By Arthur Bovino
Carolyn Braddy, 41, has multiple sclerosis and spends most of her time in a wheelchair in her apartment. Still, she has reasons to be thankful. She has a home. She has her children.
She has her Stephen King, too.
Ms. Braddy is an avid reader of mysteries, thrillers, just about anything in print.
Above all, she loves the books of Mr. King. "For some reason, I just like scary," she said. But "Carrie," or "Salem's Lot"? Those are a fictional kind of scary, one that pales in the face of the scares that have disrupted Ms. Braddy's real life.
In 1989, Ms. Braddy had what may have been her first symptom, blurred vision. A year later, she moved in with her mother. Ms. Braddy had two children then, and her vision problem made it too hard to make the daily trip to her mother's home before work to drop them off.
The vision problem went away eventually. In March 1995, Ms. Braddy was working in Harlem for the New York State Division of Human Rights, doing database entry. As she sat at her desk one day, she began to have muscle spasms, which became more frequent in the next few days. Then her knees began giving out. And while her doctor tried to crack the mystery of her condition, she got weaker.
Within a few weeks, the stable routines of her life as a single mother of four children became as shaky as her tremulous limbs. On her way home from work, "I kept falling," Ms. Braddy said. "I'd get up and fall back down, get up, fall right back down."
The next day, she said, she could not get up for work. "I got out of bed, collapsed right back down," she remembered. "It was beyond scary. I didn't know what was going on."
She took medical tests. She got steroids to strengthen her legs. Still, her condition deteriorated. Ms. Braddy took a leave from work and finally, in December 1995, her doctor told her she might have multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease of the central nervous system.
Ms. Braddy is tenacious. In November 1996, she attended a program for the disabled to get another job. In August 1999, she took a volunteer job doing database entry for the Internal Revenue Service in Brooklyn, where she worked until 2000.
In 1996, she began getting Social Security disability. And she and her four children - Jamal, Rashene, Jasmine and Vanessa - moved to the Dr. Betty Shabazz Complex, subsidized housing in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The complex, back then, had drug dealers and prostitutes in the hallways. People smoked crack in the stairwells. And as multiple sclerosis took its toll, Ms. Braddy found it harder to protect her children.
Later in 1996, the Community Service Society, one of seven local charities supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, began meeting with tenants and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the problems in the apartment complex. From July 2001 to June 2002, $175,000 of Neediest Cases money was used to pay the salaries of Community Service team members who helped turn the complex around.
"Carolyn used to come to almost all of the tenant meetings," said Brent Sharman, project manager of the Ownership Transfer Project for the society. This was one way she still felt able to make a difference, she said. But in time, she grew too weak even for meetings. Her lower body is now atrophied. A home attendant visits her every day.
One positive note in her life was the progress at the buildings. "The first thing HUD did when they came in was hire security guards," Mr. Sharman said. The complex has also changed ownership, and apartments have been renovated.
But Ms. Braddy's problems continued to mount. When she applied for her Section 8 housing subsidy in 1999, she was denied, because she still owed $1,113.72 in rent for her former apartment. Ms. Braddy's current rent is $659 a month. She gets $834 a month in Social Security disability - enough to scrape by, but not enough to catch up on old bills.
Mr. Sharman helped, securing $1,113.72 in Neediest Cases money for the back rent.
Then, in early 2001, her rent subsidy was in jeopardy once more. And this time, she also received an eviction letter.
This, despite that fact that she had been paying her rent all along. And she had the receipts to prove it.
The day she get the eviction notice, she was visited by Children's Protective Services, a city agency, which had been alerted when that notice was sent.
"I was alarmed that this could actually go to a ridiculous scenario where Ms. Braddy would be evicted and her children would be taken away from her and placed in foster care," Mr. Sharman said. At his request, the records were checked, the payments verified and the eviction averted.
Jamal, now 21, and Rashene, 19, have since graduated from high school. Jamal is a security guard, and attends the Technical Career Institute in Manhattan. Rashene attends Baruch College in Manhattan. They all still live at home, where Ms. Braddy concentrates on helping Vanessa and Jasmine with their homework. And she is looking for work she can do at home, by computer.
Meanwhile, she occupies herself with books. She is eager for Stephen King's latest.
Ms. Braddy looks forward to the fictional horrors. And if they get too
scary? At least she can close the book.
© Copyright 2003, New York Times