ホワイトハウスまで Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland



We sit on the couch, and he hands me a cold ham-and-egg croissant.


A little after five, after I haven't eaten all day, he brings me Pringles and gross little frozen pizza rolls.


It's late, and I finally get to eat - a burger and fries from Wendy's. By now they're just cold grease, but I'm so hungry.


He has been at his mother's house for dinner and he brings me leftover rice and beans that she made. He seems to go to her place a lot, which seems weird to me because he's always telling me how much he hates her. [...]

But I'm grateful to get her homemade meals instead of another cold fast-food burger. I just wish she knew her son was feeding me her leftovers.


When he finally gives me a Mr. Hero sandwich, I keep the napkin. It's very thin but has lots of white space where I can write. I'm keeping McDonald's and Wendy's bags too, because I can tear them open and write on the inside.


It must be nice to be able to go swimming in this ninety-degree heat. I can smell grilling outside, the smell of summer. I daydream of barbecued ribs, I'm always so hungry.


He got them a free McDonald's cheeseburger by bringing his half-eaten one back to the counter and lying about finding a hair in it. He kept that burger, too, saying he might as well give it to his dos.


My mom is drinking coffee downstairs at the dining-room table, and my two little nieces are up already, too. I open the cabinet, find the Pop-Tarts, and drop two in the toaster.


Life was simple and healthy there. The family would "eat off the trees," with oranges and avocados and other fruits and vegetables they grew on their own land. They caught their own fish and walked everywhere.


In Yauco, breakfast would be coffee with a little goat's milk and crackers - maybe toast once in a while. But in Cleveland, the kitchen was filled with gallons of milk, cereal, bread, and cans of spaghetti, and Mom ate like crazy.


School today is the same old stuff: science, reading, math, social studies. Nothing special at lunch, just pizza and chocolate milk. I'm extra hungry, so I buy potato chips with some of the $1.50 in bus money my mom gave me. That means I won't have enough left for the bus later, so I guess I'm walking home.


"I brought you some food," he says, handing me a plate of rice and beans. "My mom made this - it's good."

I'm so hungry, but I won't touch it.

"I'm only eating my mom's cooking. I want to go home!"

My mom's food is famous. Before the holidays she spends days cooking and baking. She makes chicken and pork and Puerto Rican specialties, like arroz con gandules - rice and pigeon peas. I try to imagine the salty taste and rich smell of my mom's hot food, right off the stove.

I wish I could do a drive-by! That's what we call it when somebody has to work on a holiday and can't come for dinner at our house. They call ahead, pull up outside, honk the horn, and Mom runs out with a plate of whatever she made that day. 


Now he's back, this time carrying a McDonald's bag.

"You must be hungry by now," he says. "You gotta eat."

I'm starving, so I can't help it. I eat the cheeseburger and fries in seconds.


Torsney was a wiry, old-school agent who enjoyed strapping on his body armor and kicking in bad guy's doors. Patient and methodical, he made ten peanut butter sandwiches every Sunday, putting two in his car for Monday and freezing the rest, removing two each morning the rest of the week so he didn't have to leave a stakeout to eat.


He takes me upstairs for dinner: Tonight it's doughnuts, the grocery-store kind in a white box with a mix of powdered sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate. He gives me so little food that when he does, I'll eat anything.


He lets me eat first, so when he brings home a pizza that has ten slices, I can take four, and the other two get three each. I feel guilty about having more, but I'm hungry all the time, and it's hard to wait for hours and hours to eat. I wonder if he's kinder to me because I'm the new girl, and I wonder what happens when I', not new anymore.


I'm still hungry all the time, and he feeds them first. Last night I didn't get Chicken McNuggets until two a.m., which is when their movie ended, I guess.


The garage door opens, and he comes in carrying a Georgio's pizza and a bag of candy.


I'm going to forget him and focus on happier things, like what's happening at my house right now. It's almost dinnertime, so I imagine my mom roasting a turkey and making ham and mashed potatoes. I bet she has music on. I wonder if Beth let Ry and Rissa open one present on Chritsmas Eve like we used to.


I wish we could all be togheter on New Year's, eating great food. We always have Tennessee Pride sausage, the roll that you slice into patties. Just thinking about it is making me hungty.


Yuck, Fritos. When I was in high school, I ate them by the bag. Now all it takes is one whiff, and I'm puking my guts out. He has been leaving bowls of Fritos out in case he doesn't get home by dinnertime, and I can't escape the smell.


