Going back and forth to school alone was not so bad; in the afternoons I’d walk home and use my bus money sometimes to get a lemon custard ice-cream at the Sav-On drugstore, I remembered getting sundaes there in little yellow plastic bowls, with my mom and dad when I was little. Another time my mom had taken me shopping there and at the other stores in the shopping center, just her and me. We had eaten lunch at the lunch counter in the back of the old Woolworth’s store nextdoor and afterwards it was pouring rain out, so we called my dad from the payphone out in front and watched the rain while we waited for him to pick us up; we had such a good time and my mom said we would do it again sometime for sure. I liked to go into Woolworth’s and see the lunch counter, even if I didn’t have any money, and also look at the budgies and fish and mice in the pet section, but mostly I would walk slowly up and down the toy and paper-goods aisles, imagining the fun I would have if I could have different toys, or all the pictures and poems I would create on all that nice clean white paper.
Most days when I would get home, the house would be dark and quiet and my mom would be asleep in her bedroom. The trouble was, I was not supposed to play in my school clothes, except that my dresser and my play clothes were in my mom’s room, and to wake my mom up was not good at all, she got really mad. After many days of staying inside, and several days of getting in trouble for waking her up, I finally was so upset I started crying because I felt like I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do, just about that and about everything else, and my mom must have understood, because after that there were several times when I would come home from school and find my play clothes folded and laid out neatly on the floor outside of my mom’s bedroom door, sometimes even with a note asking me if I had a good day and telling me what we were having for dinner and saying, “Love, mom.” Those notes always made my day.
There were some times, though, when my mom would stay asleep in her room for a long time and not even cook dinner. On those times usually my grandmothers would make their own dinner, but we were not really supposed to ask them for food, so once in a while my dad would come in from the garage and take us kids to Taco Bell and we’d bring tacos home. I listened at my mom’s door sometimes to try to hear what she and my dad were saying, to figure out what was going on, but I didn’t understand what I heard. Like once when the door was left open a bit and I could see my mom sitting in the dark in her chair by the window, she told my dad that she had been looking at a star, and that then the star had disappeared, and she was crying so sadly that it scared me. I sat outside on the grass along the path beside our house sometimes, too, underneath my mom’s window, where I heard all about how unhappy she was and how much she wanted her own house, and so many other things. I wracked my brain trying to think of a way to get her the things that she needed, but I was only in elementary school, and it left me in tears of despair not knowing what to do.
Cathy was not ok anymore, either. There were some times when she said these crazy things like that colors were coming out from under her fingernails or that someone was trying to kill her. She ran away from home for long periods of time, sometimes going to other states and even sending a postcard or calling us on the phone from far away. Vira would send her a plane ticket to come home again for a while. When she was home she slept in Vira’s room and I would just sleep in the frontroom with Russ. Russ had a twin bed sort of off of the frontroom, but I would get my pillow and blankets out of the hall closet each night and sleep on the floor in front of the tv. It was better than being up against the wall to my parents’ room, but I still had trouble sleeping because even if I did fall asleep at first, I would always wake up abruptly the moment I heard my dad’s Falcon coming up to the house, late at night when he’d come home from the bars.
The people that moved into Cheryl’s old house two doors down were Mike and Jacqui and soon their new little baby girl, Jamie. Mike and my dad were friends and would go drinking at the local bars together, The Copper Door or The Pub, or they’d just hang out or work on cars and stuff in our garage. Jacqui and my mom were friends, and there was another family we all hung around together with that lived on the corner, Ron and Bob, who were Russ’s friends, Lori, my newest friend, who was two years older than me, and Bill and Jean, who were friends with my parents. Everyone always seemed to be over at our house, especially in the summer, or often we would all go to Chuck’s new house to swim in the pool.
Chuck married a lady that had three sons and moved to a house by the Nazarene church that we all attended fairly regularly. I celebrated my tenth and eleventh birthdays there at his new house, all of us kids would swim practically all day long there, and we would usually barbeque hotdogs or hamburgers and have chips and pop. It was not the same with Chuck as it used to be, though, because I really felt like he didn’t love me anymore, but I didn’t know why. It seemed like now that he had his three new sons and my brother and his friends that I didn’t even exist anymore.
