Baby Momma Drama
Clouds of cheap hairspray hung so thick in the small apartment that Angelina could even taste it when she breathed in. Her shiny black eyes burned with the sticky drops flying in the air around her. Coupled with the cigarette smoke blowing from the bathroom, the timid, young girl could barely see to get her younger sister a glass of water.
“Angel,” her mother yelled from the small bathroom, “what did you do with my eye liner?”
“Mama, I don’t touch your makeup. I promise,” the young girl assured.
Lupe pulled her shiny black hair tighter in the rubber band at the base of her skull. Without looking away from the mirror she continued, “Then go get my purse for me. I gotta do my brows.”
With that, Lupe dragged long and slowly on her cigarette leaving a rich, red lipstick mark on the filter. Angelina returned to hear her mother’s cigarette sizzle in the beer can. Her momma squeezed the butt through the round, metal opening and threw the can into the once white trashcan in the corner of the room.
Angelina watched in awe as her mom drew thin, brown arches above her almond-shaped eyes. Her strokes were steady from years of tracing those arches day after day.
With that, Lupe touched up her lipstick, took one final look at her hair and walked out the door. The three kids were left staring at the door as it slammed shut. Their mother never even bothered to say goodbye.
Angelina held back the tears trying to escape the confines of her tiny eyelids as she turned to her brother and sister. “How about peanut butter and jelly for dinner? It’s my specialty,” the 5th grader remarked proudly.
Her brother Miguel and sister Sophie agreed that dinner sounded good and sat down on the couch to watch TV while Angelina made it. Her chubby fingers gripped the knife carefully, thinking of all that needed to be done before Lupe returned. Luckily her mother had that look in her eyes that meant she wouldn’t be home until tomorrow night. She would try to give the little ones a bath and vacuum, even if the sound and smell of the worn belt scared her so much she cried each time.
“Miguelito, don’t spill. We don’t have anymore paper towels.” Angelina warned her little brother as she set the sandwich in front of him. The 3 year-old, mouth hanging open, didn’t answer. He was too involved in a cartoon to even look away from the TV.
“Sophie, be careful. No spilling.” Angelina repeated as she handed another sandwich to the 5 year-old leaning on the arm of the dirty couch in the middle of the small living room.
Angelina sat down on the other side of the couch to eat her sandwich and watch a cartoon too boring to captivate her, but just interesting enough to entertain her while she chewed. A giggle escaped when she wasn’t paying attention. Angelina covered her grin with her free hand. She wanted to be older, more mature than her 9 years, but sometimes when she allowed herself to be, she was just a kid.
After dinner, Angelina filled the bathtub with warm water. For a treat she squeezed liquid dish soap in to make lemon-scented bubbles. Angel laughed as Miguel lathered his face with bubbles to make a beard, and Sophie piled the suds high upon her head and imitated a queen with her hair a bun.
From the bed they shared, they could hear the motor of the vacuum and smell the foul odor of the worn belt. But, at least mom wouldn’t yell about how messy they had been. If they lay still and quiet, Angelina would come in soon and snuggle with them until they fell asleep.
Hand-in-hand they all walked downstairs to Tia Louisa’s apartment. She wasn’t really an auntie, but she took care of the little ones sometimes when Lupe didn’t come home. Angelina had given them both cereal for breakfast and put their clothes on before heading to Louisa’s house.
Each Sunday morning they would knock on their friend’s door, and she would take care of Miguel and Sophie while Angelina took the church bus to the Guadalupe Christian Center.
Angelina and Los, a 7-year-old boy in the apartment complex, stood together on the corner waiting to hear that old familiar rattling of the monstrous bus squeezing through the city streets. Angelina loved Sundays, because she was just Angel, not sister or daughter or babysitter. Los loved going to church because his dad wouldn’t hit him on Saturday nights and risk leaving a mark for the church people to see.
The smell of the exhaust and climbing the wet, sticky stairs as she entered the bus became beautiful memories, as she would always associate them with the love she felt from the smiling bus driver and the kind people at the GCC.
