“ 2 Bedroom Apartment “    
by  Karen Davidson           

Since I lived alone, it was better to have neighborhood kids
cut my grass, than to have men do it. Instead of helping clean
up the area, the local men were betting on who would get me first.
They all lost. I was not interested.

I was interested in was getting the 2 lots next to me, cleaned up.
Locals had been dumping there for years. Kids played in the filth,
scavengers searched it for valuables.  The stench was unbearable,
but by now, people were use to it. They took it for granted that
those lots would never be cleaned up.

One little boy even said so. He was only 10 years old and already
jaded. He walked by one day when I was outside telling a neighbor
I had called the city to get those lots cleaned up.

He jumped right in and said, “Miss, that trash’s been there since
I was born. Ain’t no body gonna clean it up!“

I proved him wrong. I stayed on the city for 2 months, until they
sent a crew out to do the job. It took 2 weeks and several trucks,
but they finally got both lots clean. Under all that filth was real grass.
I sprinkled several bags of wild flower seeds all over both lots.
In 2 months, the most beautiful transformation had taken place.

When that little boy saw both lots clean for the first time in his
short life, he grinned from ear to ear. When he saw the flowers,
he stood there shaking his head like an old man. It was the
beginning of him learning that good things are possible, if you
work to make it happen.

You would think that parents and other adults would be happy
those lots got cleaned up, but that was not the case. Instead they
acted like I had committed a crime. They didn’t know me, but
apparently I thought I was better than everybody else....
or at least that’s what I heard.

When school started, I noticed kids playing on the empty lot
behind me. It was filled with broken glass, so I started cleaning
it up. One little girl, who was bigger than me, was telling the
smaller kids to walk on the lot, when I asked her not too.
I explained that there was a lot of broken glass and they could
hurt themselves. That big bitch rolled her eyes at me and kept
walking on the lot anyway!

This child was huge, about 200 lbs, but she was only about
11 yrs old. Just as I went back to raking, her mother drove up in
a brand new SUV.

“Is this your daughter ?“

“Yes she is, why?” her mother said in a nasty tone.

The mother was small, well dressed, driving a brand new SUV.
But her huge daughter was shabby, wearing run over loafers,
crossed eyed, with broken glasses held together with dirty tape.

I told her what had happened and why I didn’t want the kids
playing on that lot until I cleaned it up. I also told her how
disrespectful her daughter was. You’d think the mother would
appreciate my concern for the safety of her child, but hell no!
She sucked her teeth at me, told her daughter to get in and
drove off.

Then there was the SHED! The guy that helped me clean up
called it “the 2 bedroom apartment”. The shed was on the same
empty lot  where the broken glass was. For years, it had been used
to smoke crack in, prostitutes turned tricks in it  and the previous
tenants even allowed you to sleep in there, for a small fee.

The shed was only about 10 ft by 10 ft, but it was divided into
2 rooms. The previous tenants, who rented the house I was in,
were drug dealers. You could smoke crack in the shed for free,
as long as you bought it from them. But if you wanted to sleep in
it, that cost $10 a night.

I knew about all of this because the local prostitute told me. When
I was outside planting flowers, she came by and introduced herself.

Wasting no time, she got right down to business. She told me
the arrangement she had with the previous tenants and asked
if I were interested in doing the same thing. I told her no, I was
not associated with any of that shit.

However, I’m not stupid. I was making a lot of changes in an area
that was use to having drug dealers on every corner and trash
piled sky high. I learned that those filthy lots were used to stash
and sell drugs in. They were also a great hiding place when
someone was running from the police. I had taken away their hiding
place and now I was about to take away their "2 bedroom apt“.
It would be wise to have a friend like her, who could watch my back.
She knew everybody and could spread the word that I was not a
threat; I was just trying to live better.

I told her that I wouldn’t charge her or have anything to do with
it, but if she needed to sleep in the shed, that was her business.
She was so grateful that she almost gave me a hug. I declined
the hug because she was really dirty, but I accepted the thanks.

Every night that she slept in the shed, she’d whistle to let me know
it was her. The shed was 100 ft. from the house and fenced out,
so her whistling was the only way I knew someone was back there.
2 months later, the shed was torn down, but when ever she saw me,
she always spoke, smiled and went on about her business.

