You know those mom stories that start, “I need to write this down so I don’t forget…”? Well, I know I’m not a mom, but this is one of those stories.
I looked over and noticed her wiping away tears before anyone could notice they were there. I walked over and gingerly sat down on the air mattress she called her bed. “What’s up?” Wiping away more tears, furious that they were escaping, “nothing.” I gave her “the look” and said, “Come on, you can tell me. Why are you crying?”
“I’m not crying” my 13 year old friend said.
“Ha. I’ve played that game. I’m 30 years old. I’m a pro at making people believe I’m not crying when I really am. You can’t fool me. What’s wrong? Are you overwhelmed?”
She took a breath, started to tell me again that she wasn’t in fact crying, and in that breath, she changed her mind and decided to trust me. “I just want my own home.” She looked up at me, still testing her lines of trust with me. Her eyes scanned the large room, church fellowship hall converted into a family living room/dining room and bedroom all in one. Volunteers were sitting down to dinner with the other families. Behind us, more air mattresses…beds for families who had no beds of their own.
“I don’t want to seem unappreciative,” she said quietly. “I’m just so tired of moving all the time. I just want a place I can call my home.”
My voice caught in my throat. I didn’t know what else to say other than, “I know sweetie. I know you do.” My young friend and her mother have been homeless for four months now. Four long months having to carry all of their belongings with them every day. Four months of being transported to her old school district, an hours drive on a good day. Four months of desiring a place to call home. And she is appreciative of what they have. A shelter each night, even if it does move from church to church each week. A hot meal for dinner. A warm coat for those cold, early mornings waiting for the school bus. Four months ago when the state decided to put a lifetime limit on her mother’s financial benefits, they found themselves suddenly without any income. Mom battles multiple health issues and is unable to maintain consistent work. They lost their small little apartment – they only place they had called home. Finding themselves at Mary’s Place, yes, they were thankful for the shelter we could offer. But that doesn’t keep my 13 year old friend from being sad and overwhelmed.
“I miss my clothes. The school I go to is full of rich kids. And I wear the same thing more than once a week. They notice. And I’m embarrassed. I just want to go back to where I fit in, where they didn’t notice me. Now I feel like everyone is watching. I just want my clothes and my own home again. My mom is so tired. She is scared and I think she is shutting down. I don’t know how we will find anything. I can’t do this for her.”
I didn’t have any wise words for her. I could only give her a hug and ensure her that we were working a plan to help move them forward. “I know it sucks. But we will be here until you get all those things. I promise.” A small smile found its way out. Her weary eyes looked into mine, trusting that I would keep my word.
How does the weight of the world land on the shoulders of a 13 year old girl?