Down and Out in Miami-Dade County

Poor, unemployed, stricken with AIDS, and at the mercy of government bureaucrats. No wonder Vivian Rolon's life is hell.

Rolon unlocks the apartment door. She leaves the bags of food on the floor in the kitchen and lowers herself, grimacing, onto her mattress. It's almost 5:00 p.m. Yamilet isn't yet home from work, and Carlos has probably gone to pick up young Alex from a neighbor's house. She pulls her shirt off and puts on a satiny turquoise housecoat. Then she takes a deep breath and pain radiates through her left breast. She intends to make a doctor's appointment, but hasn't yet.

Four boxes of her possessions are stacked in the kitchen and adjoining hallway, but six more had to be stored outside on the tiny front porch, next to an old sofa that also doesn't fit inside. Carlos and Yamilet often sit there together in the evenings, keeping an eye on Alex as he plays in the yard.

Rolon says she hasn't even opened most of the boxes and doesn't know when she will. The manager of the motel where she last lived threw out whatever wasn't boxed, but Rolon can't remember what she has and what she has lost. She just knows she's down to ten boxes and a rack of clothes.

Now that it looks as though she may soon be able to rent a place of her own, the immense foreboding that had been draining her for weeks has eased. But she'll never let herself be certain of anything anymore. "I've lost my home, my dignity -- everything," she declares, forearms folded tight over her stomach. "Do you know what that feels like? Do you know how many times I've started all over again?

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