One place, the home of a young man and wife, was always dark inside. Children were sitting on the couch, amid blankets and clothing, sucking their thumbs and watching TV. The guy would be bagging the weed on a kitchen table cluttered with beer cans and ashtrays. When he was finished, he'd weigh the bag on the small scale. We wouldn't stay long and I never remembered their names.
The weed wasn't important to me at first. I joined Wilson just for something to do. I was working jobs that lasted a month or two at a time. (Well, I either walked away from the jobs or was fired.) Sometimes Wilson worked too, along with visiting the blood bank twice a week. He was also still trying to go to school. But primarily he and his family taught me how to use the welfare system. We made use of food stamps, General Assistance, fuel assistance, and picked up free cheese and butter once a month when the government offered it. In addition we picked up free food and clothing at various churches. With each program, we told the staff whatever we had to in order to get what we wanted.
"If you want to get anything, you have to lie about it," Wilson’s family told me.
I was willing to use other people’s resources rather than my own whenever possible, but when I did have a job it bothered me that only my money was used to buy groceries. Wilson frequently saved his plasma money for a bag of marijuana. But as time went on, I began to want Wilson to take his blood money for that purpose. I also knew I was getting extremely lazy. The marijuana made Wilson lazy too. He dropped out of school. It bothered me that we were getting that way. It felt ugly, and only fed the loathing I already had for myself. Off and on, I quit smoking with him.
Our relationship was getting stormier and stormier. Wilson was quick to temper and I felt as though I was walking on eggs all the time. He wasn't physical with me, but he could get very hostile, giving me the silent treatment for up to a week if I made him angry. I never felt that I had any freedom to say "no" to him or his family.
Many of our arguments had to do with his two older girls. I was missing things and suspected the girls had taken them. At one point, I found my mother's engagement ring, which had been stored safely in my jewelry box, hidden in the dirt of a houseplant. But Wilson wouldn't admit there was a problem, preferring to blame me for the missing items.
The weekends with the kids began to take a toll. For the most part they just refused to listen to me. After I scolded little Joy for jumping on the bed, she ran to her dad screaming and crying,
"Beth beat me up!"
Later, in the car, this same innocent child with big brown eyes leaned over to me and whispered,
"my Ma's going to kick your ass...."
When Misty was given a prescription lotion to apply before bed, I told her to bathe first, then use it.
She immediately went to her dad, "Do I have to take a bath? Beth said I had to!"
"Nah, you don't have to take no bath!"
And despite asking the girls to clean their area before leaving on Sunday evening, I inevitably spent that evening picking up toys from all around the apartment, sweeping up the kind of dirt four children always leave behind, and restraightening the spare room.