My sister left the day after I celebrated my birthday with my friends. It was her last day in Jersey City and I still have the pictures from that night. We’d gone to Mojo’s Lounge to do Karaoke. I thought that I had made my peace with her leaving. I was hoping that she would change her mind at the last moment. Or that she would go to Florida and come back the next week. I was still in denial that she was leaving. But it happened. She was headed to the car with her things. I hugged my nephew one last time. Denisha turned and looked at me and said.
“Try living without me.”
There was no “goodbye” or “I will miss you.” She jumped and the car and took off. I stood there on the sidewalk in complete shock. At that moment I kept asking myself. What did I do wrong? Why would she say that? Did I do something to make them want to leave me? Why was it so easy for them to leave me? I blamed myself for everything. I internalized everything.
I have always had this inner guilt. It started when I was little. When my dad would come home high as fuck on everything that he could find, I felt that guilt. I thought that I should have been enough to make him stop doing drugs. When my mother couldn’t pay rent and we were evicted. I felt that guilt. When we didn’t have enough food to eat growing up and my mother would miss meals to feed us. I felt that guilt. So when my sister stood in front of me and told me to try living without her, I internalized that. Those words killed me and they still kill me. What did I do to deserve that? Is there something wrong with me? Is that the reason why my family left?
Not too long after my sister left, my brother in law left. The day he had left, I had a small emotional breakdown where I broke all of the dishes in the house. I was left to clean out of the apartment, because they had left it messy with all of their stuff there. I had to still take care of their cat Geeba and find her a home. I remember asking my aunt Debbie if I could stay with her. She then told me that I couldn’t. I had to figure out where I was going to stay. That was hard.
My cousin Jasmine had her boyfriend and his son come stay with me at the apartment even though I was being evicted. The day that he and I had to move out of the apartment, he was moving his stuff. I was moving my stuff. I was going to stay on the street somewhere and he was moving into my aunt’s house. I was a little empty at that time. I remember thinking that it was so unfair, but I didn’t say it out loud. I remember breaking down once that day.
Geeba, my sisters’ cat would not get into the carrier so that I can take her upstairs to the neighbor who was going to care for her. Every time I would try to pick her up, she would hiss and scratch me. I called my mother crying. Full tears and inaudible sobs I told my mom that Geeba kept scratching me and she wouldn’t leave the apartment and we had to go. My mother could barely understand me. But she told me to just leave the cat there. So I got myself together. I washed my face and kissed the cat one last time. I left the apartment and walked down Wade Street. I just kept walking until I got to West Side Avenue. I needed to charge my phone so I ran into New Jersey University Library and charged my phone. While I was there I got a good hour of sleep at one of the work stations on the third floor.
I had to think about the next move. I can’t remember what that move was. I just remember thinking that I had to find somewhere to sleep. My first day homeless, I slept at the Hoboken Shelter, even Christina doesn’t know this. I went there and they were really crowded. I was told to try St. Lucy’s shelter because the Hoboken Shelter didn’t have any room. But I told the woman there that I had been to St. Lucy’s and they were full. I asked if I can sleep on the floor until the morning. I told them that I was just waiting for my cousin to come home from vacation. After five minutes of begging, I was allowed to stay.
That night, I didn’t sleep. I was scared. I was sad. I didn’t understand why I was in this situation. I didn’t want to be in this situation. Why did I trust my family? Why would they leave me? All of these questions kept coming to my mind. Then it was morning. I had gotten up to go to the bathroom. A black man came in the bathroom soon after moaning and groaning complaints and insults at me. I didn’t understand his frustrations and I ignored him.
“You think you’re better than everybody here.” The homeless man said. I had no idea if he was talking to me at first, but then he called me a faggot. Isn’t it funny that I only know someone is throwing me an insult when they call me faggot? I grew up correlating “faggot” with my identity. I might have forgotten my name a few times, but you bet your ass, if someone called me a faggot, I knew they were talking to me.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I said trying to dodge him.
