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Copyright Elle Klass
In the Beginning Baby Girl Book 1
My family wasn’t the same as most. We didn’t go many places or have any special “family get-togethers”. In fact, everything I knew of my family was my mom. I didn’t have a father or siblings - not even aunts, uncles or cousins, just me and my mother. She had long, wavy, strawberry blond hair that stretched down the length of her back. Most days she wore it on top of her head in a ponytail. She had deep brown eyes and skin the color of white bread and covered in freckles. She stood five feet tall with a frame as thin as a stop sign post. We looked nothing alike as my straight hair was the color of dark chocolate, my eyes green, and my skin four shades darker. I assumed my appearance took more after my father, whoever he was. She always appeared nervous or scared and chewed at her ragged nails. The curtains stayed drawn and when a car drove by she peeked out and made me duck. A haze filled the cabin, caused by her chain smoking. When I was a baby she spent the majority of her time at home. Every once in a while she left for two to three days then came back. Upon her return she always brought food and new clothes for me. While home she spent most of her time in her room with the door locked. The moments we spent together we played simple games or sometimes she took me to the public library where we checked out books, which she read out loud. Most of them I didn’t understand, but sometimes she checked out a book for me with lots of pictures. Once a year she took me to get my picture taken by a photographer and she dressed me in stunning, expensive dresses. As I grew older, she spent less time at home. More and more often, she disappeared for days, and then for weeks. One day, after my twelfth birthday, she vanished for months. Our home was a small shack in the outskirts of town, nestled in the woods and surrounded by overgrown foliage. The shack had three rooms. My mother’s bedroom, the bathroom, and the big room. The big room contained an olive green couch, with rips on the seat and tears in the seams that doubled as my bed. On the opposite side of the room sat a small wooden table with two chairs. The kitchen contained a stove, a sink, and a small refrigerator. Stationed above the sink hung a row of two cabinets and over the stove were another two cabinets. Bare wood floors covered every room in the shack and cold air seeped up from underneath them in the winter. A small wood-burning stove sat against the wall. During the winter she kept a fire burning. The bathroom included a tub with no shower, and a sink and toilet. A mirror with a long zig zag crack dangled above the sink, and the linoleum floor discolored from leaking water. I never went into my mother’s room as she forbade it. We didn’t have luxuries such as television, cable, or a telephone. On occasion we listened to my mother’s small radio. It received three stations and on good reception days, four. After my mother left for months, we lost electricity. The norm became freezing baths. My food supply ran thinner than usual and I lived off crackers and canned food items. We lived in an average small town comprised of a few fast food joints, banks, a couple nice restaurants, a library, a park, and a few other businesses. There was three elementary schools, one junior high and one high school. I went to Brennan Elementary. I caught the bus every morning and rode it home every afternoon. If I missed the bus walking became my method of transportation. I lacked real friends in school, just a few acquaintances, and occasionally I went to birthday parties. I knew pity was the motivation behind my invitation. My shabby clothes and worn out shoes made my poverty obvious. It amazed me how other people lived. Their houses were many times the size of mine with televisions in every room and food filling the cabinets. Their families consisted of moms, dads and brothers and/or sisters - normal, happy lives. My mother and I lived a solemn life. She spent the majority of her time in her room squashing any conversation between us unless it happened through the closed door. We rationed our food. I didn’t understand why our life was so different than others’. After my mother disappeared for months I learned to fend for myself. My mother never really took care of me; although, she had been there most of the time and brought food and clothes. I became afraid of what might happen to me if anyone knew, so I isolated myself more than usual. I came home at once from school, napped and then went trashcan diving looking for scraps of food, stale crackers, or outdated cans people threw away. It wasn’t difficult to memorize the trash schedule. At home I washed my clothes in frigid water afterwards hanging them on the trees to dry. My baths comprised of frigid water with no soap or shampoo unless luck went my way and I found them in the trash. When notes needed to be signed at school, I forged her signature for everyone. In the past I did it on rare occasions out of necessity. To entertain myself on weekends before trashcan diving, I went to the public library and checked out books and read. I pictured myself as the characters in the stories, which helped me escape the life I lived. One Saturday afternoon I picked the lock to my mom’s room and ventured inside it. I was mad at her for being gone so long and not bringing me food. In her room was a small bed which angered me as I slept on the couch with springs in my back. There was a dresser containing pictures of me and bunches of letters from people I’d never met. Needles, rubber bands, empty tubes and bags covered with a powdery residue spilled across the drawers. A bit of the residue stuck to my fingers. I licked it off, worst mistake I could have made. Ewww! After several glasses of water the nasty chemical taste remained. I took the letters and pictures of myself, emptied out my school backpack, and stuffed them inside, along with clothes and useful trinkets I accumulated from the trash. I left in the night.
