We moved out of the apartment building and into a single-family home in Ocean Springs. The house had bars on the windows and sat on top of a hill in a cul-de-sac, it felt like a fortress. We had a large yard and the woods ran deep behind our neighborhood.
This house was larger than our cramped apartment and I thought, maybe we could be happy here. For the first time in my life, I had my own room.
We went to day camp. I remember going to a water park where I tried to swim in the wave pool and kept getting knocked down and I couldn’t catch my breath. I remember the panic that set in. That summer I learned to make friendship bracelets out of rubber strips. Those bracelets were like currency- we traded them for loyalty.
My step-dad would travel for work, leaving us alone with my mother. In between fights, she would mostly ignore us and we tried to be invisible until he returned. He would bring back souvenirs from the places he visited. I especially loved a tin cup with a handle that he brought me from San Francisco. It had vertical black and white stripes and the word “Alcatraz” stamped on the side. He would bring me currency from all over the world which I still have to this day. When I was younger, I would close my eyes and pick a coin and promise myself that I would travel there one day.
We settled into our new home and my sister and I made friends in the neighborhood. During the day we were not allowed in the house and could only come home for meals and sleep. We played for hours in our suburban spaces and the woods surrounding us. We would build forts in those woods and stretch our imagination to their limits.
I would cling to the stay at home moms with small children, trying to make myself useful and sneak a bit of attention. I quickly became a trusted helper and started earning a couple dollars here and there. Soon enough, my babysitting career was launched and would help me meet loose ends for the next several years.
We had Skip it and Atari, with the former getting more wear and tear. A kid in the neighborhood had a mini motorized car and I thought they were rich.
During heavy rainstorms the cul-de-sac would fill with water and when the rain and lightening slacked off- we would grab our cheap donut floaties. Our toes would dangle in the water and we used our arms as oars. We would laugh as we bumped into each other.
I found a batch of four leaf clovers and picked them all. I had a Garfield wallet and put them into the plastic slots meant for pictures. I gave all of but one away over the years to people who seemed like they needed a little luck. I still have one and I pull it out from time to time.
The woods caught fire behind our neighborhood and burned our forts down. The fire burned for hours and we watched the smoke slip into the horizon. A few weeks later I would walk through the debris and was surprised to find tiny green sprouts pushing through the ashes. I was deeply moved by the beauty and this is when I stared journaling.
We weren’t allowed to watch Full House- my mother said it was unrealistic that three men could raise those girls. She thought it was vulgar. But she let me watch the Exorcist- and when the girl’s head twisted around I ran into my bedroom screaming. I hid under my blankets and sang “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” until I fell asleep. She never came to comfort me.
I attended Pass Christian Middle School this year. At the beginning of the year, my IQ was tested and I was placed into the gifted & talented program. In class, we all wrote a short story and mine was a surprisingly dark and mature piece of work for a 10 year old. I called it School’s Out Forever…, illustrated and written by Melissa May.
I was an honor role student and was invited into The National Junior Beta Club. I was excited for the big ceremony and thought that maybe this accomplishment would convince my mother to like me. I looked for her in the crowd but never saw her face. My spirit was too crushed to ask her why she did not come and so we never spoke of it.