We moved to another home in Ocean Springs, MS and many things happened.
I went to a YMCA summer camp. We would sneak past the property line when the camp counselors were not looking. One day we found a pile of tiny diary keys next to a rotted burlap sack deep in the woods. We were scared and excited, our breath was quick and low as we told ourselves a story of previous girls sneaking back there. We imagined that they were kidnapped and killed- and the man who did this took their diaries as trophies, leaving the diary keys behind as a warning to others who might trespass. We each took one, swearing to always remember the girls. I still have that key.
I had a my first real crush on a counselor, Chuck. One day I dove into the pool and was mortified when I surfaced to find my strapless bikini top around my ankles.
At some point I had started carrying around a book that I would have people sign and write notes. I was trying to keep track of the moments and people who were flying past me in a flurry, school after school, city after city. He signed that book and I died of happiness. This I do not still have.
Our new house was 70’s style rambler with wood panel walls, orange shag carpet, and bright yellow walls in the kitchen. We had a large backyard.
The tone in this house was different. It was not required for us to be outside all of the time and I have a sense that we were told to stay in more. I do not remember being around my mother or step-dad often. My sister and I would watch Golden Girls, Gary Shandler Show, Tracy Ulman (Simpsons in the crude format), and The Price is Right.
We did do some things together. For family night out, we went to B B’s Po-Boy & Seafood. We loved this place and could not get enough fried shrimp. We had popcorn shrimp for appetizers and Po-Boys for entrees. They had a game, Hi-Q, on the tables for customers to play while they waited for the meals to come out. I was in a thrift store some years back and came across this game. It triggered my memory of our family night out and I had to buy it.
For my birthday, I was allowed to pick the restaurant and cake of choice. I would picked Chinese food- my favorite part of the meal was the fortune cookies. I thought they would give me words of wisdom, guidance in this uncertain life. When we got home, my mother would pull out the makings for my favorite dessert- angel food cake with fresh strawberries and whip cream.
I attended Taconi Elementary and there was a boy who really liked me. He wasn’t unpopular but he wasn’t popular. We had actually gone to Pass Christian Middle School together and we had coincidentally moved to the same new city and school. I know he had no control over it but it still felt weird, like I was being followed. It somehow did feel comforting that I had moved somewhere new and a bit of my past was with me. I was not invisible, drifting from city to city with no anchor.
I do not have much of a record of my 6th grade year but in 7th grade I excelled at school once again. I received the Presidential Academic Fitness Award, qualified for the Advanced General Math Class, and received Student of the Month.
I do not have many pictures during these years. In my school picture from my 1991 – 1992 yearbook, I am wearing a white t-shirt with a vest- which I am sure came sewn together. In another, I am wearing my step-dad’s University of VA sweatshirt which had shrunk in the dryer and became a favorite of mine.
We had a bunny named Clover who frequently ran away. She would dig holes under the fence and turn up in the neighbors garage. I have scars on my arm from her trying to escape my arms. I remember feeling happy and sad every time she ran away. I was happy when she returned because I loved her but sad because I wanted to be out of that house too. If she could successfully escape, then maybe I could too.
A boy picked on my sister and I threw a metal garbage can lid at him. He never bothered her again.
I had a pet lizard that I had caught- I let him go almost right away. He belonged in the wild.
I had a pet gerbil named Pete. We forgot to feed him and he died. When we found him, his tail was half chewed off. Heartbroken, we buried him in the backyard in a Mickey Mouse dominoes box. A few weeks later, we were playing in the backyard and my friend unknowingly ran over his grave- and my sister cried.
I loved my bike and rode it everywhere. The summer before my 13th birthday I had been riding home from a friends and thought I was extra sweaty. But I had gotten my period, finally. I was obsessed with Are you there God- It’s me Margaret and the ache to become a woman had been deep. I went to the grocery with my mother and she bought me pads and strawberry ice cream. But we never talked about it. I used my own money to buy tampons.
I loved to read and would raid my mothers bookshelves. I read Michael Crighton, Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien, and John Grishom. I often had a dictionary by my side to look up words I did not know. I read Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, Wizard of Earthsea, and any books with dragons. I wore my library card out.
I made my own library in my bedroom and a library card for my little sister and let her check books out. Penalties applied for late returns.
I loved to babysit and parents would trust me with their infants and toddlers. We would play and read stories and I could do my homework after they went to bed. I had access to snacks and food that we were never allowed to have in our house. Life was good on the nights I babysat.
One night something came over me and I decided to watch “IT” after I put the children to sleep. It was storming outside and I felt a horror wash over me as the clown popped onto the screen. I huddled on the couch and sang “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” with my eyes closed, too frozen to turn the TV off.
I had a friend named Marissa. She had a beautiful house down the street and we would sit on her roof to catch patches of sunlight. She had glasses and I remember loving her family and being around her. It felt calm and safe. We ran cross country together, we were Greyhounds. Somehow, I have the shirt I ran my first races in.
I had a friend Kirsten. She was tiny, pale, and kind. Her family was Mormon and I spent a good amount of time at her house. The family liked me and made an exception on a Sunday to let me hang out during family time. There was no tv or radio- the family just hung out together. It struck me as novel.
I had a friend named Lyndsey and we would play at her house. We would have many scavenger hunts and the neighbors always humored us. At night we would grab flashlights and play manhunt. When the parents were not paying attention we would play truth or dare (our go-to dare was streaking semi-naked), sneak out to skinny dip in the ocean, and put tampons in mailboxes of boys we had crushes on.
One time her parents were not home and her sister scared us by lurking outside and scraping against the backdoor. We were terrified and called 911. This did not go over well.
We kept in touch after she moved and are still friends. I have a manila envelope containing her letters. It says “CONFIDENTIAL- if you can read this then you are too close” and her letters are splattered with Lisa Frank stickers.
There were a couple of friends whose names I do not remember, but they impacted me with their sadness which felt deeper than mine.
One night I was allowed to have a sleepover but only if we camped in the backyard. We set up my tent and turned the flashlight on as the house lights turned off. A boy came over and the three of us snuck out to walk along the beach and we talked about running away. Their plans sounded especially serious and I felt like a third wheel as they held hands and whispered. When we got back to the tent we played Runaway Train over and over, quietly rewinding the tape as if the sound of the boombox buttons would wake up my household.
I had another friend who I snuck in through my window for several nights. The terror of getting caught was worse than any horror movie I had watched. But their pain must have outweighed my fear of getting caught because I let them in night after night.
We went back to the DC metro area for the holidays. I loved the Air & Space museum where we would be allowed to buy astronaut ice cream. I loved going to my step-grandparents home, it was so warm and cozy and filled with tons of knickknacks, plants, and art. They had all of the memorabilia from when their kids were little. Comics, lite brite (made by EL), ouji board, magnet set, dolls, and vanity sets- it amazed me how an entire basement was filled with their childhood and mine could fit in a backpack.
My grandma on my mother’s side would make kim pop, jap jae, and boylgogi. We would watch The Godfather movies all day. We would wear matching night gowns and sort through her free samples of makeup and jewelry- it was so glamorous. Our favorite possession of hers was a little battery operated dog that would bark and do flips.