East Colfax Motel Hell

Looking through the window of room 105 at the Dunes Motel, Amy Limon could see the kids playing outside. She opened the door and slowly navigated her wheelchair down a wooden ramp that she'd had the motel maintenance guy install.

The parking lot was littered with cigarette butts, empty beer cans and soda bottles, abandoned shopping carts and old mattresses. A doll lay on the ground, caked in soot and dirt. Two of the kids from room 226 were playing on a car; a boy from room 325 was shooting a half-deflated football through a basket that was really just a cardboard box tied to the second-floor balcony with a dirty pink ribbon. Usually the five kids who called 226 home were forbidden from playing in the dirty lot, just like the kids who lived in room 325. But the Dunes was closing for good on April 1, and both families were giving their children a little leeway now that most of the motel's addicts, dealers, gangsters, hookers, crazies and other shady characters had vacated the premises.

The cockroaches and bedbugs weren't checking out, though, and as residents left the motel, many abandoned clothing, sofas and beds, stuff the Korean conglomerate that sold the place had bought dirt-cheap from garbage pickers. The motel's new owners didn't care if their "guests" had lived at the Dunes two days or two years; anyone who wanted the furniture was welcome to take it with them. But no one did. "Go away or die," someone had written on one of the motel-room doors.

The Dunes was no place for kids; the families in 226 and 325 agreed on that. One man was banished from the property because he'd looked at young girls inappropriately. Another got his truck rammed by an estranged lover as kids played in the parking lot. Another brought a guy home from a gay bar and now faces charges for stabbing him to death in one of the motel's rooms.

No, neither family wanted to live here, but it was a step above the street, a step outside the shelter. And both families had hoped that when they left the Dunes for the last time, they'd also leave behind their transient lifestyle.

But now they knew that when the motel was emptied for the bulldozer, they'd be checking into other motels on East Colfax Avenue. Just like Amy Limon and her wheelchair.

Amy Limon was born near Trinidad in 1941, the fourth child of an eventual eleven born to her Apache family. She was ten when her two older brothers were drafted to fight in Korea and her older sister married off at fifteen, bumping Amy up to the woman of the house, caretaker for her younger siblings and alcoholic parents. Amy was epileptic, but that didn't slow her down. In addition to taking care of the household, she started washing dishes at bars and restaurants after school and on the weekends.

She was still in high school when her drunk father made a move on her, showing her his penis. Her mother refused to believe her, but her sisters confirmed that he'd tried the same thing on them -- only they'd been too scared to speak up. Amy wasn't scared, though. She's not afraid of anyone, she says, so she reported her father to the authorities, and he bounced between a state mental facility in Pueblo and prison. While he was locked up, Amy married a man who was in the Air Force.

When her father was released, in 1959, Amy followed her husband to Denver, where he was stationed at Lowry. Afraid they'd be lost without her, Amy's mother and her seven younger siblings all piled into the car and moved to Denver, too.

Amy and her husband had four children -- one a daughter who lived only three months. By 1973, they had fallen out of love and divorced. Amy moved to an apartment with the children. She found work in a halfway house, taking care of people on their way out of mental institutions. She didn't love the work; taking care of people was all she'd ever done, and she was getting sick of it. But at work she found love: another Air Force man of Mexican-American descent who'd served four years in Vietnam and was one of the facility's residents.

Julian Limon had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was bipolar, but he was always friendly with Amy. When he was released from the halfway house, he married her and moved into her apartment in Westminster, where they lived happily until Julian went off his meds one day in 1986 and was sent back to the institution. No longer able to afford the apartment on her own, Amy went to a women's shelter in Denver. A few weeks later she moved into Halcyon House, a subsidized apartment on Arapahoe Street, where she was still living alone when she had a stroke ten years ago. The stroke put Amy in a wheelchair. But by then her husband's condition had improved enough that his doctors allowed him a conditional leave so that he could live with her and take care of her. Her son helped, too, but five years ago he was killed in a gang shooting, an innocent bystander.

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Luke Turf