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London, February, 1991 Homeless


London Winter Night

London, Feburary, 1991

The icy slush water from the High Street Kensington sidewalk seeped into my boots again as I made my way out of the tube station and the cold blast of air that hit me as I came up the stairs was a reminder that night time was coming and almost here.

My hands were raw and cracked and they wouldn’t stop shaking. They would go from red, to pink and then to white when I warmed up, but the most irritating thing were my feet, I couldn’t warm them up, no matter what I did.

They were frozen, wet and numb and a large hole had worn in the right sole of my worn out boots; which were now thin from constantly walking and taking the subways and couch surfing at my friend’s houses. The left boot had a crack higher up on the left side near the seam and sole, so it wasn’t as terrible as the hole on the bottom of the right boot, but both feet and my socks were frozen and wet; all the time. The icy wind rattled right through my chest; and the combination was making me colder.

I knew wet and cold and sleeping outside and in doorways and hallways was not a good thing from all the war and history books I had read in the motels and when we were on the road growing up  in the van with Mom and my sisters. I was Joan of Arc. I was a French Soldier fighting for freedom. I was not a match stick girl. I was a fighter who could handle this. I was not a victim.

I hurried along the sidewalk, while the last of the precious warm amber light of sunset was fading into dark purple shadows in the old stone buildings; and it was already incredibly cold outside. The city lights were on and little warm orbs of lights coming from the street shops comforted me. It was early evening on the high street and everyone was going home to their families.

I found out years later that this was some kind of freak, icy cold winter of 1990 and 1991 in London and I was just one of many unlucky homeless teenagers to be caught in it. February was the worst and the coldest.

I was trying to get to my school, Ashbourne Tutors to use their phone, I had to call my mom’s sister, Aunt Nora, and beg her for help.

I didn’t have a place to sleep that night and all of my friend’s parents had let me stay at their places already and my situation scared their parents. Their parents wanted to know where the rest of my mom’s family was and why weren’t they here trying to help me? I didn’t know how to answer them.

I ducked into Marks & Spencer to try to get warm inside, and pretended to be a shopper. Sometimes I would hide the department store bathroom first to warm up and clean up.

Nobody bothered me because I was blonde and white. They thought I was just another rich American teenager. I used the makeup in the beauty counters and pretended my mom was coming soon to meet me and we’d buy some stuff as soon as she got there. The pretty ladies behind the counter would give me smiles but then when they saw my scruffy boots, they knew something was up. Rich kids don’t wear old boots like that. My coat and black ensemble leggings were passable, but the beat up boots gave me away.

My mom was in prison, the cops had taken my passport so I couldn’t leave the country in case they needed me to testify against mom.

It was two months after my  seventeenth birthday and I wasn’t old or savvy enough or emotionally stable enough to get a job in a foreign country. Every time someone asked me where my family was, I would start crying and mumbling.

I was trying to make it to my school, Ashbourne Tutors, before they closed, so I could use their phone and call my Aunt Nora. She would help me and save me. There was nobody else to call, she was the only one left who could help me.

My father was a raging, abusive alcoholic and the last time I saw him, he had his hands around my mother’s throat and was trying to throw her off a balcony in California.

My mother’s father had died; but he had stopped stepping in to clean up her horrible messes when he got remarried about 10 years earlier.

My mothers’ brother Bernie lived in Connecticut and was wealthy and had a good job, but he and his wife, who was my godmother, didn’t really seem to like me. I think they thought I was like Mom, and apparently I had too much emotional baggage for the people of Darien, Connecticut to handle.

Mom’s family would handle her regular arrests that left her children defenseless & homeless by throwing some money her way when we lived in motels for months, but it never really helped the actual problem, because she would always fail, again. We’d move into a house and live there for three months, and then move again when we got evicted.

Our mother was unemployable and mentally ill, and everyone in her family had looked the other way for most our lives and gave her minimum amounts of money to move us out of motels;  but the real problem was that she wasn’t a fit parent and nobody wanted to step in and raise four physically and emotionally violated girls; especially when they resented their sick sister so much. They last thing they wanted to do was to raise her four daughters.

