(A Story about Losing)
Losing My Family Unit
The reason a bathroom was chosen for the important talk was anyone’s guess. “I’m thinking of separating from your dad,” Mom said nervously.
I sat on the toilet and glared at the traitor. “Why are you smiling?” I demanded. Alisa, the youngest, burst into tears.
Mom wouldn’t say, though it was plain she wasn’t happy. We often played the “don’t you smile” game; she was losing this round, and these stakes were high.
“I don’t want to be a stupid divorced kid,” I said through gritted teeth.
Days later, I peered around the corner to watch Dad load his belongings until all that remained was an old, wooden dresser. He paused and tried to muster his strength, but struggled. It was just too heavy.
“It won’t be easy,” said the counselor at a session, “but you still have the same parents. They love you just as much, only from two separate homes.”
Dad seemed a stranger, living in his brother’s basement and eating frozen pizzas; I worried ’til he bought a double-wide on a gravel road. I liked the empty chicken shelter, the pond, and my new room- if I had to have one. I carefully taped family photographs to the walls around the mirror.
Christmas Eve found us missing our mother, who lived for family holidays but spent this one with her boyfriend. Dad carried half-hearted carols on our couch. The eerie tree glimmered as cheerfully as ever in the dark.
Losing My Home
“You’re lucky to get out of this house,” Grandpa said, as he helped paint it white. “It’s a piece of sh-.”
I tuned out the biting word, loathing the double standard that enabled adults to say what I couldn’t… not that I would in this case. He’d clearly never tried the sledding hill, or picked blackberries while Smokey the dog ran free among the bushes. He hadn’t discovered the loose fireplace stone where we’d marked the “X” on our treasure maps.
I smacked down paint with careless strokes, not bothering to brush off dirty clumps and dead insects with the broom as instructed. I slathered them with white; they were someone else’s problem now. I preferred the old blue color anyway.
A visit to our future residence promised an upper floor just for us girls, with spacious bedrooms, gleaming hardwood floors, and a private bathroom. But my closet housed the world’s largest cockroach, and my room’s windows faced four lanes of booming bass and honking horns that didn’t quit ’til 3 am.
Back home, I sought the woods while they were still mine, parted the trees and mourned by the creek, memorizing. I stole Alisa’s camera and guiltily took one Polaroid- the tree where I’d buried Smokey… the photo stunted it, washed it out. I sacrificed my best mix-tape to capture the joyful woodland voices… only 20 minutes of muffled static echoed back.
Clothes, posters, and toys were packed in endless boxes, but there wasn’t enough room. I couldn’t take anything that mattered.
Losing My Parents
The new house had new rules, enforced by a new man. Mom reveled in finally sharing responsibilities. “Joe, the girls are eating in the living room,” she tattled to him, who promptly made us return to the kitchen.
I scowled. With each passing day, the woman seemed less my mom and more my stepfather’s wife.
Most nights, I was awake until the cars quieted. I’d trace the route from home to where I lay, wondering if my bed still pointed in the same direction… there were too many twists and turns to track.
Dad’s was the place to be, I decided, with the large yard to cartwheel and flip in without anyone staring; I counted the minutes to summer. When it came, another child occupied my room. My knick-knacks were thrown into storage, the family photographs in one large, sticky clump on top.
This house had rules now, too- decrees unknown until broken: No crumbs on the counter. No water on the bath mat! Shoes off in the hall… Dad kept silent while the girlfriend scolded.
Nothing was mine, then- not even my father. I roamed outside, but the yard was muddy. The old chicken shelter had germs. The “pond” was just part of the sewer system.
I bent to pet the dog between the slats in his fence, who licked my hand warmly. He didn’t belong to me either, but didn’t care to show it.