The EPICENTER

If you have not read THE BACKSTORY, follow this link before reading this post. 
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The flood of emotions she was feeling earlier began to pound at her heart and mind again.  She stumbled around feeling like that lost little girl standing on the street corner hoping her daddy really would come back. A tsunami of tormenting emotions swirled around in her threatening to consume her completely.  

Suddenly, a white hot flash of rage began to rise up in her heart.  “What right do you have to come into my life now, DADDY?” 


“I’ve always been here with you, Tina. I’ve loved you all this time. I’ve never left you, nor have I forsaken you.”


A rueful stammering erupted from Tina’s throat.  “Wh….What did you say?”

“YOU LEFT ME THERE. You left me, remember?”


“Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if anyone opens the door and let’s me in I will come in and dine with them and they with me.”

She felt that white hot anger come to a full blaze as she burst through the bedroom door to find only the powerful rays of morning sunlight bursting through her window.  She spun around quickly looking for her father.  

No one was there.

Her pounding head buckled her weary body to the floor.  “What is happening to me?”
 

“I’m here, Tina.  You know its me.  I didn’t leave you.”

For a moment, Tina remembered something new. The pastor of her mother’s church back home was caressing her hair and assuring her, “God is your Father now, honey.”

Tina shook off the memory.  She pressed her face into the sleeve of her robe that was resting on her knees.  “NOOOO!  You have to stop this right now.”

“Is it not enough that I have lost everyone I’ve ever loved, my job and now I’m having to lose my mind, too?”

She drug her arm across her eyes and pulled a wadded piece of tissue from her pocket.  She pressed the rough paper to her nose and blew.  “I better get a move on.  That medicine is doing a number on me today.”

Slowly she rose from the floor and allowed her fingers to find the hollow of her hip.  She massaged it deeply before heading in for her shower.  “You’re burning daylight, girl.  Let’s get on with this.”

*****
The sun shone brightly from it’s perch high above the Dallas skyline.  Martina’s reminiscing had cost her precious time.  She was now late for her appointment at the Department of Health and Human Services.  She could hear the DART bus rumbling up the street to the corner just ahead.  If she hurried she could just make the stop to board the fuming yellow and white shuttle. 
She hobbled along at a steady pace just as the bus pulled to the corner.  
“Thank, God.”
She clutched the worn accordian file in her hand and found a hard plastic seat near the back of the bus.  The jolting and tossing of the buses’ jerky start shot a fresh jolt of pain through her back and limbs. 
“Will this ever end?”
The bus dropped her a few blocks from the large gray building where she would meet with a social worker and discuss her situation. “God, if you are really out there… I need you to come through.  If this doesn’t come through I don’t know what I’ll do.”
She stumbled up the steps and hustled into the entry way almost forgetting the lagging pain that often slowed her down. Inside she dumped her purse and envelope into a plastic bin and shuffled through the metal detector.  “BLOM….BLOM…BLOM…”  
The familiar sound of the detector’s alarm slowed her up as a security guard approached her with a large, flat wand.  “Ma’am, do you have any metal on you anywhere?”
“Yes, sir.  I’ve got metal pins and rods in my lower back.”
The guard glanced the wand a few inches from Martina’s buttocks as the bleeting sound confirmed her report.  He danced the wand around the rest of her frame quickly before nodding to her.  “Thank you, Ma’am.  You may go.”
She gathered her things from the plastic bin and set out for the large offices in the back of the building. 
The old aluminum framed doors bore a state seal and familiar words.  Martina had been in and out of these offices her entire life.  As a child her mother had survived on welfare.  She had sworn she would never grace the doors of this place again. A sharp pang of shame danced around in her heart before she pulled on the handle to go inside.
The putrid stinch of stale urine and the echoing of crying infants confronted her senses.  She walked over to the information window.  “Hello, my name is Martina Duncan.  I have an appointment with Mr. Phelps this morning.” 

The lady at the window sighed heavily.  “Do you have your paperwork?”

Martina opened her file and pulled out the needed forms and identification.  She slid it through the portal at the bottom of a safety window without a word.
“Everything seems to be in order here.” The eyes that met Martina’s now  seemed dark and vacant. She issued a standard response.  “Mr. Phelps will be out to get you in a minute, ma’am. Have a seat and wait until you are called.”
Martina turned and deposited herself next to an older gentlemen sleeping on the bench near the door. He startled for a moment before shifting in his seat and leaning his head against the course cinder blocks behind him.  His mouth went slack in a second as long, deep sounds began to reverberate through the room.

An old copy of Ladies Home Journal lay in the seat to her other side.  She picked it up and began flipping through the magazine.  A queasiness began to roll in her stomach as pictures of happy families sitting around the dinner table and stories of celebrity moms danced before her eyes.  They taunted her with their perfection.  “Not for you…” They declared.

