By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
She calls him the Anne Frank of the trailer park. When she drives him home from school, her son has to duck down in the seat. When he's in the yard, he has to watch over his shoulder for the park manager.
He's not a thief. Or a drug dealer. Or a gangbanger. He's a typical thirteen-year-old kid: blond bangs, Nike swoosh on his T-shirt, basketball sneakers.
"I have to hide him," she says. "Can you believe that? We have to keep him on a very low profile. And it was an accident!"
This is Liz talking. She's 39, mother of two, owner of a cleaning business, occasional poet. She's lived in the trailer park with her third husband for fourteen months now, doing what she can to get by, trying her best to raise Paul and his eleven-year-old sister, Roxanne.
At the moment, Liz sits at her kitchen table sipping a glass of ice water, cigarette between her fingers. Paul slumps beside her, frowning, fidgeting, mortified at the thought of mother-induced public humiliation.
He swipes her glass and takes a drink.
She glares at him.
They have the same blue eyes, full lips and Coppertone tan.
Before she gets started, she wants to make something clear: She could get in serious trouble by telling this story. She could get evicted from the park. And her son could get blackballed worse than he already has been. So she doesn't want their real names used. Or the name of the trailer park. Just say it's somewhere in Adams County.
"I'm afraid," she says. "I am."
The scare started one Sunday afternoon in late March, when Paul was throwing rocks on a hill overlooking the park. He shouldn't have been doing it--he knows better--but he wanted to test his arm, being the baseball season and all. A couple of girls were there, too--his girlfriend and his best friend. Maybe he was showing off.
"Noooo. I wasn't showing off," he says. "I was just throwing rocks."
See? Typical thirteen-year-old. Anyway, one of the rocks he threw overshot the field and hit a trailer.
"I wasn't aiming for it," he says. "I didn't even hear the window break."
Still, he and the girls ran away.
"Noooo. We didn't run. We walked. We just walked. I didn't even know I was in trouble. I didn't even hear it break."
Okay. They walked. And while they walked, a police car and the park manager pulled up and blocked their path.
"What's this about?" Paul asked.
"You tell me," the officer said, ordering him to empty his pockets, place his hands on the car and wait while he questioned one of the girls.
Then he cuffed him.
The officer actually handcuffed him.
Now, as Liz says, Paul is a typical thirteen-year-old. He might have a hard time controlling his impulses (he has attention deficit disorder), and maybe his grades aren't what they should be, but he hardly gets into trouble at all (that she knows of, anyway), other than driving her crazy with that mouth of his.
Anyway, the officer was going to haul him to the substation, but Paul asked to see his mother, so the officer took him home. He was terrified.
"I wasn't terrified! I wasn't terrified at all!"
"Okay, tough guy," says Liz. "He's grown up a lot in the past few weeks."
"Will you please leave the room? You're embarrassing me."
As you can see, Paul's no angel, but he's no delinquent, either. Oh, he gets disciplined, all right. No TV and no phone. Confined to his room. She'd like to swat him sometimes, like her parents swatted her, but at 5-7 and 170 pounds, he's too big to hit. But most of the time he stays in line.
So the officer and the park manager showed up with Paul in handcuffs. Liz told her son to come clean. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He knows better than to lie.
"If you broke that window, you tell the truth," she said. "If you broke it, write it down." That's what the officer wanted.
Paul wrote it down.
"I didn't break it on purpose," he says. "I know I shouldn't have been throwing rocks, but I didn't do it on purpose. It was an accident."
That night, Liz drove Paul to the woman's trailer and made him apologize. The woman didn't seem upset. She said she didn't want to press charges. She only wanted her window replaced. So Liz made arrangements and replaced the window within 48 hours. Paul was grounded for two weeks.
But it didn't end there.
The park manager told Liz she and her family had thirty days to leave. That's park policy. Apparently, a few years earlier, the park had serious problems with gangs. So last fall it adopted a zero-tolerance crime policy--it's in the lease--and began working closely with authorities. The lease is iron-clad, and Liz had agreed to the terms. First offense or not, her family must go.
Liz pleaded with the manager. Could they stay if Paul moved in with his biological father (who lives in Golden) and just visited occasionally? Yes, the manager said, but Paul had to be out in three days.