The Gang's All Here

Page 3 of 9

Still, in some ways Venus was more fortunate than her oldest brother. Their alcoholic father dragged him from home to home--when there was a home, that is, and they weren't just living on the streets or in a car. The boy was doomed to a life of trouble before he was old enough to drive.

Becky was always honest with the kids. She told them about their mother...and their father. Sometimes he would stagger down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, but he wouldn't acknowledge his children playing in the front yard. It would break Becky's heart when the little girls stopped and watched their father walk by without giving them so much as a hello.

With help and a lot of love, Venus eventually came out of her shell. She and Vanessa grew into beautiful young women. Venus in particular was vain about her looks and spent hours in front of a mirror primping and fixing her long wavy hair just right before she would venture out, exasperating those who waited for her. But they quickly forgave Venus her vanity because it was equally matched by the love she showered on her family.

Venus was a friendly girl. The boys, of course, would flock around at the local park whenever she, Vanessa and Gina, their sister-in-law, held court. Venus loved children and was the first to lead the youngest members of the family--many of whom were also living with Becky--to the park for a picnic or out into the street during a rain shower until they were all soaked to the bone. But she seemed happiest sitting with her female relatives on the front porch of her grandmother's house, whistling at the boys who walked by, talking and laughing late into the night.

And like her mother, Becky noted, Venus loved to sit quietly looking up at the stars.

Only at school did Venus's slow start seem to affect her. She tried, but she never quite caught up to others her age. Becky figured that was why her granddaughter dropped out of school, pregnant, at age fifteen. For all her looking at the stars, Venus had very down-to-earth dreams. She wanted only to be a good wife and a good mother.

Becky and her husband did not believe in abortion. But they also knew the odds were against a fifteen-year-old single mother with no high-school diploma. The young man who'd gotten Venus pregnant wasn't going to help--he was a "mistake," she said. The family was poor; still, Becky told Venus that they would find a way to pay for an abortion if she decided to go that route. But Venus wanted her baby: Half a dream was better than no dream.

Venus's labor was long and hard, a full 24 hours of agony before her son was born. Asked soon afterward by her family what she was going to name the child, she had laughed and replied, "Asshole," because of the pain he had caused her.

Fortunately for the boy, Venus had another name picked out: Angel, after the character she'd once seen in the old Jimmy Stewart movie It's a Wonderful Life.

It might not have been a wonderful life, but it was a good one. Venus rarely left Angel for more than a few minutes during his first two years. She didn't date and saw only those friends who dropped by. She was content to stay home and raise her baby.

Angel was as beautiful as his name, with his big brown eyes and long lashes. And he loved his mother. If someday, Venus told her grandmother, she could find a good man to love her and her child, then she would have everything she needed to be happy.

But Venus was young, and staying cooped up in her grandmother's house gradually wore thin. When she was seventeen, she began going out with friends and dating again. Still, she always came home to Angel.

Becky met most of the young men who courted Venus. They seemed all right. But she worried about gangs; there was so much pressure to join that even nice boys and girls sometimes fell in with the wrong crowd.

Sometimes, Becky thought, Venus was just too nice for her own good. She was always bringing stray girls home. "Mom," she would say, "this girl has no place to stay tonight. Can she stay here?"

Becky's house was nearly always full of people, mostly family members like Gina, whose husband--the twins' brother--was now in prison in Canon City. Privacy was nonexistent. So many children ran from room to room, it was difficult to keep track of who belonged to whom...except that in one way or another, they all belonged to Becky. There really was no more room, but Becky wouldn't turn Venus's friends away.

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Steve Jackson