AO pointed to the DVD player and said, “That machine’s not yours either. Nothing in this apartment is yours. You don’t own anything besides that found mutt. And if it weren’t for me, you’d be out on the streets—and don’t you forget it.”

“I work,” I say.


“And do I take any of your water ice money?” AO asked me as if he was a hero or something.


“Well then,” AO said, and then sat back down.

I looked at Mom and could tell that she’d had enough of Oliver, but I wasn’t ready for what she said next.

“Amber, go into your room and put all of your clothes into trash bags. Pack up all your belongings. Don’t forget your comforter.”

“Why?” I said.

“Because we’re moving out,” Mom said with this real determined look on her face.

“Where are you going to live?” AO said with a laugh, flashing a mouthful of half-chewed lunch meat—laughing at us. “On your school bus?”

Mom went into the kitchen; I followed her. When she grabbed the trash bags from under the sink, went to her room, and started stuffing all of her clothes into the bags, BBB and I went to my room and did the same thing. We didn’t have that much stuff, so we only filled six bags.

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With coats on, bags in hands, we walked past A-hole Oliver, and he said, “You’ll be back. See you in a few hours.”

We walked out of AO’s apartment complex, and then my mother kissed me on both cheeks, held my head in her hands, and said, “Oliver was an asshole. I’m sorry I made you live with him for so long. We’re never going back to his apartment. I promise.”

I smiled at her, and for some reason we both began to cry right there on the sidewalk, hugging each other, as BBB watched.

“It might take me some time, Amber,” my mother whispered into my ear, “but I’ll get us into our very own apartment. We can make it without Oliver. I’ll get a better job or maybe find a better man. Something will come along for us.”

“I know,” I told my mom, but the truth is that I was very scared, because Mom had a lot of alcohol on her breath and I sorta understood without Mom saying it that right then and there, we were officially homeless. But we were also free, and Mom’s standing up to Oliver and taking a chance, well that was something I could respect. It kicked a little apple bottom—Buffy-style. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time, three weeks before Mom asked A-hole Oliver to let us back into his apartment and he refused, even after Mom brought me to him and begged him to let us back in if only for her daughter’s sake.

“Promise me something right now,” Mom said while looking me in the eyes, still holding my cheeks with her hands, five minutes after we had first left AO’s apartment. “You’ll never ever let a man treat you the way Oliver treated me.”

“I won’t.”

“Tell me that you won’t live your life afraid, but will grow up and live a better life than your mother could ever imagine.”

“I will,” I said.

We were both crying in public, with our six trash bags of belongings circling our feet, and for some reason, right then and there, I felt like I was saying goodbye to my mother, that she was going to descend into a place that doesn’t allow you to return—that this was the beginning of the end or something for her. It was like she had snapped—as if her mind had begun to turn on her and she knew it. It was like she was on her deathbed in some stupid movie and I was vowing to fulfill her last wishes. But it was also sorta like a beginning for me, because what I promised my mother—I didn’t take that vow lightly then, and I sure as hell don’t take it lightly now.

So standing there in the doorway of the prison visitation room, just before I face my mother’s killer, I take a deep breath—remembering all that has happened, all that I have survived, how strong I’ve become—and once more I say, “I won’t. I will.”

When I walk into the room, another security guard—a young skinny man—shows me to a little booth that is sorta like a desk with dividing walls to separate me from the other visitors, even though there are no other visitors in the room right now.

My mother’s killer—he’s seated on the other side of thick Plexiglas and is staring at me.

On the desk are headphones I am supposed to put on that have a little microphone stick that hangs out over your mouth—sorta like what a helicopter pilot might wear.

My mother’s killer already has his headset on.

He’s staring at me—blankly.

Huge brown glasses.

Crazy hair.

Orange jumpsuit.

His wrists are handcuffed to the belt that circles his belly.

I try not to think about what he did to my mother, but I can’t help it—a wave of anger rushes through my limbs.

I take a few deep breaths.

He nods toward the headset and mouths the words: PUT IT ON.

I look into his eyes and shiver.

There is nothing there.

He is not human.

He is a thing.

There is nothing left in his eyes.


He is a monster.

Seeing the daughter of his last victim—no emotion registers on his face.


So I do not put on the headset.

Instead, I pull out an origami swan from my pocket and show it to him.

No emotion registers on his face.

I unfold the swan with trembling hands.

My poem is written in huge letters.

