I grew up in the midst of many people, but apart from all of them. I was born weeks early, and too quickly for the doctors to give my mother the surgery that might have saved her life. For a few precious minutes after I was born my father got to live the fantasy that he would get to keep us both. While I was whisked away by nurses to be weighed, tested and screened, my mother bled out on the hospital bed. She never even got to hold me.
The doctors reassured my father that they’d done all they could, but as any one who’s ever been in that situation knows, those platitudes offer little comfort. He never recovered. He went through the motions of living, but there was no life in it. If not for the kindness of neighbors- leaving home-cooked meals on our doorstep, and dropping off clothes in brown paper bags that their children no longer fit- I might not have survived with him as long as I did, and I’m certain he would have given me up sooner.
I guess it wasn’t his fault. The older I got the more I looked like her, though I wouldn’t have known that if he hadn’t told me. I bore the name she chose for me, “Maia,” which resulted in him not only barely speaking to me, but also rarely saying my name. By the time I turned five, he couldn’t even look at me. I was the only memory of her in our apartment. No photographs on the walls or hidden in drawers – I checked – not even a piece of clothing desperately clinging to her scent.
I would lock myself in the bathroom of our hollow one bedroom apartment and stare at myself in the mirror. I picked myself apart wondering which parts of my face were truly my own and which ones belonged to her, my mother. My thick, curly, brown hair that shone golden in the sunlight? The freckles in various hues of brown splashed across my nose and cheekbones? My cinnamon colored skin that was both lighter and redder than my father’s? What was it? I would lean in real close to the glass, so close my nose touched my reflection’s. Then I would pull back really slowly, hoping I’d catch something I’d missed last time, hoping I would be able to pinpoint the exact feature that made it impossible for my father to love me.
When I came out of the bathroom I would stare at the back of my father’s head, slumped in a chair opposite the television, willing him to turn around and look at me, but he never did. I don’t think he ever loved me, but it wasn’t malicious. I don’t think there was enough left of him that wasn’t broken to be able to love me, and my existence made him worse. I was a living specter – a child with the face of a ghost.
I was six years old when he dropped me off at the hospital 30 minutes from our house. He walked me into the ER Waiting Room, pointed at a chair and I sat. He brought his face up slowly, looked into my eyes, then turned on his heel and left. I never saw him again.
I spent the rest of my childhood bouncing around from one foster home to another. I wasn’t a troublemaker. I made decent grades in school, but something about me unnerved my foster parents. It may have been my quiet. It may have been my tendency not to smile. Whatever it was, after 6 months, maybe a year, there was always a reason why they couldn’t keep me, and no one ever so much as uttered a word that could have been mistaken for adoption.
When I was first placed in foster care I didn’t know how to interact with the people that called themselves parents. I didn’t really know what a parent was, much less how to relate to one. I was used to being alone. I was used to giving my father space. I was used to being quiet and not drawing attention to myself. And I fell back on what I was used to. I didn’t know what to do with the affection those people tried to give me. I didn’t know how to let them love me, and I certainly didn’t know how to love them.
Many of my foster parents put up a valiant effort, but my distance was too much. Even though I’d left my parents behind me, I continued to live the life of a ghost, and it was more than most people could handle.
So, I was never in one place for very long, and with each new home I was placed in, came a new theory for what “it” was going to be. The “it” that changed life as we knew it. The “it” that would be the straw to break the camel’s back our country and our world had been riding on for so long. I didn’t begin to notice the things the adults around me were discussing until I got older, but I could feel the tension in the air. It was a tension that said something was coming, though it didn’t seem that anyone had any real idea what that something was.
They’d all reference things like irreversible climate change, major economic upheaval and infections that had mutated to withstand any course of antibiotics like they were fantastical imaginings, just idle small talk or dinner party conversation. People thought our government would never let those things happen. People thought our technology would save us. People thought a lot of things, but none of that thinking did us any good.
