And then there were times that I just wanted to scream, and so I did. I walked over to high school across the street from our house in Chicago and screamed long and loud over and over again. A young 8 year old girl who was moved abruptly in the night from a small town with trees, and neighbors and friends since Head Start all gone. I screamed for the bamboo couch with no cushion that my mother made me sleep on because there was only one bed for my 3 brothers. I screamed because Chicago was dark and scary. I screamed because our neighbor screamed while she endured a beating every night. I screamed because the people around me seemed sad and angry. I screamed because of the diarrhea I got from eating free food in soup lines. I wanted to go home so I screamed until a neighbor came out and asked me what was wrong. I looked up to see this man standing in front of me asking why I was screaming. I just looked at him feeling foolish. At that time I had no way to articulate why I was screaming. I just knew it felt good. I was in the third grade and I needed to scream. I couldn’t articulate my need to scream so, I told him nothing was wrong. I walked back across the street and went home.
I guess you can say living in this house about 5 Chicago blocks away from the first horrible place we lived was better at that time. We had moved from the dark dungeon we moved to when we first arrived in Chicago. The first place we lived was off 40th Street and Ellis and it must have been partially condemned. If I even remember correctly, I believe we arrived in the middle of the night and we couldn’t quite see the frightening mess we would soon see in the morning. When the sun came up I saw paint torn from the walls in the living room which must have been led paint back then because it was peeling. The large wood framed windows were uncovered. My mother would later cover them with old sheets and newspaper. We all stayed mainly in the one room. I was too scared to go anywhere else in the house.
I don’t even remember much about that place but I do know that the bathroom was unusable except for the commode and the sink. The shower was completely condemned and unusable and rusted. Venturing further down the long dark hallway was the kitchen. There were no working lights in this area of the house. I believe we all slept in the living room and my mother did what she could do to make it livable. At night when we should have been fast asleep the wailing would start. A woman was crying and moaning. At the ripe old age of 8 no one needed to tell me that a man was beating a woman.
Things were really hard for us in Chicago. We were often going to talk to someone about getting food and help. I remember one night in the dungeon, condemned house my mother made cornbread for dinner. It was the only time I really remember her cooking in that house. We were so happy to smell the warm corn cooking throughout the house and we couldn’t wait to eat. When it was finally done my mother set the bread on the stove to cool. A few minutes later using our flash light we came back to the kitchen to get the cornbread, however our hearts dropped as we were told by my mother we couldn’t eat it. Rats had gotten on top of the stove and ate portions of it and defecated on the rest of it. Of course my brothers we more excited about seeing the rat droppings and beating the walls with their feet and fist to drive away the rats. Then we ran back down the hall screaming and acting like children again daring the rats to come out again. Yes we were disappointed but we were kids. We quickly were back to entertaining ourselves and readying ourselves for the next day. We went to bed hungry that night. I couldn’t wait to get to school the next morning. They served breakfast and chocolate milk. I loved school. We got to eat. 🙂