor. On the coffee table are needles, a piece of rubber tubing, a spoon, and a tea light. Bags of garbage line the hallway and the stink mixes with the living room stench. Vomit on the couch all around his mother’s head. The aroma of stale blunts, booze, garbage, and vomit fill the air like pungent orders fighting each other to see which one is strongest. Delilah, passed out, not moving, covered in track marks and bruises from head to toe.
“Ma, get up the social worker comes today.” Joel pleads.
The doorbell rings and Joel starts pacing before he checks the peephole in the door. He walks back to the living room where his mother is still crashed on the cracked black leather couch. He tries to wake her up quietly. “Ma, get up. Wake up. Ms. Sims is here.” Delilah stirs but doesn’t wake. Joel reluctantly treads to the door, opens it.
Standing there is a thin woman who looks harried and overburden with her lot in life. Dark circles under her blue eyes show the strain of working long hours trying to make a difference. Dressed in a black suit which hangs loosely on her small frame, young in years but turning colder and older by the day. Pale with thin lips and blond hair, she looks out of place in the neighborhood of dilapidated bungalow houses and weed filled yards.
“Hello Joel, I’m here to do a home visit. Is your mother here?”
“Yes, Ms. Sims, but she’s sleeping.” His voice shaky, not making eye contact, feelings of dread which has hung around him like clothing since the last visit. Ms. Sims has power, power to take him away from his mother. “Can you come back another day?’ Joel starts closing the door.
Ms. Sims takes her foot and places it in the door. “Unfortunately, I can’t come back later; the appointment is scheduled for now. If your mother is unable to keep the appointment again there will be serious consequences.”
Ms. Sims’ voice is stern and without inflection as she stares the 11 year old down. He is really just a child, even at 11 he towered over her tiny structure. She can see clearly that Delilah is passed out on the couch right in plain sight. And she starts calling out her name but there is no response. “Ms. Goodman. Ms. Goodman. Ms. Goodman.” The social worker’s no nonsense tone getting louder with each call of her name.
Ms. Sims looks at Joel and asks, “How long has she been passed out?” Ms. Sims can see the savage marks on Delilah’s arms and her heart begins to race but cannot let her emotions go. Stoic, she must be stoic, crises breeds chaos, chaos leads to confusion, confusion to disaster. She goes into action for the woman and the young boy. “Joel, you must let me in. I think your mother needs help. She isn’t even aware of what’s going on.”
Joel steps aside and lets Ms. Sims in, dreading the outcome, she just might be right. He realizes that he has seen this exact scene before in his visions. It has come to him three times always ending dreadfully. Each time he has pushed them away. He has seen this before, has lived these moments already in his mind but pushed them down as fears of what may come. His counselor called these moments Déjà vu. Dread is in the air and it mixes with the other scents, it is the one which wins the battle, coating his tongue and his skin.
Ms. Sims kicks the clear bottle of cheap liquor to the side and a cockroach crawls over the toe of her black pump. Even though Joel saw that she cringed at the insect, it doesn’t stop her. She tries again to wake up Delilah Goodman.
“Her breathing is very shallow.” Turning to Joel, Ms. Sims asks: “How long has she been like this? Where did she get these bruises?”
Delilah’s eyes still closed are more than swollen, they are black and blue, and her nose looks broken. Professional training kicks in, “call 911.” Ms. Sims checks for a pulse and breathing.
Twenty minutes later, Delilah is loaded in an ambulance. Joel is riding in the car with Ms. Sims. As the siren blares and the ambulance disappears from Joel’s sight, he realized this might be the last time he will see his mother.
Ms. Sims starts asking questions. Questions Joel didn’t want to answer, but according to Ms. Sims they are questions that might save his mother’s life. Joel didn’t want to betray his mother. He didn’t want anyone to know the hell his life has been. He has hidden that part of his life from the outside world for so long. Trying to stay in school and keep his mother alive. It is a burden no son should have to carry. The shame and humiliation of being the son of a drunk and a drug addict. Any money that came into the home whether it was for rent or food went into her arm. Never knowing if you would get beat for not taking out the trash or because the drugs were gone and still keeping the one person alive who was supposed to love you. Joel shifts in his seat. Unsure of what Ms. Sims was going to do now that she knew the truth. He told of his life with his Ma. How he went days without eating because Delilah spent the monthly check on booze and drugs. She would go to the grocery store and use her Quest card to buy groceries for other people’s houses while they went hungry in order to get the cash for her habit.
Living on school breakfast and hot lunch during the school year; eating two meals a day, and starving in the summer. Going to the food pantry for peanut butter and government cheese; always hungry, always worried about his mother. She would do what she had to do. Whatever, she had to do to get the next high. Including; selling her body through the thug that was her pimp. She often came home bruised and bloody either from Big T or someone who used her. She would go days without eating. This was no life for a kid. It was Joel’s life. Now that the state has interceded, what does his future hold? Where are they headed now?