Ah, midnight. It's one of the most beautiful moments you hear about in fairy tales. It symbolizes the start of the new day. Even if the world seems like it's about to end, the moment the clock strikes 12:00 AM, life goes on like it should. Another day recycles over, and everything continues as though uneventful. But for me, midnight was a rude awakening.
On my eighteenth birthday, at the stroke of the new day, my life changed forever. It all began with the voice of my mother.
"Mary!" My mother's screech startled me awake. She rapidly pounded on the door and violently tried to turn the knob. "Open this door!"
I had locked my bedroom door every night since I was young. You must have figured out why I did this.
I unlocked the door, and was greeted by a glaring woman with a light cake of makeup drying on her face. Her face was molded in a hideous glare.
"I want you out. Now. Pack your things and get out of my house."
I was surprised she didn't add a slap across my face for good measure. I've always suspected that she would kick me out the moment I was an adult. I stayed there until the last minute because I had nowhere else to go. I had been in a state of denial. I hoped that even she wouldn't throw me out to the streets.
Even though I was eighteen, I only had a part time job as a coffee barista at Starbucks. I had just graduated high school, and I had pinched every penny I made so I could afford college one day. My mother wouldn't cosign any student loans, so I couldn't afford to go that fall.
"Have you gone stupid? Take what's yours and leave!" My mother screamed in my face. Her moist breath was thick of mildew and vodka.
Without a word, I turned and began collecting all that I needed. A small folder buried in a desk drawer held my birth certificate and my social security card. I grabbed my wallet, backpack, all the clothes I could fit into a duffel bag, a coat, and my sleeping bag. My heart was pounding in my chest, and my face grew warm at the humiliation I felt. Where could I possibly go?
"You have no idea how long I've worked to finally be free of you," my mother slurred as she continued ranting at the back of my head as I went through the hall. I didn't dare go to the kitchen to grab the nearest source of food or water. I walked straight to the front door, with my belongings in hand. The more I neared the exit, the heavier my bag felt.
"Have a nice life!" My mother called as I opened the door.
If I said I didn't cry, I'd be a bad liar. I wish I could tell you that I was as emotionless as a statue, but I remember my eyes had burned up when I turned to give a final look at the woman who had given birth to me.
"Goodbye," was all I said. I felt pathetic when her smug smile hurt me. Happy Birthday, Mary Hall.
Walking through the yellow lawn of my mother's front yard was a strange experience. Besides the chest throbbing agony that slowly suffocated me, I felt… awkward. I didn't just feel horrible. I felt relieved--even though I was treading through the shady side of Mira Mesa, San Diego at night. Optimism was crawling under my skin.
Anticipation and hope were very rare emotions that I had tasted for the first time.
I gradually arrived to a public park that was nearby. A few street lights lit my way as I looked around for any shady characters that might be nearby. A few public benches were vacant. I found my temporary resting place.
Sitting on a wooden bench during a cold desert night was the perfect reality check. I finally realized the seriousness of my situation. I was homeless. I'd probably have to find a full time job and fast. I had to find an affordable place to live, and in a safer neighborhood.
I had no friends I could ask for help. They were all off to college, or moved out of state. Besides, I would feel too despicable to get any handouts from people.
The sound of rustling grass and slow footsteps jolted me out of my thoughts. My whole body tensed as I carefully listened for the sounds. My eyes were opened as wide as they possibly could. I was holding my breath tightly in my lungs. Turning around was impossible.
"Hi!" A voice greeted me from behind. It was a boy. He walked in front of me and squatted down, looking up at me with a fascinated smile.
"Hi," I wondered what he wanted. I only had about two hundred dollars in my wallet. I didn't have any jewelry. I didn't have that great of a body. If he was going to start anything, I'd have my foot planted in his face.
"What's your name? I'm Walker," Walker held out his right hand, expecting a hand shake.
I didn't touch his hand. I just stared at his face, waiting for him to cause trouble or leave. Less than thirty minutes on my own, and I was already about to get mugged.
Walker raised his hands defensively. "Look, I know this is weird, but I'm not going to hurt you. Do you want me to leave?"
"Yeah," I nodded slowly, praying that he was just a random loony who'd go away.
"All right, sorry," Walker gave me a sad smile. "Bye." He took a few steps back, then turned and left.
I was alone again. I had been so relieved that he left, I was almost crying. I was trembling, and I quickly wrapped my sleeping bag around my shoulders, careful not to fall asleep. After a few hours of quietly staring at my lap, I began to nod off.