Even the ones who cautioned that the human race was standing on the precipice of destruction wore blinders. Each of them so sure that their theory of how it would all end, was the theory, but they were all wrong, and all right I suppose. It was no one thing that did us in, but all of them.
It started slow. In the parts of the country that still had some semblance of seasons, the summers got hotter, then the springs. We seemed to jump from hot to cold with no real time of transition. Places in the South became intolerable in the summer time, and barely live-able the rest of the year. The better portion of California was either under water or wiped out from drought and fires.
The Pacific Northwest and New England became prime real estate. This caused the Second Great Migration, and beginnings of the civil wars that would soon follow as millions of the displaced made their way North. When I was in middle school, gun violence was at an all time high, as people purchased firearms en masse for protection without considering that someone would now feel they needed protecting from them.
The federal government imposed nationwide curfews, which they left the dwindling local authorities to enforce, in the hopes that restricting the hours in which people could interact would restrict those violent encounters, but dozens of people were still dying or being critically injured on a weekly basis as the public’s fears heightened.
And then MethanobacteriumCrimea Virus (MCV) hit. At first people thought it was a strong strain of flu, but as people started dying first by the hundreds, and soon by the thousands, whole towns started being held under quarantine.
It wasn’t until I was out of college that people started getting sick. I aged out of the foster care system my sophomore year of high school because agencies no longer had the funding to support kids past the age of 16. Honestly, I probably could have slipped out of the system before then. With all the chaos no one would have had the time or resources to hunt down a single kid that had fallen through the cracks. And given the way the virus was spreading, there was no guarantee I would even be alive when they found me. But I was in no hurry. I worked a part-time job after school at a hospital throughout my freshmen year and promptly dropped out of school once I had enough money to get a tiny hole in the wall of my own.
One of the nurses at the hospital suggested I get trained to be a nurse. I was surprised she had taken enough of an interest in me to offer the suggestion, and I didn’t hate the idea, so I took the GED, passed and started taking classes at the local community college. There were only a handful of people in the nursing program with me. Despite all the incentives the government was trying to throw at people to entice them – I went to school for free, they provided me with housing and meals, and I got a small monthly stipend – people were too locked in on surviving to worry about going back to school.
I had just completed my year of intensive training, and had started shadowing one of the older nurses in the hospital when enough people were getting sick to officially call it a pandemic. I volunteered in the tent communities… settlements that cropped in public parks across the country, as the displaced settled where they could.
The members of the tent communities who had been there a while developed worlds unto themselves, governed by their own laws, beholden to their own sense of justice. They were happy to bring newcomers into their fold, but were equally happy to leave the newbies to themselves. Newcomers were not ostracized per se, but there was a clear sense of who was on the outside. These hodge-podge amalgamations of people from different religions, ethnicities, races and value systems, were brought together by one common marker of being displaced, and a culture formed.
The government liked to say that theirs was a primitive way of living brought on by the desperation that springs from extreme poverty and lack of options, but I worked with those people. I walked among them every day. There was a warmth in their dealings with one another, and despite the fact that I may not have agreed with the rhetoric passed down from their designated elders, or the remedies conjured up by their healers, there was a wisdom about them that held no trace of fraud of impropriety. They commanded respect.
But the cities that the newly displaced came to were already overpopulated and those who relocated also had no jobs, so the cities where they resettled had nothing for them to do. No chance at employment meant no access to healthcare, and that combined with a complete lack of proper sanitation in the communities meant people were bound to get sick, but at some point, they just stopped getting better. That’s when people started dying.
People were terrified. The CDC had been working on a treatment for months and had come up with nothing. Everyone kept waiting for it to burn out… for the infection to stop spreading. We all kept hoping that the next casualty to be reported on the news would be the last casualty reported, but as days passed and then years, it started to feel like that just wasn’t going to happen. Nurses and doctors started quitting in droves. They were all worried about the risk.