Once I reached the edge of town I sat and waited for the freight train. Darkness settled, and fog rolled over the land. I hunkered beside a rusted out caboose. My senses alerted to a rustling noise in the grass and my head bolted towards it. My heart skipped a few beats before an alley cat ran across the tracks. Relaxing, I heard the train pulsing through the night. It would make its usual stop, I’d hop on, whatever the destination. The driver and crew none the wiser that I was taking up car space. As the slow purring train passed, I grabbed hold of a side rail, and wielding every bit of my strength, threw myself onto it. I took a minute to catch my breath and make sure my parts were still present. A slight sting festered at my heart for leaving the only home I’d ever known. Through the night at a steady speed the train roared forward. I curled up in a small space I found inside a car. The next morning, not waiting for the train to make a complete stop, I hurled myself out of the car taking great care to land on my backpack and not on any precious body parts. I dusted myself off and walked until a city emerged. It was huge with people and cars everywhere. In awe I wandered around, marveling at the shiny mirrored windows of the many giant buildings. My eyes told me I blended in with everybody else. Other children were out, in pairs or small groups. My curiosity took control, and I slipped inside one of the towering buildings, a hotel. The lobby was huge and overwhelming. Scenic pictures and varieties of floral arrangements cascaded the space and aromas filled my senses. Fluffy chairs and couches dotted the rooms and small shops and restaurants filled the gaps. I found an out of the way couch, laid my head on a puffy pillow and relaxed. My body melted into the plushness and gave way to sleep. A plump white haired lady nudged me awake. “Excuse me, this room is closed now, can I help you find your family?” My family? I didn’t have one, but I didn’t dare tell her that, so as polite and gracious I could muster said, “No thank you. I know which room we’re staying in.” Quick as a landslide I left walking towards the elevators. Her eyes lingered on my back but I didn’t dare look. I clicked the button and waited. With a slight hum and a whoosh, the doors opened. This was my first experience in an elevator before and even though it looked much less dangerous than jumping the train I was still nervous. As the doors opened they gave way to a magical hall. My feet sunk in the deep carpet as if walking on pillows. A few carts filled with food waited outside rooms. It shocked me that people wasted and threw away good food. Since I hadn’t eaten in a long time I ate a few bites and stuffed more into my pack for later. The food scraps covered trays outside their rooms I was sure it wouldn’t be missed. I headed back towards the elevator to discover the rest of the hotel and rode to the top. When the doors opened a single room appeared. How strange! One room filling an entire floor. It was several times larger than the shack. When the elevator doors opened again I stumbled in and headed downstairs, but not to the lobby, as the white haired lady may still be lingering. Instead, I stopped on the third floor to avoid being caught and took the stairs the rest of the way. I snuck out of the hotel unnoticed and continued walking. The sleep and food renewed my energy. I took a risk, but the hotel had been a gold mine. Night blanketed the sky reminding me I didn’t yet know my territory. In Brennan I knew every inch of the terrain day or night, now I was in a new land and scared. The noise from a trashcan lid falling to the ground with a loud boom made me jump and fall into a set of stairs. I scrambled under them for shelter until morning. It wasn’t the most comfortable spot on the planet, but I didn’t care, people couldn’t see me. When the sun came out, so did I, taking caution that no people were watching. I took a few bites of my small food stash and realized finding more was my top priority. Better sleeping arrangements was next on the list. One night spent beneath steps hadn’t been horrible but I needed something else, a place to call home. I found that home in a park- a mere coincidence. I spent the entire day milling through alley ways and the bottom floors of business and apartment buildings reaching my wit’s end for the day I plopped my weary bottom onto a park bench. From the corner of my eye I spotted a horseshoe shaped walking bridge, a couple strolled across it holding hands, underneath it appeared black. Upon closer inspection a small stream ran beneath it. I crawled between the stream and the brick. Inside it was large, covered, insulated, and hidden. The following morning I found the restrooms and took care of business, my mind pondering the hot water in the park restrooms unlike the shack. The trail filled with twists and turns, dense foliage curved along the edges. Two young men dressed in uniform, one tall and thin, the other a few inches shorter with a medium sized build walked up the trail from the gate. Tall and thin swinging his keys in an upward fashion said, “Pork chops and rice. It was delicious!” Without hesitation I dropped and hid behind the thick shrubbery. The shorter man responded, “When you marrying this girl?” Engrossed in their conversation they didn’t notice me so I crawled across the ground and up to the curvy trail until I could no longer see them. I named this part of town fancy and it offered me the most. I graduated from trashcan diving to dumpster diving. Rich people threw away the oddest things. I found a pair of good men’s leather shoes and traded in my canvas ones. They fit two sizes big, but it didn’t matter because they didn’t have holes and the soles weren’t flapping. I found a cell phone and an mp3 player. Sometimes I found TVs, radios, vacuum cleaners, clocks, and other large items. A couple of pawn shops on the other side of town didn’t ask questions, so I sold the smaller items I found and left the big ones. If I found something I thought had value, I took it. On most occasions I made a few dollars, but once I got twenty dollars for an old radio in a wooden case! I worked out a routine. In the mornings I cleaned up in the park restroom. After, I searched the city for treasures to sell and food scraps. The expensive restaurants offered the best food as they threw out meals no one ate or were missing one or two bites! I never tasted such delicious food in my twelve year old life. I felt healthier than I ever. My backpack made me obvious, so I learned to hide it under the bridge in my makeshift home beneath a pile of leaves. Every day when leaving I double checked to make sure not a thing under the bridge appeared out of place as the maintenance guys might notice. I didn’t want them to find the bag, or worse - me. Aside from that I considered myself to be doing well.
