We were only at Christ church for a short time, after that we were on to the New Life Evangelistic center on the south side. The facility we lived in was one of the smaller branches of the shelter run by the reverend Larry Rice. During the time we were there, it was run out of a large old Victorian home in the Lafayette Square area near the park of that same name. The rooms were set up with as many beds as possible crammed into each room. This was a slight upgrade from the thin material and metal cots in rooms shared with 100s of people found at Christ Church. I remember meeting Larry Rice, but no one else’s name or face from New Life was able to breach the fade. I remember him and this place because this was the first time in my life I didn’t want to exist. Prior to living there my anger and discontent had been focused outside of myself, like a laser beam on my mom. None of this had anything to do with me. Personally, I had no control over the situation and really felt little to no shame with regard to my life. Larry Rice and his New Life Evangelistic center, while well intentioned, changed that and from that point on I felt ashamed of my mom, my clothes, my family, my life and myself. I held myself up to be measured against what I considered to be normal and decided that I was not good enough.
New Life was one of those places where you had to leave during the daylight hours and would only be allowed in around dinner time. The Idea was that maybe the persons who found themselves in this facility would look for work or some other productive endeavors, I guess. My mom and us kids would walk to the grocery store (my mom got stamps) and get crackers, bread, seafood salad, chips, and drinks. We spent our days in the park. We would eat as we sat at one of the park benches or on a blanket my mom laid out. Me, my sister, and my brother would just run around the park playing with other kids returning to the blanket from time to time because we didn’t really know when we would be allowed to go back inside the center. This was all just fine until some holiday came up, we were going to go visit family that day at a bar-b-q so our mom combed our hair extra nice and my sister and I had on identical outfits, even though I was almost five years older and felt ridiculous. Just as we were walking down the steps to leave for the day Larry Rice walks up and asks if he can interview us before we go. My mom said yes. I don’t know if she really wanted to or felt obligated to because we were living in the facility. It was simple enough just a few questions. I know he asked my sister and I questions and we answered but the only question I recall is the one he asked my brother; “Do you like not having a home?” Or something along those lines, to which my brother replied that he “loved it”. that he got to be outside all day and sleep under trees. His young squeaky voice and chubby cheeks made the whole thing so cute and everyone laughed. We went on to visit our family and had a nice day.
A week or so later, I was outside at a cousin’s house when a neighborhood girl asked me if I was on TV. I said “NO!” but seconds later I remembered the interview. My face was hot, shame rippled through my body. I never thought anyone would actually see us especially kids that I knew!! Apparently, I was wrong. She replied, “yes you were, you even had on them same clothes you got on now!” Laughter erupted! The next thing I know everyone was talking about my family living under bushes, being homeless, not having clothes, and on and on. I was so ashamed. I felt my heart beating in my chest as I tried to come up with a smart sassy rebuttal, but I didn’t have one. I didn’t have one because my inner voice turned on me that day, we had been so good together for so long but now she agreed with the others. She would do so for decades to come whispering that I was not good enough, that I didn’t belong, that no one would love me, and that anyone who looked at me would know it. That day my inner voice dug up every ugly memory I had endured in my brief life and played back each painful moment in movie format and I was ashamed beyond belief. My life was the same as it had been just moments before but now everyone knew the details of my life. I could make it when I believed that no one knew. I could be my normal, cool, and sassy self. But, now everyone knew and their knowing forced me to know shame on a level I couldn’t handle at that age. That girl and any kids in the vicinity were immediately sucked into the singularity. I withdrew form others almost completely. If you were not a cousin (or a play cousin) you were not necessary in my life. I had conversations when I had to with others, but I made no effort to hold a space in my world for their face or name, to me they really didn’t exist.
This is the way things went even after we left New Life and moved in to the Salvation Army on Lindell Blvd. I attended Blow middle school (now named Lyon Academy at Blow Elementary) for sixth and part of seventh grade. I can not tell you the name of a single person. I do not recall a single face, student or faculty. The only things I remember from that year was the look of the entry to the school and my walk from the bus stop back to the shelter. I didn’t want to know any one and I wanted no one to know me, because with knowing came questions that I had no desire to answer.
My life was not my own I felt weak, powerless, and I had surrendered my voice. I stopped making eye contact and rarely spoke to people outside of my family. I figured that if I didn’t look them in the eyes, if I didn’t speak, that to them I would not be noticed, and perhaps at some point I would simply become an invisible girl…