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The lights had gone out in the house again, and the thunderstorm sounded as if it had been just above us. Clearly, it was not something us kids handled very well.
“I’m right here. It’s alright, it’s fine. I’m right here,” Mom had said.
She walked out from behind the sheer, black curtains draped at the entrance of the hallway. Grandma had always liked to keep every part of the house dark because of her headaches from her medications, so we had blackout curtains and shutters on every window, as well as the curtains draped in front of the hallway. We lived in a two bedroom, one bathroom housing apartment. Grandma had shared a room with mom. My little brother, Blake, my twin brother, Malcolm, and I had shared the other, the bunk bed, and twin bed perpendicular to each other.
Mom was raising us all on her own, and grandma needed help with rent. All we could afford was that small place. It had gotten even smaller with all the too big furniture and massive amounts of old clutter stacked everywhere, some of it piled and stacked around the floor. When it came to times like these though, the too big furniture had become a saving grace for us kids. It had given us a place to hide from the all too loud storms and bad things in the world.
The lights were still out, and the thunder had been getting louder and louder with each strike. My brothers and I had all decided the safest place to hide was under the table. Each of us had clung to one of its’ legs, the chairs pulled in close to further cloak us from the loud sounds of drumming, crashing, and falling droplets of liquid pins outside. The cold house had become even colder now that we were all sitting on the icy, tiled floors.
“Mommy!” I screamed, “Mooom!”
“It’s alright Alana, it’s alright. You’re safe. It’s just a little rain, babes.” Mom had walked over to the table, pulled out one of the chairs, and crawled under with us. “Alright kiddos, why don’t you come over here and sit with me. I’ll tell you something to help you be a little less afraid.” We all crawled away from our little corners and went to sit with her. Blake clung onto one of her arms, I clung onto to the other. Malcolm sat in front of her, laying his head on her lap.
“Alright, are you ready?” she asked. Our heads had all nodded at once, and all at different paces. The motion turning us into bobbleheads completely out of sync. “Alrighty. Do you guys remember the story of Noah and his ark? Yes? Okay, well, in that story, God had made it rain all day and all night for seven days and seven nights. He did this because he wanted to rid the world of all the bad, so he told Noah to build the ark, and to gather his family, and he told him how two of every animal would board the ark with them. You see, God saw the animals as good, so he wanted them to live happily after the flood. So, everytime it rains today, it’s his way of getting rid of all the bad things. Just like how he got rid of all the bad stuff with the seven days and seven nights of rain, sometimes he needs to get rid of the bad things today with a little rain too. When we hear the thunder, it’s because that’s when he gets extra sad with how much of the bad he has to get rid of. But you know what, after every storm, the bad stuff goes away, and we get to start over with a world full of good again.”
“But what if it never stops? What if the lights never come back on? What if it just keeps raining and he thinks that we’re bad too?” I asked.
Even then, I had always been a little worry wart. Mom chuckled.
“Don’t worry, Alana. Do you wanna know how he knows that you’re not bad? He knows that you’re not bad because you love and care for those around you, and because you try your very best, to be the best you can be. That’s how he knows that you’re not bad. That’s how he knows that none of you are bad.”
“What about the lights, mom?” Malcolm asked.
“Don’t worry, if the lights don’t come back on, we can just light a lot of candles. Hopefully, grandma will wake up so she can help us.”
“I’ll help!” I had said. Helping my mom with things had always been my goal. Even when my help wasn’t needed, it was always my job to make sure my mom didn’t have to do anything alone.
We sat huddled under the table together, for what seemed like hours, just waiting for the storm to stop and the lights to turn back on. Eventually, the storm did stop, but the lights stayed off a few days more. As did the rest of the electricity in the house. It wasn’t something that unusual, and it wasn’t the only time of the year it happened. In the winter, we couldn’t turn on the heater often so we sat around a tiny portable one. When we needed food, I remember our trips to the special store that took our stamps as money. I remember when we would pretend to not to be home whenever strangers in suits would knock on our door, grandma telling us we were playing a game. I remember when we got the bags of hand-me-downs from our older cousins, and I remember the hours spent at daycare while mom tried to get more hours at work or go to all her classes. No matter how hard she tried, it was always just barely enough.
Growing up, neither my brothers nor I had realized we were apart of the twelve percent of America’s poverty rate back then. My mom had tried her best to hide that. She would put Malcolm and Blake in soccer, had managed to sign us all up for karate classes for a year, and would take us to the zoo the first Wednesday of every month until I was six. The only real giveaways were those she couldn’t control or change. Things like, the neighborhood goons, the constant police sirens, or the weekly school lockdowns because our small city’s crazy man had been running rampant with a knife again. Things like the gunshots from our backyard neighbors house party, the axed man on her ex-boyfriend’s driveway, the poor boy who had been shot walking home because he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I remember when my mom realized she couldn’t hide us from our twelve percent reality. Mom had just picked us up from the afterschool program. She decided to take us out for dinner because of how late it was.
“What would guys like?” she asked.
“TGI’S!” shouted Malcolm.
“McDonald’s!” screamed Blake.
“IHop!” I yelled.
“IHop it is! Sorry boys, you choose last time, let Alana have her chance.” It wasn’t until later I realized we always went to Ihop on days where kids would eat at discounted prices.