It was a horrible feeling, waiting for the sun to rise. I felt exhausted, frustrated, and thirsty. As the world began to turn a hazy pale blue all around me, I couldn't take waiting any longer. I collected my things, and was about to set off.
"Wait!" I heard Walker's voice call out to me.
I turned to see him in a different set of clothes. His hair was damp, as though he had recently showered. He had two brown paper bags in one hand, the other was waving at me wildly.
I became suspicious again, and took a step back. I wasn't as scared as I was last night. Everything seems more horrifying in the dark.
"I made you some breakfast," Walker ran up to me and pointed to the bags.
"I'm fine, thanks," I stared at the bags, then at Walker's out of breath face. For all I knew, he was trying to poison me.
Walker had some sweat dripping down his forehead, soaking into his damp blonde hair. His cheeks were red. He had a smile on his face when he had been breathing hard, but he quickly lost it.
"Come on, I only spent two hours asleep last night. I woke up early so I could help you out."
I blinked, and I felt uncomfortable with him around. He was a grade A weirdo. "I didn't ask for any help."
"I walk by here every night, and not once have I seen you around here. From the looks of your somewhat bathed appearance, you're new to the homeless world. So why don't you eat some a sandwich and tell me about it. Maybe I could do something to fix it. You lose your job?"
"No," I fidgeted. If I made any sudden movements, he could attack.
Walker took a seat on a bench and dumped a bag's contents onto his lap. Two sandwiches nestled in Ziploc bags poured out. He took one in each hand.
"Have a seat," Walker shrugged next to him to the empty space.
I turned to see that a few cars were driving by. An early morning jogger was trotting by with their little dog. I felt safe enough to humor this guy. I took a seat, as far away from him as possible.
"I respect your pride, but if you don't take one, I'll be offended," Walker tried to push one into my lap.
"Take a bite out of each one first," I muttered, refusing to open the possible breakfast of death.
Walker laughed. "Sure, but aren't you afraid I'll get you sick?"
"Why? Are you?"
"Nothing you'd catch. So are you going to tell me your name now?" Walker took out of the other bag little juice boxes. He gave me one, and tore off the straw on his.
"Mary," I studied him. He was already starting to eat, his face composed and serious.
"Generic. So what's with the survivalist pack? Roommate kick you out?" Walker stopped pressing about the sandwich.
I huffed with a smile of disbelief. Remembering the night before was a sting in my head. "No, my mom did."
"Ouch." Walker gave me a sympathetic grimace. "So you've got nowhere to go?"
"I wouldn't say that," my mind quickly tried to find the right words to say. "I have everywhere to go.
"So you settled for a park bench," Walker had finished the sandwich already. "You know, I have a friend who's in desperate need for a roomie. Turns out she's sick of paying so much for the mortgage, so she's willing to share her condo with someone. Would you like to meet her?"
"Oh, uh—not really…" I trailed off. "It's not that I wouldn't if I knew her, it's just I don't. I don't even know you."
"It's a good deal. And it's a nice place. Far away from here, too—no offense," Walker stretched. "I'm sure you'd be able to afford the rent. It's in Scripps Ranch."
Imagine my ears growing thrice their size when hearing that. Scripps Ranch was a beautiful section of San Diego. Minus the occasional wildfires, it was a clean and versatile section, east of Mira Mesa. While the small section of Mira Mesa where I lived was rampant with the most gangs, meth, and robberies—Scripps Ranch was safe, rich, and vibrant.
"See that bus stop over there?" Walker pointed to a pole with a metro sign. "Bus Route 20 heads to Scripps Ranch. The price is $7. And you'll be surrounded by people. I won't do anything weird."
"It's weird that you're trying so hard to take me there," though I was defensive, I wanted to go for this chance. "…How much would rent be?"
"$810," Walker stood up. "What do you have to lose? Living here sucks, doesn't it? This neighborhood isn't what it used to be."
"Yeah," I agreed, but I was getting a little exasperated with his stubbornness. "But can you give me your friend's number? I'll need to call and talk to her about this."
"Sure," Walker pulled out a cell phone. "Her name's Lucy Norton. She's speed dial one."
Walker handed me the cheap GoPhone, and I held down the button. The phone rang for a long time, and the answering machine began its dull speech. While I waited, I pondered on how many minutes I had left.
"Sorry, Walker," I tried to give him back his phone. I wasn't going to just walk off with some guy, no matter how much candy he offered. "That's about as much as I can—"
His phone rang, and the caller id read 'Lucy'.
"It's your loss if you don't make a risk," Walker put his hands in his pockets and his face was warm with a gentle sadness.
