Homeless With Dad

by Annie Dawid


Ray could tell they’d been discovered. The artificial odor gave it away: a woman, perfumed and/or deodorized, had penetrated their hideout.

“We’ll have to leave here,” he told his daughter, Laurel. “They’re onto us.”

“Daddy, slow down.” Twelve years old and enjoying the novelty of the feminine scent, Laurel patted her father on the shoulder, crouching beside him next to the coolers. “Remember when you said that last spring? And the summer before that? No one ever came.”

“Look at this.” He pointed to a perfect shoeprint in the cool dirt. “Tracks. Clear as day. Those other times – you’re right – I overreacted. But this evidence you can’t refute. The cops will be here soon; I guarantee it.” Removing a backpack from beneath a tarp, he assumed a military tone. “Get your clothes. Leave everything else. Don’t bother with the food.”

Two cloth bags of just-purchased groceries slumped by the tent’s flapping door, poor sentries.

“It’s late, Dad.” Laurel lay back on her sleeping bag. “All because some woman out running found our tent doesn’t mean we have to leave.”

The scalp beneath Ray’s thinning black hair reddened . “Babe. We’ve talked about this before. They’ll take you away from me – put you in a foster home with a bunch of crazies and won’t let us see each other.” He spoke quickly, his breaths shortening. “I couldn’t bear it.”

Laurel yawned.  “I’m so tired. Can we talk about it in the morning, please? I need to sleep.” Laurel closed her eyes and pretended the smell was her mother’s, a woman she barely remembered. A woman who’d been taken away.            

“All right. We’ll leave at first light.”

Still at Sea

 “Lewis, are you on this story or what?” The city desk editor, Hal Bonebrake, showed the police blotter printout to Veronica Lewis, who was drinking coffee, leaning against the window.

“What is it?” She turned, rubbing her temples. “Shit, I’m hungover.”

“Late party, huh. This looks juicy,” he said, pointing to the top paragraph. “Kid and her dad found in Forest Park after living in a tent for four years.”

She groaned. “Just what I need.”

“Well, I could give it to your buddy Goffredo, if you’re too debilitated….”

She snatched the paper. “On my way to the cop shop,” she mumbled, grabbing her laptop and heading for the door. “And Goffredo’s out of town, Hal. But smart ploy – got me moving.”

Bonebrake laughed. “Nothing like a good story to sweat out a hangover. Do it up.”

At the Coffee People near the Forest Park precinct, Veronica bought another double Americano and wrote a list in her reporter’s notebook. “Crazy vet? Homelessness. Family Services. Crime or feature?” She re-read the information and thought about her boyfriend’s sister, who had been on the streets for the last two years. Another casualty. No dad in that family, but the mom was a witch. Veronica didn’t blame the girl for leaving. Malcolm was always looking for her, every time they were in the Hawthorne, where he thought Anita hung out. “Nita-grrlla” was her street name. Fifteen years old. The girl they’d found was only 12. Veronica shuddered. Eight when she went into the woods.

When Veronica was 8, her parents had taken her around the world in a sailboat. Their year at sea, her mother called it, enjoying the double-entendre. Unlike the Forest Park family, they had money up the yin-yang, but it had been a strange brand of homelessness, Veronica remembered, showing up in ports with her naïve, trust-funded parents. She always had the feeling native people pitied her – thought her parents fools for carting her all over the globe when she was so often sick.

She wondered if the sailboat was bigger or smaller than the homeless family’s tent. At least, in the Park, the girl had space to roam, to run, and privacy in the trees. Veronica remembered how her mother broke down in Portugal, and when her father got sick from the hash in Algiers. With their Ivy League educations, her parents lacked common sense. She wondered if this street-smart dad had it more together.          

The cops had remarked that the place was immaculate, father and daughter clean, no body odor, no trash – as orderly as an Army camp. “Aha!” Veronica thought. “I knew it had to be a vet.” What if her own dad had been drafted to Vietnam? Was this father a ’Nam or Gulf War vet? Maybe this dad loved his daughter, whatever their peculiar housing situation. She slugged the rest of her coffee. In another life, it might have been Veronica herself having to answer some hungover reporter’s questions. 

