By Lisa Ramirez, 12th Grade
We are here. Finally, we are finding somewhere new to live where we can actually stay. The large, black, rusted gates stand before me, towering a full twelve feet above. This grand iron giant seems to stare down at me, as if it admires my innocence or lack thereof. Something about those gates speak to me; if gates could speak, I’m sure it would say “Welcome, I’ll keep you safe…for now.” The thin bars of the gate are dark—dusty and crispy to the touch in fact—and cubed shaped from the ground up and the very top tips of it spiraled into a sharp point. There is a keypad on the gate and a small, green button labeled Call.
My mother steps out of a yellow school bus with my newborn baby brother in hand and my four year old brother gripping firmly to her ankle-length denim skirt. My mother, brothers and I are just one of the many small, broken families that are to live in the old fire brick building protected behind the gate. I stand mesmerized by the iron giant and drift into a slow dream that increases in vividness with each passing second as it gropes a hold of my reality and trades places with it in my mind’s eye. I see myself, or at least it looks like it could still be me except that my seven years old body and features were replaced with those of a powerful and beguiling woman who is in bed, one not made of rags, fast asleep.
“Hey, good morning babe,” a tan, warm-to-the-touch hand rocks my shoulders as I squirm and groan my way out of the spell of sleep. “Come on beautiful; don’t make me drag you out of bed. You have a husband to make breakfast for.” He shakes me once more and succeeds in getting my eyes to flutter open in a slight squint. “See, I knew that’s all I had to say to wake you up. I joke, I joke; I made breakfast—those God awful pancakes you pretend to like.” This man with a romantic, and therapeutic deep-toned voice sits on the edge of the bed wearing nothing but plaid print, black and cerulean blue, fleece pajamas pants with thin, gray lines that run along the pant legs horizontally. I manage to wriggle out of the sheets and reach over to this man, who I have never seen before but am sure that I know genuinely and whole heartedly. As I sit up, my arms extend and bend around the contours of his body in a bold embrace. His arms soon follow the gesture. Oh, he feels utterly amazing; I lack the other words to express the level of intensity and comfort I feel while in his arms. It is disarming. Oh, I must know this man; I have to know him. He is so unfamiliar but this contact of body against body tells me that somewhere in some deep-rooted distant life we shared a love and familiarity like no other two beings. His body radiated an immense amount of heat which made me melt inside with comfort. His skin feels so smooth, as his arms envelop me with firm and strong embrace. As if some sort of animalistic instinct, my arms impulsively tighten grip of him and bring me closer to him. Oh, I could sit here forever. I can feel his muscles clench against my belly and my heart responds to his movement, palpitating far too rapidly –not out of lust or fear—of happiness, an emotion I was once sure never existed. I must know this man. I know I love him. Wait, I haven’t taken a good look at his face. The sunlight has failed me, for the shine of the all-seeing globe in the sky reflects far too brightly on his face and all I see is a head full of dark hair and big, honey colored eyes bating at me with lustrous lashes. “Come on my beautiful, beautiful wife. I’ll carry you to the living room if you’re too sleepy to walk by yourself.” And there he goes again, lunging me in his arms, cradling me as he stands and then, the sunlight shifts and all I see is a row of pearly teeth, enclosed in full pink lips, and accented by perfectly placed dimples. “Go one Lisa, go wash up. I’ll make you hot chocolate just like you like it. You want hot chocolate? With the little marshmallows?”
“Lisa!” I nod mindlessly; I am seven years old once more in front of the iron giant. “Lisa, push the call button, Linda. Everyone is off the bus already.” My mother bounces my baby brother on her shoulder as I regain the sense of hearing, sight and cognition that I lost in the depth of my daydream; I notice that he has been vigorously crying for a while and that I am no longer the only one facing the gate. People of all ages, bearded men, youthful women, and flustered children crowd around me. I glance up and look at the green button. Call. Extending my index finger, I raise my arm and make way to press the button as my mother told me. The button lit a green traffic light color. Beyond the gate, about twenty feet away from the entrance, I spot a black booth.
It looked as if it was made of brick, cinder blocks perhaps, and then coated with recurring layers of glossy black paint. The paint had lifted in random spots and corners and underneath the black scabs of paint, there it was, more black. From a side door of the booth a man in a navy blue-collar shirt, slacks and a badge walks toward the gate. He is a security guard.
The security guard stands face to face with me, only the iron giant and the distance of two feet between us. While reaching for his belt he unhooks a giant key ring filled with what appears to be hundreds of keys. As he searches for the proper one to open the gate with, my eyes catch a glimpse of something hidden in a case hanging off of the security guard’s belt—a gun. I gasp and before I know it, the gate is open, people rush through the doors, I hear murmurs and whispers and chuckles and shouting. A hand places itself on my shoulder and I flinch. “Come on Lisa; hold your brother’s hand, would you? I’m holding the baby and I don’t want him to get lost in the crowd. Lisa, wake up! Move, we have to find our room. This is our new home, okay?” And suddenly, I feel a tightening and awkward thickening in my throat which in turn causes a pressure in my chest and feels as if an omniscient, malevolent force reached its hands through my body, clasped a hold of my lungs and squeezed. Squeezed. My breath escapes me and I sigh. A single tear runs down my cheek and I immediately catch it at the corner of my mouth with my tongue. Salty. I swiftly glide my sleeve across my left cheek, erasing any trace of vulnerability in my face. I can’t quite distinguish what that tear was caused by. Perhaps it was fear. The fear of having a new home, starting a new life all over again, or maybe it was the fear of knowing that this home wasn’t really mine.
I found it.
It’s the fear of not being able to mark up the wall every six months or every significant day—birthdays, Christmas—to see how much I’ve grown. It’s the fear of never painting the walls and making the room my own, because it wasn’t. It’s the fear of calling a place “home” when it never was to begin with, and it never will be. This is just another shelter, and I’m just another homeless girl. I nod. “Okay, mommy.”
“Get this key out my pocket, will you? I can’t get it out.” As instructed, I burry my hand in my mother’s skirt pocket and pull out a key with a yellow sticker on it that read, 3B. This is our new apartment. Suddenly, I feel that uncommon swell in my throat that I experienced not too long ago downstairs while standing by the gate. I need to cry, but this time, it isn’t because of pain. I cried in appreciation that I could finally go to sleep tonight under a roof, covered from the rain. I can now sleep with both eyes closed, and maybe, if I’m lucky, I can dream like children dream –and just maybe, those dreams will come true, even for little shelter girls like me.