"Walker—what the hell?!" A husky female's voice snapped. It held a hint of a Spanish accent. "Who calls at five in the morning?!"
"Uh—this isn't Walker. Is this Lucy?" Don't you just hate when you have to go through an awkward conversation? "My name's Mary Hall. Walker told me that you're looking for a roommate."
"…So you wake me up to tell me this? Haven't you heard of sleep? I work twelve hours a day and—God damn it, I'm hanging up."
"I'm sorry for waking you," I felt desperation scratch at my neck. "But your friend Walker's trying to convince me to room with you, and I'm not in the mood to be conned."
"Fucking Walker…" Lucy muttered, "Let me talk to him."
I handed Walker the phone. He gave me a wink and took the phone to his ear.
"Hey Lu—" He was interrupted with Lucy's screams. I could barely make out faded curse word screaming from the phone. "Hey, I promised I'd get you one by today. So here you are. And what luck, she's around our age." Another long scream of profanity silenced Walker. "Come on, she seems like a nice girl." Pause. "No, I didn't go around asking every hobo I could find."
As he was lost in his argument, I collected all my things, and began to walk away.
"Oh, shit—hold on Lucy," Walker muttered. "Hey—hey! Mary! Wait, she said she'd interview you!"
"Sorry, but I'll be fine without any help," I called out to him and continued. I felt shame burn into my face as I fled from Walker. I was a hobo. It was something that made me want to laugh out loud in denial.
"Mary!" Walker trotted up toward me, already out of breath. "Where will you go?"
"I don't know, maybe a homeless shelter." I tried to out-walk him, despite the heavy load I was carrying. Walker held his hands out as though wanting to help me, but I brushed by him again.
"You'll get shanked! Please—it's a great deal! Don't pass it up—it's in a great location—"
I was getting impatient with him. I stopped, about to give him an earful of heart-ripping insults. "You don't get it, do you? What kind of person randomly walks up and tries to get them to move into a condo? I don't know you; I don't know your friend. For all I know, you're a psychotic freak who gets kicks tricking naïve girls."
"I'm desperate," Walker explained. "I don't have many friends, and no one I've asked wants to move in with her. She's keeping the condo because she's too stubborn. She works constantly, and she's started missing her night classes."
I'm a sucker for sob stories. Walker had almost convinced me. He had tears beginning to spread across his eyes.
"Why don't you move with her then?"
"She won't let me. She's strict on girls only. If her parents found out she was living with anything with a penis, they'd withdraw her tuition."
Walker was wearing me down. I'm a pushover, or maybe it's because I raised myself to be nice. The kind one always got the happy ending. But I'm not Miss Perfect. Sure, I was concerned for Lucy Norton, a girl I never even met formally, but I was also interested in the prospect of shelter. The cool desert morning on a hard wooden bench was enough to make me miss a soft bed and a controlled temperature.
"All right, I'll check her condo out. But if I see we're heading in a wrong direction, I'll walk away and that'll be the end of it."
Walker sighed in relief and satisfaction. "All right. We'd better hurry if we're catching that bus."
The bus ride with Walker had been a funny adventure. Walker insisted that he pay for me as we went aboard. Tired of arguing, I shrugged it off and we sat next to each other. I gave him his money back when he stood up and gave his seat up to an elderly Hispanic woman. I placed the $7 in his back pocket carefully. I got a wink from the lady, who assumed I was pinching his butt. We both snickered at the silent joke.
"What's so funny?" Walker smiled at me in oblivion as he leaned against the bus' metal pole.
"How long have you two been together?" She spoke carefully in fractured English. Her face was tired but pleasant.
"A little over an hour," Walker grinned, but the ringing of his cell phone caught his attention. He answered it and began reassuring Lucy that we were on our way.
"My, young people love so fast now," the lady smiled at me.
The misunderstanding was cute, in a silly way. "No, we're not dating. He's just taking me to his friend's house."
"Oh, so his friend's your novio?"
"No," I quickly deny it. "His friend may be my new roommate."
The woman nodded and remained silent for the rest of the ride. I carefully eyed the scenery. I was greeted by splatters of emerald lawns, towering trees, and rainbows of flowers that were neatly cared for. There weren't groups of thugs crowding the gas stations nor were there any grotesque graffiti scrawled across the buildings.
We finally arrived to a small cluster of apartment complexes. Below were small common service shops and grocers. They appeared weathered and aged: the brick was a dull color and the painted roofs were peeling. A small group of teenagers were exiting out of a Starbucks and a woman was leaning against a pillar, chatting on her cell phone. It was a calm setting that gave my mind a great release. The place looked perfect.
