There is nothing like the love of family, but you have to have family around to know that love. Even with my family around me I still felt alone. I am not sure why I always felt this way. Growing up there was always family around, which included cousins my age, younger and older but I feel I was not part of them. I wish I had the Brady Bunch situation, but so much of my childhood reminds me of the movie Blow. Smoking, drinking and drugs were the normal situation. I only knew this life, so anything close to normal was created in my head. My parents separated at an early age, so I do not remember much of how it felt to have both of my parents doing that parenting thing in a real way together.
Coming from a divorced situation, and both parents not really there gave way for me to create my own family with friends. There were a few moments in my life that had both my mom and dad living in close proximity. When I was in the 3rd grade I went to a school by the name of Orchard. It was a K-8 school, so there was a wide array of kids. I remember we had the greatest jungle gym ever! It was made of huge logs, and used tires and rubber ramps. It had one of the biggest climbing nets ever. It made me feel like I was in boot camp, and if I didn’t make it to the top I would be thrown into the brig. This was my domain during brunch, lunch and break. One day there was a new kid hanging out on the lone tire swing at the end of what I felt was a wooden ship floating across the tan bark sea! I looked to see if I knew him and his face didnt ring any bells. He was laying stomach down across the tire opening and kicking his feet against the floor causing himself to rotate slowly. Every other turn he would swing a hand at the tan bark swatting a piece to the edge of the playground. He was one of maybe 5 black kids at this school. His color didn’t matter to me, but I could see he wasn’t the favorite of many. Over time I would get to know Johnny really well, but those first few days he was pretty shy and not open to share much about himself.
I lived across the street from the school field, which was good and bad. Being able to walk to school and be there in five minutes was awesome, having everyone see that I lived in an old motel was not the easiest thing to explain. Growing up I didn’t see a problem with how we lived. Moving from motel to motel and never really having a stable place to grow up was normal. I didn’t know how it felt to have friends from kindergarten sitting next to me in middle school and later walking down the aisle to graduation. I changed schools yearly until I was a sophomore in high school. Having a place to lay my head and food to eat was where I called home. There may have been times we didn’t have either of those and lived in shelters, slept in cars and no food to eat, but my dad didn’t let those times last for long.
We were living in a motel that reminds me now of the Bates Motel. Haha. Very cookie cutter side of the road middle of no where 20 dollar a night motel. Behind the motel, but part of the property was a huge dirt field with cactus and trees and what became the landscape for many trips to new lands for my friends and myself. Some of the kids I was friends with thought it was so cool to have the huge place behind my “house” to play at and do whatever we wanted to do and I do mean whatever. Johnny and I would spend what seemed like days back there though. It felt like it was our own land. No one could take it from us. We built a fort in the furthest back point of the field and used that as our safe place. If we were having issues at home, school or with friends that was our spot to just be. There was a long dirt road that led to the end of the motel and then back up to the street on one end. The road started at a brick wall that was at the end of a trail that came down from the back asphalt parking lot of the motel. We had a huge louquat tree and a few fig trees scattered around. The cactus was all running along the back end of the field. Each motel room in the front had a back door that led out to our praire paradise, but no one ever came out. It was our kingdom and those not invited kept clear.
I couldn’t tell you about Johnny’s family because I never went to his house. I knew nothing about where he lived or if he had siblings, but he became my brother. We were together as long as we were awake, but there were times we slept in our safe place. The funny thing is no one ever came looking to see if we were ok. We created our own background and it was very detailed. We met each other at a summer camp where we learned martial arts and survival skills. We were put together because we had advanced so quickly. Everyone knew this story about us because we told everyone this is how we met and why we were so close. I think we even believed it after a while. People would ask questions about the camp and it was like it spilled out of us. All this information about this awesome place that did not exist anywhere except in our imaginations. We would even talk about it while we were alone like it was real because we wanted our dream to be our reality so that is what we did. We brought it to life.
Our friends were pretty impressed with our stories and they loved hearing them. We had a couple boys and a few girls that came over after school on the regular and the weekends meant sunrise to sunset. I finally had a family that I loved to be around. We watched out for each other and took care of each other, and when one didn’t have the others made them whole. In school, play and through out our days we were all family in my head. I had never felt this before and just did not want to lose it. We would run them all around the back doing karate moves that we made up as we went along as if we were training them. They thought we had learned all this from our summers together in camp and now we were sharing it with them. They were the special group chosen, but they could not share this secret or they themselves would be banned from he group. We went on adventures down the creek that ran behind the motel, and there we would find junk that became our treasure for our safe place. Which not only was for Johnny and I, but Cheryl, Danny, Eric, Shannon and Becky. It was our home. Thinking back to it I feel like it was huge. We had a couch, chairs and a table with books and games. We kept a big ice chest that Cheryl’s dad was getting rid of that we kept sodas inside. We had an extension cord that ran from a shed and had one light from a motel room that was missing the shade they had gotten rid of. We didn’t use it much, but it was there just in case. We also had sleeping bags and pillows from the motel because we had slept in there many times, especially during the summer. It was always hard for them to go home, but for us this was our home and going to our families was the strange place. We created this place and relationship with each other that was more then any of us could really know or understand.
Even with our merry bunch of misfits, Johnny and I were brothers. We had a special bond that that just seemed to grow as the days went on. He would hang out for dinner, be there before breakfast and it just seemed normal. I never questioned why he was always here and never home, or why we didn’t go to his house. My dad always welcomed him into our little motel room. If the door was unlocked it was normal for him to just walk in cause he was home. At school he was quiet and didn’t talk to anyone around the campus. Even his teacher had problems getting him to talk. He did his work and when we all hung out he seemed to be really bright. Knowing how to do so many things and about so many places. It was like he had been there and was sharing the information based on experience. You know how when you talk to someone with personal experience you can almost see what they are talking about. That is how he spoke. Because we had created our own world and background, there was never discussion of our pasts. We just made up the life we wish we had lived. It was a happy past with the perfect family and without any needs. We didn’t create lavish lifestyles, just moments that didn’t show or bring up the hurt and pain that made us who we are. The people we had covered up and pushed deep so we can move on.
