Saturday, July 26, 2014

Crystal Clear - the cycles of poverty and ignorance

I used to think that the situations on the Jerry Springer show were staged. But that was before we visited Daytona Beach.
I used to believe that the sheer ignorance and depravity of the people on that show were faked for some sick pleasure of the audience.
But that was before we visited a local laundromat in Elizabeth City. Where we met 'Crystal'.
One thing I love about cruising is meeting people from all walks of life. In every type of place imaginable.
And then there are the ‘Crystal’ days. When I marvel at this world and all it’s made up of. America, fabled land of freedom and opportunity. Where Crystal is a 25 year old blond, blue eyed, toothless, clinically obese girl, sipping on a McDonalds Big Gulp trying to get her laundry done ‘cuz she works 7 days a week at Hardee’s’ fast food up the road. 

Why does she work so much? Cuz she “loves money, sho’ nuff!”
Like us, Crystal is complaining about the laundromat. For me, it’s the thick layers of grime on the walls, floors, and pretty much every machine. I’m worried the clothes will leave this place dirtier than when I brought them in. Crystal says the dryers don’t work and it’s a rip off and the place should be ripped down. I agree.

But we are drawn together in this place, out of necessity.
For Crystal, it’s because her landlord refuses to fix a leak at her apartment and she is refusing to pay her water bill. So presumably the water’s been cut off. She assures us that she ‘ain’t payin’ the rent neither’, so presumably she’ll be on the streets again soon.
This won’t be the first time. She points a stubby finger through the grimy window across the street. “I was staying in the shelter beside the Taco Bell” for a while when I had my kids.
Crystal has two children. Their names are tattooed boldly on each arm. The girl is Nevaeh (heaven spelled backwards) and the boy, Isaiah. She explains that they have been taken away by Child Services and have been adopted by some ‘army family’ who live across the country. They have been gone two years. But she is sure that she’ll get them back one day.
“It’s my family’s fault. They’re racist bastards. They hate black people and my kids are mixed race. They called Child Services on me and had my kids taken away lotsa times. Charged me with neglect. But they never helped me with ‘em. The last time they went to the day care and stole ‘em. Haven’t seen ‘em since.”
Crystal pulls out her fancy Samsung phone and finds some photos to show us. Staring back at me on the smudged screen is a frail 3 year old in a torn pink t-shirt, a huge smile. It breaks my heart.
Crystal tells us that the adoptive family has changed her kids names – both first and last names. At 4 and 6 years old. This sounds absurd to us, along with the fact that she pays child support monthly or it’s garnished from her wages.
She lives with her Haitian boyfriend who she repeatedly calls ‘crazy’. They have his 7 year old boy with them. What about the father of her own kids? “No where to be found. He don’t care, don’t look after them, never did”.
She hasn’t seen her own family in over a year, though they all live in this town. All 14 siblings. According to her, they’re all racist. Except her brother. But he’s been on the run for 9 years.
What for? “He done did some things he shouldn’ta done. Robbed some warehouses…”
Crystal smiles as she remembers, “he robbed Honey Bun warehouse one time, showed up at my sister’s house with a whole heap of donuts. Snacks. Like a whole truck full! We said ‘where you get all them donuts from?! And he’s like don’t y’all worry, just give ‘em to all the kids. Next thing you know the cops show up and tell us we gotta give back all them snacks!”
Crystal also tells us about her other 2 kids, and when JW almost falls off his chair, she explained that they were dead. She casually describes being beaten at 5 months pregnant, at a house party, with her daughter standing by.
It was two women and a man and they kicked her repeatedly in the stomach. As we gasp, she laughs. I guess it’s been a crazy life! But anyway, my daughter was cryin’ after me, and later I jus’ started bleedin’”.  She lost the twins within a few days. Later she was ridden with infection and had to have a full hysterectomy. Maybe that was a good thing. Is there anything good in this story?
She showed us her scar ridden, gelatinous belly. That was the icing on this dismal cake. The life of the uneducated, repeating the mistakes and patterns of their parents before them…
She was taken away from her mother when she was a kid as well. She has never been happy, never felt loved. I saw her in her daughter’s eyes.
And then she was gone. And our laundry was done and we moved on. Untied from this city dock, and headed out. 

Shiloh, tied up on the city dock in Elizabeth City - even had our own gate!

Junior Captain at the helm, up the 'ditch'

Tying up in a lock
What lies ahead and to either side of us?
As we snake our way up the ditch, trees lining our path, I wonder what human stories are lurking, the pain and heartaches, the innocence of the children. The sordid details that are making their way to the next Jerry Springer line up.


  1. Holli, I've been reading your blog for quite some time. Your posts are very interesting and well written. Enjoy your insight and your free spirit. All the Best, krafthaus.

  2. Sad. I hope your next port was better. Sorry I didn't get to chat with you before you headed out.

  3. So very sad, yet so interesting to learn about the other side of the 'American Dream'. Well written Holli. Like your pics.