Unpack

on

My sophomore year ended, and I was ready for summer. Summers were always the BEST, of course because there was no school but also because most time we got shipped off somewhere. When I was really little my cousins and I got sent to my uncle Doc and Aunt May’s pig farm. They had a little house with no indoor plumbing. We had to use an outhouse and take baths in a metal tub they pulled out every few days, but we got to chase pigs around! When I got a little older, we would go to my grandma’s, she had moved to Arkansas. she too had a tiny two bed room house that looked like it had been there since the sharecropping days, but I had been upgraded with indoor plumbing, so it had a bathroom and running water. My grandma had around ten or so acres of land that she leased out, most times it was covered with soy beans or milo. Being a city girl, the drive down the winding dirt road for the first time was agonizing. All I could imagine was the impending boredom that I would have to endure while I was there. Sure, there were plenty of times where I got bored while I was down there but there were also some really cool times. There was a bit of adventure to be found there. There were lots of unique bugs, I caught them put them in jars with alcohol-soaked cotton balls and after their life was no more I would examine them with a magnifying glass. I found out that mud puppies (salamanders) could be dug up in her front yard, we went fishing, learned to shoot a rifle, I saw my grandma kill a snake with a hoe, and I got to see her in a pair of pants for the first time in my life (well they were culottes but definitely not her usual skirt). As I got older, I would spend more and more time at my dads in the summer which really meant I was at my aunt Andrea’s house most of the time.  The summer of 1991 I was 16 and DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince came out with Summertime, everybody loved that song! I felt like this was my anthem because this was going to be a summer that changed my life, so every time I heard it I would dance and sing along “summer summer summer time!”

I had worked my plan since that last big fall out with my mom. My grades were on point as usual, I was the model child, no talking back, the house was cleaned, helped the kids with their work, and still hit Howard Johnson’s on the weekends. My mom had no complaints, so when summer rolled around the kids and I went to my aunt Andreas house, they would always come for a little bit (we all had different dads) but they didn’t stay the whole summer. I helped them pack enough stuff to last a week, but I packed almost everything I owned. I couldn’t take everything, mom might get suspicious, but I took as much as I could. I enjoyed the time at my aunt’s house with my sister and brother making cookies, watching movies, and going to the drive in but then it was time for them to go and I was so sad, I felt so guilty for leaving them, I knew they wouldn’t understand, and I compressed all of my emotions put on my smile for them that day and tears filled my eyes as I lay in bed that night.

After they left, I went to stay at my dad’s new place with his girlfriend Kim. She was so pretty, very smart (she was an engineer), she had the best clothes, and amazing thick long hair. She always seemed so nice and had asked me to come live with them many times, she was almost perfect, and I really thought she could fit the part of my “real” mom. The problem is I was young and naive, I kept looking at people and believing that they were who they presented themselves to be, and that is rarely the case. Kim presented herself as this beautiful, well educated, orderly, sweet woman who would love to share her life with me. I burned to be loved and she fan the flame. I had almost given up on the idea of a happy home life, but she made me believe again, this was it. This was going to finally be a normal life for me.

Things were good. The end of summer came, and Kim enrolled me in South County Technical High Schools drafting program. They lived in Normandy school district and I had no desire to be in it. I liked school in Kirkwood (which was in south county) mostly because I knew Normandy was kind of hood and I just didn’t want to try to adjust to that. Almost everything was set, all but one thing… My mom, she was totally unaware that I wasn’t returning! So she started calling and calling I don’t know what my dad said if anything (he liked to avoid conflict and confrontation), but I finally spoke to her a few days before school started. I just told her that I wasn’t coming back and hung up the phone. Not long after she was out front with the police.  I was actually surprised, I really didn’t think she would make a big fuss. She was yelling and going off but in the end the police told her that they couldn’t make me leave at the time I didn’t know why they couldn’t (it was because I was sixteen), I was just happy that that was over, and I could start my new life.

