The coldest January in a long time. On record? On my record it was. It was only my first January in Amherst. I, we, lived in Belchertown for 6 months beforehand and it was cold, but it was also March when we got there, and March has hope. March, you could catch a bus. January, you would not be dreaming about taking a bus, once I had the baby. The cold was that much colder, because I was locked inside from it, with nowhere to escape from.
Oh, I had a few outlets. I had “my lady”, as I think of her now. Susan Saltmarsh, a name that by the mere sound of it, is absorbent. Absorbing me into her SUV once per week to take me food shopping, or to a medical appointment. She was from “Healthy Families”, an organization whose nitch I fit. Young, and mother. Qualifying for “Healthy Families” was somehow a small brag. Look how young I was. I am “Program-Young”.
Susan would get me out of Henry Street, which was a former chicken coop, my sister claims to remember, and take me to grueling recertifications at Food Stamps and things like that, but more often, to The Big Y. A supermarket new to me then, and a question in itself that was also new to me, and yet familiar…the big Why.
And more vitally, the big How.
How? How!!! How was I supposed to have a baby and not have a car, and live in Amherst. Days before my due date, and days after it had passed, to no avail, I had hitchhiked home from my hotspots, which included the Amherst Survival Center. Often, I had walked. Sometimes, we walked. We were a couple. We would not last long, not past our second winter in that house on Henry Street.
The house on Henry Street was where we ended. Where we started I might never tell, but it seemed so romantic at the time. If only I had known how consequential choices were, even at 19 years old. How much more permanent and paved the road became under my feet.
“My feet…is my only carriage. And I’ve got to push on through.”
The Henry Street house was comprised for me in those Marley lyrics. My feet were my only carriage, although shortly after, I employed my brain to get me places, namely, though UMass and the fuck out of Amherst. But in those Henry Street days, my feet were it. And when my daughter was old enough, the sidewalks barely clear from snow enough, her baby carriage was my upgrade. My first wheels, they were. Our first wheels. And with those wheels, I pushed through. Or despite them. In those days, the Big Why wasn’t answerable, so I pushed on through with the How.
The Big Why’s never went away, but those questions were a luxury, and there was no room for luxury. Only, How?
How would I get a college degree with an infant?