The Heights by Thania Rodriguez

I remember driving off in our rusty 1990 Nissan Sentra, as I looked back and waved my final goodbye to the place I used to call home. I shed tears nearly the entire ride to our new home only because my mother had forbidden me to take our family pet with us. She was our arguably obese cat, Flintstone. I was only ten years old at the time, so there were many things that I couldn’t comprehend. One of those things was why I wasn’t allowed to take Flintstone with me. Another was why we were leaving nearly our entire life behind.

The house that was left behind wasn’t in the best area of town. It also wasn’t the biggest or the prettiest. It was located only fifteen minutes away from an area known as “The Heights” near Northwest-central Houston. The Heights were known as lavish homes where the “white folks” lived, as my dad would say.  They were all beautifully designed two-story homes, with white picket fences and shutters on every window. In their drive ways you would only see high-end cars like a Mercedes-Benz or a Corvette. Around Christmas, I would always remind my parents to drive by just so I could admire the different ways the homes had been decorated. I was always fascinated by all the lights, and loved to see how creative the houses looked every year. We would put up Christmas lights as well, but it was nothing compared to how beautifully theirs appeared.

Because there were top-notch homes so close to us, we were known as the area they should stay away from. Latinos made up the majority of the area who were divided into two categories; the religious families and the alcoholics. The house wasn’t located in a large neighborhood; it was built at a dead end on a street by the name of Wilder, with only four other houses surrounding us.  An individual named Henry owned the lot and only charged three hundred dollars a month for rent. There was no such thing as a driveway, but only off-white colored dirt that was thrown instead. Driving on that dirt road was the bumpiest thirty-second ride of my life. I would usually ask my dad if I could just walk from the road instead of bumping down the dirt. At times we were forced to park our car outside of the lot area because there was too many cars blocking the area to our lot. There was also no such thing as privacy. We didn’t have a fence and our neighbors were only a few feet apart from us. The house was white on the outside, but needed to be noticeably repainted. It also didn’t have a porch, only concrete walk-in steps that my dad had added on to the house. At the dead end, I would regularly see beaten down cars that were stolen, then left there to be found by someone else. It happened so frequently that it didn’t seem abnormal to us anymore.

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Dead end that is currently there

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Houses that are now on Wilder St.- known as The Heights

The interior didn’t appear any better than the exterior. It consisted of one small bedroom, which I shared with my parents, one bathroom, the kitchen, and the living area with the only large fifty-inch television that took up the majority of the space. There wasn’t any extra home décor items placed either, only the necessities that we needed the most, like the dining table that seated four and the worn out couches that we had carried on with us since our last two homes. Because it was so small, I spent the majority of my time outside doing outside activities such as riding my bike in the small area around the dead end, or playing with the many pets I had.

Although there were only four houses in the lot, nobody felt the need to communicate with each other. My dad would occasionally wave hello to the neighbors across from us, but that was as far as it got. Because our neighbors were so close to us, I could hear our drunken neighbor to the left of us arguing with his wife nearly every night. There would be nights where I would bury my head in the pillow because it felt like a constant ringing in my ears. Sometimes my parents would purposefully turn up the television loud enough to where I couldn’t hear anything. His attire consisted of button-up shirts, khakis, a pair of Timberlands, and of course, a beer bottle in his hand. His clothes always appeared unwashed and wrinkled. He would yell at his wife, saying the worst of things. In one instance, he told her he would “beat her if she didn’t listen to him.” His wife would hardly step out of the house; it was rare when we did see her. He also felt the need to blast his radio on weekends, so that didn’t make it any easier to sleep either.

My dad would never let me go outside when he was there. As a Christian man, he never wanted me to witness a man whom was known as violent and an alcoholic, although he could never prevent me from hearing him every single night. One night after returning from the park, my dad and I both witnessed him trying to forcefully open our side window. Our house had been robbed multiple times before, so we immediately felt that he was the one responsible for all of the previous robberies in our house. The police were never called, only because we had great fear that he was capable of doing much more. It was never said aloud, but he was dangerous and we feared his violence.

Every day consisted of awaking on early mornings for school. The nearest bus stop was a mile ahead, so my mom felt it’d be safer to drive me to school instead. After school, my dad picked me up, and we headed straight towards the park, known as Monte Beach. Because my family didn’t have the money to afford luxurious things, my entire happiness was based solely on that park at the time. It was only walking distance away from the house, so the majority of my time was spent there. Monte Beach was run down with graffiti along the slides and vandalism on the outskirts.  I would sometimes witness a homeless person either lying on a bench, or somewhere in the dark along the trees. My many friendships were built there; it had become a daily routine to meet up with them and play a game of tag or hide-and-go seek. I was given a dollar by my dad on days that we he did have the extra money, so that I could purchase a popsicle from the ice cream man that was there daily. On days that he didn’t have the money, he would warn me before arriving at the park saying, “You won’t be able to have a treat today, so please don’t be grumpy once the ice cream man arrives.” He said this so I wouldn’t be upset once I saw every other one of my friends getting one, while I stood along the side. I never did show it, but I was secretly unhappy when this occurred.

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Monte Beach Park

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 Homeless man sleeping on bench at Monte Beach

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Murals covered by graffiti

After about five years of living in that home, I developed a great fondness for pets. There weren’t any children in the houses nearby, and I was the only child so I spent time playing with my pets.  I had several different dogs throughout the years, and my cat, Flintstone. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the money to keep up with the regular vaccine expenses that the dogs needed, so they ended up passing away after a short period of time. I was still very young, but I wasn’t one to shed tears over just anything. But when I would wake up the next morning and realize that yet one more had passed away, I couldn’t help but to just sit there in guilt and weep. Because I had no friends in the area to play with, I always felt extremely lonely without them. Flintstone was the last one standing all four years, so I became incredibly attached to her. At the time of leaving the house, my mother had informed me that she would have to be left behind because she was afraid she might’ve gotten rabies. I was devastated by this entire situation, but eventually forgot a few years later once we parted ways.

Henry had informed us, along with the three other houses in the lot, that we had to pack our belongings and depart from the area. He had sold the land to a much richer man who planned on knocking down the houses  and building new ones, making them a new part of the The Heights. Shocked and confused, we had no other choice but to quickly find a new place to call home. As we had very little money saved up at the time, my family and I were faced with one of our biggest struggles, finding the money for a new home. Two short months after, the day arrived for us to leave.  We were forced to leave the current life behind us, and start a new one. Fortunately, my dad had found a steady well-paying job by that time and my mother was just about to graduate as a nurse.

During this time in our lives, my parents always tried to play the role of great parents. Sometimes I’d witness my mother staying up till about one in the morning studying for exams and my dad picking up extra shifts on the weekends. They were never a fond of consuming alcohol or attending parties, but instead attended church when there was service, including holidays.  They never showed signs of stress, although I’m most certain they were. Because I was a single child, they would try to bond with me as much as they could, whether it was my dad taking me to Monte Beach or my mother simply teaching me how to wash a few dishes.

Although my experiences through childhood were not the greatest financially, they were the greatest emotionally. Of the many lessons I learned through this time, I learned that I do not need to be surrounded by people in order to avoid loneliness, and I learned my compassion for animals. I was taught through both hardship and compassion from my family that life is much more than material things. I feel undoubtedly thankful to have experienced those things back then, because it teaches me the importance of valuing the life I have now and the sacrifices my parents had to make to better themselves and my future.

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The Heights by Thania Rodriguez

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