Fabulous Women Series (1 of 9)
Fabulous Women Series by Bonnie St. John. Copyright 2010 by Bonnie St. John
All Rights Reserved. Sharing is permitted--forward to a friend!
Fabulous Women Series
Today's Featured Fabulous Woman is...Liz Murray, from Homeless to Harvard
From homelessness to Harvard. Liz Murray lived it. Hollywood made a blockbuster movie out of it. And now, with the release of her new book, Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, my extraordinary friend Liz takes us, in her own words, along her deeply moving odyssey of life. From the heartbreak of losing her drug addicted, HIV infected parents, to living on the streets at the age of 15, to graduating from one of the finest Universities in the land, her story of strength, hope, and undaunted perseverance is an inspiration to us all.
-Bonnie St. John
Excerpt from Breaking Night by Liz Murray: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard. Copyright © 2010 Liz Murray.
Published September, 2010 by Hyperion. All Rights Reserved.
Buy Homeless to Harvard from Amazon.
I didn’t expect to graduate sixth grade and go on to junior high school, given all of my absences, but somehow I did. Apparently some of my classmates shared my surprise, because the day that they saw me receiving a diploma alongside them, comments flew. “They passed you, Elizabeth?” Christina Mercado had commented, turning to her friends. “Damn, wonder why we even bothered to show up if they were just givin’ these things away. Know what I mean, girls?” For years, each time I sat down near Christina or any of her friends, they collectively fanned papers in front of themselves and coughed excessively, to draw attention to my dirty clothing and obvious need for a shower. Or they’d hiss at me in the halls and sketch pictures in which bugs infested my hair and waves of bad smells rose from my body. As I sat in the auditorium, sweating in my shiny graduation gown, and the principal called each student’s name, they laughed at one of the last comments Christina would ever make at my expense. I was glad Ma, Daddy, and Lisa weren’t there to witness it.
While I accepted my diploma, Ma lay flat on her back in bed, recovering from a night of White Russians. Daddy was off on one of his private excursions downtown, one of his infamous outings that used to irritate Ma, back when she cared what he did. After the service ended and parents were snapping pictures of their children with their teachers and friends, I left quietly through the side door. In the hallway of my building, I removed my cap and gown before entering my apartment so that Ma wouldn’t feel bad for missing the ceremony. When Ma woke up later that evening, apologizing for not showing up, I assured her, “It was so boring, Ma, you would have hated it. I was glad to get out of there. I wish I could have stayed in and slept, but I didn’t want to make my teachers feel bad, ya know?”
It seemed like no time at all between my graduation and the day that Ma stood over my bed wearing a form-fitting T-shirt, her hair combed back neatly, asking again and again for me to come with her to Brick’s apartment.
“Pumpkin, I gave it my best shot,” she said. “Please, baby, come with me.”
But I clutched my pillow and did not budge from my bed. “I’m not going, and you shouldn’t either! We’re a family, Ma. You can’t leave!” I shouted. “Please, Ma, stay here,” I begged her, crying. “Stay home, stay here with me, please.” I didn’t stop pleading; I even shouted at her from my bedroom window until she and Lisa got into the cab. I couldn’t remember ever being so honest about something I wanted before, and still it had no effect on her. It seemed Lisa had been as ready to go as Ma was, because she placed two pillowcases full of clothing in the trunk, stuffed so full that they told me she had no intention of coming back. Before pulling away, Ma rolled down the taxi window.
“I’ll be waiting for you, pumpkin!” she shouted. “Whenever you want to come, you can.” And with that, the cab drove off, and they were gone.
Throughout those first few months that Daddy and I spent alone in the apartment, I busied myself with upkeep. Using ripped-up old T-shirts and scalding hot water, I wiped down the tabletops of the living room and kitchen. I cleaned the dishes and took out the trash. Each night, when our favorite shows aired, I went over to our black-and-white television and snapped it on, turning the volume up. Whenever it got dark outside, I flipped on the lights in every room of our three-bedroom apartment, and I turned on Lisa’s abandoned radio (too large for her to take with her) so that it spun pop music into her empty room. The noise and light imitated a full household in my mother’s and sister’s absence.
Daddy never said he was sad that they left. He never complained. Though he was quieter than usual those days, even for him. When he wasn’t getting high, Daddy slept throughout the day with the curtains drawn and the lights off in his room. Most of the time when he was awake, he wore his loneliness on him like an old jacket. I could see it in the hunch of his shoulders, and in the way he avoided any mention of their names.
Sometimes when Daddy left for downtown, the moment he vanished over the bend of University Avenue, I opened a drawer that held a few pieces of Ma’s old clothing and selected an item to wear around the apartment. Mostly, I enjoyed sitting in Ma’s rose-colored robe—which dragged on the ground wherever I walked—and eating bowls of cornflakes while watching The Price Is Right. I was sure she’d return any day to join me, sorry for her absence, ready with assurances that she would never leave us again. Wearing her clothing was my way of summoning her, just for the meantime.
By the time I started Junior High School 141, our phone was back on for a short while and Ma had called at least four times to describe how clean Brick’s apartment was. “Bedford Park is a much better neighborhood, Lizzy. Lisa thinks so, too.” She always placed her calls when she was at the stove. Living with Brick, Ma had taken to cooking. “I haven’t used coke in months. Do you realize that, Lizzy? I feel great. I told you, I only needed to get away from it to stop,” she said, deflating my argument before I could even get the words out of my mouth.
In the background, I heard Brick prodding her, “Jean. Jean, the pork chops. Jean!” The grease crackled loudly and she returned her attention to me. “I have to go now, Lizzy. We’re about to eat. I love you, pumpkin!” My heart dropped. “I love you too, Ma.” And then instantly, a click, and the hum of a dial tone.
End of excerpt.
Copyright © 2010 Liz Murray.
Like this excerpt? Buy Breaking Night by Liz Murray: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard from Amazon.