“Fancy clothes. Not talking to anyone.” He said, “You are here just like the rest of us.” He yelled coming towards me. He pushed me into the sink. He tried to take my cell phone from me. My phone was the only link to the world or contacting someone to inform them that I was okay. He wasn’t getting my phone. I started to fight back and yell for help. I wasn’t about to fight a homeless man. I was not about that life. A guy who I recognized from NJCU came in to help me. Sean. He had recognized me. I was embarrassed.
“Justice, what are you doing here?” Sean asked.
“I came for a referral for the YMCA.” I said. He gave me this look like he knew without having to ask another question.
“Come on.” He grabbed my shoulder and led me to this woman who sat outside with a fold up table calling names. “You are going to speak to her.” I introduced myself to the Puerto Rican lady, she told me that I had to wait my turn and that she would call my name. I went to sit in the waiting area, which was once the sleeping area.
Sean asked me if anyone we had known at school knew that I was homeless. I told him that I hadn’t told anyone because I didn’t talk to them on that level. Sean told me that he seen a lot of people from the school come into the shelter and that he wouldn’t say anything about seeing me there.
“You didn’t tell Asheenia or Mega?” He asked. “I thought that you all were cool.” He said.
“They are cool with my ex. When I left that relationship, I think I left those relationships as well.” He gave me a head nod as to say that he understood.
“That sucks. So no one knows.” Sean asked.
“No. Please don’t say anything to anyone. I want to keep this a secret and I need my privacy. Please?” I begged him.
“I understand. I won’t say anything.” He said. I believed him.
I remember going to the Hoboken Shelter asking if they could write me a referral for the YMCA in Hoboken. They did. I went to the YMCA to see about housing when the lady there told me that I was not eligible to stay there because I was a college student. I went to apply for welfare and TRA, but being a college student made that hard for me as well. I had tried to do something. They told me that I had to stay in St. Lucy’s for a few days before they could help me with anything. This was the second day of being homeless.
I met up with Christina later that day. I don’t remember this day. I don’t remember what we did. I don’t remember much of anything. I just remember trying to figure out if I was going to be okay. I had no idea if I would be. I was hungry and I needed a shower. I remember being sleepy. It was around this time that I had just started seeing Russell. Russell didn’t know much about my situation and he didn’t know that I was depressed by it. I didn’t show that many signs of it. Actually, if you ask anyone, they would tell you that they knew I was depressed, but I handled it pretty okay. No one really knew that I had no place to stay. No one knew that I would go all day without a meal or a shower. On the outside, I still looked as if I had my shit together…
Inside, I was dying.
That night, Russell and I stayed in a hotel. My cousin Kyle called me that night to cuss me out. He was mad that I was friends with his ex-girlfriend Xiomara. At the time, Xiomara was pregnant with Kyles child and Kyles wife was threatening to take Xiomara’s’ child from her. I was bothered by it. Kyle told me that he had no idea about this and that it was going on, until I told him that his wife was posting it on Facebook. Afew things happened in my conversation with Kyle that rubbed me the wrong way.
First, Kyle told me that my aunt Debbie was afraid of me and that she didn’t like to be around me. This hurt my feelings. I have always treated my aunt with such respect and with so much love that I had never thought that she would ever say anything horrible about me. Kyle then also claimed that the family thought that I was a loser who begged Denisha if I could stay with her while she was pregnant. Kyle told me that this was the reason why Denisha left and that she couldn’t bear to take care of me anymore. I thought that this was a lie, because my sister had asked me to come help her during her pregnancy. But at the time that I had the conversation with Kyle, I believed him and felt that I had the answer to all of my questions. My family thought of me as a burden.
That night, I stopped talking to Kyle and my family. I was hurt. As I write this, I am still hurt. No one has ever apologized or claimed that Kyle was lying. Even if I were told now that the claims that Kyle has made were false, I would believe otherwise. After that night in the hotel, my contact with my family started to break. There would be times when I would call my mom because I was so hungry and there wasn’t anything that she could do. She’d be eating in my ear or trying to get some sleep. She’d promise to call me back, but she wouldn’t. I just knew that I had to get smarter and stronger.
From “They Call Me, Justice”