Hopping Aboard That Peace Train… I received a notice from the Welfare department the other day that my children and I qualify for food stamps. The three-page form did not say much. Nothing was filled out, only a yellow-highlighted area that read, “approved”. After several attempts at calling the number listed on the form, I finally reached a pleasant woman who instructed me to return to the Welfare Office in downtown, Newark, New Jersey to get my “pink” slip or a stamp that would allow me to move to the next step, which was to go to 50 S. Clinton Street, in East Orange, New Jersey to get my “card”. (Ironically I actually have “friends” at 50 S. Clinton Street!)
As I hopped on 280 East in the downpour, Tuesday morning, I began to see how this entire Welfare process was beginning to feel like Food Stamp Monopoly! You have to visit the worse parts of New Jersey before you get to pass "Go" for the supermarket and collect the Goods! I briefly fantasized that I would land on Free Parking and grab a few bags of Double Stuffed Oreo’s for my kids and if I was lucky I would be able to snatch up a gallon of milk in the process! As my mind veered off into the imaginary real estate world of Parker Brothers, luckily, I did not land on, “ Chance” for Camden, New Jersey and did not stop off in scenic Irvington to bear witness to a nice homicide on-the-go or heroin fix… No, instead, I missed my exit and spent the next hour and forty-five minutes getting lost in lovely downtown Newark, as my navigational system decided not to “redirect” me properly and ran out of battery…” Yes, I am geographically challenged, but how was I supposed to know that Raymond Blvd. changed into a different street and not a very pleasant one at that! Still I remained positive and rolled down my window and asked some locals for directions, but few spoke English and the one gentleman who was walking with his young son, kindly instructed me, in between rain drops, where Rector Street was: “just keep going straight, it's down neck, you'll run into it.” But I never ran into it, the streets grew desolate and narrower and more and more unappealing. Needless to say, I eventually drove straight into the turnpike and I really didn’t care the direction I was going in at that point. I was happy to drive on a road that I recognized. As I headed for 280 West, I called my thirteen-year-old son to tell him that I would pick him up from camp and then I tried reaching out to his father to see about getting some food for our children.
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I had made my children's father aware, the previous day, that we needed groceries. If we need food on Monday and it is already Tuesday evening, how long do we have to wait for that basic need to be satisfied? And while I appreciated the food card that his sister’s generously sent last Friday (of which he was probably not aware of) there had been no funds for food in two weeks. The boys were vacationing with their dad’s relatives the previous week and, I, their mother did not need anything to sustain herself while they were gone? That is OK! However, two weeks is a long time in this part of the country, let alone the world, to have to ration food. We were so low on everything that the food from the weekend did not last very long. Stock items get stored away and everything that does not need preparation gets eaten immediately. When you are feeding 13 and 16 year old boys you run out of food even before you have unpacked the grocery bags!
I emailed the father, I texted the father, I called and left messages for the father. The father did not call me back. He called our boys, but our boys do not know what they need. They know that when they go to the cabinets or the refrigerator they want to find what they want and need to eat! (Those of us who have boys know: boys are basic: Feed me.) They do not open the refrigerator door and contemplate, “hmmm, I might need some eggs in a few days and maybe some milk to go with those Double Stuff Oreo’s my Mom’s gonna get as soon as she passes Go!” No they are not processing their daily requirements for meals and treats this way!
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I called the father on one of our boy’s phones as I had a better chance of him answering (and isn’t this story and post really unnecessary? Don’t I have better things to do with my time than to write about this nonsense? That this nonsense even exists to write about is disturbing. When you live so much adversity on a regular basis, every day becomes a full time job. The apparent challenge of finding employment in this economy is exhausting on its own, when you do not have your basic needs met or those of your children, the challenge is magnified not to mention--blinding. It has been this way for 8 years now. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to just get the mother of these children food every week? Without her having to remind anyone that food is a basic need(?!), especially the children’s father? )
I offered (after not hearing from him on my phone) to drive a total of an hour just to pick him up, as he was without a car for a day and take him food shopping for our growing and hungry boys. He said that he was out with his sister and cousin for dinner, “Can I get back to you?” He said, as I heard him put a morsel or two into his mouth.
Can he get back to me?
