Blue is the color of the tarp I would live under with the three children. I imagine it to be a hybrid of cobalt and robin’s egg –pantone 641C -fringed with encased dirt from the muddy camp of last week. I step into the makeshift alley under the bridge paralleling the main highway. The tarp trembles in the early morning wind stinging my exposed face. Snapping the grommet into the carabiner I close the quickly engineered door. It sticks unmoving, icy cold to my thumb and forefinger. I squeeze harder, biting my lip struggling to close the flap. The salty taste of a tiny river of blood pools under my lip. It is dried by the wind as the carabiner finally slides into the round hole, sealing the children without a key and for this moment. Safe in a temporary cocoon.
“Mom, are we going to walk in? I like this place already. Look at the carpeted stairs. Up there could be my room.” I hear my oldest son’s voice shaking me back into this reality into a feverish search for an apartment as a single mother of three. We would lose this apartment. And the one following. And the next one. I would begin to research short-term rentals on a dubious highway known for its street people and strip malls.
I often return to the image of the blue tarp throughout the 4-month search. Secretly imagining the future; uncertain and true. Hidden behind the necessary veneer of a mother’s assurances.
“It will be alright. We will find a place to live. We have another appointment this afternoon.”
Divorce, job uncertainty, mental health –the ingredients stirring this family journey. And-incredulous as it seems to me in the 21st century-the sobering reality of rental discrimination against single mothers and children.
Eventually, we land on a street lined with Sycamore trees, sidewalks, neighborhood cats and a year lease. I rent a 12-foot truck and load our furniture and clothes. For the fourth time we move, proud of the pared-down assemblage of belongings and the efficiencies we are creating. Our favorite –the red ‘most important items’ box.
I drape the blue tarp over the final hastily packed items.