I know people say that becoming a mother changes you, but I really haven’t changed all that much. All the bridges I’ve built upon the years have been charred to a crisp. My recent ex-boyfriend finally had enough of my antics, as he referred to them. I call them the enigma of human emotions. So, what that I lit his clothes on fire and broke his guitar because I found him talking to another woman who isn’t me. But I had to suppress any emotions I had about our squabble aside because my body was numb from the icy winds and my head ran amuck with the eminent threat of rain, which made me cradle my precious in the blanket in a comforting warmth. I didn’t have any family in the city, and the family that live only miles from me would still leave me miles away, where they would claim I rightfully belonged. But I didn’t care much; all I cared about was keeping my infant daughter, Rainey, warm and safe for the night…all nights for the rest of my life. But for now, we didn’t have anywhere to go. All the community shelters were full, making this our first night out on the streets alone. I tried lying to myself by telling myself I’m strong and fearless. It didn’t help much though.
I found a house nearby that appeared to be vacant, so we took refuge near some shrubbery near the patio. She laid in my arms sound asleep. I don’t think I’ll be sleeping tonight again; this time because I must be on guard. I haven’t slept in three days anyway. And I wasn’t that sleepy, to be honest. My sleep cycle can be described as a carousel at a decrepit carnival, the one where the carnies are ex-convicts with scars running across their faces, and the cotton candy tasted of sugary emptiness. I’ll go days without sleeping, then I’ll go weeks where the bed is my throne I can’t be lifted from. And this was before Rainey was born, so the notoriety of “the parent sleep cycle” didn’t affect me much as I assumed it did for other mothers. I felt like a special mother, a part of who I was, just like the part of me that abhors the ex-boyfriend that kicked my infant and me out on the desolate streets. But some can’t handle the stress of me, I suppose. Most people I have close relationships with often say the same thing. And no matter what I say, they are always right, and I’m back on the streets to find another man to love me. Or who will have me, I will be the first to say I delve so deeply into a handsome, well-dressed man who happens to look my way. I consider myself quite lucky that my face was proportionate and so was my body---curvaceous and slim in the right places, even after Rainey---to still attract whom I want. There was no shortage of suitors for me. I know that my aesthetics have bought me favors and boyfriend after boyfriend. But relationships weren’t my priority right now. Rainey was. Her breath let out a mellow puff of visible carbon dioxide, breathing in and out in a way that made my eyes swell. She was cold. This shrubbery wasn’t going to suffice; there had to be another way. While pondering my choices of warmer vicinities, I also pondered on the fact that I loved her since the exact moment I found out I was pregnant. I was always pro-choice, and still am, but I felt an urge I never thought I would feel…to become an actual mother to a child of my own. I had no idea what it meant until it actually happened. That’s why I’m here freezing, and she is bundled with all the blankets I could gather before Marcus (the ex) practically tossed us out. Asshole. I shivered and saw my fingers turn a shade a blue. I knew what I had to do.
I pushed myself up with my precious bundled infant and peered into the house. Even though it was dark, the nearby streetlight emitted just enough illumination for me to see that it looked empty and void of any other squatters. I was going to break in this little abandoned house. I knew how to break in places, due to my troubled teenage years. All I had to look out for were any other potential squatters, and the police, of course. I looked around and saw no other people wandering the area, which was good, because this is usually a high-traffic area for transients, like ourselves now. I shivered from the gust of wind and the fact that I wouldn’t know how to defend us if we were faced with an actual threat. I pushed the thought out of my mind, because there wasn’t time for scary stories or self-doubt. That could be saved for later in the warmth of a dwelling. My motherly warmth, unfortunately, wouldn’t suffice this time.
The house was not big at all. None of the houses in this part of town were. This is the side of town where there is a murder, drug bust, or robbery every week it seemed. The abandoned house was comprised of broken, white wooden pillars that were chipping paint and wood. The porch was a light brown wood with cracks in the foundation, with leaves and other random trash to fill most of it. I cleared a spot on the floor with my foot and gently set her down. She continued her slumber, although cold evidenced by her visible breath. I looked in my back pocket and pulled out my wallet, searching for one of my expired credit cards (which I haven’t yet paid; I may be a bit impulsive in my spending) to break into the house. I pulled it out, pushed firmly against the door, which felt feeble, and slid the card between the crack of the door handle for several minutes. It finally opened, and I smiled and mentally patted myself on the back for being shaking the rust on the B&E. I looked around once more to make sure nobody else was around. The coast appeared clear and silent, apart from the gust of wind. I put away my card and wallet and picked up Rainey almost as slowly as the time it took me to break into the house. I wouldn’t dare wake her peaceful sleep. That’s like a dog shitting on a freshly shampooed carpet.
I stepped quietly into the home with Rainey cradled in my arms. My eyes took a couple of seconds to adjust to the darkness, and when they did, they darted back and forth for any other people, just in case I missed any from the outside. Still there were none. The house was abandoned for a reason. The puke-green walls were torn apart in some parts of the room and the hardwood floor was also cracked in some places here and there. It was a one-story house with three doors down a narrow hallway past an unkempt, dirty kitchen that looked as it hadn’t been in commission for a decade. I didn’t mind any of the unpleasantries, as it was much warmer in here than it was out there. It must have been in the low forties or high thirties, or at least felt like it was.
