under HIS SHADOW
I had unlocked and barely opened my apartment door, before my four-year-old daughter, Whitney, scooted ahead of me, stopped short, and grabbed an envelope lying on the living room floor.
“Here, Mommy,” she said handing the envelope to me, before running upstairs tugging her Sesame Street satchel.
No postage, or return address identified the sender, only my name, Carolyn Shields, was typed across the envelope, deposited through the mail slot of my front door. An immediate foreboding stirred through my stomach.
I went into the kitchen, flicked on the light, dropped my purse on the kitchen counter, and edged under the envelopes’ seal, with my key. Several legal documents were enclosed. The top letter advised that a first quarter three hundred dollar co-op fee, for the townhome unit Whitney and I occupied, was due by the end of the week, or we would be required to move. The foreboding suddenly felt like a bowling ball had dropped inside my gut.
“Mommy, come see,” Whitney called from upstairs.
I quickly rummaged through my purse looking for my checkbook.
“See what I did, Mommy,” Whitney called again.
O God, where am I going to get three hundred dollars? It’s already a strain just trying to keep up with rent, buy groceries, gas, and pay utilities. How can I possibly do this too? My check register confirmed what I already knew—no options. At that point I could feel a constriction in my lungs tightening my airways.
It was March 1, 1975 and I’d thought there was more time to figure out our next move. When I’d received the January notice announcing new management and increased rental fees, by the end of the year, an association meeting was also scheduled, but I neglected to attend. Neither did my neighbors on either side of me. All we’d needed before was a leasing office. So, why the need for an association now? The three-year-old federal housing project, a two hundred fifty unit complex of townhomes originally built for low income families, had become an attractive opportunity sought after by private investors. Rental rates would increase from the federal cap of three hundred seventy-five dollars per month to a marketable rate of nine hundred seventy-five dollars per month, based on the number of bedrooms.
“Mommy, why don’t you come?” said Whitney.
I was so transfixed by the documents laying before me, I hadn’t noticed Whitney had descended the stairs and was standing next to me.
“I made our potty like the Mother Goose potty,” Whitney said. “Come see.” She took hold of my hand pulling me away from the papers spread across the kitchen counter, leading me upstairs into the bathroom.
“Seeee,” Whitney said pointing to the toilet.
I gasped eyeing uneven green coloring of what had been a white toilet seat. Whitney’s green refurbishing tool laid in plain sight, still uncapped, and resting beside a box of color markers, on top of the small vanity.
“Whitney! How could you?” I pulled her out of the small bathroom and scrambled in the cabinet under the sink grabbing a dried, yellow sponge and powdered cleanser.
“This is bad, Whitney, BAD. You know not to mark on anything but paper. EVER.” I turned on the hot water, rehydrated the sponge then sprinkled cleanser on the toilet.
“I want a green potty like Mother Goose,” Whitney said with pouting lips.
“This is not our potty, Whitney.” I scrubbed furiously and watched with relief as the green slowly melded into a gritty soup revealing white underneath. “Miss Ellie owns Mother Goose Day Care. We rent.”
“Our potty…I want green.” Whitney’s bottom lip protruded in defiance.
I was suddenly on my feet grabbing both of Whitney’s arms and staring straight into her eyes. “Did you hear what I said? It’s not ours. Markers are for paper. Only! You know better.” I turned Whitney around and swatted her behind three times. “Now go to your room.”
She ran crying and flung herself across her bed. I turned back to the green sludge on the toilet. It took several rinses, before the seat was free of the gritty residue. I put away the sponge and cleanser, looked across the hall, and felt a pang of regret. Whitney was curled in fetal position sucking her thumb between sobs. I headed back downstairs.
As I passed through the bare living room, memories of what Whitney’s father and I once had, when I was struggling to make our marriage work, reminded me of other losses: a failed marriage, a broken family, and repossession of all I could no longer pay for.
In spite of—and maybe because of—my fear of eviction, I was suddenly seized with intense hunger. I opened the fridge, pulled out left-over tuna casserole and called Whitney to come down for dinner.
After dinner, I allowed her to play in a tub of shallow, warm water and soap bubbles, with a couple of floating toys. Happy sounds of Whitney’s playful musings wafted from the bathroom, as I sat on my bed, in the adjacent room, mulling over my checkbook and expenses. The outcome was always the same. No way could I afford the quarterly co-op fee or the rent increase. I berated myself for assuming there was more time to figure things out. With no for-seeable option, I looked up and stared absentmindedly at the TV sitting on the right end of my dresser top. The volume was barely audible, but the TV sitcom went to commercial, with startling and compelling images of ragged and hungry children on the street. It was a UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) public service announcement, but I became hostage to my own fearful imaginings. My eyes flooded with tears.
“Lord, have mercy …Where can we go? I’ve got till the end of the week. Where can we go, Lord?”
I wasn’t as grounded in God’s Word, as I seek and hope to be today. Had I thought to turn to the Psalms I may have found Psalm 34: 17 that tells us the Lord hears the righteous cry out and He delivers them out of all their troubles. And I would have rested in the promises of Psalm 91 knowing that I could abide under the shadow of Almighty God, trusting Him as my refuge and my fortress.
“Mommy,” Whitney called out. “I’m ready for my story.”
I patted away my tears, went into the bathroom, and grabbed a wash cloth to dry my face.
“I wanna pick the story,” Whitney said, as I helped her from the tub.
“Brush your teeth first.”
I helped her dry off, apply lotion, and get into her pajamas. Whitney grabbed her tooth brush and paste sitting in a cup on the vanity and I turned on the cold water for her. Just as she began brushing, the phone rang, and I rushed back to my room to answer it.
“Carolyn, how’s it going?”
“Have to call you back, Laura. I’m in the midst of getting Whitney ready for bed right now.”
“I know how that goes, I won’t hold you. Just wanted to run something pass you real quick. Call me later in the week and let me know what you think.”
“You don’t want my opinion right now, Laura, and I really do have to go.”
“Not looking for your opinion. I’m looking for a housemate…you know, someone to share household expenses, and raising kids. We seem to be like minded, so I thought of you. I’m divorced, you’re divorced, and I live in this four bedroom house, with plenty of space. Whitney and Renee’ are the same age and can share a room. Junior has his own room, I sleep in the master, and you can take the guest room. We can pool our grocery cost and help each other out. Two single moms helping each other raise our kids. What do you say? No, don’t say. Think about it and call me.”
I was speechless. One minute I’m crying to God wondering where Whitney and I would end up, and minutes later I’m listening to a former co-worker and friend spell out a solution.
“Go. Get Whitney to bed. Think about it and call me tomorrow. We can talk then.
“Okay.” I was so overwhelmed with Laura’s surprise offer I think I forgot to say goodbye. All I could do was look up, fall on my knees clasping my hands, and bow my head with gratefulness that God was and is my refuge and fortress, and that I am indeed under His Shadow.
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