Max (Carolina Cold Fury Hockey)(6)

By: Sawyer Bennett

I can’t go to sleep because I’ve gotten to the point where I’m used to surviving on only a few hours each night. By the time I’d get home from my shift at the gas station convenience store, I’d be lucky to get four and a half hours before I had to get up to start my workday all over again at the nursing home.

That’s the story of Julianne Bradley’s life.

Work, sleep. Work, sleep. Work, sleep.

Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s more like Work. Sleep. Take care of kids. Work. Take care of kids. Cook and clean for Glenda and kids. Work. Sleep.

Not anywhere in that daily grind is there time budgeted for me, unless you count the quick five minute shower I take each morning. It’s amazing the little things that you easily cut out from your life as being unimportant when you’re on a time crunch. I can be showered and dressed for work in about fifteen minutes now. That’s because I quit wearing makeup and usually put my wet hair up in a ponytail or bun. That leaves me adequate time to get the kids up, dressed, and fed breakfast before Glenda arrives. She handles getting Levy and Rocco on the bus and then stays at my apartment with Annabelle. The boys come home around four, about the time I’m getting off work. I live only a few miles from Sweetbrier, so I’m usually home by 4:15 P.M. I start Levy and Rocco on their homework and help with whatever they need. I then spend about an hour in Glenda’s apartment, which is right next door, and I’ve got a good routine going: Mondays and Thursdays, I dust, and clean the bathroom; Tuesdays and Fridays, I vacuum and mop; Wednesdays, I get to anything that can’t be held off until the next scheduled day. About the only thing I don’t do is their laundry, and I told Glenda no way was I washing Bill’s underwear.

She didn’t care. She was just happy not to do the nasty stuff like toilets and even happier yet to have me do the cooking.

So after cleaning Glenda’s place, I’d come back home to start dinner, making enough for her family and mine, and in between help the kids out if they’re still doing their homework. If I was lucky, dinner was ready before I had to leave for work at the gas station, and I’d be able to cram some food down my throat too. If not, Tina—who is also my neighbor, but one flight down—took over feeding the kids while Glenda picked up her portion home for when Bill arrived. Thinking about this just makes me all the more tired and depressed.

There is one benefit though to not having much time to myself. That means there’s precious little time for me to give in to my insecurities. All of the doubts as to whether I’m good enough to take care of Melody’s children, or whether I’ve bitten off more than I can chew but I’m just too stubborn to admit it to anyone.

Sighing into the darkness of my room, I try not to think about my life before Melody died. I’d often bitch to my friends or my boyfriend about how hard it was sometimes to be a grown-up and live on your own. I wanted to get my hair highlighted but I couldn’t because I bought a new pair of shoes that I simply had to have. Or the tread on my tires was wearing thin but because I spent all my extra money on frivolous things, I couldn’t get them replaced. Or in the few days before payday I was eating Ramen noodles, but the day after I’d get my check I’d blow it on a cute top from the Gap.

I mentally roll my eyes at myself as I think about my life now and realize…before Melody died, I was actually living an easy and fruitful life. I had it damn good before and while I would never give these kids up, I can’t help but be a little wistful over how good it felt not to have this much responsibility on my shoulders.

I didn’t ask for my older sister to get cancer at the age of twenty-eight. I didn’t ask to take care of her. I didn’t ask to watch her die. I didn’t ask for my niece and two nephews to come live with me. And I certainly didn’t ask for all of the stress and fatigue that comes with raising three kids devastated by the loss of their mother, working minimum wage jobs, and not a clue in the world on how to even interact with my niece and nephews in this new family dynamic thrust upon us.

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing about my circumstances right now.

Well, I’d kill for another part-time job and I’ll have to get cracking on that tomorrow. But there was no other option except that the kids come live with me. Melody’s husband bailed on her long before she got sick, and while he floated in and out of the kids’ lives periodically, he’s three years behind on child support. And there truly was no other option when Melody asked me point-blank to become their mother when she passed.