“Yeah,” Bernard says, “my cousin’s a manager at CVS:’ If Bernard can get a full-time job there, he won’t have to depend on the little bit of cash he earns working eight hours or so a week at the convenience store around the corner. He can start saving for a car, stop depending on buses and other people to get him wherever he needs to go. Then he can think about college, that degree in graphic arts, a career and living his dream. “I want to be in control of my lifeto be able to provide not just for myself, but my family,” Bernard says. “The way I see it, my grandmother saved my life. So I owe her a life. I’d give her everything I have.” He’s been trying all summer to find full-time work, walking to the library on Kinsman Road to fill out applications online, taking the bus across town or into the suburbs to fill them out in person. He’s got to do something. The family bills come to about $1,500 a month, way more than Granny’s Social Security check A disabled uncle who lives with them helps out. But there’s no money left at the end of the month. The GED. It can change .all that. * * * From Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, it’s a fivemile, 20-stop, 30-minute rideon a good day. That’s why Bernard is up so early, why he ends up at Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro Campus at 8:25 in the morning, the first student there for a GED test that begins at 9:30. He pokes his head into the second-floor testing room with its rows of chairs and long, cafeteria tables, then makes his way to the front. Four hours later, as he leaves Part I of the test, the smile returns to his face. The fear disappears from his eyes. “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared; he says before catching the bus home. “But it was easier than I thought:’ Later, he admitted he’d been afraid: afraid he’d disappoint his grandmother and all the other people counting on him, afraid he’d disappoint himself. Later, he talked about his past and his future. “You know, I killed my childhood,” he says. “I almost had to. There were things that needed to be done and a child couldn’t do them. “Now, I want to see me on top of the world. I just want to look back and say Aha, the system didn’t beat me. I beat the system. ” For the next 11 days, he waits to see if he has. * * * A letter from the state arrived at his house over the weekend. He has the results. He needs 2,250 points to pass. “I scored 2,500r he says later that day, excitement in his voice. “I feel pretty good about it. I feel real good:’ He’s already called his cousin about the job at CVS, already filled out the application, already is talking about having the job by the end of the week. “I’m just so happy,” he says. “I can finally get things started.” “Oh, I just love it,” the 84-year-old woman who raised him squeals. “Now I just pray he goes forward, gets him a good job. I want him to be able to take care of himselfin case something happens to me.” But a GED doesn’t guarantee a guy anything. Good jobs don’t come easy in Cleveland. A month later, there’s news that nearly 1,000 people have applied for 42 jobs at the ArcelorMittal steel plant here, and 6,000 people turned out for 300 jobs at Wal-Mart. Even so, the CVS manager calls Bernard. She schedules an interview for Nov. 30, at 2 p.m. He steps out of the CVS and pulls the sweatshirt back over his head. Even that can’t hide his smile. “I can’t wait ctil I get paid,” he says, talking about the checking account he’ll open and the car he’ll buy. As soon as he gets back home, he sits down on the sofa, next to Granny. She straightens his collar. He tells her the news, gives her a big kiss. She leans into his shoulder and giggles. He is scheduled to start work at the CVS on Wednesday. It’s too early to know if Bernard’s story has a happy ending, the one he predicted with his favorite saying: a minor setback for a major comeback. Postscript, June 2008. Bernard Hill just finished his first semester at Cuyahoga Community College. He plans to return to school in the fall where he will have a work-study job in the GED office of the college. He’s planning to get a summer job to help pay for his fall tuition. Just last week, a family from suburban Cleveland offered to help him with tuition money. His granny is doing just fine. 0.e %/1:yze…. Diane Suchetka 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 13, 2008
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