Once the City Inspectors had the shed torn down, I saw a rat come
from under the cement blocks that the shed sat on. The rat was fat,
wobbly and disoriented. Fat from living off waste, wobbly cause it
wasn’t use to sun light and disoriented because it had been inhaling
crack and eating heroine laced blood for years. From then on, I coined
the term, “like a rat on crack” to describe a host of abnormal occurrences.

After the lots were cleaned up, a couple of kids knocked on my door
asking if I wanted my grass cut. I did. The leader and hardest worker
was 11 year old Joshua. When I stood next to Joshua, I realized just
how short I am. He was still growing, I wasn’t. Anyway, Joshua was
like the son I never had. Bright, articulate, hard working and good
manners. But there was a sadness about him. It cut deep and no
matter how much he laughed with his friends, it was still there. I knew
that sadness.

When he was cutting the grass outside the fence, his mother drove
by. He was so glad to see her that he ran to her and kept hugging
her through the car window. He told her he was working for me,
making good money cutting grass. He obviously wanted her to be
proud of him. Beaming the whole time, the sadness in Joshua
disappeared for a moment. He was so happy. 

I waved at his mother and was about to walk over to introduce myself.
I didn’t. That woman was looking me up and down, with her mouth
turned down, like I was stinking or something!

Since that wasn’t the first time that had happened to me, I knew to
ignore it and keep on stepping. A lot of women instantly hate other
women, especially if the other woman is attractive. I was. Like I said,
I’ve learned to ignore it, so I just smiled and kept on picking flowers.

As Joshua’s mother drove away, I realized he acted like he hadn’t
seen her for a while. Not wanting to pry, but wanting to know why
he was so sad, I asked him what he had for breakfast. He said he
hadn't eaten breakfast.

“Ok, what did your mom fix for dinner last night?”

He put his head down and said his mom wasn’t home last night.
She had been gone for a few days.

“Well listen, since you haven’t seen her for a while, why don’t
you go home, spend some time with her, OK? You can finish this
tomorrow. Here‘s your money. Make sure you eat too.”

“Aw, thanks Miss. I’ll be back tomorrow morning.”

With that, he hurried up the street, giving his partners their share
of the loot.

Now I knew why Joshua was so sad. His mother left him and his
sister. They never knew where she was, if she was alright or when
she was coming back. Joshua was glad to see her, but she didn’t
quite return the love. She barely hugged him. In fact, she sort of
pushed him back a bit, as if she didn’t want to get her clothes wrinkled.

I understood what Joshua and his sister were going through.
My mother use to leave us when I was little. I’d cry my heart out,
beg her not to go, but she’d leave anyway. She’d go on dates with
men and I was afraid she wouldn’t come back. My little mind told me
that as long as I could see her, I could protect her. If she was out of
my sight, no telling what would happen.

When I was a teenager, I went to the city looking for work. I stayed in
a cheap rooming house, until I could save up enough money to get
an apartment. Once I got a place, I’d send for mom.

I never got that chance. My brother called me one morning, saying
mom had been shot and killed by her latest boyfriend. The very thing
I feared the most, had happened. The moment she was out of my
sight, evil snuck in and killed her.

The difference between Joshua’s mom and my mother, is that mom
always hugged us with the same love and zeal that we gave her.
She didn’t care about mussing up her make up or wrinkling her
clothes. Afterwards, my brother and I would have lipstick kisses all
over our faces. We’d look in the mirror and laugh about it.
We loved her so much.

Yes, I knew the sadness Joshua was feeling. When he came back the
next day, I did tell him that if anything was bothering him, he should
always talk to someone about it.

A couple weeks later, he was knocking again to see if I needed anything.
I did. I needed him to go to the store for me. The purchases included
fruit, lettuce, tomatoes and salad dressing for him. I wanted him to
eat a salad every day. Joshua told me that his uncle would eat his
stuff. His uncle was a violent drunk that stayed with them when his
mother went off on her excursions. The only thing I could tell him
was to hide the food in his room.

