by Alison Carley
My mother said that this is her favorite picture of herself. It reminds me of an album cover. It was taken when she was 16 by a man that she met in the street. He gave her his address and said if she ever wanted a copy he would send her one. She told him, first I would need an address.
My grandparents used to fight all the time and there was never any money. My grandpa couldn’t hold a job. Eventually they couldn’t pay the bills. My mom said their flat was dark and there was no water, no food in the kitchen. My mom said, we may as well live on the streets, it would be the same thing except no roof. She said her mom replied, go on then. So she got her things together. Where are you going, my grandma asked her. I won’t know until I get there, my mom answered. And she left, and no one tried to stop her. Maybe it was a relief. One less person to worry about.
Anyway she found some street kids and learned her way around. She never went back to school. She would get food from churches and soup kitchens. Weren’t you scared, I asked her. Not really, she said. Did you parents ever look for you, I asked her. She said one day when she was eating at a church the priest came up to her and said, I know you. A woman came here and showed me your picture and was crying. She said she was your mother and had I seen you. I don’t have a mother, I told him. He told her that forgiveness was an important thing. Fine then, she said, you forgive her. She finished her food and left. On the way out she saw a box of kittens by the door. They’re free, a woman said. So am I, my mother told her. My mother picked out the smallest one and took it with her. There was a man in the street with a camera and she started talking to him. Can I take your picture, he said. Why, she asked. Because I was like you once, he said, and I had nowhere to go and I want to remember the world the way that it was. So he took her picture and gave her his information. Someday you’ll want to remember too, he said. And then I will give it to you.
She went back into the church and gave the kitten back to the woman. I changed my mind, she said, I can’t even take care of myself. I’m not so free after all.
She got a job washing dishes and became friends with a waitress at the café who offered to let her stay there. The owner taught her how to cook and eventually let her work in the kitchen. She made enough to get her own place. One day, a couple of years later, she found the scrap of paper with the man’s address who had taken her picture. She decided to go and see him. When she got to his flat, a boy her age answered the door. He said the man who took her picture was his dad and he would be home soon and offered to let her wait for him in the kitchen. He made them coffee. They sat and talked for a long time. Eventually a cat came in the room. That cat looks familiar, she said. My dad got her for free, the boy said, from a church.
A few minutes later the man came home and smiled when he saw her. I knew you’d come one day, he said. And I see you’ve met my son.
So that was how my parents met.
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