Besides the dying, orange streetlights, the night was pitch black. It had started raining, making the streets slick with rainwater. Mom had loaded us up into the car. Her two nine-year-olds, and our six-year-old kid brother. She made sure we were all buckled into our white 1997 Ford minivan, the cloth seats decorated with our red and green marker art and crumbs that would be vacuumed out for the thousandth time. She turned on the radio and raised the volume so we could all sing along to Linkin Park over the pitter-pattering sound of rain on the windows. We sang at the top of our lungs with every song that played. By the time we had arrived and were walking into the restaurant, we were all out of breath and laughing like hyenas.
Sitting down in the booth, still laughing, a waiter had given us our three kids and one adult menus. Mom had unraveled the intricate fold of the papers and handed them back to us.
“Do you kids know what you’re gonna get?” mom asked, knowing we would all be ordering the same thing we always did.
“I want mac n’ cheese and I want milk.” Macaroni was the main part of Blake’s diet, so no one was surprised by his order.
“Can I please have a pizza and a sprite?” My brother Malcolm was always the more polite of us. Always had been, probably always will be.
“CHOCOLATE SMILEY FACE PANCAKES PLEASE!” I had shouted in my monster voice.
“Do you want milk with that, Alana?” Mom asked with the usual chuckle under her breath. I had given her two shakes of my head and proceeded to start the color mazes on my paper menu. Our server had come back to take our orders just then.
“Can we get a mac and cheese and a milk, a pizza and with a sprite, and a smiley face pancake with another milk,” mom said.
“Any sides for those?”
“Fries for the macaroni and pizza, and let’s do a cup of fruit for the pancakes.”
“Alrighty, and for you?” the waiter asked.
“Just a water, thank you.”
I remember looking at my mother, a face full of confusion. She had rarely ever ordered food when we did. The few times she did, it was always something small, a side, an appetizer. She would always tell us to finish all of our food, as much as we could if we couldn’t. I think the only times we didn’t finish our food were the most I’d see her eat at a restaurant. We always offered her our food though. Whether out of guilt or kindness, none of us would ever be able to tell. We were all so small.
By the time we had all finished and it was time to leave, the rain was pouring cats and dogs. The ground had turned into a shallow lake, the sky reflected in the water, making it look as if pins and needles were poking the night sky. We ran to the van, all of us huddled under the umbrella mom had made appear out of thin air. She had made sure we were all in and buckled before getting in and buckling herself as well. Although Mom, Malcolm, and I had been laughing at the water, Blake had started crying.
“Mom! Are we bad? Are we gonna be washed away?”
“No, honey. We’re fine. It’s just water. You’re not bad. None of you are bad. Why don’t I turn the music back on, will that make you feel better?”
She turned the music back on, the sound a little staticy. The rain was coming down heavier and heavier. The windshield wipers had trouble keeping up. My brothers and I had our faces on the windows, our little fingers made faces and scribbles in the clouding on the glass.
“You guys okay? What are you up to?”
“Nothing…” Malcolm and I had said in unison.
We were approaching a stoplight, the red circle the space that was filled, a single car in front of us. Mom had turned her head towards the back, trying to make sure we weren’t up to no good. That was when the car had smashed into the back of us. Glass shattered every which way. The airbags erupted, one smashing into Malcolm’s face, the others’ into Mom’s left side, the steering wheel bag failing, and smashing into Mom’s rib cage. The seatbelts had left small cuts on my neck, and internal bruises on my abdomen we later found out. The only one not seriously hurt had been Blake.
“Fuck! Fuck! Are you kids alright? Is everyone okay? I’m so sorry babies, are you guys okay?” Mom had started panicking, trying to assess the situation. She got out of the car, glass falling tumbling out onto the floor, surrounding her feet. She yanked open the door and pulled us all out one by one.
The driver who had been in front of us was already on the phone with the police, the driver who was behind us, had started to pull away from the accident. A passerby had jumped in the way, trying to stop the driver, but it was no use, they had gotten away.
By the time the police had arrived, we had all calmed down. Malcolm had new Harry Potter shaped scar on his forehead, Blake had passed out on the bench all three of us sat on, mom made a phone call around the corner, trying to get out of our earshot, so of course, I had gone to go find her.
“...Yeah...we’re fine. No, the kids are alright. Malcolm is loving that he looks like Harry Potter now...Yeah, he’s fine, the officer gave me a blanket for them while things get sorted out...I don’t know...I don’t know. I can barely make ends meet as is. I don’t know how I’m gonna make this work, maybe I can help, or borrow a car for a bit. Maybe the insurance company will give me a good deal on a rental so I can still get to work. No, I can’t take any time off, how am I supposed to feed my kids? ...No, a couple days of pay is everything. I can’t risk that… Are you gonna buy me a new car? ...Exactly, so unless you can help me find a way to take care of this financially, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.
It was at that point I realized just how bad things were. I ran over to Mom, tears streaming down her face.
“Alana, why aren’t you with your brothers? Why are you over here? I told you to stay with the boys.”
She tried to pull me off of her side, but when she did, she had realized I had heard much more than I should have. She knelt down, pulled me close, and told me not to worry about a thing. She would take care of things. She always took care of things.