I didn’t care about the risk. To be more accurate, I didn’t really think about the risk at all. I lived moment to moment, with no attachments, no one to live for, not even myself. I figured I would learn what I could and help who I could, and if helping ended up killing me, well, who would really feel the loss?
People in the tent villages only came to us at the clinic as a last resort, and we were careful not to mock their herbal medicines and spiritual prescriptions when we administered their care.
The infection spread like wildfire throughout the world for half a decade, and when it was finally over, only a third of the world’s population was left. We were referred to as The Immune.
The world that remained after all that was nothing like the world of my childhood. The abundance that I had grown up in was gone. Progress came to a screeching halt. Humanity was once again reduced to base instinct, and it was the worst in the cities.
The power hungry fought to carve out their own dominion in the new world, the people occupying their chosen region, nothing more than pawns or fodder for their cause. One could only hope that their overlord would be a benevolent one, although it was best not to get attached as assassinations and coups were a monthly, sometimes weekly occurrence.
The remnants of the government struggled to regain control. Soldiers were sent to the remaining cities to maintain order. Curfews were imposed. Resources were rationed. And some semblance of peace returned. But there simply weren’t enough soldiers to go around, and those who had gotten a taste of power were not keen to give it up. So one by one, the cities were invaded by the Fringe.
I lost your father the day the Fringe came to our city.
I remember the last morning we spent together, Daniel and I. The screens shuttered as if to mimic someone blinking. In the early morning light, and half open eyes, I could only make out splotches of light and color, but there were no definitive shapes. Slowly my eyes adjusted and the room came into focus. Daniel laid across the bed, lips lightly brushing my bulging belly. He was saying things to the baby that I couldn’t hear. He didn’t even notice me. I reached down and raked my fingers through the curly brown hair on the top of his head. He looked up at me, and broke out into a smile.
“Good morning,” I said.
He crawled up the bed to greet me, “Good morning sweetie pea,” he said and kissed me with the soft pillows he called lips.
I remember how the sirens broke up our moment. I closed my eyes and cringed, thrust momentarily from my happy place.
Daniel and I moved about our morning routine in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets and drawers, moving to accommodate each other in a way that only two people who really know each other can. I sat on a bar stool as he leaned across the counter and we rehashed a conversation that had been had dozens of times before.
“Nowhere is safe anymore Daniel.” I told him. “The fringe communities don’t just live on the fringe anymore, and the rations are getting smaller and smaller every week. We won’t be able to survive on this once the baby comes.“
“I know Maia.”
“We’re not safe here.” I rubbed my stomach absently.
“I know, my love. I just want to take care of a few last things at the center. I don’t want to leave them stranded after everything they--”
“Just give me a couple more days and we’ll leave here and start over somewhere safer.”
“Where is safer?”
“We’ll find a place.”
“How can you be so sure?”
He leaned down and pressed the tips of our noses together. He closed his eyes. “I just know.”
I rocked back on my heels, “I have to head out to the market.”
“I won’t be here when you get back.”
My eyebrow furrowed, “Why not?” I asked.
“I’ll be at the center most of the day.”
I pouted, “It’s Saturday.”
“The sooner I finish up--”
“I know, I know.”
If I had known that was the last time we would stand together in our little kitchen, I would have savored it. I would have let my lips linger on his a little longer. I would have held him to my chest for more than a beat and told him I loved him when I was sure he could hear me.
Instead I gave him a quick peck of the cheek, and shouted “Bye!” over my shoulder as I headed out the door.
I walked expertly amid the crowded city street full of regular people and armed guards in equal quantities, before turning a corner onto a quieter side street. A small cloth bag of that week’s produce rations, potatoes, corn and apples bounced against my hip, and I waddled just a bit as I tried to maintain my balance.
I swung open the door to Dambala Community Arts Center and walked in. Upon entering I immediately heard the shouting, and walked toward the sound of the voices.