The Doc Who Examined Her

“Gwen, did you get Dr. Bernstein’s report on that girl?” Dr. Javed Singh asked his assistant.

“Totally clean, she said. In better health than most of the kids with homes she usually sees.” Gwen put the folder on her boss’s desk. “The dad, too. Skinny, but otherwise healthy.”

“She checked for sexual abuse?”

Gwen consulted the report. “Yup. Nothing. Are you surprised? I was.”

“In my country, as you know, most of the population is much poorer than the people we see here. But, if you’ll permit me to generalize, Indians are in better spiritual shape. In that way, the father reminded me of men at home whose inner lives are more evolved than their material ones.”

Sun slanted onto Gwen’s desk, highlighting the photograph of her dogs. Once she’d wanted children and a partner, but a few years on the job changed her mind. “I didn’t talk to him much. But the girl seemed okay to me. I just assumed he molested her. That’s pretty sick.”

Dr. Singh shrugged. “Not when three-fourths of our caseload are abused. This culture! I know you don’t like it when I complain about America, since I brought my family here to take advantage of what the U.S. has to offer, but my god – it is sick when it comes to sex.”

“That’s why I’m so shocked: they’re homeless and jobless and isolated, but they seem to have a healthy father-daughter relationship.” Gwen looked at the clock. “It’s a good way to end the week. Unusual.”

Smiling, Dr. Singh gestured her away. “Usually you’re so depressed by the end of the day. Go early.”

Gwen gathered her things. “Thanks, Boss. Say hello to Supriya and the kids for me.”

Before leaving, he read the report again. In India, people without homes were legion, most never expecting anything different. But in the United States, it seemed, everyone dreamed of a mansion and many vehicles. A Hummer. He wanted his children to be humble, despite their immersion in American values. Before going home, he turned off the lights and meditated, hopeful.

Homeless With Dad

Davis isn’t bad. Nice parks, and everyone rides bikes here. Dad keeps promising he’ll find me a used one, but no luck so far. I miss the trees in Oregon though; it’s too hot, and the people aren’t as nice as they were in Portland. Plus it’s hard getting used to a new name: Nicole. I wish he hadn’t given me Mama’s name. But at least he lets me go to school. Of course I had to start bleeding on my first day; what a drag to live in a tent and have your period!  Plus I don’t like the smell of it. Dad says he can’t smell anything, and that I’m being hypersensitive, just like Mama. We got a letter from her, or from an aide who said she was writing what Mama dictated. I’ll write some of it here. With Dad always tossing everything, we never hang onto her letters, and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to hide this journal from him.

Laurel, we named you that because you were my prize after so many miscarriages. I used to call you my little leaf: petite feuille. God had something in mind for you because He let you live. My job was to give birth to you, and your father’s is to raise you up. I was depressed when I was pregnant and depressed afterwards. I couldn’t be a mother to you – not a mother you’d want to have. I wasn’t safe. For all these years I’ve been mad at your dad, but I know he did the right thing by taking you away. Forgive me. Nicole.

I’m going to write her back and tell her to stop asking me to forgive her. Dad says she’s sick, like a person with diabetes, and we need to love her and pray for her. It’s weird to forgive someone you can hardly remember, and I’m never exactly sure just what she wants to be forgiven for. Did she do some horrible thing to me when I was a baby? Dad won’t tell me anything. I wonder why we never go back to Maine, not even to visit, and if she ever wants to see me; she never says she does. Dad tells me I should be grateful to have one loving parent, plus another one at a distance, because some kids don’t have anyone, anywhere, to love them. He’s probably right, but still, it’s hard to share his optimism anymore, his faith that everything works out how it’s supposed to, for the best. Sometimes I’m sick of this life we have, me and Dad. Sometimes I want to run away.

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2 Responses to “Homeless With Dad”

  1. Homeless With Dad: Still at Sea | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] « Homeless With Dad […]

  2. Homeless With Dad: The Doc Who Examined Her | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] by Annie Dawidread the suite from the beginning […]

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