She tossed the magazine aside as the large safety door clicked and a portly old man with a balding gray head peered out looking around the room.  He glanced down through the spectacles on the end of his nose and droned, “Martina Duncan?”

Martina stood shakily and walked toward the door.  She felt as if she might faint, but shook off the feeling.  You just have to make it through the interview.
The offices behind the door were a flurry of activity.  Moms with children of every race and age dotted the open office with rows of desks lined up across the room.  Social workers shuffled pages and the sound of ringing phones and hushed voices swirled in the air.
“How are you today, Miss Duncan?” Mr. Phelps seemed like a kind enough man. He held her paperwork to his side as he led her to a small cubicle toward the back of the room.  “What brings you to see us today?”

Martina’s heart began to beat fast.  She felt like running out of the room.  Humiliation settled over her like a wholly blanket. “Uh-hmmm. I, uh… Well, I need some help, sir.”

Mr. Phelps stepped in behind Martina and tossed her paperwork on the desk.  He nodded toward a chair positioned in the narrow space between the wall and his desk.  “Have a seat.”

Martina folded her wiry frame into the hard metal chair and smiled weakly. “Thank you.”

“Let me see what we have here.”  The elderly gentleman picked up the application for services and began typing information into the computer sitting on his desk.  “You are 41 years old?”

“Yes, sir.” 

“Date of Birth?”

Martina wondered for a moment why he couldn’t just read the information off her application. “January 1, 1969.”

Mr. Phelps squinted at the computer screen and quickly tapped in the digits. “Address?”

“4220 Cypress Courts unit 3B.”
“Cypress Courts?”
Martina nodded and watched as his fingers flew from home row to the various keys required to enter her address into the computer.
“Zip?”
She continued to answer routine questions until he came to one that she hadn’t really thought about until that very moment.

“Do you rent or own?”

“Own.”  She noticed his hand’s pause before hitting a single key.

“Value of the property?”

“$75,000.00”

“Do you have a mortgage?”

“No, Sir.”

Mr. Phelps stopped typing and looked at her over the top of his glasses. “You have no debt on this property, ma’am?”

“No, Sir.”

“I see.” He turned back to her paperwork and began asking more questions about her personal finances. “Cash on hand or in the bank….Income….”

She continued answering the questions he offered her.

“What kind of assistance are you looking for today?”

She smiled bravely, pressing down the shame she felt inside.  “I was hoping to get some assistance with groceries and anything else you could help me with.  Just until I get on my feet again.  I’m out of food and have regular medical care for a back injury I suffered a few years back.  That’s why I lost my job.  I missed too much work.  TWC rejected my claim for unemployment.”

“I see….” Mr. Phelps eased his chair back and folded his hands over his rounded middle.  “Well, Miss Duncan.  I’m afraid that your asset values on the condo amount to more than the limit to receive food stamps or medicaid.  But, I do have a list of charities, food banks and a number for a social worker over at Parkland Hospital that may be able to help you with some of your needs.  I’m sorry I can’t be of more assistance to you.”  

Martina looked into the man’s soft, hazel eyes.  She nodded as the tears began to surface again. “Are you sure there is nothing you can do?”

Mr. Phelps sighed. “I’m afraid not. If you were to sell your condo, I could then offer you basic assistance in the amount of $350 for food and medicaid for your medical services when your asset level falls into our range for benefits.”

Martina felt the anger that had been on low boil inside her flare.  “Is that all?”

“What do you mean, Miss Duncan?”
“I have to sell my home – be homeless – to get assistance?  Are you kidding me?” 
“I’m afraid those are the rules, ma’am.” He hit two keys on his computer and moved a mouse across the thick mouse pad beneath his wrist. With a few swift strokes he set off the rhythmic bumping of a printer behind his desk.  He plucked the papers from the cache and smiled.  “I really am sorry.  I know this must be difficult for you.  I wish there was more that I could do..”

He gestured grandly as he checked boxes and signed his name to the bottom of the top sheet.  “This is your denial letter.  You will need this when you contact the agencies on the second page.  Good luck to you, dear.”

Martina’s head throbbed again. “Th…Thank you, Mr. Phelps.”

For just a moment she felt as if the tuna she’d eaten earlier might make a second appearance, but then her nerves seemed to subside.  Mr. Phelps extended his hand to her.  “Do you need me to show you out?”

“No, sir.  I can find my way.”

She picked up the papers that sat before her on the desk and moved slowly back toward the steel safety door and the world outside.  Defeat hung onto her like a heavy coat.  What now?

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Tune in tomorrow for more of Tina’s Story….

 (c) 2010 Michelle Bentham, All Rights Reserved.  This story is fiction.  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is not intentional. 

 

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