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Childhood: Chapter 2

Subtitle: The Mississippi Years

When I was in sixth grade, our parents sat us down at Family Home Evening and told us that Dad was retiring and we were moving to Mississippi. I guess Mom's southern roots were calling her home but she was still kinda down on Louisiana the way anyone who's escaped their small-town upbringing would be. So she settled on the neighboring state that rivals Louisiana for being last in the nation in education and obesity and blah blah blah but also has a beach.

Actually, what they told us was that they prayed about it and they both had that Mormon measure of judgement known as the "burning in the bosom." They actually said that to us. It made the entire family bask in the glow of knowing we were fulfilling God's will by moving to Mississippi. Then it seems to me I sang, "Shrimp Boats."

Spoiler: Three years after we moved to Mississippi my parents divorced and life basically went to shit which I'm no sibyl but I can't help but think if we'd stayed in our church in Arlington things would have turned out very, very differently for all of us. Also, I probably would have ended up at UVA or some other high-end university.

So we move to Mississippi and even though we live on the coast it turns out it's a sound and like bath-water warm so only tourists went into it. The biggest culture shock for me was when I used to get in trouble in school for saying "yeah" to the teacher instead of "yes, ma'am." This was a thing. Sixth through ninth grade were otherwise pretty uneventful. I read Judy Blume books and listened to pop music on my clock radio.

When I was 13 my mom went to go visit her friend from Puerto Rico. Not in Puerto Rico. In New Hampshire. Her friend's husband was an Episcopal priest and he was on sabbatical at a boarding school in New Hampshire. She came home completely impressed by the school and wanting to send all her kids away.

I exaggerate. Not all.

She wanted to send my sister because she was so book-smart and the school was basically self-regulated learning. So she could just read and learn to her heart's content. And she wanted to send my brother because after three years in Mississippi he was starting to be a bit of a disciplinary problem. In today's world, he probably would've just been put on Ritalin.

It was presumed by everyone that Kalisa would not go because our public school system had a really good music program and she was already knee-deep into that. So my freshman year, my brother (7th grade) and sister (11th) were shipped off to New Hampshire on a Greyhound bus and I became an only child.

They didn't come home for Christmas that year because my parents couldn't afford it. Later that spring, my parents separated. "We're not divorcing," they told me. "It's a legal separation," they said. "We don't want you to tell your brother and sister because it would be too hard for them so far from home," they said.

My dad moved out and I wasn't allowed to talk to my siblings about it.

Breaking away from the narrative here to say that I strive to tell my story and my story only. Often the stories of others coincide with my own and I try very hard to keep the narrative to my own story. I subscribe to Anne Lamott's theory that "if people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should've behaved better." But I also make no judgments as to why other people in my life behaved the way they did. I do not know what they were going through at the time or why they made the decisions they did. I do believe that in general most people do the best they can and I do believe that specifically about my family.

Ninth grade. Dad's moved to an apartment in Biloxi. He takes me to a movie every-other weekend. Mom and I are in the home my parents bought in Long Beach when the family relocated to Mississippi. Then she has a complete emotional breakdown.

I went to a therapist for a little while when I was in high school. Literally the only thing I remember about it was when I told her this and she said, "How did you know your mom had a breakdown?"

She never got out of bed.

Curtains were drawn. She covered some of the windows in aluminum foil. She literally never got out of bed in that dark room.

I set my clock radio alarm and caught the bus to school every morning. Came home, did my homework, went to bed. Not sure what I ate or how there was even food in the house? My siblings - and even my dad, I guess - were unaware of any of this at the time.

After several months, Mom decided she couldn't live in our family home anymore. I don't know if this was a financial or an emotional decision but she sold it and moved us to a different (slightly less affluent) neighborhood in Long Beach. She got a job and started dating a guy which was kind of great because at least she was no longer withering away in a dark bedroom. I continued to self-parent including on the weekends when she went off to stay with her boyfriend at his hunting camp.

One weekend, on her trip home from his camp, she stopped for gas and the radiator of an overheated car next to hers blew up and burned my mom's legs. After the initial hospitalization, she went home to Louisiana to do her long-term recuperation around family.

She never came back.

I continued to get up, catch the bus, go to school.

One weekend, my dad came to pick me up for our weekend movie. He was all, "Where is your mom?" I busted out in tears and said, "She went to Louisiana and never came home!" He moved in after that and I lived with him until I graduated.

Well that's kind of a bummer to end on. I'm thinking Chapter 3 will be my teenage years because who doesn't want to read about being a teen in the 80s? So much fun.

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