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People I Loved Who Loved Me Back
Patricia Phillips, or Pat as everyone called her, had lived in her little house on Hurricane Way for longer than anyone could remember. It felt like she had always been part of the neighborhood and a member of the Our Lady Of Grace Church. Through the years, the neighborhood had changed from a quiet place where young couples bought their first homes to a forgotten part of Miami where people ended up when they couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.
Pat was friendly with everyone, but no one really knew her. She kept to herself and looked the other way when neighbors fought, as drug deals took place and while the police cars sat in the street with blue lights flashing. Pat was the first to show up with food after a neighbor suffered a sickness, experienced a death in the family or had a household member arrested for one reason or another.
Pat rarely talked about her life before moving to Miami and when she did the details were sparse. When Pat wanted to make a point she would start a sentence with, “I raised five children…” or “When I was married…” People listened to what Pat said and the advice she gave. Some listened to amuse the old lady, but most listened because she was usually correct in her assessment of a situation. Until the day Pat stepped up and took me into her home she had never over stepped or intruded into the private lives of her neighbors.
Because of the years I lived with Pat, I knew more about her life than anyone else in the neighborhood and I didn’t know much. I knew that the stories she told about having been married and having five children were lies. She had never married and there were no children. I knew that Pat had relocated to Miami from Atlanta in her early twenties. She had worked hard to lose the southern accent of her home state and as the neighborhood residents changed through the years it became easier for her to convince people that she had always lived in Florida. Years would pass before I would learn the reasons for her lies. Her devotion to me had been so unconditional that even learning the truth about her past could not sever the love or the bond I felt for her.
I grew up knowing that Pat wasn’t my real grandmother, but that didn’t change the fact that she loved me and I loved her. If she hadn’t been there to take me in all those years ago I would have ended up in the system much earlier than I did.
Pat had lots of rules in her house and said they were to keep me safe. Church on Sunday was mandatory unless you actually had a fever. Prayers had to be said before bedtime and blessings were said before meals. Lying was not allowed under any circumstances. Teeth were brushed after all meals and snacks. No Television before homework or after eight on weekdays. Toys were not to be left in the floor. Plates had to be cleared and placed in the sink. No one was allowed in the house if Grandma Pat wasn’t home. She had to know where I was going and who I would be with at all times. I followed all of the rules without question, except for once.
I know now that Grandma Pat’s rules were basic, but we lived in a neighborhood where rules weren’t followed often. Children stayed outside way after dark and often joined one local gang or another before leaving middle school. Homework was considered a joke. Most families consisted of a single parent, because the other had either run off or gotten arrested and was serving time. The only thing that stayed the same in our little corner of the world was Grandma Pat and her rules.
With everything I experienced and everything I lost, the day I lost Grandma Pat is still the worst day I ever had. The only day I was never able to forgive myself for.