The buzzing of the alarm clock woke Andy. She hadn’t slept well last night even though it was her first time in an actual bed in as long as she could remember. That day was a big day. She had an interview lined up and managed to get some clothes from The Convict Closet, a small place that helped ex-cons prep for entering the workforce. She was lucky enough to find some second-hand shoes that weren’t terrible from there. She supposed they sort of matched the rest of her outfit, too.
Andy turn off her alarm and rolled out of bed, not worrying about making it since she had no sheets and used an old coat to cover up with last night. She was fortunate that she had just enough left over from the scholarship she earned to get a small, semi-furnished, studio apartment in New York.
After graduation (and her release from Queensborough Correctional Facility), Andy was determined to make something of her life. At present, it had been going to shit. Andy had no family that she knew of and had been passed around the foster system her whole life. She had almost been adopted once, but her foster mom fell pregnant and decided that she didn’t want Andy anymore and she was sent to another home. She was 4 and for as long as she lives she will never forget the confusion she felt at being packed up from the only home she had ever known and sent away.
At age 17, Andy ran away from her last foster home and found herself on the streets of New York alone, cold and scared. She was huddled under an overpass one evening, clutching the jacket she had found in a dumpster to try to stay warm, when a young guy named Nate found her and offered her a blanket. She had accepted.
He had seemed nice enough that Andy let him hang around, and before long the two became friends. They took turns standing in line at the soup kitchens and shelters while the other panhandled for extra cash for other necessities. It wasn’t an ideal existence by any means, but to Andy it was better than being trapped with another foster father that called her pretty but only wanted one thing from her. Now when she slept with someone she was in control. She was fortunate to not have to rely on prostitution like some of the women she knew on the streets, but she had needed to resort to that once before. Still, she’d seen enough in her short time on the streets to not pass judgment.
In Andy’s mind, Nate had shown up at a time when she had nothing and no one and he became the person she depended on. Falling head over heels, stupidly in love with Nate was so easy. He expected nothing from Andy and in return, she gave him everything. Her trust, her love and her loyalty. And she believed that he loved her the same way, although, what did she really know of love? An orphan? The answer was: not fucking much.
Nate had made sense. He showed Andy how to pick pockets and shoplift, both of which she mastered easily. He taught her how to survive in the New York winters and gave her a safe place to live in. Andy’s world had revolved around Nate, she relied on him in a way she had never relied on anyone before (or since). So, when he told her that he’d gotten a job working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, she was ecstatic for him because she knew that his dream was to be a world-famous chef. It also meant warm dinners every night, which was a welcome change from dumpster diving for leftover food. After a while of bussing tables, the owner of the restaurant, ‘Pops’, let Nate begin work in the kitchen.
“Simple things,” he had said to her when she asked what he did all day, “like chopping carrots and onions.”
Andy wouldn’t find out until later that the restaurant was a front business and Nate had gotten caught up in organized crime.
She shook the memories, embittered as they were, and returned to her present. She looked at herself in the mirror and wondered what life would be like if things had been different. If she had not spent half a decade in jail for a crime she had been tricked into committing. If Nate had not betrayed all that she had trusted him with, if he had taken care of her, of them , like he swore to do. When she looked in the mirror she saw her dark eyes burning with anger, with determination to succeed. This time without losing everything to a naive heart.
Nate had asked her to meet up with someone, to pick up a bag for him. “For the restaurant,” he had said off-handedly. Andy didn’t ask any questions, why would she? She trusted him implicitly. She agreed, gave him a long kiss and grabbed a scarf before setting off to retrieve the bag. Nate had told her that he loved her twice. She had smiled at him and kissed his pensive expression from his face. He told her how much he loved her and always would.
“I’ll see you when you get back,” Nate called to her as she walked out the front doors.
Only, he wouldn’t. Thinking back on it now, Andy sees Nate was saying goodbye. Bastard.
She didn’t see his face again after that. Andy made her way to the fish market, like he requested, but as soon as she picked up the bag she was arrested. The police had been lying in wait, pouncing when poor Andy had thought she was picking up some cod. Confusion, then panic swept over her as she was cuffed and read her rights. It wasn’t until she arrived at the station for questioning that she understood what had happened. Nate, the man she trusted so fully, so completely had used her. He had sent her as a mule for his dirty work, had sent her to take the fall for him. Bastard .
Andy looks into the mirror and she sees anger, and determination to be better. But under that, Andy sees the tears welling in her eyes. She sees a girl that had trusted too easily, and it had cost her. The pain was still sharp, wouldn’t probably always be as sharp. Nate had taken some of her best years from her. He took her love, he took her freedom and worst of all he had taken her ability to trust.
And now, here she was, an ex-con. Andy had spent her time in jail working to get her degree. As a former foster youth, she qualified for some scholarships, and after being accepted into the Correctional Education Program, by the time she was released she had a degree in journalism.
Andy wanted to write and she had the ambition to do just that. In fact, while she was in prison, she started a newspaper of sorts. Doing her own investigations into things like the food and commissary services. And while it wasn’t an actual publication she considered herself an editor.
At least that is what she told the woman who did her phone interview.
If prison had taught Andy anything it was that she never wanted to go back, and she would do whatever it took to make it work. The love-struck, naive girl who went into that cell was not the same one who came out. She was harder, she was smarter and she was stronger (and not just because she picked up boxing as a hobby while in there).
Andy had goals now. She had the skills for them and the time and the strength. She had no time for anything other than success. No time for any other Nates, no time for falling in love under the snowing skies in the rougher parts of New York.
Andy dressed herself quickly, a scratchy blue sweater and a brown skirt, and stared at herself for a long moment before moving to apply her makeup. She had considered searching for Nate when she got out, not because she missed him but because she wanted to know what made her so easy to toss away. Maybe I need closure? But she didn’t look for him. The hard truth was he found her dispensable just like everyone else in her life always had. She didn’t need to hear the words come from him.
At first the loneliness was suffocating, the four walls of her cell too narrow, but soon she became accustomed to the isolation, and by the time she started her online schooling, she didn’t feel so alone anymore. Instead, she kept company with Jane Austen and Sylvia Plath and she focused on her studies. She made friends with the quiet and found herself able to find comfort in being alone.
Andy, unlike the other graduates of her class, didn’t dress in a gown, or get photos with her family, or have people clap upon receiving her degree. She got to wait for her diploma in the mail while she sat in a cell and instead of letting the bitterness of her situation get her down, she used it to rise above.
Now, as she set out for her first post-prison interview, she channeled that determination to rise up once more. She closed her eyes at her door, ignoring the scratchiness of her sweater and the restriction of her skirt. She takes a deep breath and steps out of her door and into the new, wide world.