If Melody could choose
her family, she would choose a very different one from the type
she has. She would choose one in which each person openly demonstrates
that he or she cares for the other members of the family; a family
that is supportive of each other; and one where everyone doesn't
always criticize each other. She would choose a family where her
mom doesn't have to work so much, and has more time to be at home
to fix nutritious meals and to tend to other family matters; a family
where people sit down together at meal time and talk and enjoy each
other's company. She would like a family that doesn't always have
to worry about having enough money to pay the rent and buy the groceries.
She would like what she calls, "a normal family."
I met Melody a few months
ago through a local mentoring program. Once I was approved as a
volunteer, I was given some background information about several
"Littles" that were on the waiting list for "Bigs." There was one
little girl whose home life seemed more extreme than the others;
one who I felt perhaps needed me more. That's why I chose Melody.
Melody seems to always
speak her mind. The first time I met her, she said, "I hate my house."
Melody's house is located in a housing project not far from where
her mother works. It's a light green, rectangular, two story duplex
that's situated between another house just like it and a fenced
in parking lot. The window screens are torn and the front steps
are in need of repair. There's a clothesline in the back yard and
more dirt in the front yard than grass. There's a paved driveway
on each side of the duplex but no garages. The inside of the house
The sparse furnishings
are worn and set on bare tiled floors that are dirty, cracked, and
broken. The living room is furnished with three narrow couches and
a stand that supports a TV and VCR. In the far corner is a white
plastic bookcase displaying a small component stereo. There's a
hole wall near the front door. The blinds hanging from the window
frames are bent and crooked, looking mournful as they hang at an
angular fashion. The living room has dark green curtains that drape
crooked and don't quite reach to the bottom edge of the windows.
The blinds are always pulled closed making the room feel dark and
depressing. The kitchen has the same dirty white walls as the living
room, an electric stove, refrigerator, a table and two chairs; the
kind used on a patio or deck. There is no dishwasher nor microwave.
A crumb covered toaster is on the counter next to a few dirty dishes.
Behind the walls and
shrouded windows of this small house, Melody lives with her mom,
four sisters, a brother, a nephew, and a niece not yet born. Olivia,
the oldest, is 21. She's the mother of a four-year-old boy and is
expected to give birth to a girl within the next couple of months.
With no one to share her responsibilities, she's moved back home
at least until after the baby is born. Melody's other three sisters
are Loren, 17, Jennifer, 15, and Diana, 13. Isaiah, her brother,
is 9. Melody told me, "I'm afraid of Jennifer. She's out of control.
Even my mom's afraid of her. If she doesn't get her way, she starts
hitting and kicking. She's the one who kicked the hole in the wall."
With so many people living
in such a small house, there just aren't enough rooms to go around.
At the moment, Melody has a room, but that's been a fairly recent
development. Whoever doesn't have a room sleeps on one of the couches
in the living room. Melody's room is small and the only bedroom
on the ground floor. The furniture consists of a single bed that,
more often than not, has no sheets, and a small, battered, four-drawer
chest. A TV is perched on top. There's no closet; just a clothes
bar suspended behind the door between the wall and a narrow partition.
A wounded cardboard box sets on the floor overflowing with stuff;
stained stuff, broken stuff, stuff with the pieces missing. The
only intact possession that Melody has is the Pokémon collection
she shares with her brother.
I've known Melody for
over six months and we've done a lot of things together. But most
of the time, we just try to have fun. A couple of weeks before Halloween,
I asked Melody if she had ever been trick-or-treating. She told
me that she wanted to go, but her mom never had any money to buy
costumes. So, I suggested that we make one.
"You can make them?"
"Certainly, I said. "What
would you like to be."
"A witch!" she said,
her eyes wide with anticipation.
Over the next couple
of weeks, I bought several yards of black material and a silky,
pointed, black witches hat. Then on the Friday before Halloween,
we set to work. I used a shirt of Melody's as a pattern and cut
the material long and wide. After the first few seams were sewn,
I told Melody it was time for a fitting. As her curly hair and dark
round face emerged through the opening in the dress, I could see
disappointment in the dark brown eyes that peered at me from behind
"What's wrong," I said.
"Don't you like it?"
"Well, to tell the truth,
I thought it would be different. I wanted it to be pretty with long
pointy sleeves. Do you think you could make long pointy sleeves?"
"Witches aren't pretty,"
"Yes they are."
