By Rosalie Tirella
The newspaper story was four paragraphs long, but I could see it all clearly, this Worcester story, more footnote than story. You’d have called it a “metro note” in the old days when we all got our news from physical newspapers and the physical length of the story, one skinny column, would be maybe four inches long and tucked in the side of the page, like an afterthought … or like something that was either too insignificant to write about or TOO SIGNIFICANT to write about because THIS WAS LIFE and you only had some city beat news nerd on the job, when who you needed was Tolstoy!
So tiny this metro note! It read something like this: A 5 week old baby dead. She was sleeping with her parents on an air mattress, when they discovered she (we’ll call her Mary) had died. The parents in their early 20s, had another baby, just two years old, sleeping with them on their air mattress, too. The other baby was alive.
When the police came to the Worcester apartment on that cold winter night they noted the young parents – children themselves some might say! – were distraught. The dead baby – just 5 weeks old! – had dried blood in her nostrils. They said she had been dead for several hours. The parents said the family was on that one air mattress because they were moving! An investigation is being conducted. Stained Baby Wipes, a sheet, a blanket were taken by the authorities to be tested and studied.
SO GOES THE BABY, SO GOES WORCESTER!
SO GOES THE BABY, SO GOES THE CITY!
Oh, what might have happened on that cold Worcester winter night, in a flat over by Green Hill Park! What fears – what kind of fate – did a poor young family face in wintertime? There are so many of these families in Worcester, all quietly leading lives of hardship.
A family like so many in Worcester, but one who walking the tight rope between tragedy and grinding poverty fell into tragedy, death. It’s no wonder we don’t read more stories like this one! The city is filled with young poor parents and their tiny innocent babies. Why just a few weeks ago, on Ward Street, my street a young man beat his young girlfriend’s three year old babe so badly that he almost died, his intestines were smashed up so badly! I, personally fell in love with a little girl and her two year old brother and wrote about them here. They’ve left Ward Street, I think. I’ll always remember: the little boy, still wearing diapers maybe, being led by his tiny sister, in the dark, across Ward Street, the cars zooming up and down both ways. The little girl holding her brother’s hand. The little boy still smiling softly because I had given him a cute green plush toy to give to his Chihuahua mix, Beauty.
SO GO THE BABIES, SO GOES WORCESTER!
The Green Hill Park family … very poor, on the cusp of homelessness? Possibly moving out of a place they haven’t paid rent on, running to the next shitty apartment … on the run like seemingly half the families of kids in the Worcester Public Schools. The trend has been studied. I forget what our experts called it. All I know is they said very few inner city WPS kids graduate from the Worcester elementary school they started kindergarten in. The families are always moving, the kids fall behind in school work, lose friendships …
So the Green Hill Park family with a few pieces of furniture and four mouths to feed, four bodies to clothe, four minds to nourish … All that preciousness sleeping on a Wal-Mart air mattress – hard, inflated, thrown on the floor, where its especially cold and drafty on a Worcester winter night.
The parents have little but they love their babies! They, like lots of poor folks, are operating on instinct. There is much stress, too. Living so close to the bone, can make for incredible intimacy. The basics are covered primitively but often the gestures, the emotions, are TRUE! When I was a little girl growing up in Green Island, and we lived in a cold, drafty tenement on Lafayette Street, my Polish immigrant grandmother, Bapy, my mom and I ALL SLEPT TOGETHER in my Bapy’s big black squeaky metal bed, under a big goose down quilt from Poland. It was heavy and mountainous! You sweated underneath that behemoth of bedding! As a child I loved to pounce on it during the day! Jump all over it and pretend I was in the Swiss Alps playing hide and seek with reindeers in the white, glistening mountains.
My mom stuck me between her and Bapy so I wouldn’t fall off the bed! I was just a baby then, and I too was cold in my crib! I still recall the smell of my mother’s rounded back! She smelled like sweat and cabbage soup! I loved being snuggly and warm between my chubby grandmother and round-backed mother. Like a bear cub all safe and dreamy in the cozy bear den!