At the end of the hallway Daniel was on his knees, and the shouting was coming from a man with a gun to Daniel’s head. The gunman had his back to me. I started to walk forward and Daniel’s eyes shifted ever so slightly. He’d seen me. He looked back at the gunman who had momentarily placed the gun to his own temple and was staring at the ceiling.
I took another step forward. Daniel mouthed “No,” then shook his head and closed his eyes. The gunman shifted his focus back to Daniel and I ducked into a room off the hallway. I pressed my back against the wall. My chest heaved.
As I turned to peek out of the door, I heard a gunshot, the sound of feet slapping against the tile, and the slam of a door. I peeked out of the doorway and saw Daniel, saw your father lying on the floor. My eyes filled with tears and I dragged myself along the wall. When I reached the room at the end of the hallway I dropped to my knees and crawled to him.
He looked up at me through glassy eyes.
He smiled and said, “I love you.” “I love you,” I whispered.
“Take care of our baby,” he said and his eyes closed.
I gasped and held my breath. I picked up his head and placed it in my lap. I cried and howled from a place so deep inside me, I didn’t know it was there.
I don’t tell you this story to make you sad, I tell you because I think it is important to know where you came from. I think that gives you power. “Take care of our baby.” Those were the last words your father spoke, and I need you to know that every decision I made after that, was me trying my best to honor that request.
After I tore myself away from your father, I sat in our little one room apartment for what felt like forever. I stared at the walls until my eyes glazed over and I thought for a moment I might be going blind. I might have stayed in that spot forever, faded into nothingness, but then I felt you move inside me. I placed my hand over my belly and your body moved to greet me. Just like that I got up.
I paced around that room like a caged animal, darting from corner to corner, throwing clothes, canned foods, the rations from today, bottles of water, all into a bag. I stopped at the bookshelf and picked up two things, a half empty journal and a framed picture of Daniel. I tucked the journal down on the side of the bag. I took one last look at Daniel’s face, then wrapped the picture gently in some crumpled clothes and placed it softly into the top of the bag before closing it.
Every now and then I peeked out the window. I could see fires cropping up every few blocks, people running away from and towards the commotion. The riots were starting. The Fringe had arrived in our city. I stood on a step stool and reached up into our closet. I retrieved a small metal box and entered the combination keeping it closed. I slowly lifted the lid and looked at the gun lying inside. I stared at it. I remembered the sound the gun that killed your father had made. I thought back to him lying in my lap, dying, and I couldn’t do it. I slammed the lid down and pushed the box back up into the closet. I grabbed a knife from the kitchen as my only protection and set out on my way.
By some miracle our car was still sitting on the street with all of its tires intact. I threw my bag into the backseat and prayed I had enough gas to make it to the crossroads. From there I planned to go by foot. I drove out of the city with blinders on. I passed the borderlands and parked my car about a quarter of a mile from the crossroads, as the land became more wild, and the path less clear.
Your father and I practiced this run many times, so we could leave at a moment’s notice at any time of the day. I studied the guards from a safe distance before approaching. Government officials policed the crossroads, but that didn’t make them any more trustworthy. They were still people. I watched them interact with one another. I listened to the language they used,and decided to approach one who had mentioned a son.
“Please,” I asked him, “Offer me passage into the Outerlands.”
“Do you have a permit?” he asked me.
My mind traveled back through the borderlands and into the city, and I could see it. I could see the permit. It was inside the satchel Daniel kept with him all the time. He wore it under his clothes, secured to his chest with black straps. I assumed it was still with him at that very moment.
“My- -my husband had our papers.”
“And where is he?”
“Gone,” is all I was able to muster.
The guard with the son looks down at my belly then over his shoulder at the other guard who slowly shakes his head.
“I’m sorry miss. I can not let you through without a permit.”
“Please, please, you have to let me—I can’t go back… The Fringe have taken the city! Hasn’t anyone told you?” I pleaded with him.
He was momentarily stunned. He must not have known.