He's already begun to notice that the only thing I can keep down is milk and cereal. For every meal I ask for the same thing: Peanut Butter Captain Crunch or Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.


He gets home from work and brings Burger King food to Gina and Michelle, and then comes into my room with a burger and fries.


I just watched the July 4 fireworks on Channel 3. He went to a barbecue at his mother's house and now he's back with leftovers. For the first time in over two months, food smells good. In fact, it smells delicious. He brought us back ribs, salad, rice and beans. I can't stop eating.


Even though I'm finally eating real food I know I'm still not eating right. I wish I had vitamins, but he says I don't need them.

One day I passed out and fell down on the floor of my room. He picked me up, put me on the bed, and made me ramen noodle soup.


I told him yesterday I was craving butter pecan ice cream, so he went out and  bought some. That's something.


He starts frying eggs and sausages while I make toast. He tells me that it's unbelievable that I'm standing up cooking breakfast just hours after giving birth, with no drugs or anything.


She said Castro liked her homemade popsicles and bought them when she get up a stand on her front porch on hot summer days.


He brings home a couple of packages of sliced ham from his mother's house. The expiration date has passed, and she told him it was too old to eat, but of course he thinks it's fine for us. I heat up the meat in one of the bags, and it's actually okay.


He brought Joce a birthday cake with coconut frosting, and we decorated it with little candy canes and four candles on top. He went crazy buying candy and snacks. We put Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Tic Tacs, Oreos, and cheese puffs out beside the cake.


Then she takes out a box of graham cracker treats.


"What is that, strawberry granola bars?"


He hands me the camera and he sits on the chair with Jocelyn in his lap eating an ice cream sandwich.


He gets orange juice out of the fridge, puts some old doughnuts on the table, and tells me to sit.


He drove her to a bakery on Clark Avenue, where they gave her a free cookie with purple icing and sprinkles. Joce saw a little girl there with her grandpa, and she kept saying, "I love you" to her, too.


They've been to Home Depot, where a lady told Joce that she loved her curls. He took her out to get us his version of dinner——KFC for chicken, Little Caesars for pizza, and Walgreen's for pop. They also went to Family Dollar, where he got her a new swimsuit and let her ride in the shopping cart, which she loved.


I cut the top off a plastic milk jug, which we use as our sink. I put a packet of oatmeal in the microwave, add some milk from our little mini-fridge, and we have breakfast.


At lunchtime we have a sandwich that I made the night before. He brought us some chips in a bowl, which I have to make last all week, so I cover them with plastic to keep them fresh.


Some years I get more than others, but usually I end up about $50, and spend it on special things like take-out Mexican from Chipotle or poster board.


She reaches into her little bag and pulls out her last piece of gum. She almost never gets gum, so it's a special treat.

She holds it out to me and ways, "You don't have anything to celebrate your birthday, so this is for you."


He was so frazzled the morning she died that he burned the bacon and filled the house with smoke.


I'm so, so hungry all the time. I must weigh under a hundred pounds now, probably thirty less than when I got here. I take some grocery-store ads from the newspaper and cut out pictures of food I dream about: a strawberry ice cream sundae, a thick ham-and-cheese sandwich, a pile of onion rings, and a Hershey's chocolate bar. I glue the pictures of food to the bottom of the flyer and tuck it away in the little blue backpack where I keep my most precious things.


One day in November he brought her home a lunch from school, a little brown paper bag with sandwich. I guess they were giving away extras, and she was so excited that it came from a real school.


We have lots of nice food for the graduation ceremony. He had a year-end party at work yesterday, and he brought us a big dish of leftover pasta and some pop.

He also found hundreds of pages of first-grade worksheets that were being thrown away, which will be a big help when we start school again in August.


He opens the pop, and we eat the pasta. We're all so proud of Jocelyn and happy for her. I can't remember another time when we were all in one room eating, talking, and laughing.


He fires up his little grill, the kind you can set on a table, and cooks hamburgers and hot dogs. He is in an unusually good mood and puts some chairs in the garage so we can stay outside and eat. He even hands me a beer after he's had a few himself.


Ever since Joce was born, but especially in the last year or so, he's been buying healthier food. His doctor told him to eat more fruits and vegetables, and while he still cooks a lot of rice and beans, he makes me steam broccoli or green beans or kale, something green every day. He read on the Internet that kale is good for you, so he has that a lot. He suddenly has cucumbers and carrots in the fridge, and fish. He's started growing peppers and tomatoes in the backyard.

