When Janet first saw Dashawna, Dashawna was walking up the front sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack which seemed to stabilize her mid-step.
The apartment building complex where Janet and now Dashawna lived housed a “mix” of those with and without identity clauses. The “mix” included Hispanics, whites and African-Americans.
Apart from working singles like Janet and Sally, who lived across the hall from Janet and down the hall from Dashawna, most of these residents were low income working class families with a mother and father. And from all appearances, the apartment families had two parents who each worked. The mother and father could be seen coming and going at different times.
One assumed that the families were saving for a down payment on a house. And after a few years, as their families and savings grew, they would move on. Janet saw them load up and go.
With her boyfriend’s help, Dashawna moved into the single bedroom apartment six years ago.
In such close proximity, Janet had tried to make the acquaintance of Dashawna but Dashawna did not open up much beyond “Hi.” Janet, though, was able talk to her son Kurtis when he passed by in the hall.
One night about two years ago, around 8 PM, the hallway fire alarm sounded. The three single women, Janet, Sally and Dashawna with her son Kurtis, who was now three-years old, bolted out to the hallway to see what was going on. There was no smoke and no fire was reported by any of the residents.
The alarm had tripped falsely and nobody could shut it off. Management and maintenance were called. Finally, the men of the fire department came. They had to break into whatever they break into to silence the pulsing alarm.
As they waited in the hallway the three women and the boy sat together at the bottom of the stair well, away from the deafening alarm. Speculation about what set off the alarm created most of the conversation. Janet and Sally learned that Dashawna had called 911 when she heard it. After that Dashawna said little to Janet or Sally. She huddled with her son. After the first six months, the boyfriend hadn’t been around.
A year and a half ago, Janet again saw Dashawna. Dashawna was walking up the rear sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack. The sack seemed to stabilize her mid-step. Kurtis skipping, followed his mom.
Twenty-three-year-old Dashawna had no boyfriend to carry a baby mama’s belongings up to the second story apartment. In fact, no boyfriend ever appeared at Dashawna’s door. It occurred to Janet that a boyfriend hadn’t been around since the first year. But in Dashawna’s twenty-third year a baby came around. The new baby girls’ name: Nevaeh.
A month ago, Janet again saw Dashawna. Dashawna was being carried down the apartment building stairs by men to a stretcher on the front sidewalk. Dashawna was gripping her face. Anguish and the word “overdose” were what Janet could hear through her blocked door. The paramedics had to balance their steps as they carried the wheel chair down the steps.
Dashawna’s mother arrived hours later to gather her grandchildren from the policemen who had waited. The next day DCFS left their card on Dashawna’s door.
Two days later, Janet saw Dashawna’s mother in the parking lot. “How is your daughter?”
“She’s alright. She’s down the road at Central DuPage Hospital. She’ll be coming home on Sunday. She was just overwhelmed.”
Janet offered to be of help to her daughter, “Dashawna can knock on my door any time. Two small kids can be overwhelming.” Dashawna’s mother then wrote down her name and cell phone number for Janet to keep “in case.” Janet has that card today.
Now Janet was aware that Dashawna’s mother, always alone, picked up Dashawna and her kids every Friday night, bringing them to her Chicago home. And every Monday night she, alone, would bring them back to their apartment. Each journey required the loading and unloading of plastic bags filled with clothes, diapers, toys…a weekend’s needs. The racket of the return home usually awakened Janet from a sound sleep.
A week ago Friday, Janet saw Dashawna walking on the front sidewalk to the apartment building gripping a baby carrier in her left hand, a diaper bag in her right hand and over her right shoulder was slung a large bulging sack which seemed to stabilize her mid-step. She was moving out.
A U-Haul was parked on the grass. The man in the front seat smoking a cigarette got out when he saw Dashawna. He followed her up the stairs. Soon others appeared and began carrying loads to the truck and to their cars.
The next day, Janet saw Dashawna’s mother in the parking lot. Five-year old Kurtis and the year-and-a-half year-old Nevaeh were in the back seat of her car. Janet got out her car and went over to say “Hi” to the kids and their grandma.
“Hi, Kurtis.” “Hi Nevaeh.” “Why those baby tears?” Janet turned to grandma.
“How are you?” “Fine. We’re moving to a three-bedroom apartment just around the block.”
“It’ll be nice to have more room.”
Dashawna’s old apartment was cleared out over the next few days. Two days ago a notice was placed on the door by the landlord. Yesterday Dashawna and her mother and a thirtyish male helped her complete the move. When done Dashawna tore the notice off the door. Before she did, Janet came out to say goodbye.
Janet had a shelf unit that was perfect for her kids “stuff”. She brought it out to the hallway, knocked on the half-opened door and called to Dashawna. Dashawna finally came out and looked at Janet and said “Oh, Hi.”. It was now apparent to Janet that beneath the zipped hoodie that Dashawna was wearing that she carried another baby. Janet offered Dashawna the shelf unit and her phone number and then wished her well.
Janet saw Dashawna for the last time. Dashawna was walking down the rear sidewalk, away from the apartment building, gripping plastic bags. The bags seemed to stabilize her mid-step…until further notice.
© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2016, All Rights Reserved
This is a true story; I am “Janet”.