“We have not gotten word of that. Are you sure it wasn’t just one of the riots?” he questioned me. “How were you able to get here? How did you get past the Fringe?”
“I don’t know” I told him, and I truly didn’t. Once I
packed my things, I was driven by the singular mission to get out of the city and honor Daniel’s last request. “I just got in my car and drove.”
The guard looked sympathetic. He put his arm around me and steered me away from the crossroad gate. “Let me walk you back to your car.”
For a moment my legs would not move, but the guard gave me a little tug and soon I was walking in spite of myself. Then he whispered to me.
“In an hour the guards will change shifts. There is a brief
window between shifts where you can get through but you’ll have to be quick.”
“Ok,” I whispered back.
“There’s a small hole in the fence to the right of the guards’ post. I’ll start coughing when you’re clear.”
“Thank you so much.”
He squeezed my arm, “Don’t forget to wait for my signal, and be quick.”
I didn’t sit down for that whole hour, for fear that I wouldn’t be able to get up quickly enough when the time came. I braced myself against the tree and strained my ears waiting for the signal. At last it came.
I took off running for the crossroads and slipped as soundlessly through the gate as I could manage. I crawled through the brush until I was sure I was out of visual range from the guards’ post before standing up.
I walked through the wilderness for miles, only stopping when absolutely necessary, until finally coming across a run down cottage. I reached down to my ankle where I’d secured the knife I grabbed from the kitchen and thoroughly inspected the premises.
The door stuck where the wood had warped after a recent rainstorm. There was dirt all over the windows and floors, and the cabinets in the kitchen were empty. In the dining room was a table with no chairs, and the living room held one solitary couch that had been gnawed through by animals. The one bedroom held a frame. No mattress, no blankets.
No one lived here anymore. It was safe. This was to be home for you and me. This is where you would be born.
You were all that kept me going those first few months in the cottage. I threw myself into cleaning it, fixing it up, making it into a place I could raise you. I planted a garden in the back of the house and foraged what I could while I waited for the crops to surface and ripen. I even taught myself to fish.
Doing all of this gave me purpose. It kept my mind off of what had come before, and kept me looking forward. I consulted you on everything. I’d place one hand over my belly and speak to you as though you were sitting across from me, nodding your head and offering feedback when you could.
“You know, I think we should have left the bed where we found it… I don’t think I like it all pressed against the window like that,” I would say to you, then pause as if waiting for a response.
Then, I would go on, “Yup you’re right, there’s not much I
can do about it now. I’m too big to be lugging furniture all through the house.”
I had these one-sided conversations with you all the time. In fact, it was one of these conversations that got me through your birth.
I was in the garden on my hands and knees clearing away some weeds when the first pains started. I thought back over what I had eaten, trying to locate the source of what I thought to be indigestion, but I couldn’t come up with anything. I lay in the grass on my left side (something I’d read in a baby book back in the city), and waited for the feeling to pass. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop me from continuing on with my day.
I was out in the forest picking berries when the pains became so strong that I could no longer hold myself upright. My knees buckled and I dropped the basket full of berries. They spilled on the forest floor, and as I reached down to gather them, the pains were on me again.
I stayed down where I was, afraid that standing up would
spark some new pain, and crawled on all fours back to our cottage. I hauled myself up onto the bed, and asked you in a panic, “Is this it little one? Are you coming out today?”
Those were the only words I managed for a while. I paced
the floor, grasped the walls, squatted low over the ground, constantly changing my position in the hope that the next one would offer me some comfort. My water broke and I was briefly relieved. I thought back to movies I’d seen in high school and thought, surely it must be almost over now. Once a woman’s water broke in the movies, the baby was born minutes later.
That did not happen to me. I cried out for Daniel, I cursed him for not being with me, and beyond all reason I begged him to come back to me. Then I turned to you.
“I don’t think I can do this little one. I don’t think I’m
strong enough.” I told you. I bore down and groaned as the next wave hit me.
