2008-11-04

NaBloPoMo/NaNoWriMo Day 4

I hope you are all enjoying reading the untold story of my life! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them, and I will answer them in subsequent posts!

Almost Homeless

I still hang out at the train station every day after school. Only now, I’m more than just a casual observer. I’ve become friends with the homeless people, and I talk to them all the time.
The lady with the collie dog is Pat, and her dog is Lady. Pat’s mother was blind, and Lady was her seeing eye dog. When Pat’s mother died, Pat took Lady, and now they’re homeless together.
There’s also Don and David, two guys in their thirties who I always see riding their bikes around town; Al, who dresses in an army jacket and a red bandana; and old Chester, who looks like a drunk version of Santa Claus.
I still don’t know them very well, but I talk to them every day after school. I tell them about school, show them my messed-up homework and tests, and read them the letters I get from Joe, Andrea and Jason. (Ramirez did forward my letter to Jason, who turned out to be in Audy Home waiting for his trial. I heard back from Jason right away, and now he and I keep in even closer touch than I do with the other kids. Jason told me that the incident he got arrested for supposedly happened back when he was fourteen, and lived with his mother in an apartment complex in Palatine. Then eleven-year-old who was molested is a boy who is fourteen now, and just recently told his parents that Jason did horrible things to him years ago. But Jason swears to me that he didn’t do it, and I believe him. I cannot bring myself that Jason would do anything like that, even at age fourteen!)
As the weather starts to get warmer, I don’t see the homeless people at the train depot as much. I figure maybe the cops told them they can’t hang around here anymore. I’ve heard rumors that the cops are going to start arresting anyone who is in the train depot and doesn’t have a ticket. I’ve thought about buying a round-trip ticket to the next town, and keeping it with me just in case the cops bother me. But they never seem to notice me at all… not even Ramirez, who should notice me by now!
One day Pat shows up at the train depot, and she tells me that everyone else has been hanging out at the Hill. She borrows a notebook and a pen from my backpack, and draws me a map of how to get there, by cutting through the commuter parking lot and walking up the bike path. I look at the map, and recognize the directions to a place I know as the Reservoir. My little brother and I are never supposed to go there, because my mom heard somewhere that its gang territory. I mean, I guess some junior high kids who claim to be in a gang hang out there once in a while, and I’ve heard of an occasional fight happening there, but that’s about it. My brother goes there all the time with his friends, to skateboard. I go there once in a while, randomly, but there’s not a whole lot to do there if you’re all by yourself! I remember there is a big hill there, and once when I was younger I climbed to the top of it and rolled all the way down.

The next day, I venture over to the Reservoir. I find, on the top of the Hill, a little playground I’ve never noticed before, and a picnic shelter where a bunch of people… some I Know from the train depot and others who I’ve never seen before… are sitting around. Pat’s collie dog, Lady, runs up to greet me.Its like a secret picnic! There’s a radio playing, and food laid out on the tables.
“Nicki! Glad you found us!” says Pat. She introduces me to the people I don’t know, and everyone acts happy to meet me.
From that moment on, a new routine starts for me. Every day after school, I go straight to the Hill to be with my friends. They’re always happy to see me, and I find myself actually feeling cheerful during my school days. No longer does every day stretch out unpleasantly in front of me, with a lonely school day followed by a lonely afternoon and a depressing evening at home. Now I have this one bright spot in my day, something to get me through all the rest.
Don uses his food stamps at 7-Eleven to get me YooHoos and Slurpees. Lorenzo, a 50-year-old Mexican man who says I remind him of his nieces, teaches me to play Crazy Eights, and lets me win more often than not. Al, the guy with the army jacket and the bandana, loves to listen to the Oldies station, and quizzes me on who sang what. The Oldies station tends to play the same songs every day, so after a while of being schooled by Al, I can actually name most of the song’s artists correctly. David is goofy and always makes me laugh, especially when he’s drunk! Harold is forty-nine and comes from Florida, and he and Pat are like the parents of the whole group. They always look out for me, ask me how school is going, and urge me to try harder to get along at home.
There’s one day that sticks out in my mind the most. It is a chilly day, and I am wearing a heavy thermal sweatshirt as I walk up to the Hill after school. The people have started a fire on the grill, partly to keep warm and partly to cook with. Lady runs to jump on me, everyone says hi to me, and Al laughs for no apparent reason as he hands me a warm tuna fish sandwich.
At one of the tables, Harold is peeling potatoes with a pocket knife. A few days ago I noticed Harold peeling potatoes in this way, so I swiped a potato peeler from the home ec room at my school. They have about fifty of them there, anyway! Now, I pull it out of my backpack and push it across the table towards Harold, saying, “I got you something!”
Harold stops peeling. He looks suspiciously at me. “And where did you get this?” he drawls.
I shrug. “Found it somewhere?”
He shakes his head, picking up the peeler and staring at it. “We’re bad influences on you, aren’t we!”
“No, not Nicki. She’s an angel sent from Heaven,” Don interjects.
I laugh.
Harold winks at me/ “But seriously, Nicki. We are so glad to have you with us. You add so much sanity to our lives.”
My happiness might pick me up and carry me into the clouds, like a real angel!

