By Ray Lenarcic

Jasmine hated waking up in the morning. She loved sleep. It allowed her to escape into a world of dreams, some of which found her living in a beautiful house with her own room. In others she played outside in a park with her dog. Her favorite dream found her in school in a pretty dress, surrounded by classmates who liked her. She was the most popular girl in class.

Reality was almost too hard for the ten-year old to take. Her home was a ramshackle apartment with cracked windows, cupboards full of cockroaches and a heater often in need of repair. Days were cold and nights colder. The closest thing to a pet was the rat which made its sporadic appearance late at night foraging for food and making a noise which kept her awake and afraid.

At times, she longed for the days when she was five or so, when Child Protective Services placed her in foster care. Some of the sets of foster parents at least lived in decent, clean homes. The only catch though-she missed her mother whose crack cocaine habit landed her in a mandatory rehab facility. Her dad? Didn’t miss the back hands he laid on her and mom during his frequent highs. Mercifully, he was doing hard time for dealing drugs.

Her mom, now clean, had a job at the local Dunkin but barely made enough to pay the rent for the dump where they lived, their food and other necessities. As such, Janine’s clothes consisted of ill-fitting hand-me-downs picked up at the local Salvation Army. Her appearance made her the brunt of her classmates’ cruel jokes. When she tried to fight back, she was outnumbered and punished by a teacher who blamed her for the disruptions.

Bad as things were, they were better than the times her mother was out of work and they shuttled from shelters to church warming stations to, worst of all, the streets. Day to day living under these circumstances was painful enough but, misery loving company, the time she suffered from a toothache caused by a cavity untreated was unbearable. Sadly, Jasmine’s mom was one of thirty million Americans completely uninsured a decade after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

She missed her brother Scott. As a child, he was the first to experience his father’s wrath. School was anathema to him. Hanging around the wrong crowd, he got into drugs before he was a teen. Despite it all, Scott loved his sister dearly. He always had her back until that day in September when she tried to wake him. But his sleep was eternal. Drug overdose. He was fifteen.

Jasmine lived perpetually in fear. Fear of her mother “falling off the drug wagon” and fear of being sent someplace worse; fear of becoming another victim of a neighborhood rife with crime, losers high on drugs, unrepentant sex abusers, too many guns in too many delinquent hands. Fear of worse days at school. Fear of more tooth aches. Fear of being caught up in a cycle of life where failure and hopelessness are the rule.

So, little wonder that she longed for sleep-a welcome reprieve from a daily grind leading to nowhere. Jasmine and millions like her are children of poverty. The irony-they exist in the world’s richest country; a country with more poverty than any advanced democracy. Statistics tell the story. More than two million Americans do not have running water or a flushing toilet at home. As Matt Desmond relates in his New York Times best seller, Poverty, By America, “West Virginians drink from polluted streams, while families on the Navajo Nation drive hours to fill water barrels.”

While many of Jasmine’s fellow students look forward to places like two-week summer camps or vacations in Switzerland or Disney World, she goes to bed every night longing for a place where hope is more than a whisper in the wind, where dreams can come true before the twelfth of never.