It was getting cold out when we found the abandoned, old shack. It was half falling-down; but it was better than having to stay outside in the cold, with snow on the way. Nobody had lived there in a long while. We broke the lock on the back door to get in. The shack was off by itself so we didn’t really worry about getting caught and we were so cold, we didn’t really care if we did.
Our Mom had managed to take her purse, so we knew she at least had some food stamps in there. There was a small store a couple of streets over and maybe when we got inside, she could go over there or one of us could. We knew it was hard for her, having three kids and no husband. In the last place we lived, we used to hear her crying at night, but we’d pretend that we didn’t. We three, me and my two brothers didn’t know what to do and in the morning she went looking for work and we were off to school, so there wasn’t much time to talk.
Once inside the old place, we looked curiously around to see where we were. There was some old furniture in there, falling apart and sad-looking like us. We matched. It felt like we belonged here, with the dust and the sadness and the mess left by others. Maybe someone passing by had also used this little place to stay for a bit. They didn’t leave it clean though. I knew we’d take better care of it.
Christmas was right around the corner and I wondered how that would be. I was the only girl and the oldest, so I worried about stuff like that, as my brothers believed in Santa. I knew and had known for a long time that nothing magical was real. Mom and I tried to keep it up for them though, as they needed to believe. I just wanted to sleep.
It was cold in the shack and I thought to myself that I’d been dumb to think of warmth in a place that was abandoned. We kept our coats on and looked around for blankets – anything to keep us warm. There were two bedrooms with real beds covered in old blankets and quilts. They were dirty, but so were we. The last shelter had been full, so we just walked. Nobody cares about the poor. You make do with what you can find.
The three of us kids snuggled up together, covered in the old blankets while Mom found more somewhere or other and piled them on top of us too. She told us to stay there as she was going to walk back to the little store and see if she could get us something to eat with her remaining food stamps. The last thing she said to me before she left was, “Take care of the kids.”
My brothers fell right asleep and for some reason, I was too wide awake, even scared. I got up and began to explore, ending up in an old closet. There wasn’t much in it, though there were some older clothes that were in better shape than what we already had. Maybe we could clean them for school or for Moms work. It seemed like she’d been gone forever and I started to get nervous.
The store hadn’t seemed that far and she should have been back way before now. My brothers slept on. I pressed my nose to the cold window and watched and waited. Finally, I saw a car driving slowly down the road and hoped that the shack was truly abandoned. We didn’t need some owner walking in on us.
It pulled into the driveway and I saw it was a police car, which scared me more than ever. A big man in uniform came to the door and since we’d broken the lock on it, he came right in. I met him in the doorway and he looked at me with the saddest face. Chills ran down my spine, as he asked me if my name was Jenny.
I said that it was and he put his arm around me and I remember him telling me that my Mom wasn’t coming back. Someone had run her over as she’d fallen, exhausted and she’d lived long enough to let them know that her children were in the abandoned place up the road.
Nothing had prepared me for this and I tried so hard not to cry. He told me to go get my brothers; that we had to come with him. I woke them up and bleary-eyed and not really awake, off we went in the patrol car. I was wondering if they put kids in jail. Being the oldest, it was up to me that they didn’t.
A lady from a place called Social Services met us at the town jail. She couldn’t look us in the eyes and that scared me even more. It should have. She took the three of us to a kids home just for an overnight, where none of us could sleep. The next day we were sent to foster care, which wouldn’t have been all that bad if we’d ended up together. Nobody wanted three kids and we were all split up, coupled with that was the loss of our Mom. So, even though I knew I was responsible for my little brothers as they were only two and three years old, while I was a whole ten years old, it was the last time I ever saw them.
Years later, I wonder about those two little boys, who’d now be men and wish I could find them again. The lady from Social Services told me that they’d both been adopted and wouldn’t remember me anyways.
My life is empty. I’ve never had the trust to let anyone in, nor the desire to. Life as I knew it ended on that cold night twenty years ago.
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