I felt something between my legs and was astonished when I reached down and felt the top of your head. Feeling you there made this real for me. This pain was not in vain. You needed me to do this. We needed me to do this.
I stepped outside of my body for a moment. I explained to
myself that the only way I would ever see you, the only way that I would ever get to hold you in my arms, was if I brought you forth, and there was only one way to do with that.
I sat down on the floor, thinking that was the safest position for me to be in when you made your exit. I closed my eyes, and I pushed. The sensation was like nothing I’d ever felt before, and I was dumbfounded that I would need to do it again, as you still weren’t out. My hands clawed at the floor, desperate to latch onto something, but there was nothing. Just you and me.
I curled my toes and clenched my fists and heard Daniel’s
voice, “You can do this Maia.” With that I gave one final push and all at once you were here. I reached down and lifted you up to my chest. Dark brown curls were plastered all over your head. You tilted up your chin and stared into my eyes. I took in all of you and was struck. I have a daughter, I realized. Your hand gathered up the bare flesh of my breast, and a lifetime of recognition passed between us. You didn’t even cry.
I wrapped my arms around you and scooted to the corner
of the room where I’d stored the blankets I’d created for you out of repurposed clothes. I swaddled you and kissed your forehead for the very first time.
The sun was just beginning to peak over the tops of the trees and the sky took on a faint orange glow. I jumped as I felt you latch on to take your first breakfast, and looked down. I brushed my fingertips across you forehead and said, “Good morning Nola.”
The world looked different now that I was a mother. The hopelessness that I had descended into after Daniel’s death lifted from my shoulders, and I had a reason to smile again. So very many reasons to smile. You were the most beautiful baby. Your skin a deep red brown, eyes the color of molten chocolate, plump and perfect you were. I would take fabric and strap you to my chest as I went about my usual rituals, now transformed into our morning routine. All the while I would tell you stories about your father, about us, about the life we’d made, and planned to weave you into.
I started with, “Did I tell you about how your father and I met?” Of course I hadn’t. It had only been a few days since you were born and I passed the first few days of your life in love struck delirium, but I kept up the charade.
“You know, I don’t think I have told you this story yet. Well, here’s what happened.” I would pause every now and then to catch my breath, or look down and fuss or marvel over you. “I met your father in one of the tent communities. He was living there, crazy I know. He’d come up from the South in the second wave from Atlanta where he grew up. He even went to art school out in Savannah, a real local boy. I don’t know that he’d crossed the Georgia state line in over a decade when he and his little sister were forced to leave their home. They were all that was left of their family: your father and your Auntie Caroline. Caroline was only 14 when they had to make their way on up here, so Daniel felt extra responsible for her. More like an uncle or even a father than a brother, really.”
I paused to gauge your interest. With one hand you’d wrapped a finger around a stray loc that escaped the bun secured on the top of my head. The other hand was tucked into your mouth and you sucked happily, completely oblivious to the puddle of drool collecting on my shirt.
“They traveled for weeks, through backwoods and wilderness, not in the Outerlands, but right on the edge. They did their best not to come into contact with any other people, no one could be trusted. They kept right on trekking, until they got here, to what used to be Boston, because Daniel had heard the city was still safe, still managed by the remnants of our centralized government and under the least threat from the Fringe. There were also rumors that we had found treatments that worked up here, but those were just fantasies spun by people who needed something to have faith in.”
I felt you wriggling inside the fabric. “This isn’t turning out to be a very happy story is it?”
I sit down on the bank of the river and look out over the water. “I wish I had better tales to tell you my love. But the world is starved for joy right about now. All I can tell you is what I know, and even with all of the bad, the stories I have, the memories I share with your father, those are the best I’ve got.”
I brushed my fingers across your forehead, and twisted your hair into curls with the sweat pooled at your temples. I rested my chin lightly on the top of your head, more for the contact than to have a place to perch my head, and continued the story.