"No, they're not," I
insisted. "A pretty witch would be a fairy and then you'd have to
wear pink," I said trying to wriggle out of my dilemma. I hadn't
thought to ask her what she thought a witch looked like, and obviously
our ideas varied.
"I hate pink!" she said
wrinkling her nose.
"Another problem," I
added, "is that I only have three more hours to finish the costume,
so there really isn't enough time for pretty. It would take me a
lot of time to make something that looks pretty. And besides, you've
got to give me a break, Mel. My name might be Karen, but I'm not
"Okay," she said softly.
"You'll love it Really.
We'll cinch it at the waist with a belt and that will give it a
shape. Besides, it's got to be big enough to wear clothes under
it. It's going to be cold on Halloween, you know."
The look on Melody's
face told me that she wasn't convinced.
"Okay," I continued,
"just to make sure that I get the cape right, why don't you draw
me a picture of what you want it to look like."
Her face brightened.
"Sure," she grinned.
On Halloween, Melody
and I went out trick-or-treating in a subdivision near my home.
Melody walked quickly up onto the porch of the first house while
I waited off to the side in the shadows. The first house had large
glass panels on either side of the door. From the small porch, Melody
could see inside the family room with its cathedral ceiling and
"Karen! Can you see this
house," Melody called from the porch. "It's so beautiful inside!"
She rang the doorbell, and when the man opened the door she said
cheerfully, "Trick-or-treat." The man dropped the candy into her
bag and as he was closing the door she added, "I really like your
house, mister. Thank you for the candy and have a nice night."
At the next house, as
the man placed two treats into her bag she said, "Thank you, mister.
I really like your dog. Bye and I hope you have a good evening."
As we continued on our
way, Melody said, "I think people like it when I say something nice
about their house. I think I'll say something nice to everyone."
The next house was a
modest raised ranch with a number of trees growing in the front
yard. With the illumination from the outside light, the outline
of the trees growing nearer the house were just visible. "Trick-or-treat!"
"Oh, are you all alone?"
"No. My mentor is with
me," Melody said as I poked my head out of the shadows and gave
a little wave. "Thank you for the candy. I really like what you've
done with your trees."
"My trees?" asked the
woman, slightly confused. "What have I done with the trees?"
"Ah . . . ," Melody hesitated.
"I just like your trees. They really look nice."
"Well, thank you," replied
"You're welcome. I hope
you have a really nice night." Melody walked back to where I was
standing and we headed back to the street. At the next house, in
response to Melody's conversation, we both got invited in.
"I really like your dog.
See the dog, Karen?" He couldn't be missed. He was a very large
Black Lab on a short leash being held at bay by his owner. After
another short conversation between Melody and the occupants of the
house, we finally made our way back to the street.
"Okay, Mel," I said,
"I know it's nice to compliment people, but maybe you should talk
a little less at each house. You won't get to many houses if you're
going to have a conversation with everyone."
"Yeah, I guess you're
right," Melody sighed. As we walked back to my house a couple of
hours later, Melody said, "Karen, everyone in this neighborhood
has such a nice house . . . and dogs. Everybody has a dog. I wish
I lived in this neighborhood."
Although I've known
Melody for some time now, she's still a bit of a mystery to me.
There are certain things that I do know about her. I know that her
favorite color is blue and that she loves "Icees", pizza, sesame
chicken, and swimming. She hates to walk places, but that's probably
only because her mom doesn't have a car and she has already walked
to many, many places. She also doesn't like vegetables and school
very much; a little of each is plenty for her. Melody watches a
lot of TV and her favorite television shows are Pokémon and Digimon.
She wants to learn
to bowl and she knows a lot more about sex than I did when I was
her age. She doesn't have many friends and she loves dogs. What
I don't know about her are her dreams and ambitions.
For Melody, life is hard
right now. I know she wants it to be better some day and I certainly
hope that it will be. I've heard her say things like, "I don't know
why my sisters can't be nice to me," or when we're sitting down
enjoying a simple meal she'll say, "I wish my family could be like
this." Melody notices. I told her that when she grows up, she can
decide for herself the kind of family she wants.
"I don't want a family,"
she said. "I don't want any kids. I want to live by myself."
"That's all right," I
said. "You can be a family of one."
"Yeah," she said brightening
up, "and I want two dogs and a house; a big house."
There is hope, I thought
to myself. She's beginning to dream.