Standing in line at the food pantry, she sighs as her son tugs on her shirt. He has grown impatient with the
wait. Truth be told, she has, too. Each Saturday morning, she walks the five blocks with her three kids,
carrying bags, pulling a wagon, to get food for their weekly meals. The snot on the little boy’s face has
crusted on his upper lip, but she has nothing with her to clean it other than the hem of her t-shirt.
Loading the wagon up and filling the bags as heavy as the kids can carry, they make their way home...
slowly. With three kids under 6, someone always has to cry, complain, or pee before they get back. It
takes a couple of shoulder pushes to get the front door unstuck before they can enter, and when they do,
it’s a task to side-step the toys, clothes, and boxes to get the food into the kitchen.
Hefting a bulging bag of dented cans, rice and bruised fruit onto the counter, she nearly sends the stacks
of dirty pans to the floor. Her middle boy is crying, and the girl is yelling, “I told you to stay out of here!”
A roach runs out from under the dog bowl in the corner of the room. She lets out a long, weary breath.
At 24, she feels so worn down. Moving 6 hours away from her family to be with him, she expected more,
but he’s never home. The kids aren’t his (their pigmentation would fool no one), but she makes them call
him Daddy. Desperate for any bit of normalcy, the kids comply.
The microwave beeps, telling her the Spaghetti O’s are warm. She burns her finger on the toaster, and sets
three cups of Kool-Aid on the rickety card table where her kids eat their meals.
Retreating into the bedroom, she gently closes the door behind her. The unframed mattress sits directly on
the floor and has no sheets, only a wadded up quilt her great grandma had given her. She folds her legs up
under her as she sits and pulls a cigarette from its pack. She tries not to smoke around the children,
especially since her youngest has been coughing and congested so much recently. Not five seconds after
she takes her first drag, she hears that barking sound from under the crack of her door.
The girl says, “Cover your mouth. You’re disgusting.” Her little brother cries, “I can’t help it. My froat
She feels guilty and knows that this cough has lasted much longer than is normal, but she has no way to
get her baby to the doctor, and they won’t prescribe medicine without seeing him. She’s tried. She’s also
begged her boyfriend to take her and the kids to the Urgent Care on Broadway. He doesn’t even have to
stay; she’ll worry about how to get home after the boy has been seen. Last night he didn’t come in until 1,
and the Urgent Care was already closed. Two nights ago when he got home at 6, he was too tired to make
The truth is he just didn’t want to make the time. There’s never any time. Sure everyone gets the same 24
hours in a day, but when you’re the sole caregiver for three young children, and you don’t have anything
to give them but love, you spend all your time doing what is needed just to make it through the day.
If I had time... she thinks, I’d clean up this house; I’d find someone who wants to be with me; I would go
back to school; I’d learn to drive. She shamefully stops herself from entertaining the next thought: she
would have waited to have kids.
However, when you’re 18 and in “love,” you don’t consider time. You only consider the moment.
Planning for the future? What’s that? She’s now stuck in that future decided in a series of moments. The moment she said yes in a courthouse. The moment she waited anxiously to see the lines appear on the
white stick. The moment he left her, seven months pregnant, standing in her parents’ yard after she
learned her third baby would be the same age as her husband’s girlfriend’s. The moment she made the
decision to move her kids across state to be with a man she only knew from the Internet, boarding a train
with only one suitcase for the four of them.
This is my life, she accepts. She pushes the tip of the cigarette into the ashtray and takes a Xanax. There is
no way out.
In the other room, she kisses each kid on the head, knowing already they’re destined to feel the same way.
Fawn Ponzar is a high school English teacher that has learned that the best way to teach students is to first learn who she is. Growing up in a household doused in abuse, she was determined to become more than she was born-into. It is only through reliving the stories of her upbringing that she has come to understand the motivation behind others' actions.
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