One day, as Tim and I walked home from school, we heard Joey screaming. We ran to the trailer and pulled open the door. There he was, his fully loaded diaper down around his ankles and shit all over the living room.
"Fuck!" said Tim. "Richard, you take care of him. I'll go and find Mom."
I picked up Joey and, holding him at arms length, carried him to the sink, shit dropping on the floor as we went. I put him in the sink, ran some warm water, and began washing him.
Tim came back into the kitchen. "I think you need to see this," he said. "I'll watch Joey while you go look in the bedroom." From the bedroom door I saw Mom lying on the bed. She had vomited on the floor and on herself. Damn, what a mess! Then I realized she wasn't breathing. "No!" I yelled. "You can't be dead! You can't leave us like this!" But she was, and she had.
A year ago a pair of good friends encouraged me to write this story. At first I was unable to. The memories were too fresh and the pain too great. But now I'm trying again to see if I can get through it. Before the real story begins, however, I want to fill in some of my background.
My name is Richard Guthrie. I was born in 1996 in Western Massachusetts. For the first years of my life, I lived in a suburb of Greenfield with my parents and my brother, Tim, who was three years older than I. We owned a wonderful house with four bedrooms and lots of space to play. We knew that our parents did drugs, but we didn't think much about it. We didn't believe they were that unusual and they never seemed to suffer any really bad effects.
In 2003, when I was seven, my mother had a baby, another boy, who was named Joseph but whom we always called Joey.
2003 was the beginning of a terrible time for us, although I certainly don't blame it on Joey. About two months after he was born, we awoke to pounding on the front door in the middle of the night. Tim and I went downstairs to see what the commotion was about. When Tim opened the door, there stood the biggest policeman I had ever seen. Behind him were at least two more.
"What can we do for you, officer?" asked Tim.
"Is your father home?"
"Yes. Richard, go up and get him."
I ran up the stairs. When I told Dad there was a policeman at the door he said, "Oh, Shit!" but he got dressed and went down, with me following right behind.
"Mr. David Guthrie?" the officer asked.
"Yes," said Dad.
"I am arresting you on suspicion of drug dealing and manslaughter. " He put handcuffs on Dad and then read him his Miranda rights.
"What's going on?" Mom called from the top of the stairs.
"Nothing," Dad called. "Go back to bed. I'll be home in a couple of hours."
In fact he didn't come home in a couple of hours. He never came home again. The next day the police returned and searched the house from top to bottom, taking away boxes and bags full of unknown items, including, we later realized, our computer. We learned that not only had Dad been arrested on charges of selling drugs but that one of the drugs was tainted and had killed somebody. The police kept him in jail until his trial and from there he went to federal prison. Two years later, he was stabbed in prison and died. We never saw him after the night the policemen came.
Shortly after that, Mom began to have financial troubles. She spent a lot of time sitting in the kitchen crying. I'm sure she was still doing drugs but she also started to drink a great deal. When she tried to sell the house, she learned that it was mortgaged for nearly its entire value. Finally she was able to sell it but received little money once she paid off the mortgage. We moved to a trailer park. (People called them mobile homes, but to me, a trailer was a trailer.) The trailer we rented had two small bedrooms a tiny bath, a little kitchen, and a 9' by 9' living room. Tim and I were crowded into the back bedroom. It had a double bed which almost totally filled the room. We had to walk sideways to get to the closet which was also pretty small. Mom and Joey had the other bedroom. It was even smaller. Needless to say, when we moved there, we didn't take much with us. There was simply no room.
Living on top of each other like that soon led to frayed nerves and angry words. Mom got quieter and quieter. She just sat, drank, and did drugs until one day she died.
When I returned to the living room, tears were running down my face. Tim was sitting holding Joey, crying. Distractedly I wondered why we were crying because Mom had been almost totally out of our lives since Dad left.
We called the police to come and get her. When they arrived and asked us how old we were, they said they would send somebody from social services to get us in the morning and asked if we would be OK until then. We told them yes. Then we called Mom's sister in Buffalo. When we told her what had happened, she said that she would call Grandma, who lived on Cape Cod. About an hour later, Grandma called. By then we had managed to clean up Joey as well as most of the mess in the bedroom and the living room. Grandma told us that she would drive up in the morning to see how she could help.
We fed Joey and made spaghetti for supper. As we ate, I asked, "What are we going to do, Tim? We can't stay here, and we certainly can't take care of Joey."
"I don't know," Tim replied, sounding very weary and discouraged. "I've thought for some time that this might happen. She probably died of a combination of alcohol and cocaine. But I haven't been able to think of a plan for the future. I hope Grandma can help."
I told Tim how sad I was feeling and that I wondered why. We talked about that for awhile, deciding that, no matter how bad a mother she had become, she _was _our mother, the woman who had born us, and nurtured us, and, at one point at least, loved us. Once again, we were both in tears, maybe for her but certainly for ourselves.
Grandma did help. She arrived about ten in the morning the next day simultaneously with the social worker. They talked for a few minutes, Grandma telling the woman that she intended to be appointed our guardian. The woman asked her to go to the office later to file the paper work. Grandma found out where Mom had been taken and made arrangements for a funeral. She told us that we were going to go to the Cape and live with her. I didn't really know how a 65 year old woman could raise three boys, but it certainly seemed the best plan for the moment.
The funeral was two days later. We were the only ones present. Not even Mom's sister came. Tim didn't cry for the whole time, but I did. I guess I still loved her after all. Grandma cried, but she later explained that her tears were more for the child Mom had been than for the mess she had become.
After the funeral, we all packed into Grandma's old Chevy and drove to Mashpee, on Cape Cod. As we drove, Grandma told us about where we would be living. She rented an apartment on the first floor of a condo building. There were four units in each building and seventeen buildings. She told us that the people who lived there were mostly elderly or small families living on a limited income.
I was sitting in the front seat with Grandma, while Joey and Tim were in the back. As we rode, I said to Grandma, "You know it seems like something good in life is always followed by something bad."
"For example?" she asked.
"Well, we were doing fine until 2003. That was good. Then Dad got arrested and died. That was bad. But eventually we settled into the trailer and, while that wasn't exactly good, it was OK. Then Mom died, and that was bad."
"Well, I understand what you mean, I suppose, although you're pretty young to have that view of life. Unfortunately bad things do happen in life, and they often happen to perfectly good people. I do hope that you'll find this move to be a good thing, not a continuation of a bad one." I nodded, and we rode for awhile in silence until we arrived at the condo.
We pulled into a parking lot in front of one of several identical wooden buildings, parked, and went in. It really didn't look too bad. While it certainly couldn't match our old house, it was an improvement over the trailer. There was a fairly large room that served as living room, kitchen and dining room. Down the hall were the bathroom with a shower and two bedrooms. Grandma told us that she would sleep in the smaller bedroom with Joey while Tim and I would have the bigger one. Eventually, she said, when Joey was older, we would buy bunk beds so that all three of us would sleep in that room together. It would be crowded, and there was only one closet, but she thought we could manage.
We settled in and Grandma made us a late lunch of sandwiches and milk. As we ate, Tim asked, "Grandma, aren't you retired?"
Sighing, she replied, "Yes."
"Then how can you manage all four of us?"
"I'll go back to work," she said. "I was a cleaning lady before, and I can do it again. After all, you three are family, almost all the family I have, so we're going to make this work."
And we did. Tim and I enrolled in the local school, I in third grade and he in sixth. We rode the bus each day to and from school while Grandma cleaned houses, taking Joey with her. I don't know how she managed with him while she worked, but she was always upbeat so we began to accept the situation. Tim tried to get small after-school jobs, but there really wasn't much available. Since he couldn't drive he was restricted to places to which he could walk or ride the bus. We helped out around the apartment as much as we could, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of Joey. One of us always went shopping with her.
We did manage pretty well. We grew to love Grandma, who never complained about having to work again, and we made a few friends at school, although I was really a loner. That brought us up to June of 2010, which is where my story really began.