My name is Cindy Clark. I'm twenty years old and live in a two-bedroom apartment above a garage in a small town in Western Illinois. It doesn't matter what the name of the town is, or even where it is I guess, because I think most small towns are about the same today. You have some folks who work hard and earn a decent amount of wages and you have others who sit around in meetings all day and make even more money. Then you have the young kids, like me, who are just starting out and barely earn enough money to survive.
I've lived more or less on my own since I was sixteen, half way through my third year in high school. I had lost my virginity when I was fourteen at a summertime beach party. That was unprotected sex and even then, I knew that I could not risk getting pregnant. When I told my mother what I had done, she cried but then made an appointment with her doctor for me. I had to promise her that I would never, ever let my father know because he was an extremely conservative and religious man and would not begin to tolerate his daughter having premarital sex, much less using birth control. My dad threw me out on to the street when he accidentally discovered my pills in my bedroom. That was the worst day of my life. He screamed and yelled. He called me all sorts of vile names and said I was a disgrace to the family. My mother pleaded with him not to do it, but he did it anyway, all my clothes, all my stuff, out onto the front lawn. I put everything into two large plastic trash bags and went over to my best friend's house. I didn't know where else to go. Her folks were very nice, and very understanding. Her dad fixed up a little room in their basement and I lived there for almost a year until they moved away and I had to find another place.
Luckily, I heard about an older couple who had an apartment over their garage. Theirs is one of the big, really old houses in town, built in the day when the owners had live-in servants. I spoke to them and explained my situation and they let me stay there, even though I had no money, because I promised I would get a job after high school and pay them the back rent then. I've been here ever since. It isn't much, but it is clean and dry, and warm in the winter.
I did what I promised them I would do. I got a job in a factory in town, one of the few that have not closed and moved to China or Mexico. It doesn't pay much, and my job is really a drag, but it is a job, and I get a paycheck every other Friday which, after all the stuff they take out, is enough to pay my rent for a month. It doesn't leave me much for anything other than food and stuff; no entertainment, no computer or smart phone or anything like that. I posted some notes in the nearest grocery store that I was available for babysitting and have been surprised and delighted with the many opportunities that I have had. On weekends, sometimes I can earn almost as much money babysitting as I earn all week at my job. Because they know that I am willing to stay overnight, I babysit for a number of the people from work.
The first year that I lived by myself, Mr. Larson, one of the men in the office where I work, learned of my housing situation and became concerned for my safety. He told me, later, that he used to live in the house across the street and that he knew the owners of my apartment. He had seen them in a store downtown and learned about my living in the garage apartment.
"You live alone, in an apartment on the second floor of a detached garage, on an enormous lot that has no night time lighting, and you're not concerned?" he asked one day.
"Well, of course I am concerned, but I'm careful, and I always lock the door and close the drapes."
"Do you have a gun in case someone breaks in?"
"Good grief, no. Where would I get a gun? And even if I had one, I wouldn't know how to use it."
"If you had a gun, and I could train you how to use it, would you accept it?"
"I don't know."
"How about this Saturday if I come by and pick you up and we'll go to a shooting range and I can teach you a little about shooting a gun?
And so we went off to a shooting range out in the middle of some guy's farm south of town. Mr. Larson brought a small pistol and he began explaining all of its features before I even held it. We talked for a long time about gun safety and the proper way to handle and store it, and then he showed me how to load it. It holds ten bullets and fits into my hand comfortably.
I'll admit that the first day, I only hit that the paper target once in all the bullets that I shot. But every Saturday, just before noon, Mr. Larson (Mark) would pick me up and we would go out to the range and shoot for an hour or so. Once I overcame my fear of simply holding the thing, I discovered that it really was light enough for me to just hold it in one hand. Once I did that, I began to hit the paper target with most every shot, and then I began to get more of them inside the outline of the target chest. My last session with Mark ended with me putting all ten shot inside a five inch circle on the target from twenty five yards. I was more than a little embarrassed the next Monday when I discovered my target and a picture of me shooting had been posted on the bulletin board in the lunch room at work. Mark made a big deal about it and made sure that all the guys there knew that he had given me the gun to keep, for my protection. It was mostly an awkward warning to guys to keep away from my house, just in case they had any bad thoughts in the evening.
Mark confided in me that many years ago, when he was a young man living across the street, the over-the-garage apartment became the place to bring a girl for a few hours of undisturbed romance. He also said that even in more recent times, he had seen other couples using it for what he assumed was the same purpose. He was very concerned that someone might not realize that I was living there now.
I know that my mother tried her hardest to get my father to relent. The first time was at Christmas that first year, and then again when she found out that I was living on my own, but he would not hear of it. In June of last year, he saw my little sister, Becky, walking from the bathroom to her bedroom wearing only her underwear, which happened to be a filmy bra and a thong. That set him off completely. He called her all kinds of names, pulled her into the living room and held her down across his knees and spanked her until she couldn't cry any more, and then threw her out too. She has been living with me since then.
I certainly wasn't ready to be a parent at twenty years of age, but I couldn't let Becky just walk around homeless either. I make her go to school every day, and do her homework and stuff, and her grades are actually getting better. She will graduate next June. Neither of us has spoken to our father since.
One of the battles that Becky has faced for several years is her figure, specifically her breasts. Physically, she has a very petite figure. She began to develop about the same time I did, and I am four years older. She was overflowing a "b" cup in eighth grade, which in itself is bad enough for a girl, but the shape of her breasts emphasized their size. Rather than being round and full like half a grapefruit or more, her breasts are much smaller in diameter and extend out from her chest, looking much like a regular sized soda cup from McDonalds would if it was set on her chest. I know there is a fancy name for breasts shaped like hers, but to the boys in her schools, their word is "target". They have been grabbing, pinching and feeling her breasts incessantly, and she has been fighting off their advances just as consistently.
As school got out for the summer, I suggested that she try to find a summer job, which might give us a little more spending money for something. She did work for a week or so at the local library, but when she found out it was a volunteer job that would never pay anything, she quit. She was upset that the library staff had not been upfront about the pay. I encouraged her to look for other work, and finally she did start looking in the paper for jobs. Last week a few of my friends told me that they had seen her hanging out with some of what they called the "low life" kids in the poorer section of town. When I asked her about it, she became defensive and said that the kids were good kids, that they just didn't have much going for them in life.
I nosed around a little more, and asked a few other people about those particular kids. She was right. Most all of them are good kids that seem to have less than Becky and I, if that is possible. However, they did warn me about Robert. Robert is much older, older than I am actually; he just looks very young and so he fits in with the others. They told me about rumors that he is the provider of illegal drugs to other kids, not only the narcotic drugs, but the party drugs as well. They also said that everybody believes he has fathered two kids with different girls, very young girls. I warned Becky about him the same night that I learned that information.
The very next day, Becky was hired as a part time cashier at one of our local grocery stores and I gave thanks for small blessings. Finally she had something to keep her busy other than hanging out on a street corner. Because of her age, she was only allowed to work six hours per day, and never beyond six at night, so we were able to have dinner together every night once I got home. On the days that she worked an early shift, she would have dinner waiting for me. I actually acknowledged the possibility of a tiny slice of happiness appearing in my life.