I was young when I was exposed to inappropriate adult content. We briefly lived with my father’s friend before we took off to Maine. Apparently, she had babysat us for years and we had developed a deep bond which I cannot recall experiencing. I found a copy of her letter amongst my father’s documents:
… have been babysitting the May children for the past 4 1/2 years. I have grown to love them and they love me. They consider me their adopted mother.
I cannot believe the girls were ripped out of their home against their will, taken from all their loved ones, school, pets, and everyone they knew, and then taken out of state, without the courts even talking to the children. These girls had no time to prepare for a major change in their lives. To them they were forced to go with a stranger.
Please, I am begging the courts to do what is in the best interest of these children. Check on the children’s psychological and physical well-being. These children are helpless victims. They have no say in what they want or even how they feel. They need some help, won’t you please help them?
Her suburban home felt quite different from our beautiful, sprawling homestead.The house was filthy but friendly. Yet, despite toys being strewn about, this was not a home suited for young children.
At age 9- I remember the saggy, old couch, drawn curtains, and a large fish tank running loudly next to my ear. We watched Dirty Dancing dozens of times and I yearned to be Baby. It seems strange that I was a child and she was 18, yet my naive comprehension of sexuality, honesty, and justice seemed to mirror hers. It felt confusing and exciting for a girl who mostly still believed in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
Nightmare on Elm Street would work it’s way into one of my reoccurring nightmares and Porky’s left such an impression that I would never watch it again. Dolls and Child’s Play would forever change my view on my beloved toys. I would whisper “Goodnight, I love you” to them several times before falling asleep each night.
We nibbled on fast food with eyes glued to the television. We were fascinated by language we did not understand and the semi-nude scenes made us fidget. The adults were there but they felt more like shadows and muffled voices in our peripheral view. I feel like we may have felt the same to them.
Some afternoons we would sit upstairs and painstakingly work on puzzles. Our foreheads would burrow in concentration as we aligned each puzzle piece accordingly. We would glue the puzzles to poster board, let them dry for a day, and hang them on the wall with brightly colored thumbtacks. We had a steady assembly line of puzzle, poster board, and art.
The yard bled into an old cemetery next to the house. Thick woods cradled the graveyard causing the shadows to cast in every direction whether day or night.The headstones were crumbling and their etchings were barely visible after a century of neglect. Weeds twisted through the cracks in the stone and we imagined bones turning to dust beneath the surface. We also imagined empty eye sockets staring up at us. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.
At night we would play hide and go seek with the neighborhood children. Us older kids would hide and make the younger ones find us. We would terrify them as we hid behind gravestones and grabbed their ankles. We would run out of the woods, chase them, and moan like zombies craving brains.
Sometimes they would be so scared that they would start crying, which made us cry. We would wander back to the house to where the adults would be sitting on the porch, smoking cigarettes and drinking. The electric fly zapper was somehow calming as it sizzled and sparked. The blue light shimmered and ran waves across our faces after each pop.
We would tuck mason jars under our arms and chase fireflies. Sometimes putting them into the jar and sometimes pinching their butts and rubbing them on our arms so we could glow in the dark summer night.
When I close my eyes and picture this time and place- I see a disjointed landscape, overly exaggerated features, innocent yet unruly children, and grownups fading into the background. I feel like I could have been a Coraline.