The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 22, 2013

No Direction Home, Day 3: She once feared for her life; now she's starting over

By Robb Murray

---- — Sometimes, the suspicion came in the form of questions.

“Who just called you?”

“Why was you looking at that guy?”

Other times, it was more subtle.

“He’d just come up to me and start smelling me, thinking I’m cheating,” said Talitha Taylor, recently on her feet and living in St. Peter. “If I looked at another guy, I knew I was getting a butt beating when we got home.”

Or, perhaps, something worse.

Taylor recalls the night she left him like it was yesterday. Because that’s the day she feared for her life most of all.

Her husband owned a revolver. One morning while she was asleep he came into their room and woke her up.

“He said, ‘You know what? Since you want to play all these games with me, and you don't want to abide by these rules, let's play Russian Roulette,’” Taylor said, her gaze drifting out the window as if she’s looking all the way back to the south side of Chicago. “He had the gun out. I saw it in his hand.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Russian Roulette, it works like this: You put one bullet in a revolver chamber, spin the cylinder fast and then slap it into place so you can’t see if the bullet is lined up with the barrel. Then you put the gun to your temple and pull the trigger. If the bullet is in the right spot, you lose.

“He said, ‘You take one bullet, I’ll take two,” Taylor recalled.

She begged and pleaded for him to calm down, to not make them go through with such an insane act.

For several awful minutes it seemed like this game was about to be played.

Eventually, he backed off. And Taylor decided that night to take her son and leave forever.

Her son had a school bag and she a duffel. Those two bags contained their entire lives.

They hopped on a bus and went downtown. They slept on the streets that night. The next day, Taylor decided she and her son were heading west to Minnesota where a friend lived. Without a car or money to purchase a bus ticket, she and her child found another way to get there.

“We hitched a ride to Waukegan, then from there we got another ride with someone else, a truck driver,” she said. “But I told him right away I wasn’t going to have sex with him because, you know, truck drivers are on the road a lot. He drove me to St. Paul.”

Taylor’s friend picked her up on Kellogg Avenue in downtown St. Paul, and that’s where she stayed for a while. Her son was enrolled in a St. Paul school, and she was pregnant with her second. Eventually, though, Taylor wanted to be near family. That’s why she came to St. Peter, where her sister lived.

She tried to stay with her sister, but because of the rules governing the living situations of people awarded housing assistance, she had to find her own place. After sleeping in her sister’s car a few nights — and no money and no other family or friends to stay with — she sought help at Mankato’s Welcome Inn. And when she did, she was in need of more than just housing.

“When I went into the shelter, I was due any day,” she said. “But they became my home, like my family.

"Every morning, I just couldn't wait to see (staff members) Julie and Sharon. They're there every day at, like, 8 o’clock. They helped me find a place.”

When her son was born, Taylor had nothing for him. So the staff at Welcome Inn helped.

Not only did they come to see her in the hospital, they also brought her diapers and clothing for the baby.

“I felt loved. I felt like they was my family. I felt warm. I felt blessed, I felt honored, I felt excited. I just felt loved,” she said. “I'd been on my knees praying to God, praying to lead me down the right path. And he led me there. And I was happy there.”

It wasn't always perfect.

She remembers struggling at first to come to terms with being homeless and needing the help of a shelter.

“At first I couldn't do it. I didn't like the smell. It was too quiet,” she said. “But it got better. And I made friends. I abided by all rules, made it clean. When I made food for me, I made sure I made enough for others.”

Taylor remembers leaving the hospital and thinking how it felt to be going home to a place for people who have no homes. But when she got there, it felt good.

“When I came back, Julie had gone to get the baby some stuff, outfits, bottles,” Taylor said. “She made it feel like love. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them. I would have been under a lot of stress, I think.”

Taylor is still married to that man in Chicago and is trying to figure out how to divorce him. She is in a relationship with a man in St. Peter, and her older son is doing well in the St. Peter school system. She works full time as a mental health worker at a group home and has been able to purchase a vehicle to get to and from work.