(Carlos)
Just to look at me, you'd probably never think that I was a street kid. Well, maybe not a street kid exactly, but a homeless one. I don't look homeless- I mean, I don't wear layers of clothes that are all dirty and gross-looking, like most of the bums in New York City. I don't let myself grow scruffy beards- I don't know if I'm even capable of that yet. I'm only fifteen, and so far the most I've gotten is a little fuzz. I don't beg money off people, and I don't talk to myself or yell at people. And I don't sleep in the streets either- at least not anymore. I even have three outfits that I switch around, keep as clean as possible.204

But in spite of all that, looking pretty much like I'd be normal and all, I'm not. I'm still homeless, with pretty much no hopes of anything different ever happening to me in the rest of my life.205

How I got to be like this is a pretty long story. I guess it didn't really begin with me, but rather my parents. They got divorced when I was ten and my sister Ellis was four. It was decided that I would live with my dad and Ellis would live with my mom- it was for the best, they figured, for a son to be with his father and a daughter to be with her mother. It was what we wanted anyway; I liked my dad, always looked up to him as a little kid. I wouldn't have liked living with my mom and little sister when I was that age- actually even now. Especially now- the only male living with two females...206

I kept in touch with my mom and Ellis at first, visited pretty regularly and all. But then they moved to Michigan so my mom could get a higher-paying job, and I've lost touch with them since. I visited once or twice, talked to them on the phone, but the truth is I don't know them anymore. My mom was still sending birthday cards and stuff before I left. I wonder sometimes if she knows I'm gone. I'd think my dad would call her- but what would be point be? What could she do in Michigan? Nothing- the whole point of it all.207

I was pretty happy living with my dad for a while. I was never one of those kids who felt rejected or like it was my fault my parents divorced. I figured it was their problem- I believed them when they said it had nothing to do with me or Ellis. I was a pretty nonchalant little kid, I guess. How's that for word usage- know of any street kids who use words like that? Dammit, this shouldn't have happened, this shouldn't be who I am.208

Anyway, I was pretty happy, like I said. I went to an afterschool program, until he got off work, and since they helped me with my homework it gave me time to mess around with my dad after dinner. He gave me special attention, and I really liked that.209

Dad started dating again when I was 13, I guess. I didn't much care- it was ok with me as long as they didn't spend the night and make me uncomfortable. I mean, I wasn't resentful or thinking it was disrespectful to my mom or anything. By then she and Ellis had already moved and I never saw them anyway, so I guess I figured a stepmom would be all right. As long as my dad was happy and liked her and all. It never occurred to me that it would be someone like Meredith who made him happy. Actually it never occurred to me that women like Meredith existed at all...210

Dad started dating Meredith when I was almost 14. Like his other girlfriends, I didn't really mind her. I even liked her okay, she seemed pretty nice, smiling and talking to me like an adult instead of the kid of her boyfriend. She wasn't loud or obnoxious or trashy-looking, not that Dad's other girlfriends had been, and she didn't try to act like she had authority over me. Like, saying I can't watch certain movies and stuff. Overall I thought she seemed pretty cool- at first.211

Dad married Meredith when I was just turned fifteen, about seven months ago. I was pretty cool with it, like I said. If it made them happy, more power to them. I remember Dad even asking me before he proposed what I thought, and I thought that was pretty decent of him. Most adults wouldn't care what their kid thought, wouldn't even occur to them to ask something like that.212

And everything was all right at first. Dad and Meredith seemed pretty happy together, but not in a sickening way. They didn't act too gushy around me or all-hands or anything, which I respected. Meredith pretty much let me be, and Dad still spent some time with just me, the whole father-son thing. It was pretty good- I could have lived with it.213

But when they'd been married about four months, something happened to change it... or should I say someone happened.214

You probably won't believe this- I wouldn't, if someone, a guy my age, told me the same story. Because of that, because no one would ever believe this, is the reason I now have nowhere to go beyond a homeless shelter. But I swear to you it's true, it really happened...215

My dad is a salesperson for a lunchmeat company, a spokesperson. I know how funny that sounds, but it's true. He has to go on business trips overnight about once a month. Well the first time he did this after he and Meredith were married, Meredith and I were left alone in our apartment. That was when- and this is the part you'll never believe- Meredith came into my room in the middle of the night. Naked...216

She wanted me to have sex with her... here I was, fifteen, and she was thirty-five, and she was telling me to have sex with her! She was my dad's wife, my STEPMOTHER!217

I couldn't believe it, I was so stunned. I just gawked at her, my face flaming, trying not to look at her body but having a real hard time. I mean, I felt disgusting to be looking at my stepmother, but when she's standing naked like that you can't hardly help it. And then, when I didn't say anything, Meredith started to climb into bed with me, started hugging me, and she was still completely naked!218

By then I was more alert, and I jerked like crazy away from her, jumped out of bed. She followed me, going to touch my arm gently. I closed my eyes, wanting to push her away, backing up, but at the same time I didn't want to touch her. It was awful...219

" What's the matter?" she asked me in this voice that was all breathy, like she was trying to be sexy. " Never seen a woman before? Are you afraid? Have you never done this, Carlos? Don't worry, I'll show you how..."220

And she was putting her hands on my face, trying to kiss me... I did push her away then. My heart was pounding, god I was so freaked out, so scared. This was the weirdest, nastiest thing that ever happened to me, I mean, it was far from sexy. I'd never kissed but one girl in my life, and I was still a virgin.221

" No! Stop it!" I told her, and my voice sounded weird, all high and cracking. " I don't want to- this isn't right, this- go away!"222