“When they finally arrived in Boston, they set themselves up amongst the tent village where I volunteered, but it wouldn’t be until months after they arrived that I would meet them. In that time your father put Caroline at an already overcrowded public school and got work where he could. He was an artist, so after he got Caroline off to school, he would trek to the areas like Cambridge that had managed to hold on to some affluence, and sell his paintings on the street, or offer to do portraits. Weeks when that wasn’t providing enough money to put food on the table he would paint houses, bag groceries, clean bathrooms in government buildings… whatever he could to make ends meet. But as more and more people became displaced, work became more and more scarse.”
Your breath had slowed into a slow, steady rhythm, your
jaw was slack and your mouth hung open. A little puddle of drool formed on your chin. Your body was a dead weight on my chest. I kept talking, wondering if my words would translate into dreams.
“Then your father caught a break. When he was pacing the city sidewalks looking for wanted signs he knew didn’t exist, he saw a small ramshackle community arts center tucked away down a quiet side street. He wandered down the block until he came upon the entrance and as luck would have it, they were open. He wandered from room to room looking at the paintings and photography that lined the walls. As he neared the entrance he heard some loud voices coming from an office.
“This place is falling apart!” said one voice.
“I know it is! But what do you want me to do about it??” said a second voice. “Hire someone to fix it!” said the first voice again.
“Who?? I can’t hire just anyone to work in here! What if they walked off with the art?”
“Who would walk off with the art?? What are they going to do? Sell it on the street?”
“You never know.”
In that moment, your father saw his opening, he lightly pressed open the door, which was already ajar, and said “I’m not just anyone. I wouldn’t walk off with the art.”
The owners of voice one and voice two, who turned out to be a young Asian woman in her 20s and an older Latino man in his 40s, backed away from Daniel. “Who are you?” they asked, almost simultaneously.
Your father told them about himself. He told them how he was in school, but had to relocate when his parents died, he showed them his portfolio that he always carried around in his messenger bag just in case. Despite having no construction skills, and not being at all sure what they wanted in the way of “sprucing up,” he volunteered to be the one to do it. He told
them he would not only fix the place up, but he would provide a
mural to brighten up the entranceway.
The young woman and older man, Kanai and Noel, took a moment to think. They were impressed by Daniel’s portfolio and they believed his story. They told him to come back to the gallery the same time tomorrow and they would let him know what they had decided.
Your father could hardly sleep that night. He felt as if he and Caroline were standing on a precipice. He wasn’t sure how much longer they could go on living the way they had been. This opportunity could change everything for them. He would finally be able to get them out of the tent community, maybe be able to get Caroline into a better school. Everything was riding on getting that yes when he went back to the center the next day.
He walked into center the next day looking much more confident than he felt inside, but his knees nearly buckled when they told him he had the job. He learned that the center was called the Dambala Community Arts Center. They survived off of grants bestowed by the government before it collapsed and private donations from people who managed to hold on to some means. Apparently helping a small community arts center stay afloat allowed them to assuage their conscience given that so many were destitute and dying while they still held cocktail parties.
The center did its best to provide some respite to the bleak
present and dim future that seemed to await the entire human race. They provided after school programs for children, and low cost art classes for adults. And for the most part, the center was always open… providing a sanctuary from the outside ugliness.
Starting the very next day, Noel told Daniel he would get to work cleaning out the space, and once that was done he could begin on the mural in the entryway. He would be the Caretaker, and as the Caretaker, he would be able to live in the small one bedroom apartment above the center. The previous tenant would be vacating in just three months, after which time, Daniel and his sister would be welcome to move in. This is the apartment that would later become our home.The relief Daniel felt was almost too much. His breathe caught in his chest and he fought back tears. It seemed everything would finally be ok.“
At this point I was back at our cottage, and had removed you from my chest, laid you down and wrapped you in blankets. The next chapter in your father’s story rested on my tongue, but I knew what came next and decided I would wait to tell you the rest.