When I was 16, I walked to school every day with my sister and our route took us by a particular club. I began to see a man there, leaning against the wall when we walked by. I told my sister, “He look good. I’m going to get him.” And that’s how I met Dwain.
When I tell people we been together 33 years, they say, “I wish I could find a man like you. You been together so long.” But they don’t want what we went through. I went from being very involved in the Holiness Church — singing in the choir, playing the drums, and all kinds of things — to becoming an addict who sometimes got beat bloody by her man, this same man I’m still with today. My three children ended up in the foster care system a couple of times until I got cleaned up enough to get them back. Dwain’s the one that got the drugs back then, so I was afraid to leave him.
Growing up, my dad was a hustler selling drugs. My mom did housekeeping at different hotels. My mom took care of us; she never let us want for anything. Dad died in 1973 and my mom died in 1987. My mom died in her sleep when she breathed in her vomit after she’d been drinking. I took over raising my three-month old baby brother then. He’s 27 now and calls me Mom along with my kids.
Dwain was in and out of prison all the time our kids were growing up. I mostly supported my kids on welfare except for a time when I worked at a candy factory. When Dwain got out after my mom died, he was clean. Once he quit drugs, he quit beating me. Now he’s the sweetest man in the world.
I got scared of smoking crack when I ended up in the hospital with heart problems. I got kids and grandkids. I decided I wanted to live. We moved to Kansas where our daughter was living because it was the only way we were going to stay clean. The drugs were hard on my body. Now I got problems with my lungs and my heart, I got COPD. Right now I also got a tumor on my leg, a slipped disk, and a spot of my liver from my drinking and drugging.
Dwain supports us now, cooking and washing dishes at the long-term care home. The clients there love him. He’s got an old bicycle he rides to work.
They took away our food stamps because they said Dwain makes too much. I don’t understand that. Each month we pay the rent with one check and we pay the utilities with his other check and get by on what’s left over, which ain’t much. We has to go to the Food Bank and the church for food. The disability people are considering my filing for the third time. But they say because I don’t have a regular doctor whose seen me for a while, I don’t qualify. I can’t afford no regular doctor, only trips to the ER.
It’s getting better. We got food and water but I still got to put more in. Dwain don’t let me worry about it. He won’t miss work and he doesn’t want me worrying about it. Sometimes I braid hair for little kids and some adults and make a little that I put in every now and then. If it wasn’t for that man, I don’t know where I’d be right now.
I have so many ideas, but its going to take school for me to do that. I want to open up a soul food restaurant because people really like my cooking. I want to open up a homeless shelter
My blessings come through helping others. I kept seeing a man in the park across the street and figured out he was homeless. I asked him if he was okay and he said he was fine. It started getting cold and I called the church about him. I told him about how the church helps and sent him to talk to them. At Thanksgiving, I take whatever is in my refrigerator and the turkey from the food bank, cook it up, and call the neighbors over. If I can help others, I help them. I know how hard it is.
I don’t want no negative energy around me. Even when I’m doing bad, I’m positive. God didn’t bring me this far for nothing. I know He’s got something in store for me. I just got to sit still and let Him do it. He will knock you down to let you know who He is. I tell people no matter what you’ve been through or what you’re going through, you don’t need drugs and alcohol to get you through it. Lift up your head toward heaven and that’s where your help is going to come from.
My kids tell us they’re proud of us. My daughter is married and goes to church. She doesn’t live in poverty. My son is incarcerated for five years. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and he loves the Lord. That’s happened since he’s been in jail. He told me, “I never been locked up this long. I got to get out and stay focused and keep my mind on God.”
I hate talking about my past but it is what it is. I never try to forget it because it strengthens me. It helps me realize I’m better than that. Regardless of what I’ve been through and what I’m going through, I’m so happy because of where He brought me from. I don’t mind telling nobody what I’ve been through because He brought me through it. The storm is over now. I can see a little sunshine in my life.
A Woman Living In Poverty’s Story as told to Kate Martin-Johnson