To make sure Joshua and his friends had positive things to do during
the summer, I called the local 4-H club and got information for him to
join. I drove to this house, called him outside and gave him the number
to call. His face lit up when I told him about all the wonderful things
he’d learn and do in the 4-H club.

“What about a job? Can they get me a job?”

“Yes they can. They’ll tell you all about it when you call.“

A couple weeks later, Joshua came by asking if I needed my grass cut.
I didn‘t. Then he asked if I still had the information about the 4-H club.

“What happened to the number I gave you? Did you ever call them?”

“No. When I went back inside, I told my uncle and my sister about it
and they got on my case. My sister snatched the paper from me and
tore it up. She said I didn’t need that mess. When mom came home,
they told her ‘bout it and she said the same thing.”

“Joshua you mean your mother told you not to....” I didn’t bother
finishing the sentence.

“If I give you the information again, how will you get  to meetings
if your mom won’t take you?”

“I’ll take the bus.”

I called around and got the information for him again. Before leaving,
he said he needed a rake, so I let him borrow mine. 2 weeks later,
I needed it, so I sent a kid to Joshua’s house to get it. He came back
saying Joshua had left it at one of his jobs and would bring it by later

A month passed. No rake. No Joshua. I went to his house myself this
time. It was the same story; he left it at a job. When Joshua finally
brought the rake by, I knew something was wrong. My rake had a
green handle and was brand new. This rake was used, with an old
white handle.

When I said I had a lot of raking to do, apparently he thought I said something else.  He spoke up too fast.  

 “It’s the same, it’s the same. Oh, um, I can rake for you.”

I had heard his uncle speak and those words sounded just like him
talking, not the little boy. Then I understood. The uncle must have
done something to my new rake. When I asked for it back, he got
that old one and had Joshua to lie about it.

I can see why his mother didn’t want him to join the 4-H club, go
camping, learn to swim, row a boat. Learning to lie and stab people
in the back, was so much better.

One day, one of Joshua’s friends knocked on my door asking if I had
any work for him to do. I did. The leaves needed to be raked and
bagged. He was the same little boy that said those lots would never
be cleaned up.

“Aww Miss, can I ask you something?", he said.
"Sure. What is it?"
"Where's your mansion?"
"What did you say"
"I told everyone you was a writer and my  Mom said if you're a writer, then
where's your mansion? She said the drug boys have a better car than you

Wow! I had to answer this one very carefully and not succumb to
the desire to call his mother a bunch of ignorant bitches.

“Honey, a person doesn’t have to live in a mansion to have a good
life or a good home. And drug dealers kill people, so it doesn’t matter
how nice their cars are! They’re doing wrong and they’ll end up dead
or in prison. Is that the kind of life you want? Or would you rather make
an honest living?”

“I’d rather make a honest living! You hear about Johnny? He was 14.
They shot him. He beat somebody out of drugs and they killed him.”
His voice was trembling as he said that.

“That’s what I mean! Listen honey, no matter what anyone says,
you finish your education. With an education, you can be anything
you want to be.”

So now it was better to be a drug dealer, than to have an education
and an honest job. No, I didn’t live in a mansion, but the rental house
I had was nice. I would only be there for a year, so I didn‘t need to buy
a home in that city. My car was nice too cause it worked  and it was
paid for.

In contrast, his mother didn’t have a car at all. Most of her teeth were
busted out, while the few remaining ones were rotted and chipped.
I had the audacity to have a beautiful white smile and my real teeth.

His family and a lot of  drug dealers, lived in a large, dark complex, a few
blocks further down the street.

No grass, no flowers. Gun shots ringing out all hours of the night, especially
on weekends. Trash everywhere, loud music, fighting.

But there were some nice cars in the parking lot. A dead body was also parked there once. And the drug boys wore $200 tennis shoes.  I, a woman who worked on her computer at home, wore $30 tennis  shoes that I got from Walmart.

I guess the $200 ones are better for stepping over dead bodies, to get in their nice cars.

Although I knew there wasn’t a chance in hell his mother would
let him join the 4-H club, I gave him the information anyway.
Who knows, maybe he’d find a way to join anyway. He now knew
that good things were possible, if you work to make them happen.

And he didn’t want to end up dead at 14, like Johnny.