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 doesn't remember getting there but somehow she made it to Miz Geneva's house and all her relatives was there, aunts and uncles and cousins and people who never show up for anything but funerals. Yvonne got on the phone and went down the list of hospitals in the phonebook, telling receptionists that she's the sister of a Mr. Jamal Patrick Jones, and would they happen to have any information on him?
Her aunt's hand was suddenly on her shoulder.
"Yvonne, you got to turn yourself in."
"Yvonne, you got to."
More than anything she wanted to go upstairs and lie down with her kids for an hour, since she might never be coming home, but everyone was already grabbing their coats and warming up the cars, and she wasn't about to cause any more problems.
Yvonne knows the boy is going to need help. Quadir hits other children and says this is what my dad did to my mom. He makes stabbing motions with his hands and says this is what my mom did to my dad. He gets his toy gun and points the barrel at his little sister's temple. When Tanya was watching them at her place in Southwest Philly, he tried to smother Albria's little body with his own.
Yvonne made bail and was placed on house arrest in June, when she moved in with Tanya and her two youngest kids. She hopes she can get the oldest four back from Miz Jones after her trial's over, though it won't be easy. But then Tanya got an eviction notice in early October. She'd stopped paying the rent on the place because the landlord wouldn't fix the toilet; when you flushed everything flooded into the basement.
He gave them three weeks to move out. This place, at 60th and Upland, might look like a back street in Jamaica, but at least she's not running anymore. Yvonne couldn't believe Tanya was so irresponsible about it, knowing full well that she needed a stable place where her house arrest phone line would never be shut off or else she'll never have a chance of getting her kids back and starting over in Delaware.
But the screw-up with the welfare checks was her own fault. She forgot to tell them she was in jail so she can't collect again until all that money is paid back. But she gets food stamps and $78 a month for each of her kids from Social Security. The rent on her place is $400 a month and she splits it with two friends. Sometimes her nephew helps her out but it's so big and expensive to heat and leaving the oven door open really helps.
"Quadir! Quit choking that cat! Get that cat off the counter!"
You wouldn't believe what her sisters did to her. When she was in prison Tanya and Taisha took all of the stuff from the apartment she shared with Pat: a dinette set, a living room set, furniture, clothes. When she asked why they would do something like that, Taisha looked her in the face, dead serious, and said, well, we didn't think you was coming home again.
She met somebody a couple months ago. His name is Terrence and he washes dishes at a nearby hotel. He was in jail the same time she was, waiting for a hearing on an attempted murder charge, and he heard from another inmate about why she was in there. They happened to meet a few months after they were released and got to talking. He helps her out with money sometimes and he's never once laid a hand on her.
"Quadir, come on ... the lady gon' take some pictures."
Yvonne takes the boy by the hand and leads him out onto the stoop, where he runs in circles and flops on the concrete and cheerily twists the skin on his face, malleable as putty. Across the street voices travel through the windows of houses that should be empty. She sits and turns her shoulders from the noise, staring past her block and the block after that, moving as far away as her mind can take her.
Karen Abbott (firstname.lastname@example.org) is PW's senior writer.
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PW's Fall Guide 2014