When fall hit the kids went back to school, and I no longer fit in with the crowd. The time for me to move had come, living in a park under the bridge in the fancy lost its practicality. I knew the day would come when I’d have to leave, so I spent August staking out other areas of town. A variety of warehouses and abandoned buildings scattered the lower end, one in particular caught my eye. I snuck inside the large empty warehouse through a window. While exploring, I found loose bricks in the wall, so I knocked out more until I could crawl inside it. Once inside, it was perfect! My body fit with room to spare. The main door was in my line of view but I couldn’t be seen. I turned on my flashlight found during a dumpster diving excursion and read yesterday’s newspaper. I found it on my way to the warehouse. Newspapers were easy to get hold of and I enjoyed reading; it kept me busy. I went out at night now to do my shopping for food and pawnshop items. This side of town offered little in terms of finding items worth value. There was fast food places galore, so I lived off greasy cold hamburgers and stale, salty fries. Sometimes I got lucky and found a shake to go with them. Most days I just sucked down diluted sodas. I became familiar with the bus schedules and fare was cheap, so I ventured to other areas of the city and looked for items of value to sell and make money. Any money I made I put into the bottom of my shoes. I never parted or went anywhere without it. Behind the goodwill I found two pillows and a huge puffy blanket I used to make myself a bed. It was difficult sneaking them back, and I didn’t go unnoticed. A bum spotted me from his box, and grabbed hold of a corner of the blanket and said, “Where you going with that little girl? I think I’d like to keep it.” I kicked his face hard making contact with his nose which jutted out from his sunken cheeks and ran not turning my head to look behind me until I reached the warehouse. He didn’t follow me and I’m ninety nine percent sure he nursed a broken nose. A lesson taught to him so he’d leave the next little girl alone. The bathroom in the warehouse had running water, cold water, but at least it had water. I cleaned up and washed my clothes in the sink and hung them to dry. My wardrobe consisted of two outfits while one dried I wore the other. During the day, I slept in my hidden room within the warehouse in my makeshift bed. Life wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t the fancy. One evening, when readying to leave, the faint sound of voices tickled my eardrums. My body went stiff as I listened. The voices grew louder. I had to make a choice: my wall home or food? I chose the safety and my wall home. Nobody would find me. I didn’t like people intruding in my space and worried I would have to find a new home. With great intent I listened, attempting to eavesdrop on their conversation, but their words were too distant and blocked by the solid walls of the building. The door burst open, and they came into my view - a girl and two boys. The girl looked thirteen and my height with shoulder length deep ginger hair that stuck out in wild ringlets encircling her face, and large round dark eyes. One boy was young - nine or ten. His curly ginger colored hair matched the girl’s and his eyes were similar to hers in shape and size. I assumed they must be related. The other boy I pegged at fifteen or sixteen. He wore his straight blond hair slicked into a short ponytail that stuck out like a short feather duster. The group discussed food, and I passed bags to each other. Laughter sprung up around them and after they ate, the oldest boy made a fire in an empty metal trash can. They called him Einstein; the younger boy they called Peewee; and the girl was Star. I watched them for a while, and when the sound of snoring grew loud, I made my getaway. I tiptoed downstairs past them. Peewee rolled over on his side and opened his eyes as I slipped out the window. My stomach growled in familiar hunger pains but I found little food that night. I got a late start because of the kids who invaded my space, and ended up settling for a cold, greasy, cheesy hamburger and a half eaten piece of cherry pie. Thoughts of the kids encroaching in my space upset me and I hoped they’d be gone when I returned. I knew my warehouse well and came back through a different window I considered my emergency backup. I skulked quietly to the staircase and eavesdropped on their conversation. “How much is left?” asked Einstein. “I have three dollars and twenty nine cents. Peewee has this broken chain he found yesterday,” answered Star. Uhgg… the kids hadn’t gone away, which meant I’d be caught attempting to go up the stairs. I crunched into a shadowy corner and quiet as a butterfly listened to their discussions. They were homeless waifs too and invaded my makeshift home for the night. The girl and younger boy were naïve I assumed they hadn’t been on the streets long. The older boy I presumed spent more time on the streets. “Today we will hit the train station and play it out same as we did the market,” declared Einstein. A commotion followed his order as they collected themselves and left. I sighed, relieved, and I dragged myself upstairs to my makeshift