WBEZ's Samuel Vega looks back at a year of big changes
Jasmine Reyes is my girlfriend; she’s 19. She has tiny brown eyes and probably the curliest dark brown hair I’ve ever seen.
One thing to know about her: she hates riding the bus. She only rides with her mother. But this past year, she started riding the bus by herself because she had no choice.Jasmine’s car was repossessed. One day early last year we were on our way home from the car dealer and Jasmine was not in a good mood. She thinksall buses are caked with germs.
Jasmine pulled close to me and began telling me about easier times.
“I was spoiled; everybody had cassettes I was the only one with a CD player, with the matching headphones and the case. I was a hype for Hello Kitty,” Jasmine remembered.
We took that ride months ago as things got really complicated. I knew of Jasmine while she was growing up and I was working as a DJ. To me, she was just a girl who stood out at house parties for the way she danced.
But at a holiday party one year ago, I bumped into her. I got the vibe that she was spoiled and I didn’t feed her ego by asking for her number. But I was party hopping with a friend, so I did hop in her car to get around. The next day she asked my friend for my number.
We began to meet up, hang out and do the dating thing. She’d invite me over to her house to eat and I’d end up staying over. But even before we could say we love each other, we found out we had a baby on the way.
We both have strong family support so we figured we could manage to take care of a baby. But one day last May, a huge part of Jasmine’s network disappeared. Jasmine’s mother got caught shoplifting and was sentenced to six months at a women’s prison three hours away.
Within a month, Princess Jasmine inherits the apartment, the cooking, the cleaning laundry and the bills. Her mother usually kept all those things under control. The only people there to help Jasmine focus at home were her stepfather and me.
I felt like if I helped out in little ways, Jasmine could focus on the bigger issues.
“You have to clean the mirror. There’s Windex, there’s window wipes; see if they work. Wait, wait, wait,” Jasmine barked, “With the Windex wipes, clean the glass in the friggin’ shower cause that’s gross and make sure you clean the rim too cause its gross,” she explained.
But the pressure on her continued to build; on me too.
“I need to wash clothes, I need to go the store, I need to do groceries…With no car, I feel like shooting myself,” Jasmine vented.
Before I got with Jasmine, I helped out at a non-for-profit during the week and I would DJ every weekend. I saw my family a lot more often too. Now, I just go to work and come back to Jasmine’s. At times, she thinks she’s talking but really, she’s yelling.
“I sent her $75 and then I sent her $100. The $75 she got and the $100, they haven’t sent to her yet!” Jasmine yelled one day.
Jasmine gets frustrated. While she’s still sending money to her mom, we needed to budget for baby items. We had the corner of the living room piled with boxes and bags.
I asked her whether one box of diapers would last a month.
“No, 84 diapers? A baby goes through about 10 diapers a day; I’m serious,” Jasmine explained to me.
I asked her where she was getting her numbers and she tells me, “Every time the baby pees, you have to change them. It depends on the baby. You don’t want your baby to be in a pissy diaper.”
One Sunday morning, Jasmine woke up around 5:00 a.m. She was sick, in pain from heartburn, and said the baby doesn’t want to move. She pointed to her swollen belly, outlining its new slant and told me the baby’s moved into a ball.
Jasmine was having trouble sleeping. She said that sometimes when she lies down, she closes her eyes but isn’t able to go to sleep because her mind wanders.
I asked her what she thought about and she told me, “Just like my life, in my head and I can’t go to sleep.”
I can talk to Jasmine whenever she feels like she’s dealing with too much or if she feels like giving up but some things I just can’t help Jasmine with.
“That don’t work Mom,” Jasmine yelled into the phone. “I tried Tums, they gave me a prescription; it worked in the beginning and it doesn’t work now so she gave me another medicine.”
Jasmine’s mother said heartburn equals a hairy baby and as a mother of many remedies she prescribes baking soda. At this point, Jasmine’s willing to try anything.
Jasmine paid $50 a week so that she and her stepfather could talk to her mom. Meanwhile, she chipped away at the gas, light and cell phone bills her mother left behind.
I listened as she explained her approach to finances to her mother.
“I go online and I pay the bills online cause I want the bills to be zeroed so when you come out you’re on a blank street. And I’m not far because the gas bill is only $300 and the light bill is $300. The next bill we have to pay is the phone bill,” Jasmine explained.
Jasmine changed almost every day, especially when it came to money.
“We ain’t got no food; we are poor, my cabinets never been like that ever. Only thing that’s in there is tomato sauce and beans. And what’s in the freezer: ice cream, ice cubes, cheese; there’s nothing in there. There’s like six items in that freezer,” she vented.
But still, Jasmine looked forward. We started planning a special event that she hoped would bring her family together. She decided to set up the baby shower herself because she knows she’s very picky: She wants things her way and if they don’t go her way, she knows she’ll be real mad. Plus, her mother was gone. Even if she were around, Jasmine said she’d still be in control. It’s amazing: She managed to book a hall, get decorations, ordered a cake and sent out invites.
I asked her whether she thought her mom would like the decorations. She says she will. Then I asked whether she cared; she laughed and said, “No!” And if her mother didn’t even mention the decorations, Jasmine joked that she’d kick her down the stairs. She laughed because she’s confident that her mother will like what she’s picked out; “Everything’s cute,” she told me.
In October Jasmine, her stepfather and I drive to the women’s prison to pick up her mother, Wanda, after she’s released; she walked out with smiling eyes.
Wanda got back in motion quickly. Things around the house started to get back to normal. The night before the shower, Wanda cooked white rice with gandules with bollitas and fried chicken. She used the groceries her daughter and son-in-law just bought.
“We’ll be eating late,” Wanda said, “But we’re still eating.”
Wanda was out six days and her parole officer still hadn’t checked in and the baby shower was the next day.
“I guess I’m still on lock down so I cannot go anywhere. But as long as everything is done Mami, all the cooking, I’m here,” she told us.
Luckily her parole officer finally called the next morning. Jasmine told her mother that she prayed all night and was instantly overjoyed that her mother was now available to do everything at the shower.
The baby shower went just as Jasmine planned. We received a ton of clothes to get the baby through the winter. I say “the baby” because at that point, we still hadn’t decided on a name.
But no matter if we’re ready, the day comes.
Jasmine’s contractions began around 9:00 a.m. She took warm baths and even walked around the park to keep from going to the hospital too early. We waited it out until 9:00 p.m.
When we arrived, the nurse told us that Jasmine’s at least eight centimeters dilated and that she can feel the cervix on one side, not the other.
“Eight! High five,” Jasmine exclaimed. “I want an epidural! This is no joke,” she quickly added.
She’s given the epidural and some meds through her I.V. The doctor arrived and the delivery was under way. Her mother Wanda and I held up her legs as we encouraged her. And before long, at least it didn’t feel that long to me, Kaydon Vega was born.
Several pediatricians huddled around Kaydon checking for eyes and toes.
“Why you got a fat nose?” Jasmine teasingly asked Kaydon. “Mommy don’t got no fat nose.”
I looked at my son and I noticed: He looks just like me, just reborn.
I looked at Jasmine and how happy she looked and I thought back to a simple dance just one year ago. After a year like this, I realized: New Year’s resolutions don’t mean anything.
What matters is how you dance.