But it's annoying, because the good food is only for him and Jocelyn. The rest of us still have to eat a lot of McDonald's and other junk because it's cheaper. He buys apples and oranges and bananas, but we're only allowed to eat them if they start going bad.

He still has a sweet tooth, though, and loves chocolate so much that he keeps huge Hershey's bars with almonds in the fridge. Mainly those are just for him, but sometimes he gives us a little.


I've told him how much I want turkey for Thanksgiving, so he got up really early today and went to Save-A-Lot, since they're open twenty-four hours, and bought a bunch of frozen turkey legs.

We can't cook a whole turkey because we don't have an oven, so frying the legs will have to do. I don't even like turkey that much, but Thanksgiving isn't the same without it, and I want to make sure Jocelyn learns all these traditions——at least as much as possible in this place. It's sweet of him to help me.


While Gina and I start picking the meat off the thawing turkey legs and putting it in the frying pan, he and Joce go out in the backyard to rake leaves.


He and Joce love rice and handles, so we heat them up on the rice cooker, make some instant mashed potatoes and a box of stuffing, and warm up a can of corn in a pan.

We all sit down to dinner in the kitchen and finish with a special treat: pumpkin pie with Cook Whip! I feel like a whale because I ate so much, just like I used to at home. God, I miss that feeling of being home on a lazy, happy holiday. Watching him sitting here with us, smiling and content, it's suddenly so clear to me: he wants that feeling, too.


I miss my mom's cooking and all my relatives sitting around our table. I miss being able to get up and go to the refrigerator when I'm hungry. I see Amanda's picture of a big ham sandwich. I sure would like one of those, and the roast beef sandwich, and all the fruits.

Amanda spends hours every week copying down recipes from Martha Stewart and other cooking shows. I asked her why she spends so much time pausing and rewinding the same show over and over just to get the exact amount of flour and cinnamon or whatever. And she says someday she is going to walk into a grocery store and buy whatever she wants and make all these recipes.


Nancy was cooking a chicken stew while Janice rested in her bedroom. 


"Mommy," I ask when we finally pull apart, "do you still make mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and corn?"

"We can make it tonight!" She says.

"I want to go to the mall," I tell her.

"We'll go tomorrow!" She says.


The nurses bring us a sandwich, chips, and juice. They ask Jocelyn what her favorite food is, and she says, "KFC!" So somebody runs out and gets her some. She's excited but takes one bite and realizes it's the spicy kind. Too hot for her, so she gulps down water.


I can tell Joce is getting more comfortable, because she's running all over the place, with her face all red from a cherry Popsicle somebody gave her.


We never do get to sleep, and at about eight we wander down to the breakfast buffet. In the house, Gina and I would often daydream about a buffet where you could eat whatever you wanted and all you wanted. I eat pancakes and doughnuts and orange juice, and I ask the man at the omelet station to make me one with ham and cheese and onions. I can't believe how much I'm eating. I haven't seen this much food in ten years. So many choices!


Another officer brought Castro a slice of pizza and a bottle of Coke. Sitting alone in the room, with the surveillance camera still recording him, Castro had trouble picking up the pizza with his cuffed hands, and put his face down into the plate and ate it. When he finished, an officer brought him a second slice.


I load up my cart with food I used to dream about: strawberries, plums, kiwis, big boxes of Raisin Bran, and green beans. And, of course, ribs! I have to remind myself that I can just get a few things at a time and come back to the store whenever I want to, and he can't stop me anymore.

I make us the most amazing breakfasts of over-easy eggs, nice and yolky with bacon and sausage——just because I can. Sometimes when I'm cooking, I go out of my way to push the pan to one side of the burner. He always demanded that it be exactly in the middle of the flame and called me names if I did it wrong. It feels liberating to do things my way, not this.


So one of his aides escorts us to the White House Mess, which is not a mess at all. It's a fancy dining room in the basement. It's busy at lunchtime, and there are a couple of senators eating at the next table. I'm taking pictures of everything, including the presidential seal pressed into the butter——who thinks of something like that?

The room is so pretty, and we laugh and joke and sip bubbly water from crystal glasses, eating club sandwiches with white linen napkins.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Mary Jordan, Kevin Sullivan, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland