We lived down on the far end. These apartments no longer exist. Seems appropriate somehow.
Wind, Nathan, and a few other people decided to hitchhike to New Mexico to attend a “rainbow gathering.” If you don’t know what that is, you can read it about it here: http://welcomehere.org/ I am NOT, however, advocating it, just educating you about it.
At the time, I was a little worried about allowing my son to make the trek, but, honestly, I didn’t think I could stop him. He was almost an adult, and he hadn’t listened to my instructions as a child. I put up no argument, but tutored him on how to conduct himself in case of emergency. The guys packed the proper supplies (mostly chocolate and clean socks) in huge backpacks, and I drove the lot of them to the interstate to start sticking out their thumbs.
Hippie ideals were still deeply etched on my soul, and I thought that Nathan would have a Jack Kerouac kind of adventure that he would treasure always. Now I think I was downright nuts to let him go without a fight.
Cell phones weren’t part of our culture back then, and I didn’t have long distance or collect call capability on my phone, so the next few weeks I could do nothing but pray that my son was safe, warm, sheltered, and fed. I trusted Wind, a seasoned hitchhiker, to watch out for him.
They were gone for weeks, I can’t remember how long, but one day my dad called to say that Nathan and a friend had separated from Wind the first week, and now my son was stranded. He asked my dad to buy him a bus ticket for the trip back. Nathan got home well before Wind came dragging in with a new friend in tow.
Did they have stories to tell! But my favorite was a about a man who picked them up from the side of the road and fed them, then drove them hours out of his way to make sure they were safe. I kind of wonder now if that guy was an angel. No matter, he was certainly sent by God, who was loving us through our foolishness once again.
Natalynna and Chelsea Rose baking
All summer we became more and more entrenched in Native American spirituality. I have many friends who still are, and I’m not going to argue with you. I rode the fence between Christianity and Native beliefs for many years, trying to squeeze Jesus into a mold of my own making. I loved him. He was my hero, my friend, and my counselor. But something happened when I thought about God, the “father,” just as always. His face alternated between loving and kind to a red-faced, angry, critical God who was always frowning on me.
I kind of had the idea from the very beginning that God was some sort of ogre who was out to get me, then brave, wonderful Jesus stepped up and saved my life. But the native god, he was a gentle grandfather. Grandfather was someone I could understand. Mine loved me at my very worst, so it was easy to picture god the grandfather accepting me.
Wind had an African drum and Jerek (the friend he brought home from the rainbow gathering) had a guitar. Late at night we would all sit out on the back porch and listen to them play. Sometimes we’d sing along, dance, and talk till the sun came up. Little by little, the music attracted the street kids in my neighborhood to my porch.
Some of the kids were only nine or ten years old, but they would be out riding their bikes or running the streets until dawn. Many of them had parents who were never home. Some of them lived in houses where there were no utilities, no food, and no clean clothes for them to wear. A lot of them were already smoking and stealing whatever they could get their hands on.
They started hanging around, in awe of Wind and his drum, his candor, and his wisdom that was beyond his 20 years.
We started feeding the hungry little souls whatever we could spare, mostly rice and potatoes. Often times we would have them go to the “food pantry” at a local church, (if they were of age), and get boxes of food that they would store in the trunk of my car. That way I would have enough to prepare for them. We called it the “midnight snack,” the once-a-day feeding.
They would listen intently as we discussed spiritual matters, and it made me feel important. Before long even their parents were referring to me as their “street mom.” My kids loved every minute of it. It was like a big party every single day.
The cops became suspicious and harassed us some. They thought I must be selling drugs to have so many kids hanging around.
We opened up our home to some older kids who had none. At one point, we had a total of 13 people living with us. Everyone was always saying that “someone” should do something to help homeless people. I figured I was “someone,” so I did what I knew how. It was a disaster.
Natalynna and Chelsea Rose
Mike wasn’t at all thrilled at having so many strangers around his baby girl. I didn’t see what the problem was; I thought he just didn’t understand the compassionate heart inside me that not only yearned to take in strays, but believed it was my responsibility to do so.
Looking back, I would have done things differently, but my heart was in the right place. I can only say that my kids should have been the priority. I should’ve been more worried about what kind of influences I had around them and providing them a safe and peaceful home. Still, to this day, they talk about that summer with fondness.
In the middle of summer, Wind decided to take off with Jerek to Marlboro, Massachusetts, to escort him home. He would be back in about six weeks. By then my world would be turned upside down. Well, more upside down than it had been in a while. Ok, it was always upside down, but I was about to add another ingredient to my crazy-mixed-up stew of a life.
Sitting out on a stoop, talking to the full moon one evening, I saw a man. He was, well, wow. If I could have sent God the specifications for the way I wanted a man to look, he would’ve fit almost every one of them. Like Chelsea’s dad, his name was Mike. His Lakota, Irish, and Korean heritage brought a very exotic look to his handsome face. His long dark hair cascaded down his back in waves, when he wasn’t wearing it tied back. I had always had a thing for long hair on men. His eyes were brown and flirty, and his build athletic and sturdy. He was fast, strong, confident, and maddeningly argumentative. He was a “bad boy.” I didn’t stand a chance. I fell so hard so fast my head was spinning. It was sickening.
We got to know each other a bit, but not much. He didn’t understand me, my spirituality, my way of life, why I let all the street urchins hang out at my house, what kind of woman I was to have four kids by different dads… or anything, really. As kind as I was to him, I heard he was making disparaging remarks about me behind my back. It made me feel like a mule had kicked me right in the gut.
Then he got into some trouble and got carted off to prison for three years. I decided that, since he was a captive audience, I was going to write to him and he was going to find out who I was. I mean, if you’re going to hate me, at least hate ME, not the me you think I am without even giving me a chance. To my shock, he actually wrote back. We started communicating regularly, and hope lit up inside me that something romantic might develop, but it didn’t.
It was a tough thing to get through, dealing with rejection, wondering if I would ever get it right with a man. However, to this day I have a friendship with Mike that is very dear to me.
Part of getting through that lonely time was telling myself that God had a better plan for me than anything I could imagine for myself.
Mike, if you’re reading this, don’t get a big head, ok? You didn’t make yourself, after all, God did. So just thank Him and get on with it.
There was still no definite diagnosis for what was causing the enigmatic pain and fatigue. I loathed going to a doctor, but I was no longer dealing with dull aches that could be tolerated. It had begun to feel like a million tiny Charlie horses all over my body. My neck was always in knots and I couldn’t stand to be touched in the middle of my back what so ever, it was so tender.
The physician I saw did a bunch of tests and decided that I had a relatively “new” disease called Fibromyalgia. That basically means muscle pain, but it doesn’t BEGIN to encompass the long list of symptoms. I filed for disability payments through the Social Security office and started doing research on how to get better. The news was discouraging, at best. So little was known about the illness. Many doctors didn’t even believe in it.
I had good days, where I felt young, alive, and ready to take on whatever the day held. Then there were days that I could barely get out of bed. I wondered if it would progress to the point where I would be altogether useless to my family. People, even those closest to me, made snide remarks about how I was playing sick. They said they were tired, too. They noted that so-and-so had this disease or that one, and he or she was working long, hard hours. Why couldn’t I?
I couldn’t make them understand that the kind of fatigue I was experiencing wasn’t normal at all. It felt like my bones had been turned to mush and, simultaneously, my muscles seemed stiff as bones. Depression set in over the whole situation, which only exacerbated the symptoms.
The Social Security people had me jumping through hoops that I was far too tired to jump. They intended to deny my claim, which was common. Then they got the paperwork from a psychiatrist I had been seeing for depression and anxiety. His report startled me somewhat. It said that he had diagnosed me with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and, that, perhaps I would never really recover because he didn’t think I had a good enough support system. (Take note of that, please, because you might not realize that the ear, shoulder, or encouraging word you’re giving a friend is as valuable as it is).
Three months after I filed the claim, I received my first payment. It was a triumph; it was a defeat. It was proof that I was, “disabled.” It took me a while of feeling sorry for myself before I was able to concentrate more on my ability than my disability. I still have trouble with it, really.
I won the custody battle with Rico. I was irked by the fact, however, that the court allowed him to file in a county where Jesse did not reside. It was not legal. But they did it. Again.
The trip up and back to the courthouse in Bowling Green had been hard on me health-wise, emotionally, and financially. However, it was nothing compared to the way it affected my Jess. He felt like a wishbone being pulled apart by the people who were supposed to protect him. It made him restless inside, tied-up, twisted, and heartsick. I hated putting him through it, but I couldn’t bear to just let him go when I knew things weren’t right in his dad’s life. This wasn’t the end of it, though. I found myself in court repeatedly trying to keep my boy with me.
My four babies
In the future, he went to live with his dad for a while. It didn’t work out. He got locked up in a Juvenile facility, where they only allowed a one-hour visit per week. It was over 200 miles away. I didn’t have reliable transportation, and couldn’t afford to pay someone to take me up there for a one-hour visit. Therefore, I didn’t see my young son for over a year.
From the time Jess was 13 until he was legally an adult, he was locked up all but about 10 months of his life, and those 10 months weren’t all in a row. His offenses ranged all the way from truancy to theft, and included drug abuse.
Most of my interactions with Jess happened over a table in a visiting room at one institution or another. The meals we shared came from vending machines. I attended his high school graduation in the spring of 2000 at Mohican Juvenile Correctional Facility in Perrysville, Ohio.
Jesse with Jordan-age 11
Jesse at graduation-Mohican Juvenile Detention facility
Back to June 1996: Wind met a girl when he traveled to Marlboro, Massachusetts with Jerek, and fell in love. He brought her back to Marietta to introduce her to us and get his stuff. He had been living for months now in a place far too distant from me.
Nathan had been living in a house in West Virginia with some people, including his girlfriend. He was partying his life away, though he had just learned he would be a dad in a few months.
Not long after I learned that Nathan was making me a grandma, 16-year-old Natali found out that she was going to have a baby, too. The father of the child had been one of the kids I took in the previous summer. Natali was smitten. He had already moved on.
Early one morning the phone rang and aroused me from a fitful sleep. Still drowsy, I could barely make out my mom’s frantic voice saying, “Cindy? Are you ok?”
I sat straight up. “Yes. Why? What happened?” My guts clenched up inside me, on guard for the coming news.
“Oh, my … don’t tell me you don’t know!”
“Tell me! What happened?”
“It’s all over the news! Nathan burned down a house, and they’ve got him locked up at the jail in Parkersburg!”
There was my son, on the front page of the Marietta Times and the top story on the local news. A fire had destroyed the house in which he had been living with three others. No one was home except my son at the time. The investigators said an accelerant had been used, that the fire was no accident.
My dad drove me down to the jail to see my boy. When they brought Nathan in for the visit, I was shocked at his appearance. It had only been about a month since I’d seen him, but the change was striking. At almost six feet in height, he weighed in at approximately 130 pounds. His face was drawn and ashen, with purple circles under his spiritless eyes.
I had heard he and the others in the house were shooting up heroin, even sharing needles. I knew he had become a heavy drinker, much like his dad. Looking at him just then, an alarming thought pierced my mind: maybe it was a good thing he was locked up. Maybe it would save his life.
A wall with glass windows separated us, so we had to scream at each other through a small opening between us. It was a cacophony of visitors trying to communicate with their loved ones. No privacy.
I asked him what happened. He told me he didn’t mean to set the fire, but that, since his bags had been packed and sitting outside, the authorities put two and two together and came up with a sum of “guilty.” His girlfriend and he had gotten into an argument, and he was leaving.
I flashed back on a call I had received from him the day before. “Mom, I got kicked out of my house. Can you come and get me?”
“I don’t have any gas in my car, Nate, and I’m pretty sure it won’t make it that far, anyway. Why don’t you call my dad? Maybe he’ll do it.”
As I recalled the conversation, my heart filled with remorse. Maybe I should’ve tried harder to find him a ride. What could I have done differently? If I had picked him up, none of this would have happened.
When the fire broke out, he called 911, then stayed in the house to try to put out the fire. It had started in the sofa, which went up in about three seconds.
As the firefighters struggled to douse the flames, one of them was nearly overcome by heat exhaustion. Then the sky opened up and sent a downpour of rain to help snuff out the fire. The police arrived and placed Nathan under arrest.
Nathan pled with my dad to post bond, and dad could have easily afforded it. However, he was afraid that Nathan would panic and flee instead of standing trial for the accusation of arson in the first degree. I know Dad shared my fear that, if my son were freed, he would go right back to the heroin and alcohol that could very well rob him of his life. So Nathan sat in jail for a year, waiting for his speedy trial.
In the mean time, his son, Gabe, was born, and a few months later, in April, Natali gave birth to a little red headed boy. I was informed about Gabe’s birth and hurried to welcome him into the world. The police even escorted Nathan to see him once.
I got to see Gabe a few times, though his mommy detested my son for setting the fire. She did not believe his claim of innocence. She didn’t want him in her son’s life. I thought, if she really thinks he did this heinous crime, then I can’t blame her for feeling this way. The only thing was, she wasn’t willing to allow me much access to my grandson. Eventually she moved, and I had no way of contacting her. I put it in God’s hands to bring Gabe back into my life if it was the right thing to do.
The kids and I moved to a three-bedroom apartment with a rent subsidy from HUD. This time there was no fixing up the dining room for a place to sleep. Jess had his own room, and I gave the girls the master bedroom to share with the baby, Jordan.
My son was looking at 2-20 years on the first-degree arson charge. That got lowered to a second-degree charge right away, but that still meant, if found guilty, he could be behind bars for up to 10 years.
Nathan agreed to a plea bargain. His lawyer would ask for a sort of boot camp type of facility instead of prison. However, when he got into court the day of the trial, the prosecutor went back on the deal with no argument at all from my son’s public defender. The judge sentenced him accordingly, with parole as an option after a year. They sent him to a prison three hours away, down in Huttonsville, West Virginia.
Thankfully, over the next five years of his incarceration, my dad drove me down at least once a month to visit. Nathan was denied parole at least four times. I lost count. The disappointment was almost too much to bear.
When Natali turned 18, my landlord made an apartment in the same complex available to her and Jordan. Shortly after, she got involved with a boy who was reckless, troubled, and who left her soon after she became pregnant with his child. She gave birth to her son, Anthony, in September of 2000.
As soon as Nathan was free, he met a beautiful young woman who managed a restaurant in our area. Unfortunately, she was married with two boys already. Nathan was a handsome, charming man who was used to having his way with the ladies, though, and this was no exception.
She got pregnant and gave birth to a gorgeous little girl with big brown eyes.
But by then, she and my son had parted and she was back with her husband. There I was again, with a grandchild I may never be able to see. Not only that, but she had an older sibling somewhere in the world, and I wanted them to know each other.
At first, everything went smoothly. Allie’s mommy and I had always been on friendly terms, and she sympathized with my wanting to be grandma to her daughter. She tried to accommodate me, but my visits with Allie were rare. Her mommy was trying to stay loyal to her husband and allow him to be Allie’s dad. He wasn’t thrilled about having Nathan or his family in the baby’s life.
Nathan was locked up for a while on a parole violation. When he got out in 2002, he was ordered to stay in Harris County under his parole officer’s supervision for a few months.
Since he had no family or friends in that area, we searched out other options for living quarters. The only thing we could find was a homeless shelter in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
A couple weeks later, though, Nathan called to tell me he had met a bunch of people who had let him move in to the apartment they shared. There were three guys, other than him, and an 18-year-old woman named Wanda. Nathan had already claimed her as his new girlfriend. Wanda’s hard-knock life had turned her into a ferocious young thing, yet with the look of a cute little teddy bear. Nathan called her that, in fact.
I was not happy that he already had two children he never saw, was fresh out of lock-up again, and was getting seriously involved with another woman. I had nothing against her, but I wanted him to take some time to get his own life together before he dragged someone else along for the ride.
I have to admit, when they told me she was pregnant, my response was not pleasant. Fear of what might lay ahead for the two of them gnawed at me till I just let it out. I snubbed Wanda and shouted some not-nice things to Nathan. Therefore, when they married in February of the following year, they didn’t inform me until it was well over.
My fears were well founded. If I could go back and change it all, I wonder if I would. All I know is, the meeting of Nathan and Wanda set the wheels in motion to drive us to the most horrific experience of our lives to date.