The way I remember, it was Christmas time. My father had this little two foot Christmas tree sitting on a table near the window, lights reflecting in the sliding glass door that I was pressed against, staring out into the night, waiting for my mother to come pick me up. This was a few years after the divorce, or maybe it was the first Christmas after, I don’t remember, but it was Sunday night and I’d just finished the weekend with my father, and my mother was supposed to come pick me up. Only she never came, and finally my father put me to bed. And she didn’t call, and she didn’t come the next morning, and I missed a day of school, and another, and I don’t remember how it happened after that, except that I never went back to that school again.
The story as my mother tells it, as she told it then, as I remember now, is that she’d gone down to Tennessee to help a friend move. She’d had a friend waiting at the house to care for myself and my brother. She hadn’t told my father that. And then they (I don’t know who they was, someone official) took us in (I don’t know where in was, either, somewhere important), my brother and I, and they asked us questions about our mother, about how good of a mother was she anyway, and I don’t remember anything, I swear I don’t remember. Except, I think I remember telling them what they wanted to hear, because I was scared, and I was seven, and I just wanted to leave.
And they deemed my mother an unfit parent, and I went to live with my father, and my brother went to live with my grandma, my mother’s mother, and for a while we weren’t allowed to see my mother at all, and then after a while we were allowed supervised visitations, an hour or two in a room in some place, some place, a brick room with a chalk board and a table and a box of toys and a camera in the wall, and I spent the time hiding under the table because I was seven and I was scared and I just wanted to leave.
And over time, days or weeks or months, I don’t remember, but eventually I was allowed full days at my mother’s house, full days and nobody even watching to see if she would be abusive or neglectful. And my father, I know he loves me but I don’t think he was ready to do the parent thing, not full-time, not alone, or maybe I cried, I don’t remember, but he let me spend more and more time with her, sleepovers and weekends and whole weeks in the summer.
And I guess I didn’t tell him much. And I guess that’s when I stopped telling anyone anything, because I honestly can’t see them actually letting me stay with her when conditions were so much worse than when I’d been initially taken away. Or maybe it was just at the end that it was like that, I don’t remember. There was no electricity except for what could be powered by a generator, big noisy thing continuously thundering in the shed, great long extension cord running from it. And it was winter or summer, I don’t remember, I don’t remember being cold or hot, but I remember the fireplace, I remember roasting marshmallows and hot dogs speared on forks and it was like a camp-out, a big adventure.
I don’t remember my brother being there. I don’t think he was allowed. My grandma was greedy and took advantage of the situation to play mom all over again, although she hadn’t been a good mother the first time around and the second time isn’t a charm.
I remember a trailer parked in our driveway, friends of my mother’s who had been evicted from their trailer park so they lived in our driveway, and they were going to make a clearing in the trees behind our house but they never got around to it.
I remember Christmas, and one of the girls from the trailer got a giant Barbie Dreamhouse, and I only got a little plastic baby buggy, and I was mad and jealous because there they were living in our driveway and using our electricity and yet they got nicer things. Only I was seven and I didn’t realize my rationalization and I was just mad.
And I remember all the adults drunk in the living room (and I realize now this was before I got taken away), yelling and laughing and throwing snowballs, and myself, seven years old, stomping out to ask could they please keep it down, I had to get up for school in the morning, and they’d laugh and throw snowballs, and I ran back to my bedroom and curled up in the corner and cried, and even worse my mother followed to comfort me, but there’s no comfort from a drunk mother.
My mother used to tell me, seven years old, that my father did heroin. She told me, seven years old, that he’d slit his wrists when he’d discovered my mother was pregnant with me. Later, I asked my father about his scars, and he quickly changed the subject.
Or that’s the way I remember. (She denies it.)
And yet I loved her, miserable and I loved her, and I thought a little girl was meant to be with her mother, because who did you have if you didn’t have your mother, so I kept going back, only she wasn’t the mother she was supposed to be, and sometimes I don’t remember.
I lived with my father for a year and a half, and my mother lost her job, and lost the house that I’d grown up in, and moved from place to place, and drank, and I followed her ever devoted. And the summer I turned nine, while staying with my mother, I called my father up and told him I wasn’t coming back. I wanted to live with my mother again. And I hung up on him.
And so I lived with my mother. And a few years later, my brother rejoined us as well. And when I was eleven my father moved down to Florida (and that was when I started showing signs of depression). And my mother remarried, and they’d both get drunk, and they’d scream and fight, and I’d hide in my bedroom and cry, and eventually we lost the house, and it was just like old times.
And that’s what happened (the way I remember).