" It's okay," she told me softly, and she was pressing herself against me, rubbing her hand in my hair. And dammit if I- part of me- wasn't responding even though I hated it, was terrified and disgusted by it. What the hell was the matter with me? What the hell was the matter with her?223

" You know you want to, Carlos. It's okay, it's normal. All boys are like this- all men. You can't help it. It's who you are."224

And I swear it, even though it sounds weird, impossible, but she made me have sex with her, even though I didnt' want to. I didn't want to, I swear it. She took my clothes off me even though I was trying to stop her without hurting her. As grossed out and afraid as I was, I didn't want to hurt her. I didn't know what to she was really strong for a woman- and determined. I know that makes me sound weak, stupid, but she really was. And once she was all over me it was like I couldn't help it, I couldn't control what my body did, what she made me do, even though I didn't want to, even though I hated it. It sounds so weird, and I dont' even know if it's possible- but I think she, I think Meredith raped me.225

Afterward she smiled and was feeling me like I was a cat or a pet of hers. And she told me I was good...226

I felt so gross, so freaked and guilty... I hadn't wanted to do that, but I hadn't stopped her. I could have, I should have stopped her...227

She was my dad's wife. My STEPMOTHER. How could I have done that with her? How could she have wanted to?228

I tried to avoid her as much as possible after that- tried not to speak to her or look at her, even be around her whenever possible, even when Dad was home. I stayed at friends' houses as much as possible. But sometimes it couldn't be avoided, and I had to be alone with her. Every time, Meredith would try to have sex with me again...229

After the fourth time, I knew I couldn't deal with it anymore. I couldn't live with her, could not handle staying in a house where my stepmother was a freaking pedophile who had designs on me. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn't tell on her- I already knew how that would go over. Who could believe that a fifteen year old boy could have sex with a woman and not want to, that it could be rape? Who would believe that Meredith would want to have sex with me? No one, that's who. She would twist it around, say that I was lying, or I had raped HER. Nobody would believe me- there was no way I could tell anyone the truth.230

And there was nowhere I could go. Nobody would take me in, no questions asked, not even my mom. Especially not my mom- she lived in Michigan, and I never saw her. Besides, I would feel wrong living alone in a house of girls after Meredith.231

The only thing I could do was run away, live on the streets... there was nowhere else for me to go.232

So that's what I did. I packed a plastic grocery bag with a few changes of clothes and a toothbrush, put what money I had in my jeans front pocket, and I left one night... I didn't leave a note, even though I hated to do that to my dad, make him worry and think it was his fault. I couldn't write the real reason I was leaving anyway, and what else could I say? " I love you, but I'm leaving?"233

Meredith would convince him I'd done it because I was jealous, I knew. She'd say I didn't like him getting married to her, and he'd have no choice but to believe her because there would be no other reason he could see that made sense...234

They'd look for me, I knew, probably even call the cops, but I'd hide. I'd have to- I could never go home again...235

I used to live in Pennsylvania, in the suburbs, like most kids. But when I left, I made my way to New York City, where I'd stand out less, be harder to identify, much less find... it took me almost a day to get there. I alternated between hitching, with only women drivers, ironically- it was women who were helping me escape a woman. None of them threatened me or robbed me, and I returned the favor, of course. I guess I was lucky... 236

I had been to New York City before, but never had I been there alone, and never had I been out late at night on the streets, trying to find a place to sleep. It was cold even in April, and I was scared someone would hurt or kill me, rob me of what little money I had. No one did, of course, but they could have easily. I slept on a fire escape my first night...237

My second day as a runaway, I knew this would never work. I had to look like I wasn't a runaway, and above all I had to be safe, had to survive. Being alone, sleeping on fire escapes in alleys, this did neither.238

So I began to walk around only where it was crowded during the day, trying to blend, seem normal, even though most kids my age would have been in school. I spent as little money as possible for food. And that night, I slept for the first time in a homeless shelter.239

It was surprising, how quickly I got used to homeless shelters. They were warm and had cots I could sleep on, three meals a day. Sure, they were noisy and crowded, with people who were crazy and sick and dirty a lot of the times, but it's easy to get used to anything pretty much. I alternate around every week or two, so I dont' get stuck in one shelter too much, just in case Dad and Meredith traced me here somehow.240

It's not too bad really, I guess. I keep myself as clean as I can, washing in the sink and my clothes too when I can. Some of them even have showers they'll let us take, though they time you. During the day I walk around and act like I'm shopping.241

I'd really like to be in school, get an education, but I can't risk it. I'm sure my dad called the school when he found out I was gone, and they'd call him back if I returned. I can't exactly enroll myself in a New York school without a guardian. I can't get a job either- who would hire a kid with no valid ID, social security card, or address? I basically have no chance of a future, thanks to Meredith. Nothing in my life can really change, because there is no chance for it to. All I can really see happening for me in the future is the same thing happening now- being homeless, wandering around all day, living in homeless shelters... never having a family, never having a home, and no one knowing who I really am. It's depressing.242

Right now I'm standing in a subway station. I found a five dollar bill on the aisle of a tourist store tonight, and I had a sudden whim to use it to ride the subway. I've never done it before... it's only two dollars, so I have enough to ride somewhere and back and still have a dollar left.243

I'm waiting past the revolving gate thing for my car to come. There's a bunch of people standing near me, waiting too. Eight- two men, a woman, four teenagers, and a little girl.244

As I looked at each of them furtively, trying not to let on that I was watching them, I suddenly felt so full of envy for each of them that it hurt...245

They didn't even know how lucky they were, all of them, to have a home, somewhere they could go that was safe, where they were loved and wanted and free...246