Hell-Bent



Jonny had been born in Miami; addicted to crack cocaine. It had been his momma’s drug of choice. Three hours after he had taken his first breath, Child Welfare representatives had come to the hospital to take him and make him a ward of the state. Jonny and his momma were already gone. They got the hell out of Miami leaving Florida and the cocaine behind.

Of course Jonny didn’t know any of this until much later. As he became aware of his circumstances, he knew only that he and Momma moved around a lot. He learned more in bits and pieces over time, and by the time he was ten years old he could remember living in New Orleans, Phoenix, LA, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, St Louis, New York, Nashville, and Chicago; not necessarily in that order. Momma put food on the table most of the time by cleaning office buildings late at night. Occasionally there were good times when they would have enough money to rent an apartment for a couple of months and Momma could talk the neighbors into watching him while she was at work. More often though he would sleep in the car while she worked or would be in the building helping her clean.

Momma sometimes brought home boyfriends. They never stayed very long and that suited Jonny just fine. He didn’t like most of them anyway. He didn’t like the way that his mom acted when they were around. There was one he liked though. Dennis Raglan was his name. Jonny and Momma moved into Dennis’ trailer for about six months. Jonny got to go to school during that time, he learned to read, and Dennis had a good job at the mill so there was always food to eat. He taught Jonny to throw a baseball and bought him a bicycle. That had been a good time, but it didn’t last and he and Momma soon moved on. Jonny was broken hearted when he had to leave both Dennis and the bicycle behind.

Momma always taught him to be wary of strangers and never to trust cops. She always said that the two of them could do anything they wanted as long as they were together but if anything should happen to her he could do it himself. He just needed to remember the things that she had taught him. They had talked about this very thing that last night.

Jonny was twelve years old and Momma wasn’t well. They were sleeping in an old Rambler station wagon in downtown Seattle. Momma was shaking, said she was cold, and had a runny nose. Jonny had wrapped her up in a blanket and gone to the market at the end of the street. He stole a box of Kleenex, some bottled water, and a couple of candy bars. It was so easy to steal from these places; Jonny knew he would never get caught. When he got back to the car he found Momma sleeping, but he couldn’t wake her up. He finally admitted to himself that she was gone. He knew not to trust the cops and to be careful of strangers. So he gave her a kiss on the cheek, stuffed everything he could into his backpack, and took the $47.00 from Momma’s purse along with the twenty dollar bill she always kept hidden under the floor mat. He stepped out of the car and shut the door softly, it just didn’t seem right to slam it.

Looking around, he tried to decide what to do – and finally, shouldering his pack he began walking towards the water, figuring the best bet might be to catch a ferry. He hadn’t gone very far though when he turned and went back to the car. He rifled through her purse again till he found the card she kept tucked in her wallet; her driver’s license. He wanted her picture.

Jonny kept a low profile and moved down the coast, working odd jobs when he had to. He took the last name of the closest man to a father that he had ever known and started calling himself Jonny Raglan. He kept moving till he got to Santa Cruz, in California, at the beginning of a school year. He enrolled himself as a Junior in high school, posing as a transfer from down south.

Those first three months of his first year in a real school Jonny slept under a railroad bridge doing his homework under the streetlight. He got an afterschool job at a stationery store, cleaning up and stocking shelves. Jonny was smart and hard working so, before too long he was promoted to cashier. The pay increase wasn’t much but it was enough for him to rent a shabby room from an old man in Live Oak, who didn’t ask a lot of questions and didn’t see very well. He kept up his studies and when he graduated everyone assumed he was eighteen, not fourteen and that he just looked young for his age. His diploma earned him the right to enroll at the community college.

Tonight he was sitting in the Saturn Café looking at the only picture he had of his mother, her driver’s license. The one that he had taken from her wallet that night so long ago in Seattle. He held an English degree from UC Santa Cruz in his left hand and the photo of his momma in the right. After a while he dried his eyes slipped the driver’s license into his shirt pocket and looked down at the diploma he had worked so hard for. It said Jonny Raglan in calligraphic script.

“This is for you Momma.” He stepped out onto the street and made his way to the bus terminal. He knew he still had a lot to learn and still had a long way to go, but the first step was to go home to Live Oak. He needed a good night’s sleep. He had two job interviews tomorrow.


TBP
TBP

 

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7 thoughts on “Hell-Bent

  1. A quiet determination, your Johnny has… and a touching story without being maudlin. For whatever reason I want to say, “Thanks,” but, of course, “well done,” too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a good story. It’s sort of weird how much it intersects with my real life – my parents died when I was 12, I didn’t graduate high school but ended up with advanced degrees.

    So it’s odd how right you get the sentiment at the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a lot of adversity to overcome Katy. When faced with those kinds of challenges I think we have two choices. We can either give up, or overcome them. The choices that we make will at some point contribute to how we are defined. Well, that didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m glad you liked it.

      Like

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