After the divorce, we moved to Mobile, AL where my mother would go back to school. We lived on campus, in a house with a sagging porch. The once white exterior was gray and and chipped, the wood splintering in places from years of neglect. When you walked in there was a small living room and space for a dining room table, where a desk with a computer sat instead. I would play many hours of King’s Quest and Oregon Trail on that computer.
I do not remember having a tv. I remember listening to my boom box, making mix tapes, and calling radio stations to make requests. My sister and I danced a lot in that living room.
The kitchen was at the back of the house with an aluminum screen door that led to the backyard. Each night I would heat Dinty Moore on the old gas stovetop and warm slices of bread up in the oven. I would hand wash the dishes and make sure the house was clean. I battled cockroaches and scrubbed and tried to keep our place nice.
I would mow our large, crooked yard. The aging lawnmower would pick up and spit rocks at my ankles, leaving bruises.
Our backyard pushed up against the woods and my sister and I would explore, we loved nature. Having grown up around woods our entire life we felt confident and safe amongst the tall trees and small creeks.
One time we got very lost. These were not familiar woods and they stretched far. We wandered for hours, only breaking loose as the sun was about to set. We got home, shaken up. The house was empty as usual so we shook it off and made dinner and listened to music.
Under the kitchen sink were cleaning supplies and cheap liquor. I would have my friends over and we would drink the liquor and fill it back up with water. My mother never said anything and the strange men she brought home on occasion never said anything as they guzzled the liquor down.
My mother dated a man that looked like Tim Curry. My sister and I were huge fans of the movie Clue and it misled us to like him. One night he was roughhousing with my sister and he broke her arm “on accident”. There was also a guy named Monty who was tall and skinny- long, stringy hair fell across his shoulders and he had a mustache.
It’s funny how memory can betray you. I had to rewrite this blog entry after sorting through several notes and letters I have from the friends I made in Mobile, AL. My original memory was bare bones- having me only speaking a few sentences at school and having few friends.
But the notes and letters revealed at least a couple of dozen people we hung out with and are filled with all of the drama of being young. We were funny, boy crazy, and facing real issues. We were really into the Doors and I still have a band t-shirt a boy gave me, I have catalogued it as a treasured valuable.
I found this school picture and it brought up a memory of my friends encouraging me to jump in with them, that they would pay for it. These are some of my friends that would write me after we left Mobile to move to Reston, where my mother and step-dad would remarry.
During our 10 months or so in AL, I grew up fast. I started smoking, drinking, had my first kiss, had my heart broken and broke a heart. My sister and I started spending time with our own friends as we clumsily grew up without parents around. I tried to raise us and made sure we had food, clean clothes, homework completed, and that we made it to school. I made sure that we made it safely through the parentless nights.
I mostly wore baggy jeans, t-shirts and flannels. It was grunge- or as much as I could put together based on our limited budget. I wanted doc martins but we barely had enough money to keep the lights on and to buy groceries.
I did have a bike from our previous life and I rode it any chance I could. I had a best friend named Sally and she had a filthy but friendly home. We would sit in the backroom amongst dirty clothes, discarded fast food bags, cockroaches, and ashtrays overflowing with butts.
I felt safe there, with her family. I remember drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette and singing along to “Gin and Juice”. It was fun and we laughed a lot. I remember going to the river with her family. We floated on inner tubes and soaked up sunshine in our bikini tops and cut off jean shorts. Sally had lots of freckles.
One night I was in my room listening to the radio and talking to my friend on the phone. Those days, I spent hours on the phone at night. I did not know that my mother was home and she came into my room as I was smoking a cigarette that I had stolen from her stash. She calmly looked at me and then asked me if I had her lighter. I said no and she left, closing the door behind her. I finished my cigarette and put it out in the Alcatraz tin cup that I now used as an astray.
I had my first kiss in that tiny house. I was having a huge party and we overflowed into every room, except my mothers. We drank the liquor without bothering to fill it back up and smoked cigarettes inside the house and on the front stoop. In the backyard, the boys played a dangerous game called “Toby’s World” and they passed out and panicked and laughed and kept playing.
We played “truth or dare” and Jed leaned in to kiss me, my first kiss. My friends staged the scene and we both knew it was coming. I loved Jed and we went on to the 8th grade dance together, a hot couple for a short amount of time. He broke my heart eventually though.
I ended up dating his friend Chad. He was older and much too mushy for me. He wrote me a love letter with a huge heart and rose drawn in the middle, his words sprawling in the spaces around it. When I broke up with him over the phone my sister sang and danced the Wayne’s World version of “Foxy Heartbreaker”. We were laughing hysterically and I had to hang up on him.
Reading the letter right now, I feel sad that I treated him so cruelly, but I am not sure that I knew better at that point. I am not sure that I know better now. At that time, I had started developing a true physical reaction to intimacy. It made me feel sick and uncomfortable- how could anyone care about me with any seriousness (look at my parents). There must be something wrong with him.
Hey baby, whatcha been up to? Me, I’ve just been sitting here thinking about you! I can’t tell you how glad I am that we’re together. Before I met you I thought that I could never come this close to someone. But now that we are together I can say that I have truly been in love!
You make me feel like no one ever has ever before. I truly care about you and I always will. I just want you to know how much you mean to me and that I will always be here for you no matter what. I love you Melissa, I truly do!
I tried to kill myself in that tiny house. I save this admission for last because I am not sure where it fits into those months we lived in Mobile or what triggered it. I just remember sitting in my room one night, a bottle of Tylenol in one hand and a bottle of cheap liquor in another. I set the liquor down as I cracked open the Tylenol bottle and dumped all of the pills into my hand. I remember thinking two things. Would she cry when she found me? Would she come to my funeral?
I swallowed the fist full of pills and chased it with liquor. I waited. I lit a cigarette and then another. I listened to music. Nothing happening so I eventually went to bed and I never spoke of it until several years later. When I told the story, it was so painful. I made a joke that I did not have a headache for days. I had to laugh or else I think I would have drown in that memory.
Life is weird. It’s been a couple days since this entry. I was just flipping through documentaries and came across Kurt and Courtney. I suddenly remembered that Kurt died when I lived in Mobile and I had been obsessed with his music. My friend called me when it happened and we were devastated. We watched MTV for hours as they played band footage, tears streaming down our faces. It occurs to me that this may have influenced me to try to hurt myself. I am not placing blame but it makes sense given the state of mind I was in. Nirvana was teenage angst, relatable and tortured.