In this excerpt from my Young Adult ms.,SHELTER, Miguel, Ellie, and Mercedes, their mother, move into a domestic violence shelter 40 minutes from their house. Miguel, 15 and Ellie, 16 have very different reactions to their new home.
(Miguel) I leave the room to check out the bedroom floor. Result: six bedrooms, two bathrooms. A small room with a washer and dryer.
Wow. Two bathrooms for maybe fourteen or fifteen women and kids? Who knew I was living in a palace before I came here?
This girl who looks like she has to "go" real bad, bangs on one of the bathroom doors and yells, “Hurry up!” Notices me and turns red.
A bathroom door flies open and a boy hurries out.
She yells, “About time, loser!” Slams the bathroom door so loud, a woman sticks her head into the hall and asks, “What’s going on, Dennie?”
He shrugs. “Bathroom emergency.”
How can he be so cool about it? What happens when all these people need to get to work, school, or bed at the same time? How about when they have to take a shower or they’re sick? This is worse than jail!
When I return to our room, Mom reads my mind. “Yes, Miguel, it might be tough to get a bathroom sometimes.”
I shove my suitcase in the closet. Slam the folding door shut with a shove of my knee. “Ya think?”
“Drop the attitude,” Mom says, “We’re here. Deal with it.”
“I can’t. I hate this place. Why didn’t we just stay home? Dad would have calmed down.”
Mom stares at me like I’m nuts. Ellie stands up. Looks me up and down like I’m an alien. I wait for her put-down, her snaky neck thing.
But no. Instead, she moves closer. Talks so soft and hard she sounds like Dad when he’s furious. “I get it, Miguel. If Mom and I just kept taking Dad’s abuse, we could have stayed in our happy home for years. You’re right. We were crazy to leave such a paradise.”
She leans in. “Did you like living with Hitler that much, asshole?”
“No, but I liked my friends and school and Tae Kwon Do!”
“What about me?” she yells. “I was Varsity Soccer, remember? Our new school might not even have a girls’ soccer program!”
New school? Great. Something else I hadn’t even thought about. “Okay, I get it, but what about Dad? He’ll come home tonight and we’ll be gone. He won’t even know where we are!”
“Aw, poor guy,” Ellie says. “And he won’t have anyone to beat up on, will he?”
Mercedes, Miguel, and Ellie have left home, but their problems are far from over.
Miguel is mad that Dad hurt Mom and Ellie, but feels sorry for him, too. Thinks Dad just "lost it." Ellie is furious with Dad and has been more realistic about his abuse than Miguel for a long time.
The stage is set for conflict around moving, who's to blame, should they return home or get their own place.
Mercedes/Mom is nowhere near able to deal with this conflict. She's too busy grieving for the loss of her husband, extended family, neighbors,and home. Way too stressed and confused to process what brought her and her kids to this place where they are homeless, poor, and still in danger.
I returned to the shelter last night after three weeks away to provide groups for the kids currently living there,the kids who once lived there, and a few kids who may someday have to live there.
I was so glad to be back.