Dearest reader, before you read on, it is important for me to say something about the structure of this piece of work. As you glance down the page you will see that instead of a continuous text, there are headings at the beginning of paragraphs. This story, this slice of time, which I am trying to convey, is so broken to me that it can only come out fragmented. It is in these paragraphs, these fragments, that I am able to truly convey a situation that is as convoluted as I remember it to be.
I was coercing my Barbie into riding my My Little Pony bareback. In all actuality the stupid, plastic Vanna White's legs were way too long for my blue and green sparkly horse. Former little girls everywhere can relate to the stupidity of the construction of those tiny pretty horses. I mean, what doll can realistically fit on a horse that size? Even now I ask myself, who really fits the life they are given? Who is able to make sense of where they were placed in life? A question for the ages. As I dragged Barbie's obscenely pointed toes against the cheap upholstery of our living room chair, I knelt on the hardwood floor and concentrated all of my energy on ignoring the spine-shattering screams and hurled insults from the dining room. My four-year-old brain could only produce one thought repeated over and over-like a mantra or a prayer. That thought was my very first memory. "I just know they are going to get a divorce." Looking back, it was this particular thought that shaped my life. I learned very quickly that one cannot lie to herself about the situation of things. Lying would only make my complicated situation that much more complex.
After that first, very intense and strangely prophetic memory, things just got more complicated and ugly. Before the ink was dry on the restraining order my father took out on my mother, (or maybe it was vice versa? Now I see that it really does not matter, the loving violence that they created was acted out by both of them.) my sisters Kyra, Leyna, our mother and I, moved our department store furniture, bought with my father's stolen credit cards, into what can only be referred to as "The Apartments".
The Bastard Side of Town
Our small town, like many small towns that exist today, had no room in their well-bred, wholesome society for anyone who would live in an apartment. Apartments are the bastard environments for people who have made bad choices and who have problems controlling themselves.
Anyway, these apartments were exactly the margin of being in which I would spend the majority of my formative years. This housing development was hastily put up in order to cater to the rising amount of people living below the poverty line. On one side of High Street, the street we called home, was the nice suburban homes of the string of partners who owned the various apartment units. On the other side of High Street laid their investment. Sherbet colored buildings and street lamps lined our side of High Street. These apartments were cheap due to the steep incline of the land making it impossible for the supposed "delinquent" children to get out of the development on their bikes and terrorize the town.
With only two bedrooms for the four of us, we had to make due. Our peach apartment was so cheerful it made our eyes burn. I was a very territorial and intensely secretive little girl, even when I was only 7 years old. I now believe this to be due to the fact that my family seemed to not be ashamed to be loud, to take things that weren't offered and even air our dirty laundry to the world. I felt, and still feel that secrets are gifts you give someone. They are only valuable if they are well kept. Due to this and the fact that I was the oldest, I was allowed to have the smaller bedroom to myself. Kyra and Leyna shared a room. Only, I wouldn't really call it sharing because Leyna was still in a crib, and Kyra spent most of her time on the couch sleeping with Mom. Mom slept on the couch that folded into a neat little bed. I remember how tiny and perfect that bed looked. She told me to mind my business when I worried aloud about the propriety of this situation.
What I have to say about my parents is objective. They are mine; I grew up with them, but they never seemed to affect in me an affinity for them. This lack of affinity or need has left my parents in the history or the background of my life. The little that I say about them is all that I knew then and only a little less that I know now.
My mother only ever envisioned herself as a mother. She was a child herself when she had us. No other thought of the future had ever come into her head. With tunnel vision like that, she almost broadcasted her disbelief when the seams of her life started ripping apart as she realized that there are a great many years to be lived and a lot of work to be done after her children were born. Thus she devoted her life to bitterness and sloth, as many angry people sometimes do. In doing so, I came to the conclusion that she was not to be trusted. My adult mind in my childish head deduced (correctly) that if I let her, she would use me for her childish ends.
My very young father on the other hand is a man of few words, unless you are only joking with him-then he will joke with you for hours. My father alternately acted like my playmate (a sixteen year old, at best) and a deaf old man. He couldn't hear me when he didn't want to deal with me. I have since found that men in general do this when they don't want to deal with their women. During the serious moments when he simply couldn't get around conversing with me, or he had things he couldn't or didn't want talk about with anyone who would truly understand what he meant, he would spend what seemed like hours in a one sided conversation on the true state of things-of matters of money, politics, but mostly of what he thought of my mother. As I look back, everything he told me was true or, at least, true to him. He trusted me, or conversely, he made me hold responsibility for everything that happened because of the knowledge he gave me. I think he told me this at such a young age to relieve himself of a responsibility to talk to me about it when I was older. Or maybe to make me bear some of his guilt. Despite this, I always looked up to him. He was my only model for behavior that, at the time, I could believe was correct and somehow good.
