Thursday, October 16, 2014

Two Pizza Boxes.

A message to my Wednesday morning class: There were 2 small pizza boxes on my dining room table when I arrived home.

The rest of the story for the rest of you:
I live in southwest Atlanta, an area that not too long ago was notoriously crime-ridden; it's not the most desirable area of town today. But the neglected Craftsmen bungalows, generations-old shrubbery and huge beautiful trees suggest what the neighborhoods used to be way back when, and could be again.

This past Tuesday evening, after having been gone all day, I went to my mail box. There was a young African American girl passing by; she looked 16. She asked me if she could use my phone. She saw me hesitate and said she needed to call her mother; she couldn't get into their house down the street. I went into my house and returned with my iphone. I waited as she made several attempts to contact her mother. She left a message, handed the phone back to me and thanked me.

As I sat watching TV four hours later, around 10:00 p.m., I had a knock on my front door. There she was, asking to borrow my phone again. It was dark and cold, and she was shivering in her tank top. "Have you been waiting for your mother all this time?" I asked, astonished. She nodded yes. I let her into my house, let her make her phone calls, made her a cup of hot tea and some biscuits, and said she could wait here until her mother finally got home. Mother, of course, never got home and never returned the phone calls. She tried calling several other people and got the same results.

While we were waiting for someone to help out, I plied her with questions, as I always did with my own daughters' friends. Was she in school? No. How many siblings does she have? Her daddy has 14 kids, she lives at home with her mom and 3 other kids, the youngest is 5. Does she work? No, she hopes to go to college. What does she want to do? She wants to produce music. Does she play any instruments? No.

I let her use my computer in hopes she could contact someone with Facebook or email. She found more success there. Her brother told her she could come to his house five miles away. My GPS gave me directions, I dropped her off, and just a few blocs from my house my phone rang. "Can you come get me?" I didn't ask any questions, turned around and picked her up. "They didn't want me there," she said.

By this time it was 11:30. I needed to go to sleep; I teach a morning class on Wednesdays and had to be out of the house by 8:30 to face Atlanta rush hour traffic. "Why don't you spend the night here. Your mom should be home tomorrow morning and you can get home then." I gave her a toothbrush, towels and a night gown. She asked to use the laundry to wash her underwear. While she was showering I got onto my computer to check my email and found that her Facebook page was open. I read her messages, same as I did my own kids' diaries, to find out what's going on.  "I got kicked out," she told one boy. "I don't know what to do. I be dead tomorrow."

The next morning I woke her, "Teneyh, I don't feel comfortable with you being here while I'm gone today. " I gave her a jacket, enough money to get some food for a couple of days and catch the train to a friend's house. "If you still don't have anywhere to be tonight, you can come back." I let her use my phone again. No success. "Do you have anywhere to go?" She shook her head no.

I know at this point many would call me foolish and I understand. But I let her stay. I would be home by 2:00. "Nobody is allowed in the house," I told her. I left for my class.

During class I was distracted and anxious. Then I received a phone call from my next door neighbor. She and the lady across the street were concerned because they saw a man at my house. They knocked on my door, saw her sitting watching TV, and asked when she answered the door, "Where's Margaret? Is there a man in the house?" "Margaret's teaching her class, and the man was delivering pizza," she responded. Of course this only validated my anxiety. "There had better be pizza boxes there when I get home," I told my morning class.

As soon as my class ended I sped across town to see exactly how foolish I had been. I rushed around the house: my diamond tennis bracelet was where I left it, dangling around the neck of a vase on the mantle. My gun was safely hidden where I left it. There were, much to my shame, two small pizza boxes on the dining room table. And she greeted me with a hand-scrawled address on a sheet of paper. "I have someplace to go," she said. She gathered her pizza boxes and her crumpled remainder of money, and we headed to Riverdale, about 20 minutes south of Atlanta. Without looking at me she got out of the car, muttered thanks, went into the house with her friend, who never acknowledged me.

I left depressed. What did I just hand this girl over to? She has no job. She has no skills. She has no parents. She has no support. She does not drive. I doubt she has a high school education. She won't produce music. What, I wondered, are we producing from our high schools? For the first time I could see that the most practical thing for a girl like that to do would be to have babies and go onto welfare. I myself saw no other alternative unless there were some intervention.

I got back home and found that she had made the bed. I wanted to cry.


This picture has nothing to do with the above, of course. And hopefully it'll make todays post not so depressing. It's one of the first pieces I'm happy with from my Tuesday painting class. I'm taking a mentoring class from Jim Richards (probably close to my daughter's age), and I think I'm really finally learning to paint.


  1. Wow what a story! You have a good heart. I don't know if I would have been so generous but you are so right about the situation for a lot of todays kids. It is a road to nowhere. Very sad.

  2. An almost totally tragic story; the exception is you.

  3. Well you did make me cry! Kudos to you for your kindness! Maybe you and Teneyh will cross paths again.

    Lately my husband and I have been talking about situations like this, what to do, how to help - we are acutely aware that there are enormous needs, but have no idea what to do to help. Your story is just fuel for that fire....

  4. A very wrenching blog post! I have often wanted to comment on your personal blog pages, but refrained but this one made me write. I love it that you include your life in your blogs and feel almost like I know you. You are not only a great painter, but a great person. Thanks for sharing, and thanks for what you did for this poor girl.

  5. How very brave and courageous of you to be the mother that she needed then and for the following few days. It takes a village and even more than that to help the broken families with dismal prospects given the way things are going. I am glad you took a chance...and thanks for demonstrating that you had the heart and presence of mind to help a young girl who needs sheltering

  6. Generosity and a very good heart ...and a great painter too , wow !

  7. Thank you for caring about another in need.