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Awakened by the Lord

At the end of her rope and with nowhere to turn, she was rescued by a woman she'd never met.

By Sharon Harris, Columbus, Ohio

As appeared in

Imagine a frightened teenage mom struggling on the mean streets of South Central L.A. Kicked out of her home by her mother along with the rest of her siblings.

She wants to believe that Momma will stop the drugs, the drinking, the dates with strange men, and take her back. Become more like the mothers on TV, the ones who care for their children, the kind of mother the girl hopes to be herself someday. At 17, though, she’s headed down the same dead-end road.

That girl was me.

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I had one boyfriend after another. Tried every drug there was. Pregnant at 11 with a son my father had custody of, then pregnant at 13 with a daughter. I left that baby’s father for Chuck, a drug dealer. He lured me with gifts and a place to stay, with him and the mother of his children.

He said I would be safe with him, and convinced me that I’d found a home at last, but he controlled me the same way he controlled everybody else, with anger and threats and deadly charm. “You’re not going anywhere,” he told me. “No other man could possibly love you.”

I lived from day to day, hand to mouth, using, being used, for close to a year. I couldn’t go to my siblings, most of them haunted by the same demons that had taken our mother.

I wished I could find Teddy Bear, my older sister. I’d given her that name because when we were little and shared a bed, I cuddled up to her like a teddy bear. She had married a preacher and moved to Wisconsin. Too far to get to by any bus in South Central.

All I had were my so-called friends. One night, I left my daughter with a babysitter at Chuck’s and went out with my girlfriend. She was driving through an intersection when another car hit us.

I managed to stagger out of the wreck, and sank to the sidewalk, dazed. I lay there, waiting for help, wondering if any would come.

A stranger appeared from nowhere, knelt beside me and took my hand. “You’re going to be all right,” he said. “An ambulance is on the way. God loves you and will take care of you.”

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“Play it up, girl,” my girlfriend muttered. “If you act like you’re really in pain, maybe we can get lots of money.”

But I didn’t want money. I wanted what the man was talking about. I opened my heart and prayed, really prayed: I’m ready, God. I want my life to be different. I don’t want to be who I am anymore. Please, make everything change.

I spent the night in the emergency room, holding on to that prayer, and was released the next day. All I wanted was the love that stranger had talked about, bigger than anything Momma could give, safer than anything Chuck could offer.

I returned to Chuck’s place. “I’m leaving,” I told him. I packed a few things and picked up my baby to go. Chuck barred the door. The mother of his children drew a knife from the kitchen drawer and pressed it to my neck. I prayed again, thinking of that love, God’s love. Chuck backed down.

“Let her go,” he snarled. “She’ll be back. She’s got nowhere else to go.”

I boarded a city bus with my baby and rode it deep into the night. Chuck is right, I thought. I had no home. The only place I could go was the last address I had for Momma. I’ll beg her to take us in just for the night, I thought. Maybe things have changed.

It was past three in the morning when I found the place. Just like I remembered it: cracked front stoop, barred windows, peeling paint. The windows were dark and the door was bolted and locked, like all the doors of South Central at that hour.