Published in the 90s at the Garden Grove Journal
When she goes out, Marie Bolan always looks good. She never wears tattered clothes; only good jeans and T- shirts, and if it’s hot, maybe a nice dean pair of shorts. She puts on make-up and combs her hair, making sure she is presentable before she goes out before the eyes of the public. Once satisfied, Bolan rounds up her kids, picks up her sign, and stands on the corner of Euclid and Katella Avenue for the rest of the day. She is not homeless and does not have a drug problem. Bolan is not mentally ill, or lazy.
Marie Bolan is not a bum.
What she happens to be is a mother, a single, laid-off mother with no where to torn but the streets to make up the difference between rent and unemployment.
“I’m out here because I want my kids to wear clean clothes, to have food and a place to stay,” Bolan said. “I get $700 a month in unemployment, but $625 goes to rent. The difference has to pay for food and utilities.” It’s a tough, nightmarish way to survive. Because she is not among the “real” street people on the corner, she is constantly threatened and cajoled by the homeless.
She does not belong in a place like this, and sticks out against a backdrop of filth, scum and danger. On Mother’s Day, her eyes light up, and a hint of warmth sneaks into her voice. “That made such a difference, just that” she said. “It meant that I could get my kids’ clothes washed, and get a bite to eat? How she came to stand on a street corner and beg is no longer an unfamiliar story, she is a computer programmer by trade and was laid off from her $11 per hour job in November. At first, things seemed to be okay. She was assured she would get her job back, and allowed to continue her journeyman schooling. She managed until last month.
The consequences of a deadbeat dad slowly began to drag her under; the final push toward the street was a $1,400 tax bill, piled up by her runaway former husband.
She could not get assistance, because she was receiving unemployment benefits. Her family was not an option. When news of what she was doing reached her mother, she sent Bolan a $5 bill. She sent it back. “They’re in worse shape than I am,” she said.”One guy, he’s always saying things to me, and sometimes I’m afraid he’s going to attack me,” she said. “It’s a shame. I tell him to dean himself up, shave his beard, get off drugs, and find a job…but you know, he’s in really bad shape. He has got scabs all over his arms. Fact is, most of them are too far gone.”
Just as bad are those who drive by. Those who notice her, pretend they don’t, and the few caught looking quickly turn away, as if to say that what they see does not really exist More often her presence is acknowledged with bottles and insults, not kindness. “I get really scared,” Bolan said. “I’ve already had one bottle hit me, and the things some people say are horrible. I’m afraid that someone’s going to pull a gun out on me.”
In an hour spent standing by the side of the road, Bolan did not benefit from a single act of kindness. Instead, she got dirty looks, obscene gestures, and indifference. “Most people, they just don’t care,” Bolan said. “I don’t understand it,” Bolan said. “It’s pretty obvious that I’m really struggling right now, that I’m not doing this just because I’m lazy, or addicted to drugs. The few people who do good, well, they make up for all the rest,” she said.
Through it all, she does not complain. Her face is a mask and her voice disguised in a matter of fact tone that lets only a hint of desperation slip though. It’s enough to read between the lines, and feel the swelling anger. Enough to see the shame caused by doing something she never wanted to do. In fact, Bolan is not her real name, because she does not want her friends to know how she makes ends meet. “I remember, when I was doing all right, I met this lady who was on the street,” she said. “I helped her get on her feet, get off drugs and get a job.”
“I never thought it would happen, but now I’m standing out here.”
Standing out here, among the con men, drug addicts and criminals, a mother stands up.
And tries to stand tall.