Was he kidding? It was after 7:00 p.m. and our son had a camp trip the following morning and I didn’t want to give my boys peanut butter and jam another day, and there was no milk in the refrigerator! I guess when you have just eaten a nice meal, it is difficult, if at all possible to imagine what a hunger pang is, even if it is your own children who are hungry. I don’t know many people, especially parents, whom, upon hearing that their offspring might need food, would ask the other parent, “Can this wait till tomorrow?” What part of “we need food”, does this person not hear? Are we living in a third world country where tomorrow doesn’t seem that far away? Do I really sound like, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf?” I have been dealing with this for eight years? No really, it cannot be that long, but yes, it is! Eight memorable years of emotional torture, subtle, (and constant) crisp, private and prolific abuse! Always with the remnants seared into the minds of me and my three and the lingering(s) of evidence for only us to see…
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In every unhealthy relationship there is a form of bondage where we are a slave to some aspect of the relationship, perhaps even addicted to it's suffering. There are financial shackles as well as emotional, sexual and spiritual ones. Sometimes suffering is the misinterpretation for love, thus a cycle of abuse is imminent. My situation mirrors many relationships when a man or a woman leaves an abusive and unhealthy marriage. Surely the mother of anyone’s children deserves more respect than this! What was my crime anyway? That I left him? That I left him because he was Mean? Surely the father of anyone’s children who claims to have loved or loves the children’s mother would want her safe, happy, healthy and his children well fed. However, our society does not teach this model of love or of marriage. It teaches possession and that if love is possession, then once the possessed departs (or flees) not only is the love taken away from them, but they are kicked out to the curb and justifiably starved as marital aftermath!
That is love?
Sometimes I wonder if people know the Horror they see around them. Sometimes those who know the situation on the inside cover up what appears obvious to outsiders. The horror in the lives of so many, seems to go unrecognized by the masses, or unnoticed by those most close to the situation. If we look the other way, does the horror disappear? I wonder why we find ourselves surprised when atrocities happen. We appear shocked at the unexpected, yet predictable events in our lives and the lives of those dear and near to us. We see. We are aware, yet we do nothing or we alleviate our guilt by blaming others as we, the Silent Observer excuse ourselves from any responsibility.
Question: Why? Answer: because we have our Check Lists! We have our “facts”! We have our interpretation!
When we are aware of situations and we see that wrong is being done and don't do anything about it, isn’t there a crime in that? We witness the Ugly and turn away and pretend that we do not really see. Is this not a form of violence? Is this not a type of neglect? Is the need for power and control not also a form of violence inflicted upon others?
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“If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens around your own.” Emerson
At some point in every slave’s life there must have been a clarifying moment where some made a choice from accepting the life of slavery to attempting a life at freedom, even if that freedom meant the departure from this world. (Divorce was my attempt at freedom!) An African American friend of mine told me the other day, “don’t you remember what a lot of the slaves tried to do when they were being put on those ships? They jumped overboard, because they would rather die than be someone’s slave…”
Disobedience? Defiance? Could these possibly be places where one chooses the chance of death for the price of their dignity and freedom?
In my own case, I wonder what will go down in the “history book” of my life and the lives of my children. Whose facts are actually believable and whose truth is actual? In the end it won’t matter. It won’t matter. It won’t matter. Millions and millions of lives have been lost to violence of every kind. The most damaging and crucifying deaths are the emotional ones where we lose our Spirit, for when we lose our spirit and hope; we have lost our Faith—our faith in humanity and ourselves.... When we lose our faith in humanity we have become foreigners to Who We Truly Are—this is when we participate in the murdering(s) of others as well as jumping off of ships (and bridges) ourselves.
They say that there is a price for everything—especially Freedom. Yet in the end if we are free? We die knowing that the price for Freedom is—price-less!
(Every slave no matter our color or gender, knows that subtle, yet profound truth…)
* * * * *
As I approached the camp where my youngest was waiting for me to pick him up, my exhausted mind settled in Reverie, a safe place filled with a new hope as I heard the strumming sound of a guitar in my mind and I recognized the face of a little curly black haired boy, name Cat Stevens. He recognized me too! He whisked me off, taking my hand in his and we sailed on to what I believed was the direction of My Happy Ending! A clear path, laden with yellow bricks, in between railroad ties, guided us to a perfect rainbow, lacing the bright, cloudless sky. And little Cat Stevens pointed down the tracks for me to see that, yes(!) the noon train was visible and not far away at all… he sang and he sang and he sang,
“Now, I’ve been happy lately thinking about the good things to come and I believe it could be something good has begun. Oh, I’ve been smiling lately; dreaming about the world as one and I believe it could be, some day it’s going to come. Cause out on the edge of darkness, there rides a peace train, oh, peace train…"
(… take us all to our Happy Endings…)
So, when that Clock is about to strike 12 and that noon train is approaching around the bend; the tracks are laden with golden bricks pointing in a Direction and your life is asking you: Decide, Decide, Decide...who are you going to listen to, your heart or your mind? What will you do? Tell the Truth or Lie?
(only time will tell...)
We will get our Happy Ending, just you wait and see!