Mom’s family didn’t step in when were she had the Charlie Manson types living in our garage when we were toddlers, or when we were homeless kids living in motels and dangerous situations.

They weren’t going to step in now. They had made it really clear that they had their own families and I wasn’t part of it.

My mom’s other sister, Aunt Maggie lived in California and was a schoolteacher. I had seen Aunt Maggie when we had gotten back from Australia when mom was on the game show there; and she wouldn’t let us sleep at her house when we got back. We had taken a shuttle from the airport after a 24 hour flight and she turned us away and told us to go to a motel. It looked like she was done with Mom abusing her and said stuff was missing from her house after the last time we stayed, so we weren’t welcome there anymore.

Aunt Nora was the only one I remember with any warmth, she used to take us roller-skating in Balboa Park, all of us four girls and our two cousins, little Maggie and Matt. We’d all pile into her green Volkswagen Bug and putter off to the park to skate. She was magnificent, beautiful and tall, with flowing strawberry blonde hair that gleamed in the sun. We’d listen to the album Hair and watch her dance and spin around with her hair fanning out and spinning like a gleaming hummingbird. We would make up dance routines and I planned my own rock opera and Aunt Nora would be the star of it.

Aunt Nora was there at the hospital when I was born and the first memory I have. She had lived with us until I was six years old. But in 1980,  she moved away to Texas and married the computer guy from MIT and they started their own computer company and they started having their own kids.

She was my mother’s youngest hippie sister who married a smart guy from MIT when he was on his bike; when they were in their 20’s and were now a multi-millionaires. She and her husband owned multi-million dollar a year semiconductor brokering business in Houston that they started out of their kitchen. My oldest sister Meagan was close to her. Meagan was moving to Houston soon to go to college and be Aunt Nora’s nanny. She might’ve even been there now, I didn’t know. I hadn’t talked to them in awhile because after Mom got arrested the day after Christmas; the cops locked the house we were renting and I moved in with friends and started couch surfing.

My oldest sister Meagan was a waitress at Pizza Hut and putting herself through community college. My second oldest sister, Katie was 19 and just had a baby and was raising my youngest sister, Erin, who was 15 and living with her in upstate New York. We all had been working since we were 14, because we had to. Sometimes Mom would ask for our tips.  My sisters couldn’t help me, and I didn’t want to call them to tell them I got tricked by Mom, again. They already knew. I was the only one who really thought Mom would spin our lives into gold and we’d magically start a new life in England and she’d get a job as a writer.

I had fallen for the story again. The one where we moved to a new city and she started over and became the parent I needed her to be.

But I knew Aunt Nora would save me, she would come out here and help me get out of this horrific mess and take me home to live with her and her family, she loved me. I could help nanny too. I knew she would save me from Mom, homelessness and this terrible, terrible cold shivering that I could not shake. She would send help.

My hands stopped shaking when I finally got to the third floor of my old school, Ashbourne Tutors, above Kensington market. They had these old fashioned heaters that hissed in the hallway when you came in and I would sit there and warm up until I felt better.

The Headmaster was a kind Canadian and had let me go there for free after he had found out my Mom was in Holloway Women’s Prison, but I didn’t go to class anymore.  I couldn’t sit in class with all these super rich happy kids who had houses and parents and a bedroom to go home to and things to look forward to. They showed me everything I didn’t have and parents I would never have.

I would go to the school to get warm and see my old friends. I used their phone when I needed to and leave as soon as I could. I was the homeless kid of a con artist and didn’t belong there.

Lately I was going to the school to use their  phone at night, before they closed, so not a lot of people would still be there. I didn’t want to see my old teachers anymore. Late evening was the best time to come into the school, get warm and maybe steal a hot cup of coffee from lobby without seeing too many people.

The teachers at this school were so kind to me that I would start to sob uncontrollably. It was embarrassing. I didn’t know why it hurt more to have someone be kind to me than to tell me what a loser I was.

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