You don't really have any memories of your mother. There's only a few pictures so you sort of know what she looks like. But all those pictures of her are from her youth, before drugs, before now. You don't know where she is or how she is but you know wherever she is, she doesn't like that fashionable teenager in those pictures with the big smile and big hair. Wherever she is, she's not that.
Because you know your father. You know the thin man with the receding hairline and the bad teeth and scar covered skin. He doesn't look anything like the guy in the picture with your mother, not anymore. If he looks like this, she can't be much better out there in the world.
He never tells you anything about her. He never tells you anything about anyone. He tells you a little about him, about his own terrible childhood and whatever scheme he pulled off to get this house and how he hooked on heroin. He mostly tells you about you. How dumb you are, how slow, how you'll be ugly just like him, that you'll amount to nothing just like him, how you ran your mother away, how you use up all his money, how you're lucky he doesn't hit you like other parents could. Your old man tells you all about yourself and you never forget every mean thing he said to you. Other kids say that kind of stuff to you but it doesn't sting as much, what you learn from your father is that words hurt the most when they come from family.
You also learn to take care of yourself. He doesn't help out, he doesn't raise you, his sights are on his next fix. You learn to cook and dress yourself, to get your homework done, to forge a signature, to pay a bill, to steal, to lie. You learn quick that if your lies don't add up someone will notice. You learn that when you're seven years old and your teacher sees through your lies about why it's been a week and your father still hasn't signed your permission slip. You haven't seen him. You actually haven't seen him in two weeks but you let them think it's only been a week.
You meet your social worker and the next day you're in a house of modern Orthodox Jews who make you eat Kosher and make you honor Shabbat. A month later you're social worker picks you up and drops you off at home, you're dad is there and he likes nothing happened. It's the beginning of the cycle.
You spend the next few years the same. You're at home with your father, who ignores you when he's not berating you, then something happens and you're in a new foster home. Either he gets arrested or hospitalized or he just goes missing, he tends to go missing a lot. You hide it as best you can but it's hard, people find out, your social worker takes you to new houses. Some are better than others. You don't suffer that much but you get some of those bad houses, you learn quickly to fight and to run. You don't let anyone hurt you so some of your placements are short lived.
When you're 12 you get a new placement. It's a loud house full of people, it's a couple with their own kids, there's babies and older kids. The wife buys you a winter coat even though it's still fall, she doesn't want you to be without one if you go home and it's cold. The husband plays video games with you. There's a girl your age who latches onto you and declares you her brother. Other kids take you under their wing, they watch out for you at school. You get nice home packed lunches, you get help with your homework, you get a warm bed and a welcoming home and for the first time you feel safe.
A couple months later your social worker takes you home. You cry so much they practically have you drag you out of the house. Your father spends a full hour telling you boys don't cry and to man up when you get home. That night you break the windows in the house and then a few neighbors windows. Someone sees, they call the cops, you go to juvie for the first time. When you get out your dad isn't there and because of your behavioral problems they send you to a group home for two months. They try to put you back in foster care but you cause too much of an issue, immediately, at every placement. Eventually they let you back at the Serrano house, you don't cause a scene. A few weeks later your dad turns up and you go back home.
The cycle continues.
You get in fights at school. You get another foster sibling who calls you her brother. Your dad vanishes. Your foster father teaches you how to drive. You start stealing clothes at the mall. You break down the bathroom door because your dad OD's. You start calling your foster mother "ma". You smoke weed and drink too much. You steal a car and your social worker convinces the judge to put you on probation. You get a job. You skip school. You meet a girl who seems to like spending time with you. You follow her around like a puppy, no one's ever wanted to spend time with you before. You learn bad habits. You start selling a little weed on the side. When you're at the Serrano house you make yourself as useful as possible and when you go home you make yourself scarce, you don't want to negatively impact them.
You never really learn to make friends. Your social skills aren't great. You're standoffish, you're hostile, you're quiet. You don't ever learn to apply yourself. When you were young you got bullied a lot, you could keep a mean secret but people still found out and teased you for how you were brought up. You got shoved on the ground a lot. But then you put on a couple inches and your shoulders squared, no one really fucks with you again after getting in some fights. No one really talks to you either. It takes a long time but you learn to trust your foster family. But you never quite relax and find your place. You figure you'll disappoint someone or they'll disappoint you so you keep your distance as much as you can. It's hard though, you love feeling loved and wanted. You'd do anything for the people who showed you kindness.
You're almost 18, you're almost a grown man, you're almost free. Your dad is home when you go to sleep, watching tv in the living room smoking a cigarette. You wake up coughing. You wake up to a room full of smoke. You can't see and you can't breath but you manage to find your window and you climb out. When you finally stop coughing you see all the black smoke and red flames billowing out of your childhood home. Who knows how long you sit watching it before you finally run over to your neighbors house and wake them up at 2am, clad only in a pair of socks and boxers, and ask them to call 911. An hour or two later your social worker drops you off at the Serrano house for the last time. Your dad isn't around. You don't know where he is. The fire started in the kitchen, someone left the stove on and left. You're not sure you'll see your dad again, he can't come home if there's no place to come home to.
You turn 18 finally, your foster family throws you a big party and says you can stay. You finally kiss that girl and you instantly start fucking that girl. You think she's your girl, she doesn't, your feelings are hurt, she changes your mind. If a smart pretty girl with a bright feature wants to be with you then maybe you're not that bad. You drop out of school. You weren't going to graduate anyway, school isn't for everyone and it's especially not for you. You start selling more drugs. You're at that girl's house all the time, you pretty much move in. She gets pregnant and everyone gets mad at you. You quit your grocery store job and start working under a real hustler.
You can hear your father in the back of your head telling you that you're just going to turn into him, that you're just continuing the cycle. Except your not because your story isn't going to be ruined by drugs, it's going to be made by drugs. If you're going to disappoint everyone you might as well do it in style. Being a drug dealer is better than being a bum.