“Tootie, can you wire me $200.00?”
Should have listened to my gut.
My sister’s question sucked the air out of the room, because this time, after years of yes, I would try to say no. Try. I planted my feet on the floor, one clammy hand gripping the receiver, the other rubbing my forehead. “I can’t. I just don’t have the money.”
“But my kids. We’ve got no place to go tonight. We’re on the street.”
Shit. This was the worst trouble Leslie had ever been in. My niece and nephew sleeping on the street? What was I doing? Saying no violated every principle I’d ever been taught, every principle I believed in. When someone––especially your family––needed help, you gave it. But Leslie lived from crisis to crisis. Help never helped.
It was hard to breathe. “I … I … don’t have the money.”
“Seriously? You’re not going to help us?” Could she hear my heart pounding?
“I’m sorry.” Useless words. What good was an apology?
“Okay. Gotta go.” Steely. Calm. Resigned.
The phone clicked. Dial tone buzzed.
I raced to the bathroom and collapsed in front of the toilet, cold tile floor punishing bare knees, but my empty stomach produced only dry heaves and images of my baby sister in a phone booth on some street corner in Nevada––or was it Arizona now––juggling sacks of clothes, her two children huddled at her feet. Leslie was homeless.
It was my fault.
(To be continued …)