THERE ARE MANY CITIES WITHIN THIS CITY. YVONNE WILLIAMS' OFFERS FEW PLEASURES, MUCH HARDSHIP AND LITTLE HOPE OF ESCAPE. HERE, WHEN ALL ELSE IS GONE, THE CYCLE OF POVERTY KEEPS SPINNING.
Yvonne sighed and picked up the phone.
"Miz Jones, my mother shouldn't have called you. I'm gon' come and get my kids."
"Look, Yvonne," Miz Jones said. "My son is in and out of jail. I will help you. Why don't you go back to school and get yourself together and get your GED?"
The next day Pat's mother filed for custody of the four oldest.
Yvonne called her again.
"Miz Jones, why did you do that? When you gon' let me have my kids back?"
"Long as you have any charges or orders against my son, you might as well kiss these kids goodbye, 'cause you ain't never gon' see them again."
Yvonne enrolled in a GED class. She saw an ad in the paper and got a job working at a West Philly hospice for the elderly, cooking and cleaning and doing intake reports and lining up pills on plastic trays. She was a live-in employee making $88 a night. On Saturday morning she would pick up her kids from Pat's mother and on Saturday night she would drop them back off.
She was getting somewhere but going nowhere at the same time--that's what all that running will do. Every time Pat got out of jail Yvonne begged him to look for work but he always said no. Then he'd say, "Why ain't you cook me nothin' the fuck to eat?" and smack her. He'd usually go for the upper body. At one time or another, almost everything Yvonne owned came hurtling toward her face.
One day when he was sober long enough to listen, she convinced him to stop selling drugs at the corner of 19th and Cumberland, not far from where they lived. A friend of his got him a job washing dishes at a restaurant in Horsham. Pat went to work on and off for five or six months, but started every shift barely able to speak or walk. Ask anyone where Pat used to hang--Susquehanna, Cumberland, Uber--they all called him "40" after the bottles of malt liquor he always had on hand.
He got fired and his friend would get him rehired and he'd get fired again. Every time he came home without a job, Yvonne called his boss.
"Please, mister, take him back. He got kids to feed."
"Lady, you're wasting your time and breath."
Pat was back at 19th and Cumberland selling drugs and Yvonne was still running. Sixteenth and Lehigh, 19th and Wilt, 26th and Dickinson, 57th and Park Avenue, 42nd and Fairmount, three different address on the same block on Susquehanna, 22nd and Chadwick, a West Philadelphia women's shelter, five different addresses on the same block in North Philly.
Yvonne moved and ducked and hid. Every time her skin healed from a beating her senses became more reactive. She would sleep the sleep of the dead and bolt upright, for no reason at all, as if electrocuted. Twice she dreamt of him lying in a satin-lined casket, eyes closed and lips stretched into a cagey smile.
Jamal, her oldest child, had strong senses too. He saw what his father did, knew how he was. One day when she was living at 19th and Susquehanna, Pat's mother let her pick up the kids for a Saturday visit. She was moving around the kitchen when Jamal stepped directly in front of her.
"Mom," he said, like he was reporting the weather, "he gon' be here in five minutes and kick the door down. You wait and see."
Sure enough, just like the kid said.
Every time she settled in someplace Pat would come and break the windows or kick down the door or run up and down the street breaking car windows with his fists. Yvonne's job caring for the elderly and the GED classes she took seemed so far away.
PW's 2014 College Issue
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