Summer after 3rd grade was the best and worst up until that moment in my life. My first kiss was with Cheryl and she actually became my girlfriend. I didn’t know what that meant, but it happened and I thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. She lived in the mobile home park to the right of the motel and I would go over and hang out with her and watch cartoons and play games. Her mom and dad were really nice and Cheryl was an only child so she got pretty much whatever she wanted. It was fun to see and not just imagine how this other side lived. The mobile home was nice. Furniture looked new and matched lol, and they each had a new car and they both worked. Her room was really girly with dolls and a big dollhouse. All these clothes and frilly curtains and bedding. It was like someone beat a unicorn and it sprayed a rainbow all across the room. She had a Fisher price record player and had some music on. She loved to talk about her dolls and even had names and lives for each of them. It was the same way Johnny and I had created our past. Cheryl knew my life. The real life. She seen how I was treated and how I tried to never be home. Even at our age I could see how she would have sympathy for me and bring me lunch to school when she made a lunch. She always brought something to our safe place to share with me. It was a different part of my life and I was becoming used to having things I never would have without Cheryl in my life. Johnny would still be in the back waiting for me no matter how long I would be gone. We would fall right back into our story without skipping a beat. I could see he was bothered that I wasn’t always home any more. Maybe not so much bothered as he was hurt because now he was alone.
By the end of the summer I learned so much about this young redhead and my new brother. I was at Cheryl’s house one day and noticed her dad never came home. We ate dinner with her mom and she was quiet. She kept to herself and when I looked at her she would throw a fake crooked smile at me.I didnt ask what was wrong I was 8 going on 9 and I never thought to be nosey in that way. When I left to walk home that night I noticed her dad’s car was parked toward the far back of the drive way. Her dad wasn’t there though? Where was he? It was normal in my family to only have one parent, but Cheryl didn’t know that life. Her dad was always there and loved her so much. He always got her what she wanted and was a hard worker to support his family. Cheryl came to the safe place in the morning and Johnny and I were playing war. Yes card games kept us occupied between adventures and G.I. Joes. She didn’t have her normal smile, she looked in some type of daze. She was looking through me when I talked and hugged her. I could see this was not time for our made up life, but to ask about the reality she was living. She didn’t want to talk about it and at that time I didn’t know about the idea of talking someone into telling me what was wrong. A few hours into the day she couldn’t hold back and took me back to the big loquat tree. We climbed up to the platform that Johnny and I had set up between a few branches. Wood from pallets had become the floor for what was to become a tree house one day. We sat there quiet for what seems like forever until she let out this deep breathe and told me the cops had come and took her dad to prison a few days ago. She was sleeping and heard the talking in the living room and came out rubbing her eyes to see her dad in handcuffs and her mom in tears. She was confused and didn’t know what was happening. Her mom grabbed her hand and turned her around and said dont worry strawberry, that is what her mom and dad called her. Just lay down and in the morning everything will be OK. She got a kiss on the forehead that also had been mixed with her mom’s tears. Her mom walked away and closed the door behind her. Cheryl didn’t know what was happening and cried herself to sleep, but her mom would explain what had happened the best she could in the morning. I didn’t understand at the time when Cheryl told me her dad would touch her in bad places. I didn’t really know what that meant. What is a bad place? Was she being bad and being spanked? I later found out what that was. Cheryl and her mother moved before the summer ended. She left the school and all. I never seen her again. I always wonder what happened to Cheryl. She was a cute and great girl at the time. We had so much fun that summer beyond a boyfriend, girlfriend situation. We all had our make believe lives and alternate realities that let us be someone else and for Cheryl it let her be just a kid. Where ever she is today I hope she is happy and healthy.
Johnny was the one person there for me through everything with Cheryl. He didn’t show much emotion or know anything about what was happening, but he was just there for me physically to help take my mind off of things. We dove deeper into our fantasy life and created girlfriends we had at camp that were twins and beautiful. It made my reality disappear and all I could do was think about these fantasy girls we had just come up with. The sadness of Cheryl being taken away from me was slowly disapating. Bit by bit she was being replaced by an imaginary girlfriend that could never leave or hurt me. I create this story and outcome. Johnny started showing up later and not staying so late. I didn’t notice it much until one day he didn’t show up at all. Danny, Shannon, Eric and Becky were still there with me, but it was different. It made me look around as if a part of myself was missing. He was my brother and best friend. He showed up the next day and acted like he had always been there. Like nothing had changed. I asked him about yesterday which we never did. We never spoke about the real world. We just created stories to explain the world and life so they could fit into our perfect land and safe place, but I really wanted to know the truth of his absense. This was the first time I heard about Johnny’s real life, and it made me sad. Johnny lived in a foster home with 8 other kids. His dad was never around and his mom died of cancer when he was 6. He doesn’t know of any other family. He has been in different foster homes since 1st grade. He told me he hoped one day to be adopted by a good family, and all I could do was hug him and I remember telling him I would ask my dad if he could adopt him then we could really be brothers. We both laughed about the thought of being brothers forever and took off running from the back porch. That last couple of weeks of summer was different but we seemed so much closer because we were finally real with each other. We had a new connection. Johnny ended up going to a new foster family not in our area, but my dad told me they ended up adopting him permanently later on. We moved away from that motel before school started to another one on a different side of town. Time to find new friends, learn a new school and wonder if I will ever have a group of friends like I did that summer.