A long afternoon with folding chairs.
There are a lot of alleys in my town. Not streets, not sidewalks, not driveways, just…places you go down to get to where people are. Oye, no parking there!
Every sunset is one you swear you’ll remember … but you don’t.
I will tell you this kid’s story, but can’t identify her. Like a ton of kids here (and across America), her mom is a meth addict. So, ‘Maria’ raised herself, basically, until around 7th or 8th grade, when her aunt and uncle moved her in with them.
“A lot of people in town kind of looked out for me. I was good in school and I dreamed of doing computer animation,”Maria told me. “When I graduated, some local businesses gave me a partial scholarship to a private art college in Pheonix. I got financial aid and a big loan.”
She paused with real pride when she mentioned the scholarship.
“I guess they thought I’d do okay in life,” Maria said finally.
She remembers that year as if it were spent in heaven.
“I loved it all -everything about it. I was good at everything they taught us,”she said, as she rang up my burrito one evening. We were alone in the store. “But the tuition was so high, and the next year they said I wasn’t eligible for financial aid.There was no way I could pay all that, so I had to drop out – and right away they wanted the loan payments. I don’t think I’d figured it all out. I was just a kid.”
That’s right. And she still is just a kid.
Maria earns $800 a month. She gives the bank $400. I practically stood on my head for two weeks, trying to persuade her that the bank CAN’T take HALF her pay check. She just won’t listen. The fact is, she knows a lot of people with more credibility than I have.
“I’d rather pay it back as soon as I can,” she said. “I’m young. I make things work.”
She does that, and very gracefully too. Maria lives alone with her dog (“and that’s how I like it!”) in a relative’s RV, paying mainly utilities, which are considerable: anyone who’s lived in a small RV during a desert summer can tell you that. As for right now, it’s about 37 degrees here – pretty nippy.
Maria’s never been able to take her dog to the vet, so she figures out how to keep “Romero” healthy on her own.
“He broke a bone in his paw, so I made a splint with Popsicle sticks, cotton bandages, and duct tape,” she recalled once. “I gave him half an aspirin three times a day. The swelling went down and in a couple of weeks, Romero was running around like always.”
I really admire that.
“I can cook. I mean, I really can. People drop stuff off. My manager gives me food to take home,” she told me. “I know how to do stuff – sew, take care of my clothes and furniture, fix stuff that breaks. People give me rides. If they don’t, I walk. If I can’t walk, I don’t go.”
Maria hasn’t been outside the town limits for three years. She’s 24 years old. “I like peace. I like knowing what I’ll be doing every day. I’m not interested in adventures”, she said a bit testily, after I pretended to pass out (fall to the floor) at the news. I offered to drive her anywhere in New Mexico or…Arizona, maybe? – she wanted to visit.
Maria gave me a fishy look and told me she’d figure out a way to get to wherever she wanted to go.
“Anyway, the thing is, this is my town. Everyone here knows me…” she trailed off, having made her crucial point. Her mother may be in jail, but everyone DOES know Maria. Some of their mothers are in jail, too as a matter of fact. Every night, one of the sheriff’s deputies shows up and waits outside to be sure Maria is safe while she closes up. Then, he or she helps her feed the explicitly illegal colony of feral cats that lives in the neighboring junk-yard.
Then, John Law drives Maria home. If not, hey, she can walk it herself, you know.
One of Maria’s comic strips is taped high on the wall, perpendicular to the clock.It’s funny and cool.
I’m certain you’ll see it some day.