I needed to check the three doors to see if there were anyone in there. I still hadn’t a clue what I’d do if I had to defend us; maybe maternal instinct will kick in. Or fight or flight. As long as one of them took place, and I knew what to do. I placed Rainey in a clear space in the corner of the ugly room, when a thought popped into my head. Maybe it was the reptilian brain speaking, but I had to check the kitchen for any sharp object, preferably a knife. Something sharp enough to pierce the skin, if I had to. I walked into the dark, old kitchen and searched with every cabinet for a knife or anything I could use for defense. I didn’t find anything of worth in that filthy kitchen, but empty malt liquor bottles and cigarette butts. I could break one of the bottles to use as a weapon, but that would make too much noise and alert any potential squatters in the house. So, I tiptoed down the hall and slowly opened the door on the right. It was a small, empty bathroom. I let out the quietest sigh of relief. The bathroom was just as dirty as the kitchen. I took a deep, silent breath and entered the door directly adjacent to the bathroom.
It too, was also empty, and what I presume was the master bedroom. There were no belongings, only trash and signs of other squatters that have been here at one time or another. I sighed a little more audibly this time. One more door. I stepped out and swung the door open. This time I didn’t feel fear; I felt my blood and adrenaline coursing through my body as my temples throbbed. It was a closet with a pull-out ironing board. It fell as soon as I opened, which made me gasp. Shit. Now, all I had to do was make sure that nobody tries to break in. Time for vigilance. Should be easy enough, sleepiness evaded me like a leper. I looked around a second time, just to be sure. I wouldn’t take any chances with her in my care. All the rooms were still empty and silent as the first time I looked through them. It satisfied my justified paranoia, so I returned to Rainey. I picked her up and held her in my arms. She had a look on her face that told me peace like that is only attainable by newborns and people of pure ignorance to this harmful world---a world that I would change for her if I could. I kissed her rosy forehead, and she moved a little, as to tell me she knew her mother was doing everything she can for her. Or at least that’s how I perceived---or wanted to perceive it.
She was perfect, and her mother was not, I thought.
The rain finally came down and trickled onto the roof, when I noticed drips of water pouring from some parts of the ceiling and onto the cracked hardwood floor. What a place. But it was our refuge for the night. And it was better than spending another night with that asshole who pushed us to this place. The pitter-patter of the rain was soothing, and I thought about how lucky we were that I had a troubled youth and experience in B&E, otherwise we’d be out on our freezing, soaking wet asses outside. And who knows if we would’ve made it through the night. There was no way I would even let the chance of that happen. My run-ins with the law were mostly during my teenage years, though some persisted through my adulthood with the more-than-expected domestic disturbance calls. And yes, they were of my doing. I don’t like to think of myself as a woman who relies on a man for support, but I haven’t held a steady job in months, or very long at all in my life. I get tired too easily, or some customer or coworker would piss me off, and there went my employment down the gutter. I received unemployment checks, but it wasn’t enough for Rainey and me to live off of, so I guess I do rely on men more than I wanted to admit. Most of the men I ended up with would objectify me, like I was supposed to be their maid and mother. They didn’t treat me with the respect I deserved or didn’t deserve---it depends on who is asked. I am more than a vagina and breasts. I’m a giver of life, a sacred bond between child and creator—a woman of integrity now that my priorities were set somewhat straight. At that moment, the thunder rumbled in the distance. I shuddered.
The rain and thunder persisted for the next couple of hours. The part of the hardwood floor that was sunken in was beginning to look like a miniature tub for a toddler. At least I know I can bathe here. I chuckled to myself. The thunder replied with substantial lightening that struck just outside of the home. I saw through the windows that it almost hit the lamppost.
You’ll never be a good mother.
“Huh?” I said out loud to what I thought was a voice not of my own.
You’ll never be able to provide for her like a real mother.
“Wha-a-at the—?” I asked to the auditory voice that was in thin air.
You don’t have what it takes! You were never meant to be a mother!
The thunder grew louder, and so did the voice I heard.
Your child is better off without you in her life. She is precious and you are not.
My eyes were soaked with tears of fear and hurt. I had no idea what was going on. It was a voice I’ve never heard before, and it was telling me these terrible things that I hoped were lies. This might be the time for scary stories and self-doubt.
I wiped away my tears and spoke. “Screw you.”
A real mother has virtue. You haven’t any, do you?
“I have virtues! I know right from wrong, and I love my daughter to bits, you liar!”
You don’t have to lie to me or yourself, for that matter. Being a mother was never for you. The best thing you can do for that child is leave her in the care of a real mother. But I know you won’t. Because you’re not fit to be a mother…at all.
I held Rainey closer to my face and kissed her puffy cheeks. “She is mine. I am a real mother!” I was almost shouting at this point, but the thunder and rain drowned out my voice.
Surprisingly, she still slept. “I am a good mother! I provided shelter for us and protected us from harm!”
You broke into a house that isn’t yours; the decisions you’ve made are those of your own, and it’s not only you that is paying the consequence. It’s your child, too.
“I do what I have to. I’m not perfect. Who are you to judge me? Who are you? What is this?”
You’re not a real mother.
The rain and thunder ceased, and so did the voice.
“I am a real mother. I am a real mother!”
Rainey opened her eyes and started crying. I rocked her back and forth, trying to comfort her. She would wake up when there was absolute silence. After a few minutes of rocking and her crying, she finally decided to stay awake for a bit. I looked into her baby blues and sang her a song from my childhood. She cooed, and that was enough to tell me that I was a real mother. Rainey’s mother, through every storm that comes and passes.