During these months, the police uncovered that Carla, the girl who was kidnapped in the Circus Midway bathroom, had been murdered by her stepfather. Her mother didn't want her husband to get in trouble so she decided to piggyback the other abduction. The police also found Sarah's murderer, an ex-con from Arizona who'd picked up the young girl on his way to Mexico. Her parents had left her in the arcade for over six hours while they gambled. The perpetrator was now serving life in prison, with no chance of parole. Like a sixteen-year-old with a new boyfriend, the local news soon forgot the victims it had once obsessed over. But the fear stayed with me.
My cousin returned to Poland with little more than hand-scribbled lyrics to all of the top hits of the early 80s, and a newfound fondness for shaved armpits. Within a week, my sister left, too, going back to LA. With two less mouths to feed, my mom finally rented-to-own a sofa. When it arrived, she couldn't wait for my uncle to return from a trip to the store to get the rug he kept in his room. So, we marched upstairs to get it ourselves. It was rolled up in the corner like a log. As we anchored it down the steps, a flood of empty vodka bottles poured out. There had to be fifteen or twenty of them.
"That is what that son-of-a-bitch is doing up there," my mom screamed. "That's why he can't get a job." She stopped dragging the rug, and sat down on the stairs and cried. Between sobs she mumbled that she was tired. I tried to pick up the bottles for her, but she told me to leave them for my uncle to see.
The next day my uncle left the apartment early in the morning, freshly showered and smelling of Old Spice cologne. He returned that evening with a job. It wasn't much, working as a desk clerk at a rundown hotel in the ghetto, but part of his salary was a free apartment. Within a week, I finally got what I wanted, my own room with a complete bed.
There were only six weeks left in the school year and I was afraid that if I didn't go, I'd fail fifth grade, so my mom finally agreed to enroll me. When we went to the office to register, I was certain they would hold me back, but my mom said not to worry, she would take care of it. When the woman at the front desk greeted us, my mom pretended not to speak English.
My mom whispered to me in Polish, "Play dumb. Tell her we just moved here. They have to enroll you. It's the law."
"Tell your momma we need to see your transcripts," the receptionist said.
"Mom, they need to see the paperwork from my last school. They are totally going to hold me back," I said in Polish.
"Don't worry, just tell them I don't understand. They have to let you in," she said, and then gave the receptionist a look of confusion.
It worked. After drawing a picture of a schoolhouse and saying something in Spanish, the receptionist gave up and gave me a placement test.
At school, I saw that other kids walked around and rode their bikes without adult supervision or fear. Within a few days, I, too, walked to a friend's house without murderers and molesters crossing my mind.
With everything going so well, I should not have been surprised when my mom announced that we would be moving to my uncle's hotel in the ghetto to save money. She explained that she was a couple of months behind on the rent, so we had no choice. My mom had gone overboard furnishing the apartment and was in debt. She told me I had to pack that night because her friend was coming by with a pick-up truck. When I protested, reminding my mother that the neighborhood she wanted us to move to wasn't safe, that just last week my uncle told us about a shooting in the parking lot, my mom said not to worry. She would drive me to and from school.
Dorothy Cury is a freelance magazine writer and graphic designer living in New York City.
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