A Girl Rises
Twelve year old Lisbeth climbed the filthy steps up the tenement apartment building to the 5th floor. She artfully dodged a drunk old man who reached out to touch her breasts as she passed him. She had become an expert at this type of thing, having lived here since she was six years old.
She unlocked the door of her apartment and then turned all four locks on the inside. The place was nearly bare of furniture but was neat and clean, as she kept it that way. She opened a can of soup and put it on to heat.
Lisbeth now thought of her mother, Janie, as she did everyday when she came home from school. She fought back the tears. She refused to give in and cry. Janie had died three months earlier of cancer, and unbeknownst to any one else, Lisbeth now lived here alone.
Lisbeth remembered the day she had come home from school and found her mother dead. She had gone to a pay phone and called an ambulance, and hidden out on the streets for days until she found the courage to go home. She was hiding from the authorities so they wouldn't take her to foster care.
She stayed in the apartment for several days and no one came to look for her. It had been three months now during which Lisbeth had taken her mother's welfare check and cashed it at the liquor store, just as she had been allowed to do for months before her mother died. She kept the money hidden beneath a broken slat underneath the bed.
No one knew Janie was dead. People were taken away in ambulances from the poverty stricken apartment building every day. Most of the tenants were not in the state of mind to care.
So now Lisbeth lived alone, went to school everyday and came home to an empty apartment. When some kind person in the building would ask about her mother, she would say she was feeling too ill to leave the apartment.
Janie had been gone for months now, and no one even thought about checking to see if she had any children when she was buried in a pauper' grave. Lisbeth lived in fear everyday that someone would come and take her away, but so far the only person who knocked at the door was the drunk old landlord coming to get the rent money. Lisbeth always gave the money to him on time, and he never asked about her mother. He didn't care as long as he got his money.
Lisbeth was determined not to go to foster care again. She had been taken away from Janie when she was four years old because her mother could not financially take care of her. Finally, Janie had gotten on welfare and found this low rent apartment, and Lisbeth was allowed to live with her again. The foster mother had abused Lisbeth, verbally and physically, for two years. No, she would never go through that again, even if it meant living alone or on the streets for the rest of her life.
Janie had been good to her daughter. She was gentle and kind and always told Lisbeth what a fine little girl she was. Janie was constantly reminding her that she could be anything she wanted to be in life.
Now, Lisbeth had to figure out what she wanted to be, and she had to do it all alone.
Six more months had passed before Lisbeth's way of life caught up with her. School had been out for a month, and she had taken to cleaning the apartments for some of the elderly people she knew in the building for a little extra cash. She knew sooner or later she would be found out, and she was saving her money in case she had to leave fast.
That is exactly what happened one day while she was cleaning Mrs. Irving's apartment. A new neighbor stopped by and asked Mrs. Irving about the young girl. Who was she? Where did she live?
"Oh, that's Janie Coughlin's daughter. Janie is very sick, but the child works around here for extra money." Lisbeth overheard Mrs. Irving say.
"Come in here, child! Tell me your name. What is wrong with your mother?" The nosy neighbor called out in a commanding voice.
Lisbeth obediently came into the room, shaking visibly. "My name is Lisbeth Coughlin, and my mother has cancer, Ma'am."
"Well, I must go and see her. Maybe I could help. I worked at the hospital as a nurse's aide for awhile, before I got too old."
"Oh, no Ma'am, that's not necessary. She's fine right now."
"Nonsense! What apartment do you live in? I' ll come tomorrow around one o'clock. I won't take no for an answer."
"Yes Ma'am. Apartment 508."
That night Lisbeth packed all she could into her school backpack and took all the money she had saved and put it into a secret compartment on the inside. $862.00, her life savings. She waited until dinner time when she knew most of the people would be busy eating, and she left the place that had been her home for the last six years and never looked back.
Lisbeth spent three days and two nights on the streets of Brooklyn. She walked several blocks to the better part of the city and hid behind buildings at night for safety. She had no idea where she was going or what she might do. She prayed to a God she didn't really know to give her a sign.
That sign came on the evening of the third day. Lisbeth was walking aimlessly down the street when she saw an old woman with a shopping cart going through a dumpster. Sympathy welled up inside her, and she approached the woman who was pulling out what appeared to be garbage.
"Ma'am! You don't have to eat that. I have money, I will buy you some food."
"Well, aren't you the sweetest! Child, what are you doing here? Are you homeless?"
Something in the old woman's kind eyes touched Lisbeth. Something in the way she smiled and spoke reached her soul.
"Yes, Ma'am, but I have money, and I'm looking for a room to rent."
"How old are you, child?"
"Sixteen, Ma'am." Lisbeth lied.
"Well, child, I am not going to eat garbage. I'm looking for treasures! You find the darnedest things in these here dumpsters. I own a little second hand shop a few blocks from here, and this is where I find most of my merchandise.
So, you want to rent a room? Are you willing to work a little."
"Yes Ma'am, I am willing to work. Do you have a room to let?"
"I just might. My name is Sadie Gershwin. What is yours, child, and where did you come from?"
Lisbeth motioned for Sadie to sit down on a nearby bench and told Sadie her story. The truth, all of it, from start to finish. Sadie had tears in her eyes by the time it was over.
"Come home with me, and we'll somehow figure all of this out."
So that is how Lisbeth came to live with Sadie. When they got to Sadie' place, Lisbeth found it to be a five room loft above a little second hand shop. It was filled with furniture Sadie had found in dumpsters and on the streets, but it was beautiful. The windows had pastel colored curtains and the bedrooms were decorated with pictures of lakes and flowers. The bedspreads were gorgeous, and Sadie told her she had found everything in the trash. Sadie thought she had died and gone to heaven the first night she spent in her very own room.
Sadie told everyone that Lisbeth was a distant relative that had been orphaned. No one questioned her word. Lisbeth went to work right away helping out in the store downstairs. She insisted Sadie take $600.00 from her and buy an old pickup truck that was for sale down the street. They spent all their spare time going to all parts of New York picking up unwanted or thrown away items. Pretty soon the shop downstairs was bulging with all kind of treasures.
Lisbeth started back to school in the fall. Her records were transferred to her new school without question, because no one had ever reported her missing. If was as if she never existed, but indeed she did. She worked in the store after school and helped Sadie in any way she could. Together they redecorated the shop and made it look similar to a the gift boutiques they had seen, with little white lights on the windows and trees outside.
As the years went by and Sadie's health began to fade, Lisbeth looked after her in the same manner she had her mother. They hired someone to run the shop, and neighbors came in to take care of Sadie while Lisbeth studied Business in the evenings. Sadie died two weeks after Lisbeth received her degree, but not before she whispered the words, "You are the daughter I never had."
Lisbeth inherited the loft and shop and changed the name of the shop to "Twice Loved Things." She had indeed been loved twice in her life. A life that meant so little to anyone but her mother and Sadie that no one had ever bothered to look for her. How lucky for her.
God blessed Lisbeth the day she met Sadie, and later blessed her with a fine husband and a wonderful son. They live in the loft above the shop until this day, and business is booming.
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