It was a cold winter that season. One of the coldest yet. My family and I had just moved from the city to the ends of the world because my father had been jailed for trying to embezzle millions of dollars of retirement investments. A small unassuming man with good manners who always looked down and had no scrupples was infact working day and night to put bread on the table for his family. Me, myself and I in my mind. I was an only child. My mom had no time for me only for her good looks. My dad worked day and night and we rarely saw him. My mom on the other hand dedicated her life to waiting till the early mornings for my dad to return from work. We loved living this unique busy one sided life.
I dressed well as a result of my dad's income. I remember one time going to school wearing new sneakers and one of the popular girls approached me at my table at lunch time and said.
"Are those sneakers new! Are they by Arrie? " She looked at me with a smile on her face waiting for an answer.
I said: "Oh sure you mean these. Yeah they are by Arrie." She smiled and said: "I knew it."
Not sure what to say I looked at my sneakers and then at my lunch and wondered why she was still standing and not saying anything.
Arrie was the latest designer of footware. Anyone cool enough to wear her sneakers had to be cool enough to afford them or his or her parents were.
"Well I have been following your wadrobe lately and I think you can join our table. You seem to be in ." She said
I looked around and my silent friend who was sitting across from me looked down at her lunch and at her Arrie sneakers wondering how such sneakers could make us join them the famous popular girls in school.
"Alright, starting tomorrow!" I said and then paused and asked "Can my friend join us too?"
She said: "Sure, she is an Arrie girl too right?"and walked away.
We looked at each other and laughed
It was with this backdrop that my mom too found herself. After trying many ways to feel better about, herself she had decided that maybe she should try gardening. Well she did and it helped stop her from talking to herself. I could no longer worry about her troubled mind which resulted mostly from loneliness and from losing many of her frineds to divorce and social change. Politically active women are not very well liked by the establishment. My dad thought it was just a phase which would pass. As more and more of her actvities produced results and change, my mom started having enemies in high places. She would occassionally get in mini accidents with annoymous drivers who would speed away from the accident scene never to be accounted for. She started buying products that were halfway open some which poisoned her. She visited doctors who promised to help her and she would get worse. As more and more of these incidents became regular in our lives we felt that perhaps it was not proper to tell my dad. He also worked very hard to be around to hear it anyway. The backyard became a sanctuary with many wild flowers and butterflies and herbs testifying to my mom's accomplishments. We never doubted anymore that my mom still had some life left in her. Although the phone never stopped ringing and her voicemail never accepted messages anymore for fear that her bullies would locate her hiding place: the backyard.
"Is your mom home?"
"No she is not."
"Do you know when she will be back?"
"I am not supposed to talk to strangers."
I would promptly shut the door and resume my life indoors.
"Why is your mom's car in the driveway?"
I would stand next to the window and say, "Is that my mom's car I forget." I would dutifully shut the curtains and know that the stranger would stick around or would walk to a dark Oldsmobile Towncar with a large hand held car phone and wait for instructions from headquarters. I could not tell if they were lovers or the members of the anti revolution forces.
When neighbors tried to figure us out, we preferred to let them think that we were a cult of killers in the underground movement. We never bothered to correct anyone.
My dad was reading a newspaper one day when the men in black forced themselves in our home. A news Anchor made sure that we could not even try to "get down" to our hiding place to escape as rehersed. In handcuffes my dad looked even smaller than he already was. I could see a sense of relief on his face as if this part of his life shall also be dealt with and come to an end. He and his phone calls an documents were hauled away to kingdom come. The trial was brief and he was found guilty. The expensive backyard was sold to the highest bidder. My mom who had lost weight looked smaller than I remembered her.
We were left with absolutely nothing. It turned out that everytime we went shopping, some of our neighbors placed bids on our belongings. We were lucky to own a car and have money for gas. So one night we esccaped.
In our new town we needed to be in touch with the friends that we once had. Send money. Send money now I said. We will pay you back. Okay okay please send us money we have no food.
"What does your mom do for a living?"
"My mom is a freelance illustrator!"
"What does she illustrate?"
"Nature, nurture, I don't know , she illlustrates something. Books I guess."
"Where do you live?'
"I am passing through . I live across town."
"What's your name?"
"Anna, yeah Anna?"
"Why do you doubt your name."
"No, no it is a game that I play of living as different personalities. This week I am, Anna."
"How brilliant. Why do you do that?"
"I pretend that everyone I meet is a poilce officer. So I just fool around to make myself feel special."
My mom hated being poor and so did I. She hated having to go to prison to visit with my dad or to visit dad in prison. They always said it was a visit with my dad when infact it was a visit to be with my dad in prison for a set period of time.
My mom thought that the prison for white collar crime would look better but it just was like any other prison. Whenever we visited we asked if we could get a better window seat close to the air so that we could breathe. My mom would faint or stop breathing to avoid having to spend the entire hour there. I felt sorry for my dad who looked wasted and abused. My mom once called the prison Magistrate and asked if my dad would be allowed a beer. He vehemntly said no and hurt my mom's feelings by calling her a whore. She hung up the phone and called back and asked in a very serious tone if he could at least give him sadatives so that my father could sleep away his prison sentence. To which he hurt my mom even more.