I really loved little Jamie and would often get to baby-sit her, usually Mike would just hand her to me, along with a couple of bucks, and I’d carry her around and play with her and stuff. It was nice to earn a few dollars here and there, too. Sometimes Jacqui asked me to baby-sit over at their house when she and Mike were going out, just so I would be there while Jamie was asleep, in case she woke up and needed a bottle or to have her diapers changed. I liked to take along my new Sesame Street drawing pads that I had bought with the money I’d earned, and I tried to draw things that were in my head, since it was the only time I had any real privacy ever. I remember how frustrated I got trying to draw this one story I made up about a little mouse that lived in a crater on the moon, it was a secret story and after I drew the pictures, (not very well, either), I ripped them up into little pieces and put them way down in the bottom of the kitchen trash so that no one would ever find them. The mouse always looked down from his crater at the Earth with tears in his eyes, because he was lost there and couldn’t find a way home. One time when I was drawing Jacqui came home early and brought Mike in, who had gotten too drunk, and left him to sleep it off while she went on with her mother out to another restaurant. I was to stay in case Jamie woke up, but once they left, Mike just started trying to get me to kiss him and stuff. I was afraid to leave Jamie there alone with him being so drunk and I didn’t know what to do. I think I kissed him, I don’t really remember, I just remember trying to leave and Mike yelling for me to stay, and being scared and worried about the baby. I got outside of the front screen door and he got me to come back in to take my two dollars for babysitting, which I told him I didn’t want to accept, and later I tried to explain to my dad what had happened, to get him to please check on Jamie, but all he did was call Mike an asshole and throw his two dollars back at him and walk away.
Things were not so great at home many nights, especially around the holidays, it seemed, the times I used to look forward to had become the times I dreaded. I guess the ladies decided that if all of the men were drinking, they might as well drink, too, because our kitchen and diningroom became the center of a kind of “ladies night” scene, where they tried out all the newest latest drinks that could be whipped up in a blender, everything from pina coladas and margaritas to kahluas and coffee, and back in those times there was not a drink that I was not offered an opportunity to taste from someone, either my mom or my sisters. I remember one Christmas Eve giving eggnog to three sweet little tabby kittens underneath the Christmas tree because I was told it had eggs in it, only to be surprised when they began to act strangely and all kept wobbling and falling down.
In reality, though, I was a very good kid and I did very well in school, I hardly ever did anything wrong at all. I even felt bad for the food that I used to steal from the grocery store with Cheryl and Linda years before. And for the packet of real dead butterflies that cost ten dollars in Pier 1 that I knew I’d never be able to buy. I stole them but then panicked and dropped them in the street after school one day. I can still see those beautiful butterflies that could never be mine blowing down the street and stuck in the dirty water in the gutter, and hear the astonished cries of the other children that discovered them there. I'd read my books, sometimes emptying out the contents of the very top cabinet of our hall linen closet into Barbre’s room so that I could climb up there with my flashlight and transistor radio to hide and read or just listen to songs; no one ever found me there, not that I think anyone ever looked for me. I read one book that was like a girl’s diary that she wrote about her experience of running away from home, and I made up a good many variations on that story about myself; in fact I thought about running away from home all the time, planning, collecting, and stashing important items I’d need to take with me, like the little flashlight I bought for a dollar at Thrifty’s that was shaped like a small gun, hidden nearby me every night, in case I got up the nerve to go. In a way I think I knew that I probably never would really run away, though, because it would be like abandoning my family, which I could never do.
As the nights got late, my grandmothers would retreat to their bedrooms and peek out from behind their doors when things became too loud, but then just go back to bed because there was really nothing they could do. Although there were often so many kids that ended up sleeping there at our house most nights, I still felt very alone a lot of the time. I tried to make it better with prayers and daydreams and special ways of counting in my head, saying and doing things in forward and reverse or in even numbers to cancel everything out in some way. In one of the daydreams I thought about while trying to go to sleep I imagined I climbed up onto the roof of my school building at Gant with a box of empty glass bottles and when the teacher and people tried to get me to come down I would throw down bottles at them, shattering glass all over the asphalt around them. When they tried to climb up after me to get me, I would jump off the roof and break my legs in the fall so that I ended up in the hospital, mute, and only able to communicate through my drawings, which I made with the paper and colored pencils that someone would bring me there. Since I never spoke, they for some reason would never make me go home.