With an open hand, I hold my words up to the glass and watch my mother’s killer read what I have written to him—how I am responding to his murdering my mother.

You may exist in

This world—but I exist too

And I will not yield

The face of my mother’s killer does not change.

He nods toward the headset again and yells, PUT IT ON!

He’s trying to yell through the glass, he obviously wants to say something to me, but he doesn’t get to call the shots today.

I see the guards behind him stiffen.

I keep my haiku up against the glass and shake my head no.

Suddenly, the man lunges toward the glass.

Attacks my haiku with his head—banging it against the glass several times before the guards come and drag him out of the visitor’s room.

I don’t even flinch.

Only when they have him completely out of the room do I lower my haiku from the glass.

I leave my poem there on the desk; I want it to stay in the prison.

“What the hell did you write on that piece of paper?” the young skinny guard asks me.

When I don’t answer, he walks past me and picks up my haiku.

I walk out of the visitor’s room, and the woman guard escorts me past security, through the metal detector, and out of the prison.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling a little better having faced my mother’s killer.

He has not defeated me—and if a man like him can’t beat me, I know nothing will.

There is life all around me.




Endless air.

Birds flying overhead.

There is a good bearded boy in a Volvo waiting for me.

All this, right now, is mine to experience.

I need to drink it up for Mom, for all of those who cannot—and for me too.

I’m only eighteen.

These are the days.

I’m still a kid if I want to be.

And I do.

Bearded Ty gets out of the car when he sees me walking across the parking lot, but he doesn’t say anything. His face expresses concern. I can tell he cares about me—deeply. And I can tell he is still a kid too—in spite of the hideous friendship beard.

“I did what I had to do,” I tell him.

“Do you want to talk about it?”



“Do you want to open your presents?” I ask.


“For driving me today.”

“I’m not sure this is the appropriate—”

“We’re opening your presents. Get in the car.”

We get into his Volvo station wagon.

“Here’s present number one,” I say and then hand him a small but heavy wrap job.

“This is sort of weird,” Ty says.


“Opening presents in the parking lot of a maximum security prison.”

“We’re celebrating our freedom. We’re celebrating our ability to be kids when everything is trying to take that away from us. It’s a choice, Ty. We can do whatever we want.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Come on, just open it already. You’re going to like this present. I promise.”

Ty rips off the wrapping paper. “Batteries?”

“Open ’em up. You’ll only need two.”

“For what?”

“For present number two.”


“Just do it.”

Ty gets two batteries ready and then opens his second present.

“An electric razor,” he says.

I grab the box, open it up, and put the batteries into the electric razor.

I flick it on and it makes a buzzing noise.


I look Ty in the eyes and I say, “I think it’s time to shave off that awful beard.”

“I’m not shaving until you agree to go to Friendly’s with The Five,” he says, and then laughs sorta strangely, as if he’s no longer sure about his plan. “Remember?”

But then suddenly, I want to look into his eyes—I want to know that there is something inside of Ty. Something human. The opposite of what I saw while looking through the Plexiglas—gazing into the eyes of a monster.

I search those brown orbs.

They are innocent.

They are the color of bark.

They are alive.

They are boyish.

They are full of possibility.

They are full of hope.

They are gorgeous.

They are beautiful.

They give me fuel—they make my chest feel so warm.

“Well, then, we’ll go to Friendly’s,” I say. “Just as soon as we pick up The Five. You have my word. So this is the part where I get to shave off your beard.”

BZZZZZZZZ! says the electric razor

“You have to trim it with scissors first,” Ty says.

So I show him the scissors that came with the electric razor.

“You’re gonna do it in my car? Right here?”

“Yep,” I say.

He swallows once, and then says, “Please, Amber. Not in my sweet ride.”

So we step out of the car and I carefully snip Ty’s beard down to the skin with scissors—so much hair falls to the asphalt of the maximum-security prison parking lot.

Carefully—I shave Ty’s face with the battery-operated electric razor.

A boy emerges from underneath all that facial hair.

“How’s it feel to be clean-shaven?” I ask when we are back in the Volvo.

“The people at the bank are going to be pleased,” Ty says. “My parents will probably write you a thank-you note.”

Ty and I eat a late lunch at McDonald’s—cheeseburgers, salty fries, milk shakes—and then we ride the rest of the way home from the maximum-security prison listening to pop music on the radio, and when a good song comes on that we both know, we sing it loudly.

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