by Nancy Natalicio  

Friday started out bad.  Star knew it was going to be bad when she saw Joe, one of the Center's consumers or clients. Joe met Star at her car door in the office parking lot.  The questions began.

“Oh, hi, Star, good morning, good morning. How are you?”  Joe didn’t wait for an answer. He continued,  “--Uh, I was a little nervous last night and had to call the Crisis Line.  I smelled smoke next door and called the manager and the police.  The police said it was nothing, but….  Uh, Star, do you know if we’re still going as a group to the meeting?  No one’s here but me and Chico .”

When Joe took a quick breath, Star jumped in to answer.  “As far as I –“

Joe didn't let her finish. "Oh, you don’t know?  What time will we leave?  Will we go in the van?  I guess we will.  Do you think we’ll all fit, Star?  How many does the van hold?  Eight, or can ten go?  I hope not too many.  Will you go in the van, too?  If not, can I ride with you?  I really don’t--”

Star turned her head and sucked in air. “Joe, let’s wait to see who—“

“Wait?  How long will we wait?  It starts at 9 o’clock , doesn’t it?  I hope we’re not late.  It’s already 8 . . .  8:04 to be exact.”  Joe checked his watch.

“How long have you been here, Joe?” Star asked, keeping her voice level.

“I got here at 6:51 ,” Joe said.   ”Chico got here at 7:23, didn’t you?  Chico?  Star was asking what time you got here.” 

He turned to the pacing 18-year-old in the dirty blue T-shirt.  Chico said nothing.  His dark eyes darted from point to point.  They landed on nothing and everything. 

“Well, that’s what he put on the sign-in sheet,” Joe went on.  “Did Jill say we can still go if only two show up?  Maybe it’s not  enough.  What if no one else comes?  But I don’t want too many.”

Star walked toward her office door, trying not to hurry.  She wanted to keep her pace steady and firm. “Jill hasn’t told the staff anything yet, Joe.  Let’s wait and see, OK?”

Star stepped through her door. “Excuse me, Joe.  I just need a minute to get my papers in order.”

“Oh, sure, sure, go ahead.  I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I just--”  He pulled a pair of glasses from his pocket.  “I remembered to bring them today,” he said, holding them up for her to see as he moved into the room.  Chico followed him.

“Good! You’ll be able to read the program,” Star said.  Wham!  Her notebook made more noise than she intended when it hit the desk. “Now, excuse me, Joe?” 

Joe backed into Chico as Star moved toward him to close the door.

“Watch it, man,” Chico hissed in a tense low voice, his hand moving inside his pocket.

                                                      * * * * * * * * * *

Others were arriving now at the day center.  Star listened for problems as they arrived.   She was 26, a social worker, and pregnant.  She had held two other jobs, but not like this one.  The Family Tree took people no one else wanted to deal with. 

There was Danny.  A hippie who skipped out on the war in Vietnam.  He had tried to hang himself three times.  His hair was matted and he smelled bad.

There was Boots.  She had beat up her mother with a boot when Mom didn’t buy the shoes she wanted.  Boots had just gotten out of jail.

There was Sonny, who lived for one thing:  cigarettes.  He spent the day begging others for Camels and checking the ashtrays for butts.

There was “Kandy King,” who wore his gray hair loose to his waist.  He liked 14-year-old girls and was sure they liked him, too.

There was Doc, who had dropped out of med school when the starship came to take him away.

There was Marcia, who’d been drinking with her father from age 5, sleeping with him from age 6.

And there was Joe.  For Joe, panic was the juice of life. 

Star wasn’t afraid of them anymore.  

She knew a job for them would only mean cleaning up after other people. 

She knew “help” was medications with side effects:  stiff arms and legs, shaking hands, thick tongues, bad teeth.    

She knew little sleep meant nightmares.

She knew most just wanted the safety of a place to go.

But with all Star knew, Fridays were always the same.  She wanted to quit.  By Monday she would be ready to try again.

                                                    * * * * * * * * * *

Jill was loading everyone into the van for the trip downtown.  Star saw Joe riding shotgun.  His seatbelt was on and his mouth was moving.

Sonny wasn’t there.

Star had seen him head for the bathroom.  He was probably standing under the “NO SMOKING” sign, smoking.  Grinding the butts into the floor with his heel.

Star checked the rooms. “Sonny!”  She walked to the bathroom door. 

 “They’re serving a free lunch at the hotel, Sonny, and the van’s leaving.” 

The door opened.

During the lunch meeting Star kept her eye on those at her table. 

She stopped Sonny from putting out his cigarette on the tablecloth.

She let Joe call the waiter to the table twice to ask if the coffee was safe.

She told Chico to take the knife and fork out of his pocket.

She kept Doc from huddling in the corner.

She saw Kandy survey each table.

She let Boots empty 2 plates of food into a doggie bag she pulled from her purse.

She left her lunch 3 times to take Marcia to the bathroom. 

On the third trip Star locked herself in a stall and buried her face in her skirt.

It had been a long week and she was tired.  She wondered if being a parent was this hard.

* * * * * * * * * *

Star went back to the table.  The  speaker was telling a story. 

When I was a small boy, my father took me to the temple.  He told the rabbi, “Please talk to my son.  He isn’t working hard enough in school.”

When my father left, the rabbi held me close to his heart for a long time and said nothing. 

When my father came to get me, he asked the rabbi, “Have you talked with my son?”

The rabbi told him, “I have had a long talk with your son.  I’m sure he will try harder now.”

“That,” the speaker said, “was when I saw what I needed to do.”

The room was quiet. 

Star looked at the faces of those at her table. 

In their faces she knew she would find what she needed to learn:  how to hold them, one by one, to her heart.


Go to Comprehension and Discussion Questions

© Unlimited Learning 2003