This was going to be so great! My Aunt Josie lived around the corner! I could walk over anytime and hang with my cousins, there was a park, lots of trees, and just a chill atmosphere. We had some problems early on though. I had been living as an adult for quite some time. I still had a lot of ANGER that had not been addressed just suppressed but it sat waiting the opportunity to erupt, and I truly bought into the version of who I thought Kim and dad were. It seemed like as soon as school started so did all the rules. Dad and Kim did not live by most of these rules and since in my mind I was their equal the fact that they tried to impose these rules on me was ridiculous. No, it wasn’t about staying out late or boys it mostly revolved around cleaning and other random tasks. They pretended to be neat for company but were honestly very messy, in the extra rooms they stashed mountains of laundry and random junk they kept collecting. Kim was a great cook but would use every dish in the house and make a crazy mess in the kitchen. Their garage and basement were a hoarder’s maze of cob webs, old future, and clothes. It quickly became obvious that I was going to be expected to clean all of it. I didn’t complain I just told myself that this was still way better than what I had dealt with in the past, but it added to my anger. My anger was so intense but hidden from everyone that knew me. I couldn’t let people know that things really impacted me. I had to be calm, stable, reasonable. This was like a war, inside it was like Beirut outside I wore a smile or a look that put others at ease. No one ever really asked me how I was handling all the stuff with my mom. No one enquired about how I felt about not having my sister and brother. No one wondered how anything affected me. If I had been asked I would have probably pretended to be fine. I would have smiled and shrugged it off. Making sure not to make anyone feel sad or sorry for me. What I needed was someone to ask over and over. Someone to be in my face. Someone to help me understand that my feelings mattered, that I mattered. Instead I got ridiculous chores.

 It wasn’t just the fact that I had to do the cleaning it was that the cleaning had to be done a specific way because Kim was particular about things. In my mind I was like “Really! Are you fucking kidding me!!” She had to have the floor downstairs hand scrubbed and she can just walk in look at a wood floor and tell that I did not scrub all of it the way she told me!? Kim never physically touched me, but she slapped me around with her words. I tried to talk to her once because I noticed that she was also this way with my dad and others. I told her that I could not emotionally deal with the way she spoke when she was angry. Yes, she would often try to make up for it later. I could not handle the back and forth. I don’t know if she really thought I was sincere or just being a teenager, but she continued doing as she saw fit, my anger grew exponentially. I was devastated, just when I thought I was happy, just when I though I had found a “real” mom, just when I thought my life was heading in the right direction, it all exploded. All I wanted was for her to love me like I was her real daughter. I just wanted to have her and my dad so we could all be happy.  

One day I didn’t do something right and she erupted, I immediately turned the switch off that day. I decided to emotionally check out. That was it! I was done! I didn’t plan to leave or anything I just decided to not care anymore about anything that she said, and I stopped wanting her to love me. That void created more space for anger. She had a friend coming that weekend and wanted her to stay in my room, even though there was an empty room (full of junk though) upstairs. I was given specific instructions on how I was to clean my room and hand scrub the floors with Murphy’s oil soap. I did it for the most part, but of course I missed some spot on the floor and my closet was not clean enough. So, I had to be punished, I was supposed to go stay at my aunt Josies house but instead I would be taken to my aunt Andrea’s. Normally I wouldn’t care but I really did want to go hang with my cousins. I didn’t say anything, but I was pissed. Next was the kitchen, and honestly, I don’t know what I did wrong, but she started going off and boom I just let her have it right back. It wasn’t that she just yelled it was the words she used and the way she said them. Perhaps I was sensitive because of what I had already been through, because I had so much pent up anger, or because I believed that she was something soft and loving so that when her anger and words reached me each felt like a slap, a kick, or a punch. For me this cut deep. I was tired. I just wanted to be wanted and loved. She made me feel unwanted and undeserving of love. I cursed her out and just left, walking to my cousin’s house.

You can’t just take a kid from a bad situation and plop them into a better environment and expect them to act as if they had always lived that life. You can’t expect them to just be grateful to be there and adjust. They have so much to unpack. Clothes and whatever other tawdry belongings they might have will be swiftly and neatly stowed away. What remains in the darkest unseen corners of the last trash bag they brought with them is all the years of pain, hurt, shame, and anger they have been dragging behind them. I stayed away and didn’t tell them where I was that weekend. I returned after school that Monday, I knew that I probably wouldn’t live there long, and I knew I didn’t want to go back to my mom. I had no idea what I was going to do. I felt numb nothing mattered except finishing school, so I could get into a college to get away from everyone and everything I knew…

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