"You are not the only one who visits that man by the way." My mom fainted for real on the end of the line and I could sense the silent satisfaction of the magistrate that he had closed a very dangerous case. A case of a stock borker who stole millions from poor retirees and his fainting wife.
"A friend of a friend told us that your dad is in jail."
"That is my step dad my real dad is a Professor and he is not in prison."
"We also heard that you cannot afford to pay for that one bedroom rental that you live in."
"We can afford our home. We have to play it cool because we are in hiding. My dad is in a plural marriage and one of his wives wants my mom dead. We don't know why."
I always get uncomfortable whenever anyone asks me about where I lived. That was true for real even while I and my mom lived well. I hated having to talk about where I lived, only close friends and relatives were welcome to that part of my life.
"You gained weight? You just got here!"
"I was pregnant and I had an abortion."
"Don't talk to her, she is crazy."
My mom got sick in the middle of my dad's jail term. She could hardly get out of bed. It turns out that if you are used to eating meals prepared with organic ingredients, if you stop you die. I tended to take a taxi to drive me to prison to meet my nonconversing dad. He had taken a vow to not talk much to me and my mom. He must have heard what I telling everyone and feared that he would contradict my stories. I would sit across from dad and he would give me phone numbers to call. His friends had vanished and were nowhere to be seen or heard of. He kept hoping that one day one of them will walk in prison with a Lawyer and set him free. About my mom; he asked not to be told how bad things were. He gave me pocket money in coins. I would look at him disgusted. The coins were not even worth the coins that I used to have in my piggy bank.
"Anna is that you?"
"No, who's Anna?"
"You look like that creepy new girl from up the hill. But you are dressed as a man."
"I am a man, a boy I mean. Wanna see my winnie?"
It means that I was in a cafe and had to eat in the back room of the cafe because there was no food in the house.
I walked back home no longer humiliated but fascinated by my new life of sponteneous lying even if there was no need for me to.
"GTE operator here how, may I help you?'
"Can I make a collect call to the local prison jail?"
"Oh no you don't need to make a collect call. All calls to inmates are free. You just dial the number and you will be transfered to his or her room."
"No I meant the hopsital, jail? I don't know anyone who is in jail. I meant King Edward hospital. My mom is in there. I bet I am worried that if I don't call my mom I will wind up in jail. That's right that is what that's about."
"Oh that's a different story. Call this main number for hospitals. It's only 811 and ask to be transfered to a particualr hospital or tell them your mother's name they will figure out where she was admitted. That number too is free. Don't you know that?"
I quickly hung up the phone. That meant that I needed to hear a voice of a human being who was not `judgemental, who did not think that I looked like a new girl who lived up the hill.
Well, my mom did get released from the hosptial and I was glad to pick her up knowing that I had nothing to give her but my presence.
Our high school had a scheme of giving out food and personal hygiene items and many other neccessities ranging from sweaters to hair products. My mom enrolled as a high school student just to be able to have a place to stayaway from the revolution and it's followers. Also she neede food in her tummy. We lived on very limited income. I pretended not to know her as I strolled in the halls of my high school. I was lucky she was admitted as a 12th grader. It turned out that her famous friends of her past had located her or suspected where she was hiding and were out and about desperate to have her on yet another mission. Life was different than, my dad's income could not underwrite the wishes of the unheard.
"You know what? Our mayor is making noise about strangers in town. I think it is time to disappear. If I were you I would. I was born and raised in these woods,"
"Why are you telling me?"
"I tell all the newbies in town. We are used to drivers on our highway stopping to shop and end up taking refuge in our town and never leaving until we get a bulletin or something."
"That doesn't sound like me. Plus my mom is dying! She can't even leave the house, she is so sick."
"Listen here, I tell you this because I love you, start stuffing your tummy with towels and wear large sweaters. Make yourself look pregnant. That is a sure sign that you plan to stay. If they ask who did it to you, I will say it was me. That means that one of these days we have to do it."
"I am scared."
"Be scared all the way to prison. My dad saw you!"
"No that's my pen pal. I plan to have kids with that guy."
"Well I am here on the outside. Why not me? I won't tell. I might know more."
"I have syphllis from that guy. He is old right. Old guys carry diseases,"
"Yukky, go to the clinic then and get medicated. Call me after."
"No I might have chicken pox then, you know us newbies."
"Well go on put a towel in your tummy. Let me think about you."
"I will, thanks."
"Oh you can't bring that guy to our town or I'll tell."
Towel anyone, hot or cold?
"I thought I could ask you to church this Sunday."
"I am prengant. I am an out of wedlock teenager. Churches hate us."
"You are right. I thought I could marry you and give your child a name."
"Maybe next time."
"If you ever need anyone to touch your belly hit me up"
"How about tonight. Just joking. The dad will kill you."
A year went by so fast and we managed to dodge the visitors in a black Oldsmobile with car phones. My tummy got bigger and bigger until I finished my exams. I still had a year to go in high school. I could not remember that I once wore Arrie sneakers. I had become a very troubling woman with a lot of time on her hands.
The other side of town was better.
"We almost let them in."
"How we dodged that bullet I will never know."