Another person I think of as my friend is Kurt… but he’s around a lot less often than the others. Kurt is only twenty-four, the youngest of the homeless people that I know. He’s skinny, has shaggy hair and glasses, and often has a blank look on his face. I’ve seen him around town a lot. The first time I see him at the Hill, I ask Pat, “Who is that?”
She replies in a low voice, “That’s Kurt, and you don’t go near him. He sniffs glue.”
Her warning is partly true. Kurt inhales toluene, which David tells me is a chemical that makes paint dry quickly. Kurt calls it “tolly.” He can often be seen holding a tolly-soaked cloth up to his nose and mouth, and breathing it in. When he’s been sniffing a lot of it, his eyes glaze over and he seems to forget how to talk.
But I like Kurt. When he’s not tolly-ed out of his mind, he’s always nice to me, in a more detached sort of way than the others. I have to work hard to get Kurt’s attention, so when I do, it’s a great moment!
One day I see Kurt in town, in front of the liquor store, with his friend Erick Quinn. For some reason that day I am not up at the Hill, but am just wandering around town. It is a windy day, so windy that the signs in the parking lot of the liquor store are shaking and spinning like crazy! I spread my arms and spin around and around, pretending to be caught in a tornado. Kurt and Erick laugh at me, and I am happy about making them laugh.
The next day, up at the Hill, Kurt reports to me that Erick thinks I like him. “Erick said,. `Nicki said hi to me. I think she likes me,’” says Kurt. “But I told him, `Nicki says hi to everyone! That doesn’t mean she likes you!’”
“Yeah, I say hi to everyone,” I agree.

Another time, after we’ve moved out to the forest preserve, it starts raining hard, and Kurt offers to give me a ride back into town. He has a car, which he will own for a week or two before it mysteriously disappears. Our dilemma is, I have my bike with me, and we have to make it somehow fit into Kurt’s trunk. Kurt tries fruitlessly to get it all the way into the trunk, but it sticks out the back, and I am afraid it will fall out while we’re driving.
“We need a string or something,” suggests Kurt.
“Yeah, a string,” I agree.
\ I follow him as he heads back towards the others to look for string. “If we get pulled over, you should tel them I’m your little sister, so I don’t get in trouble,” I tell him. “Okay? Will you?”
“Sure! Cause you are my little sister,” says Kurt. He touches the back of my neck. “Right? Are you my little sister?”
“Of course!” I reply gleefully. I am overjoyed at Kurt’s nomination of me as his little sis. That’s the kind of kid I am… I’m grateful for any kindness or affection I can get.

Shortly after school ends for the summer, the cops kick all of the homeless people off the Hill. I am not there when it happens, but David tells me it was Ramirez who delivered the news that they have a week to find a new place to hang out. People walking on the bike trail, or bringing their children to play on the playground, have been complaining about the homeless people being there. If they don’t leave within a week, they’ll be arrested. I don’t know what for, because the Hill is a public place that is supposed to be open to everyone, but David says Ramirez made it clear that we weren’t welcome there. “Out of sight, out of mind,” were Ramirez’s exact words, according to David.
The homeless people decide to move their gypsy cam out to Deer Grove Forest Preserve, which has picnic shelters just like at the Hill. Its pretty far away, on the outskirts of town, but David says I’ll be able to get there on my bike. He draws me a map detailing how to get to the forest preserve, and how to ride down the bike trail to find the picnic shelter they’ve chosen to move to.
(to be continued...)

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