In 1980, Carlotta was born in a shoddy apartment in central Los Angeles. The building smelled of foods and despair. As she grew, Carlotta tried to play outside, where there was fresh air, a type of cleanliness after a rain, and other girls to talk to and sometimes dream with. But her mother watched over her and warned her of the dangers outside. Often, her mother would yank Carlotta into the apartment where she shared a room with two younger sisters and a two older brothers who came and went more as they pleased.
Her father worked in construction, and when he worked, they had food and the rent was paid. But when the father was laid off, they scraped by, sometimes hungry while the mother fretted over the payment of the rent. Then the father would sit in the corner of the apartment, watching an ancient TV, and drinking beer until he became surly and fell asleep. Carlotta was cautioned, “Don’t bother him, if you know what’s good for you.”
No one ever told Carlotta that she was pretty. No one ever cuddled her and told her that she was loved.
Once, her mother dragged her along to the bank, where there was something important her mother needed to accomplish. Carlotta remembered seeing the women in their high heels and the young man in a suit who met with her mother and apparently could not help, since the mother cried on the walk home. Carlotta wondered how she could become like the dressed up ladies in the bank, how she could be someone who decided how things would be. Maybe this was the vague beginning of her dream but it was never to be formed. At her school, her group informed her that she had to choose a boy, and quickly, or she would be in danger. She chose a strong boy who seemed more considerate than the others; he told her she was pretty, the first time she heard that.
After a couple of months, she was pregnant. At sixteen, she bore a baby boy, and held him, consumed with the first love she had ever freely given. But the boy father’s had disappeared, nowhere to be found. She returned to her home apartment, listened to the tirades of her desperate mother, endured the indifference of her father, prayed only that she would have a place for her baby to live. She found a job as a waitress, forgot about school, forgot about any dream. She only wanted to feed her baby and give it a place to live.
Then her own father left. There was no hope of paying the rent with just her meager salary.
Anyway, she lost her job when the restaurant went out of business. “The economy is in the toilet,” someone told her. There were evictions, deprivations, humiliations. Her son left, explaining there was a place for him in a gang. There were no other words.
There was another pregnancy, this time a girl. Carlotta found her way to the shelter, hoping only that she could keep her daughter, that they would be fed. The people assigned to handling her case were cold and rude. They never explained what would happen, or when. But finally, she was admitted to the shelter with her baby, praying that each day would pass without harm to her or her child. She knows that when her daughter is fourteen, she will be assigned some kind of work. She does not dream; she hopes for survival.
She does not complain that she never had a chance. Who would listen?