I stood in the short line, all my identification in a manilla envelope. A baby wailed behind me incessantly. Yeah little one, I thought, Life stinks and gets worse as you grow up.
You might wonder what brings me here. Well, since I have to stand in line for a while, I'll tell you. I was raised in a great home; two parents, dog, two car garage, subdivision. My best friend lived down the street and had a tree house that we spent hours every day playing in. But when I hit my teens, things changed. I changed. I rebelled against my parent's jobs. I hated their very existence! I argued with them every night and it disgusted me to live in their house any longer. So I left. I vowed never to return. And I haven't.
Ah, here we are, I'm first in line now. "Next!" The lady behind the counter calls out. I step forward. I hand over the I.D. and she looks me up in the computer. "Picking up?" she asks, just like every week. "Yes." I simply reply. She prints out my check and hands it to me. "Next!" She calls as I turn.
I walk out past people in torn, dirty clothes, reeking of cigarettes. I walk past screaming babies who are being rocked absently in their carseats. I exit through the door past the children still climbing the bike racks. I walk back to my place.
What have I done with my life?
This is the question I ponder every week. Since I left home and lived on the streets, never going back to school, never contacting any of my old friends, I have tried to hold down jobs. I got a fake I.D. and bartended for a while, allowing the slobbering pigs to stare at my chest until their drunken eyes crossed, ignoring their lewd comments. I got pretty good at snappy comebacks, but one night a barfight resulted in the police showing up and I bailed.
I worked the docks unloading fish for one hour a day. They don't check I.D. and they pay well.
I lived at a shelter for a while, met some cool people there and now that I have my own place, I go back once a week to serve soup.
Dennis is still there, missing his teeth, sharing words of wisdom to anyone unfortunate to sit at his table.Sometimes I sit with him just to see the world through his eyes. His thoughts wander and jump from topic to topic, but lately I've been able to notice some patterns or see the person he seems to be talking about sitting across the room. When I sat beside him last, he'd said, "You have to make your own wishes come true." He's deadly accurate sometimes!
Marty still runs the kitchen, covered in tattoos, but with a heart of gold. He was the one who took me in and really made me feel better about myself. He's my closest family now.
I unlocked my door. My tiny apartment is filthy. There is no way to rid it of pests, as they just laugh at me when I try. I never eat here to avoid encouraging them. Besides, my stomach turns just thinking about it. I wrap myself like a mummy in a sleeping bag every night, hoping the pests will stay out.
In the corner I have put up an old sheet to give me some privacy when using the toilet, though I avoid that as well. I prefer to use the shelter's shower room twice a week. Marty knows my apartment doesn't have one. He claims he used to live here.
I grab my bus tokens. I never take them with me if I'm not headed straight for the bus stop as I was mugged once for them when they jangled in my pocket. Sometimes I get on the bus and just ride. But today I had a destination in mind.
I had saved up what I could from my welfare money by eating at the shelter once a week, selling golf balls I collected from deep within ditches around the course back to golfers, recycling bottles, and searching every coin return slot in every soda machine, pay phone, or snack machine around town.
I was going to do something today, something good. I was going to do something to make myself a better person, and to make the world a better place. I was enrolling in GED classes. Once I had my high school equivalency, I could get a real job, and make real money working at a job that makes a difference.
The bus stopped. I got off. The doors shut behind me and the engine roared. Here I stood on the brink of my future.
And I was nervous.