Equinox Oral Histories: “I Can Do This On My Own”


As part of Daniel Nester’s English 251: Interviews and Oral History class, students took trips down to Equinox, a community services center in downtown Albany, New York, to interview some teenagers and young adults who take part in their Youth Outreach Program. Alfredo R. met Lisa Ashworth on a Friday afternoon. It was the first interview to take place in Equinox’s studio, a booth usually used for spoken word and raps. They spoke for 30 minutes.

I Can Do This On My Own: An Interview with Alfredo R., age 19

As told to Lisa Ashworth

My parents divorced when I was about five years old. They tried not to fight in front of us. A lot of times, it slipped. They never hit each other. My father never put his hands on me or my sister. My mother obviously did.

It started around that same time. We got taken away when I was 12. She would use her hands, fists, screwdrivers, the broom, mops, remote controls, the wires to our radios – whatever she could grab she hit us with. She grew her nails out not to look pretty, but to dig our skin with them.

One time when I was seven or eight, she pinched my neck, pinned me against the wall, and was raising me. My grandmother asked me, “What are all those scratches on your neck from?” She knew damn well. But I said, “I fell off my bike.” She told our father, who called CPS. The day before CPS was gonna question us, my mother said, “Some people are gonna be coming to your school tomorrow. Tell them I don’t hit you.” Being really young, of course we said it. I don’t know how she found out, which really creeps me out to this day.

My mother would always hit us, any time, any place, she didn’t care. One night, my sister got out of the shower and my mother just started beating her. She took a wire cord and whipped her so bad she winced just lifting up her sleeve. That was typical for us. They looked like burn marks from a stove. I knew this couldn’t go on anymore. I was forced to mature at a really young age. I told our guidance counselor. That same day, CPS took us. My mother’s rights were terminated.

We were in foster care for the next three or four months, until my dad filed for custody. He just threw me into two or three hospitals making up lies, saying I was gonna kill the family, cause he wanted to make me look crazy. He didn’t want me in the house. For the next five years, I was in a residential [facility] in Pennsylvania. During the first two years, I assaulted three different staff and had six charges of assault against me. I got one year probation. I got off eight months later for good behavior. I really excelled then, getting awards from the house and a scholarship my senior year.

I moved back in with my mother the day I turned eighteen. She was the only family member that would take me. It really hurts when your family thinks that you’re not worth anything.

My stepmother completely hates me, so my dad won’t take me. Her brother sexually molested me and my sister. I was seven, my sister was nine or ten, and the guy was sixteen. His name was Brian, I’ll never forget. My dad had the nerve, the audacity, to invite the pedophile to the wedding versus his two children.

I could still see the same anger that she had when I was twelve. That frightened me because if she hit me, I’m not gonna hit my mother back, but where am I gonna go? I didn’t want to go homeless. So, I would have no choice but to take it again.

Two months after I moved in, she kicked me out again. I found a church that showed me where the Homeless And Travelers Aid Society (HATAS) was. That church helped me find everything I needed and get on my feet.

So I’ve been on and off homeless the past year. I found Equinox through HATAS. It makes me almost want to cry how much I love Equinox, how much they’ve helped me. They’ve introduced me to their independent living program, fed me when they didn’t have to, let me in when they were closed. Words alone can’t explain how much I appreciate Equinox. It’s tremendous, it’s life changing, it’s moving.

I try not to maintain a relationship with my mother. I have ways to get a hold of my father. Do I? No, not often. Do I regret it? Sometimes yes. I don’t because I just never was really there with my dad. When I did go to see him, he was just neglectful, he never paid attention to me, he never did anything for me. It was just hard not having your dad there.

So, if my family really thinks I’m that much of a failure I’m going to prove them wrong, but I’m going to do it primarily for myself. I go to Hudson Valley Community College, taking criminal justice. As a little kid about 10 years old, my family always said “You should be a lawyer.” I was a loudmouth. I never shut up, always talked, always debated everything. I never took no for an answer. They were trying to insult me, but in retrospect gave me my future career.

My faith keeps me going, faith in the Lord, faith in myself, either way it doesn’t matter. My hope keeps me wondering and hoping that things will get better. All the negative things that happened to me, made me a stronger person, that’s my faith. Faith that I’m doing it for me. I’m going to prove my family wrong. Faith that I know I’m not a failure, I know I can do this on my own.

Daniel Nester is the author of How to Be Inappropriate (Soft Skull Press 2009). His first two books, God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and God Save My Queen II (2004), are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. He co-edits We Who Are About To Die, lives in upstate New York, and teaches writing at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. More from this author →