I moved to the Homestead apartment complex at six-years-old.
It was my third apartment that year, and I was going to start my third elementary in my first grade year. My mom had met another man, and they quickly found this apartment to move into. It was low income and only 60 dollars per month. My mom had just had job training through the state, as when your child turns six, it’s time to get off of welfare.
Since meeting this new boyfriend and us all moving quickly to this new place, he could conveniently babysit me while she left in the early morning for her new job. He didn’t have one, unless you count dealing drugs as a proper livelihood.
He became my caretaker, and my mom started living as the primary breadwinner with her minimum wage job. I started attending this new school, again, and I was having many problems with breaking down at school and not being able to catch on to what was happening in class. We had literally just escaped my mom’s last abusive boyfriend, my real dad was in jail, and I just didn’t know how much more I could take.
My saving grace was a friend I made in the apartment complex. Her name was Dolly Le. She was from Vietnam and had come over as she said, “On a boat.” They had hidden on this boat for weeks, and she secretly told me they had to eat their own poop and drink their own pee to stay alive. She explained that in her country she had it all—a princess bed, amongst other things, and life was great for her. I didn’t understand why she would want to leave. She explained to me in the best way she could about a corrupt leader and communism, and we went back to playing and watching episodes of He-Man and She-Ra on TV.
Dolly and I became fast friends. I began going over there in the morning before school after my mom left for work. Her and I lived in the same place, but she went to a different school nearby that had an ELL (English language Learners) program.
We would be together every day before and after school. She lived alone with her mother, Thuyet Le, who couldn’t yet speak english. Their apartment was infested with cockroaches, and when I would sleep over I would wake up to find them crawling on my arms and up the walls. They had those sticky cockroach traps on the kitchen floor, and we would wake up to see them filled with the little nasty bugs. We would spray them and kill them, but they kept multiplying. One time, she left her lunch box out for a while and when we opened it there was a huge nest of cockroaches. We screamed and ran around freaking out, and then we took it to the dumpster outside.
One time, Dolly and I were talking on our respective patios upstairs. There was a gentleman on his patio barbecuing and as he poured on the lighter fluid and then lit a match, an explosion ensued and we were both witnessing a man in flames. We panicked as we watched him roll in the grass as his body burned. Neighbors came out with hoses and tried to put the fire out as he yelled in agony.
Dolly and I would have sleepovers at her house often. Most nights we would play a game where we tried to hypnotize one another by taking turns rubbing each other’s temples and counting backwards. We would use a hypnotic voice, while saying, “You are getting very sleepy.”
She also had the best back massage techniques, and from six-years-old ’til I moved when I was 10, we would take turns with back rubs and talking. We would eat sticky rice, and she taught me how to use chopsticks. We would put sugar on our white rice and salt on our grapefruits. Her mom had all of these special medicines for when I had a stomachache, and they had a little Buddha figurine on their kitchen counter.
One Christmas Eve night, I was so excited about receiving a Cabbage Patch kid and I called her to ask if she could come over right away to see it. I felt a little badly because as poor as we were, I knew she had less. They didn’t have a vehicle, and her mom was unable to drive.
When we split ways way back then, we exchanged addresses and would write to one another. The last letter I got from Dolly was when I was a sophomore in high school. She was living in California and had changed her name once to Christina and then to Amy.
I think about my first best friend Dolly often, and wish I could find her now. I am thankful I have this one picture of her at my 10th birthday party.