Kyra was handicapped. I do not mean handicapped in that helpless orphan kind of way, because I will tell you that, for her not being able to talk and as skinny as she was (she was so alarmingly thin that people left food on our doorstep), she definitely fought for her share of attention from Mom and she unquestionably got her point across. She may have not had words to speak with, but her eyes and facial expressions said it all. She could explain our whole situation by the way tears welled up in her eyes. Even now, inexplicably, I miss that look of all things. You must understand that there is a different social norm within a set of siblings when one is handicapped. Kyra was as much, if not more, capable at getting what she wanted from everyone. As hardnosed as it sounds, that minx would use her handicap to get her way. You have to respect her for that. It was her own survival mechanism that kicked in when she felt she wasn't getting her share. We were not cruel to her, we simply ignored what everyone else saw and fought like sisters. That was what truly strengthened our bond.
Leyna, the youngest of us girls, was a child of welfare. Unlike me, she spent her entire life on welfare. As a 3 or 4 year-old, she would ask if the food stamps had come in the mail or when we had to go see social services again. She was the hyper momma's baby stereotype that is in every family with multiple children. All of us, but especially Leyna, heard the threat, "If you don't put on shoes the god damn neighbors are going to call DCFS on me and you'll be taken away. Now why would you do that to me???" Looking back, I don't think I ever really believed this would happen, but it gives me sharp pains to understand that this selfish remark had more to do with getting welfare money than it did with keeping all of us together. I have since found out that calls of this nature were made and this threat was valid and more that a little disturbing.
When all of our thrift store clothing was dirty, my mother would have to trudge up the steep hill to the Apartments' coin operated laundry mat. My mom took one bundle and then came back for the second, this one containing my absolute favorite outfit; a bejeweled jean skirt with a Strawberry Shortcake t-shirt. That outfit made me happy. I wish I could still wear happy clothes like that.
Since I was a big girl, all of 7 years old, I was allowed to baby-sit Kyra and Leyna. Mom carefully locked the door and told us not to open the door for anyone. She said she would be home in an hour.
As soon as she left, being free of parental supervision, I grabbed a soda out of the fridge for us to share and (with a lot of maneuvering) the chips off of the top of the refrigerator. Us girls sat down to watch The Little Mermaid for the second time that day.
Just as we were settling down and the squabbling had stopped, I heard a distinct sucking noise, like that of a window being forcefully pulled open. Without looking to see who it was, I ran to get the phone to call the police or my grandma, whichever number I could remember first. I immediately remembered my sisters and ran back into the living room. My father, my hero, the one who would always tell me things straight when most of the grownups were acting younger than I was, was crawling like a gangly teenager into our apartment living room through our one window. Dad had visited a couple of times before, but he always stayed outside and talked to Mom. Now, on the other hand, he grabbed my sisters one at a time and carried them out to his gray Camero that he had traded in our dusty blue Omni for. I was dumbstruck; I did not know what to do. I was frozen in time. I watched my Father, the one who helped create me, was doing the most underhanded thing: he was taking his children to spite his ex-wife. That is all it was about. He never wanted much to do with us and even if he did, I know now that we were part of the undoing of his young life and he wanted more than anything to forget us. We were simply objects of leverage in this ongoing drama. Even to my little 7-year-old brain, the hope that I had tenaciously clung to that all this silliness about just us girls moving out of our much bigger house and into an apartment being a game, was shot down. I realized it was Real and that this was My Life and it is like no other. It is at this point that a person is forced to reckon with the reality of their life. Me? I was forced to grow up in, about two minutes. My outlook on life was forever changed from that moment.
After he had pulled Kyra and her awkward leg braces and Leyna with all of her dolls, he leaned over the sill and looked at me steadily with tears in his eyes and asked me if I wanted to come. I knew in my heart that for all of his mistakes, for all of the indifference, he was the best, most hardworking, loving person I knew, and he was the one I was the most like. Secretly, I yearned to go with him, my tiny heart willed me to go, but I knew that one of us in this family had to take responsibility, so I simply looked at him severely and said no, keeping calm the whole time. Today, this calmness astounds me. It is as if I was an old woman. I have since been unable to keep that level of calmness in a situation such as this.
And then he was gone. I wept, if a seven-year-old can weep. He didn't try to plead with me. He didn't try to coax me. I remember realizing, believing that he didn't want me. My heart ached for all the bad things that adults do. I felt that my ship had left and I knew that for the rest of my life I would have a terrible burden to carry. Somehow it is a burden of being alone; inexplicably I carry it to this day.
This whole period of my life seems like an entire year or a series of years, but in all truth it was only one bleak summer. I sat in that apartment rocking myself for the forty-five minutes it took my mother to get home. My mother didn't see the horribleness of the situation as I did when I told her what happened. She merely sighed and called my dad's mother. My dad only kept my sisters for an hour or two. I realized then how people can use others simply to hurt the ones they love-or used to love. This is something that I came to experience on an ongoing basis. Today I don't have a relationship with my mother. I grew up much more quickly than she did. I am more of an adult at twenty-two than she will ever be. She is still a child in many ways. Unfortunately, this means I can't have a relationship with my sisters; they live with her. She uses them to make me feel guilty for leaving. I lived with my father for years, but he was still indifferent and let his wife change me in ways I never wanted to change. She simply used me to hurt my dad because she was angry. It didn't work.