Susan’s Place

December 25, 1995: Tears are in my eyes. My hands and body are shaking, my heart is beating fast. I just told Susan I am moving. It was as I knew it would be. The words came out of my mouth but it didn't seem like I was the one speaking them. 

Susan yelled, "I feel like the Hilton Hotel!" I responded, "I feel like the maid of the Hilton." She asked, "When are you moving?" I said, "Soon." She said, "Good." Another chapter of my life has come to an end.

That was the end of my time at Susan’s place. I lived there at fourteen years old when my mom moved across the country, leaving me states away from any relatives. “You will never make it on your own,” she hissed, in almost the same breath that she told me to get my stuff off of the front porch. My stuff consisted of one large black trash bag that I hauled over to the house where I was already living.

August 20, 1995: I'm sitting on the floor in a small room. Surrounding me are my boxes, half packed, half empty with all my things. I'm in John's bedroom. I've been living here for almost two weeks.  

For awhile I shared a bare mattress on the floor with my friend John; a blanket haphazardly thrown over our young bodies. The room was strewn with clothes, boxes, video games, and reeked of cigarettes, sweat, alcohol, marijuana and teenage boy.

John’s sister and her boyfriend shared a room down the hall. His other sister and her boyfriend and girlfriend lived next to them. Susan, John’s mom, had a bedroom next to ours which eventually became my room. When it did I immediately installed a key lock on the door.

This home was a combustible mix of dysfunction, mental illness and wild parties. It was loud, dirty, crowded and uncomfortable despite the hours upon hours that John and I were forced to clean. The atmosphere was an emotional roller coaster, teetering between highs and lows and attempts at normalcy. Still, I was grateful that they took me in and it was better than where I previously lived.

September 19, 1995: This house is like nothing I have ever seen before. But I stay here because it's a house, without screaming, hitting and degrading.

I learned early on that I could not keep food in the kitchen or in the refrigerator because people would steal it, as well as my things. My closet became storage for non-perishables, mostly bread, soup, and cans of BBQ that my grandparents occasionally shipped. Then I would collect enough change to buy cheese by the slice from the grocery store deli and make a grilled cheese sandwich.

September 28, 1995: I'm tired tonight and my stomach hurts. My friends think I don't eat enough. It's not my fault this house has no food. And I won't have any grocery money for three more weeks. So I guess I should get used to it.

It sounds like neglect, and it was. As an adult mother of four I reflect on my childhood with disbelief. At the same time, I know it shaped me into who I am today and I can see the hand of divine intervention.

The Bible states in Acts 17:26-27: “…and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” For me this means that God has us where we need to be for our hearts to turn to Him.

This happened to me at Susan’s Place. I lived with this family for five months. I changed for the better and my heart softened to God. Not by chance, I encountered a teacher during this time who changed the course of my life…but now I am retelling One of Those People.

September 24, 1995: I bought a comforter today, it's pretty nice for $10. I have learned to manage my money and take care of myself. Tomorrow I'm going to the grocery store and to the laundry mat. Everything in my life now that I need to get done, I do. And it makes me proud of myself and what I have accomplished. I make A's and B's in school now. My life is going good. And you know who is making this way? I AM. 

I visited my childhood town in September, 2021 and drove the old neighborhood searching for Susan’s place. I couldn’t find the house but I did spot the trail leading to the store where I bought cheese and I pictured that young girl walking. If only I could have talked with her then, with warm embrace, and shared what I know now; perhaps we both would have learned something…

December 13, 1995: I used to think I knew what life was all about... Now I think life is something totally different. I think life is God. Having a relationship with God. And still, I am sure, I search.

*Real names were not used in this post

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