bed. By evening, the smell of cooked food wafted through the air and into my cubby which awoke me and forced my stomach to growl in hunger. They were back. I listened for a while, attempting to gain the courage to introduce myself. I lived a solitude life, no friends, no family. When my stomach and wishes for friendship reached their greatest I mustered up the nerve to present myself, it didn’t happen the way I planned in my mind. I reached the bottom step and tripped, falling flat on my face. They scattered like roaches, except the older one. Offering me his hand, he helped me to my feet. “You OK?” “Sure, yeah, thanks.” My face must have blushed several shades of red. I jump in and out of windows and trains, yet I tripped on a step. “I’m Einstein, and you are…” “Uhh… I don’t have a name.” I stammered. Still recovering from my embarrassing fall I couldn’t fabricate a clever name for myself to give him. My real name was out of the question. His lips turned up in a quizzical smile, his eyes rolled upwards as if deep in meditation, and he chuckled. “I get it, you don’t want to give me your real name. We don’t go by our real names. We have nicknames. My parents didn’t name me Einstein at birth.” I giggled but remained speechless while he placed his hand under his chin, twisted his lips and scanned me with his bright eyes. “You look like Cleopatra. Cleo, that fits you.” “Yeah, OK. I like it.” I muttered deliberating on the name. In school I remembered learning something about her being the queen of Egypt. A royal name, it worked, and maybe I was the queen of this warehouse. Inwardly I chuckled at the thought. The youngest boy and the girl came out of hiding and introduced themselves. Peewee approached me with a hotdog on a stick and offered, “We have extra.” The silence and awkwardness now broken. “Thanks, I’m starving.” I wasted no time taking the hotdog from Peewee. A fire glowed in the trashcan and they roasted hotdogs over it and they had buns. While we ate, I discovered Star and Peewee were brother and sister. “How did you meet?” I inquired. Einstein cleared his throat and glanced towards Star and Peewee. They met his glance as if giving him their seal of approval. “I’d had good day and was celebrating with a hearty meal at Harry’s Pies. They make every flavor of pie; apple, coconut, key lime, chocolate fudge brownie… I ordered a hamburger blitz. I followed it up with a slice of apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. It was good! My belly full, I left and headed back to the docks. I rounded a corner and heard muffled talking. When I looked toward the voices I saw these two huddled in a corner.” He pointed at Star and Peewee. “I couldn’t leave them there and neither would tell me where they lived, so I brought them back to the docks with me.” The room fell silent and my mind searched for the words to ask my question. Two young children, Star my age and Peewee a couple years younger not fit to be alone on the streets, alone in an alley, why were they there? I deliberated for a few seconds and decided to tell my story, then maybe they would share theirs. “I left home a few months ago when my mom disappeared. What about your parents?” There, I asked, and expected no more of an explanation than what I gave. Star opened her mouth to speak then looked at Peewee who stared at her with huge, blank, round eyes. After a sigh she stated, “We don’t have any. They died when Peewee was a baby. I barely remember them.” She stole a glance at Einstein who sat quiet. “We’ve bounced around from one foster home to the next and the last place, the dad was crazy. We left.” Their lives had been as fraught with torture as mine I found that to be comforting. Einstein broke the silence this time. “Since we are confessing I guess it’s my turn. I left home several months ago when, I, uh, we, my parents and I, didn’t get along so well.” None of us asked anymore questions that involved our past lives. Stashed in a closet was the best place for them. Over the next few days, we got acquainted with each other and I understood why they called the older boy Einstein. He was smart and assigned us jobs, such as collecting food or small items we needed such as jewelry or electronics, anything we could use to make a few bucks. Day to day we never knew what types of trinkets and treasures people would throw out waiting for us to find. He even taught us how to work in pairs and pickpocket unsuspecting people to steal items we later sold. He worked on this with Star and Peewee, but to me it was new. “You’re a quick study.” He told me after we teamed up to snatch a man’s wallet. The man took it out of his pocket to remove his credit card, setting the wallet on the counter as he swiped. I tripped and fell into him and Einstein slipped the wallet into his own pocket while the man helped me up and asked if I was OK. I thanked him and proceeded out the door. The wallet contained eighty three dollars which we kept and tossed the wallet into a dumpster. The money served in feeding us well and I felt like part of a family complete with brothers and a sister. Yet, as much as I liked them and trusted them, I never showed any of them my secret place and I was near positive they’d never find it - my safe place.