When I was 9 years old, my mother decided to come back into our lives. I am still unsure of why but I know that it completely changed the trajectory of my life. It was not a simple situation of joint custody and sharing holidays- it was a nightmare and I wonder every day how I survived.
That first year was scary and confusing. At first, my sister and I thought we were on an adventure. We were road warriors conquering another territory! But we were on the run avoiding a custody hearing. My father took us across state lines to hide us far away and this was kidnapping.
He packed few belongings and we headed for Maine. It was fall and at first we stayed with a blond-haired woman who had a very old house. We would gather crab apples in the yard and feed them to the horses. The trees had thick spider webs bursting with eggs. On the way to the bus, we would scream and laugh as we ran underneath the branches. Inside the house, we could not flush the toilet paper and we tiptoed across the creaky floors with a politeness not usually reserved for children.
We did receive a postcard from one of my father’s friends and our babysitter back in Ohio.
We eventually moved into a tiny, cold house as winter broke and the snow piled up past my head. My father worked at a local radio station and I took care of my sister and I while he was gone.
One night, the electricity went out and it was very windy and cold. My father was at work and my 6 year old sister turned to me for comfort. I found half a candle and one match, which luckily struck on the first try. We huddled close to the flickering light, trying to get far away from the dark shadows behind us.
In an unbecoming act, I started to pretend to blow the candle out to get a rise out of my sister. I wanted to show that I was brave and she was silly for being scared. My breath slipped through my partially pursed lips and as the flame died out, we both became terrified. My dad came home much later and found us cuddled together in the dark.
Christmas came and we had a small tree in the living room with a scattering of presents. My sister and I woke up very early and opened them all. I remember peeling back a “From: Santa” sticker to reveal a “From: Grandma” sticker.
My dad caught us, surrounded by flimsy paper boxes, tissue paper, and trinkets. The look on his face was so sad. I still feel a deep shame for taking that moment from him.
After several weeks, my father heard that it was safe for him to come back to Ohio. We packed up all of our belongings into a hard plastic cargo trunk and strapped it to the roof of the car. On the road, the lid would fly open and all of my toys and clothes would fly onto the highway and we would not stop to find them. I clutched my favorite stuffed animal, mr. bear, swearing to never lose him. I still have him, and a manageable hoarding tendency.
The cat we had acquired while there, Patches, had not been seen since the day before. She was an outside cat but did not stay gone for long as it was the dead of winter. I called her name over and over but eventually my father said it was time to go.
Winter in Maine
Memories are soft gray
Protesting this dreary day.
Speeding down the winding lane
Feeling the intense pain.
I swore he would somehow pay
To have fated my cat a lonely stray.
I knew her meows would soon wane.
He had said we had to leave, no more time.
He quickly packed each sparse belonging.
Promised he had called out her name.
It felt like a cruel, heartless crime.
Choking back tears, fear prolonging.
A nice year old would never be the same.