So the five week old was cranky at midnight, on the outskirts of Green Hill Park in Worcester, where the winter wind bends the tree branches and they creak as the wind makes them go left, then right, in ways that are unnatural to them, you feel the stiffness in society’s soul:
How can we, as a city, as a country, allow so many of our children to go hungry, go underclothed and underfed? How can we live with ourselves as they cough in $1,000 a month shit holes, with parents who don’t know enough to ask the landlords for more and landlords who are slumlords in that it’s all about making the biggest dollar on the dime, five week old babies be damned.
And they are! To lives that start out so rough they never really recover! And here we are in Worcester and America STILL DEBATING FREE UNIVERSAL PRE-K and DAYCARE!
SO GO THE CHILDREN, SO GOES THE CITY!
SO GO THE CHILDREN, SO GOES THE COUNTRY!
So the 5 week old on the outskirts of Green Hill Park was cranky in its bed, so the parents took it up and brought it to sleep with them: for warmth, for soothing, for love …
And then: Death. Death comes to a baby who’s hardly been born! A five week old human baby is so small and innocent! It is hard to believe they grow up to be … us!
Have you ever looked at a baby’s finger nails?! Like little moon crescents … like lamb’s dreams and daisy chains … and yet there they be: in a Lafayette Street cold water flat, in a Green Hill Park apartment on an air mattress on the floor in wintertime!
Years and years ago I lived in Hartford Connecticut and found myself a social worker-case manager. It was a job I’ll never forget: Hartford at the time was one of the country’s poorest cities, the families we cared for seemed out of … Appalachia. Fat from frying pans was thrown out into backyards where skittish stray dogs would run up and gobble it all up and run away. Children’s mothers nodded off to heroin, while their little child sat in the kitchen with old, toothless granny who couldn’t read or write but was caring for them because she had the apartment in the projects and she was, I was told, a good lady.
And there are so many good people in horrific life circumstances! Often the smallest ones are the princes and princesses we can never forget! Take this Hartford day, many years ago:
I and my fellow case worker were doing home visits, going into the projects to visit the parents and guardians of the little boys and girls who were in the program. This one little boy, about 4, had a beautiful mother: long, wavy jet black hair, curvy, but lithe figure, gorgeous white teeth, voluptuous lips … Naturally, there were about a million asshole guys buzzing around her door. Once we came to visit her – and she was in the middle of having sex with this gorgeous, muscular Adonis- the kind if rare guy who looks a thousand times better OUT of his clothes! I can say this because he was the one who answered the door bell – came to the door in just his briefs to tell us NOT NOW, GO AWAY, COME BACK SOME OTHER DAY.
And we did!
Now here we were, back again, to complete the home visit, my coworker in the kitchen with mom, the boyfriend out, me sitting in the living room with the little boy standing before me. There was nothing in the living room but two fold out foam chairs, just foam blocks really covered in cheap beige polyester. The walls were beige too and unadorned. But the little boy was so BEAUTIFUL, like a little emerald in a briar patch. He smiled at me and waved for me to follow him into the kitchen. I did. And watched as he went to the refrigerator open the door and took out a little box of juice and turning offered it to me.
I smiled and took his gift, most likely from our program or the neighborhood food pantry. Then I went back into the living room, took the saran wrap off the little straw that was attached to the juice box and stuck it into the little aluminum foil covered hole at the top corner of the little box and began slurping noisily, smiling at the little boy who took a seat on the foam block opposite me. Tears flowed out of my eyes as I slurped my grape juice because I had seen the inside of hos family’s refrigerator when he was reaching in to get the little juice box. There was nothing in it, except one other little juice box! That was it! On all four metal shelves! In the two big, clear plastic vegetable and fruit drawers! The yellow refrigerator 60 watt light bulb shone starkly, shone meanly on all that barrenness.
I remember saying, to the little boy, through my tears: YOU’RE SUCH A GOOD BOY! YOU’RE SUCH A GOOD BOY!
And he was such a good baby!
Just like the five week old baby who died such a premature death on the outskirts of Green Hill Park, on a cold winter night, here in Worcester.
SO GO THE BABIES, SO GOES OUR CITY!