Angelina loved walking on the thick carpet to the Sunday School rooms. The clean, bright bathrooms shone as she entered to take one last look at her hair. She had forgotten to brush her teeth with all the commotion of getting the little ones ready. That’s okay, she rarely smiled anyway.
Senora Sanchez grinned as she and Los entered and sat down. Senora Sanchez loved them and always told stories about how God loved them too.1 She taught them how to talk to God and how to listen to Him in their hearts. She was the closest thing to an angel that Angelina had ever seen.
On the bumpy ride back home, Angelina would always feel so sad wishing that her mom was more like Senora Sanchez. Senora Sanchez probably never yelled, and she always smelled like cookies. Her mom always smelled of liquor and smoke, and screamed the whole time she was home. Sundays made the best mornings, but the worst nights.
Angelina knocked on Louisa’s thin door, and her siblings ran to greet her. “Angel, Angel, we had popsicles,” they cheered at the same time. Angelina laughed at the sight of their blue lips and fingers.
“When do you think your mama will be home, Angel?” inquired Tia Louisa.
“I don’t know. If she’s not home tonight, can I bring Miguelito by before Sophie and I get on the bus for school? I’ll pack him a lunch.”
“Oh Angel, mi niña, don’t bother. He’s small, and I have many popsicles,” Tia Louisa grinned down at Miguel’s sticky cheeks. In the dim light of the apartment, Louisa’s smile reminded Angelina of Senora Sanchez. “May the Lord bless you all,” Louisa whispered as she clutched Angelina’s small hand.
The apartment seemed even more bleak and barren on Sunday nights. Angelina prepared the last can of Spaghetti O’s® and saltine crackers for dinner. As the living room grew dark, and the flickering lights of the television seemed to dance on the empty walls, Angelina longed for her mother’s return. And she prayed she would return alone, and not be accompanied by some strange, new man.
“Hey, guys, I have an idea. Let’s pray for God to bring Mama back safely, and for Jesus to come into her heart.”
The thin carpet did little to pad their knobby knees as the three young children kneeled to pray. Their elbows rested on the scratchy couch, and their hands clasped together just how Angelina saw Senora Sanchez do at Sunday school.
Miguel and Sophie watched Angelina close her eyes, so they did too. Angelina started, “Dear Jesus, please bring our mama home safely. Let her know you died for her.2 Let her quit drinking so much.”
“Miguelito, you may go next,” Angelina assured her little brother. His small voice fell softly on the shadowy room, “Jesus, I want my mommy.”
“Sophie, how about you?” continued Angelina.
“Mama needs to come home. I love her. Please make her love me back.”
Angelina finished their prayers with, “Whisper in Mama’s ear that you love her, just like Senora Sanchez says you do.”
As if on cue, Lupe staggered in the room. She reeked of alcohol and cigarette smoke, her clothes were hanging loose on her body, but at least she was home.
“What are you brats doing? Get up off the floor, you fools.”
“We were praying for you to come home,” explained Angelina.
“Why? Was there an accident or something?” retorted her mom.
“No, we love you and missed you. That’s all. We just love you.”
The harsh lines in the thin woman’s mascara-smeared face softened.3 Clear tears sat on the edge of her black lined eyes. “Thanks,” she said softly as she walked back to her bedroom to pass out on her bed.
“You’re welcome,” Angelina said to an already empty hallway. They had all seen the tears and had heard the gentleness in their mother’s voice. There, in that moment in their hazy living room, they began to believe that light was on its way, a light that never yells and smells as good as cookies.
Written by Diane Popenhagen Illustrated by Zeljko Srdic
Footnotes: 1. John 3:16 2. I John 2:1-2 3. Psalm 4:7-8 .
This story is part of the STREET STORIES collection. Check out the other 19 by clicking on the link.
Copyright 2008 Broken Bread Christian Allliance All Rights Reserved