"That auto repair is where Lucy works. And see that restaurant right over there?" Walker leaned forward and pointed to a corner where a small sign spelled, 'Neo Sushi Club'. "That's where I work."
"You're a sushi chef?" You looked at him strangely.
"Yeah. Is it your first time seeing an 'Itamae'?" Walker struck a pose and flexed his muscle. "You've got to meet my boss sometime. He's hilarious and makes the best spicy tuna rolls."
"I never tried sushi," I admitted as we got off the bus. Walker tried to take my sleeping bag and duffel bag, but I refused to let him. He shrugged and looked away from me; his body language suggested that his feelings were hurt, so I let him hold my coat.
"Then I'll get you to try it sometime. Once you go raw, you can never go back."
The idea of uncooked fish made my stomach uneven and the back of my throat throb in disgust. Walker led me through the center of the complex, where we entered a small lobby. The air smelled slightly damp, and it wasn't insulated properly. He brought me to a pair of elevators and pushed the 'Up' button. I could hear the slight creak as the machinery began carrying the great boxes down.
"What's Lucy like?" I was beginning to fall in love with the place. It felt like a cozy and humble place. I was glad, because I didn't know what I would do if it was extremely expensive and luxurious. I felt almost unworthy to be near expensive things. Even when I went to the mall, I'd avoid the stores because the price tags raped my mood.
"She's very smart and works fulltime as a bike mechanic. She rides a Harley, is kind of conservative," Walker's face melted into a timid smile as he continued lovingly, "She's tough. She's taking night classes in the University of San Diego and majoring in Mechanical engineering. It's too bad that she has to work all the time just to pay for this place, but Lucy only does what she wants to."
Walker was making a one sided conversation about Lucy, and the more he spoke of her, the more fascinating she became. I imagined her to be a well muscled biker with a bandana around her head and wearing tattered overalls. I even pictured a large wrench in her gloved hands. What a stereotype I thought up. I also wondered if Walker loved Lucy. I hardly knew the guy, and I didn't even know Lucy—but I thought I saw a flicker of passion as he spoke about her.
The condo was on the seventh floor. The hall had a hard tile floor, and the walls were the color of soft cream. She lived in number 712, located in a convenient corner at the farthest edge of the hall.
"Lucy!" Walker knocked on the door, and stuck his tongue out at the peep hole.
After a few moments of hearing rattling locks click out of place, the door opened to reveal a girl with a sour frown. She looked me up and down, then turned to Walker.
"You realize it's still early, right?" Lucy snapped at Walker. She then turned to me. "By the looks of it, you've run away from home, or you've just been evicted. Can you pay your half of the rent?"
"Lucy," Walker's voice was soft and imploring.
"Well?" Lucy snapped, ignoring Walker.
I could see she was exhausted. She had creases under her brown eyes that were hollow and dark compared to her pale complexion. Despite the cursed lack of sleep, she was very pretty.
"My mother kicked me out. It's my eighteenth birthday today," I began explaining to her my tragic life story. I sounded like a cheap record player: I hated the way it felt I was asking for sympathy.
"All right," Lucy seemed to soften a little but still held her hostile stance. "But do you have a job? The rent's pricey."
"I have a part time job, but I can't afford the rent at minimum wage. I'll look for a full time job." Worry flickered behind my eyes as my brain tried to pull a trump card. "I've got enough money in the bank to pay for a down payment…"
Lucy held her hand up to stop me. "All right, come inside so we can settle this better." She held open her door for us to enter. "What's your name?"
It was a spacious and was kept very clean. There was hardly any furniture inside. In the condo, there was a living room next to the kitchen and dining room. I could see an antique of a couch in the corner of the living room.
"Who wants coffee?" Lucy went into the kitchen and poured herself one out of a lone coffee maker resting on the counter.
"No thanks," Walker said as he threw himself onto the tattered sofa. "But Mary may want some."
"I'm fine," I hesitantly sat next to Walker. I watched Lucy carefully as she approached the couch with mug in hand.
After a long drink, she stared at me for a few moments before saying, "I'm sorry, but I won't let you room with me unless you have a reliable source of income."
"She'll apply for full time." Walker interjected, "I'll see if I can find her work at the Club."
"I'll give you a week to switch career paths," Lucy shrugged at me. "But I expect you to pay for your half of the rent. But don't expect me to buy you food or a new bed. If you miss payment even once you're out."
"All right," I was surprised at the sudden luck I was getting. Happy Birthday, Mary.