The back window was actually a sliding glass door. It had stacks of paper all the way across the bottom that were as tall as my chin when I looked out. The curtains were a old brown color that reminded me of mom and dad’s linoleum floor back home. I could part the curtains and look out into a cement back yard with a strip of ground that was an amazing green color. All the grass in that strip was the same height, and a lush texture that didn’t look at all like the ground around mom and dad’s trailer.
The ground around the trailer was brown, mostly. Small single plants here and there poked up out of the dirt here and there, looking like grasping hands to me. I didn’t like the yard, and stayed inside when I could. Mom and dad would make me go outside when they want quiet time. Everything around the trailer, and the other broken down trailers made me think of animals crawling off to die. Which is what trailer parks remind me of whenever I drive by one. They’re not dead ends for broken dreams, there are many families that do well. It’s my own memories that create the image that I see whenever I pass by one.
The trailer park we lived in, the ‘Western Spur’, was truly the last refuge of broken dreams and wasted lives. I didn’t like it, but children can adapt, and I was able to make some friends, or make up others when the few other kids like me weren’t around. Being the youngest meant that I was always the last one to be able to do anything if I was in a group. That was, I think, what made me value time alone. I didn’t have to wait, and I didn’t have to do what the bigger kids wanted to.
I could go at my own pace, explore what interested me, and not what someone else decided was the thing to go do. It was kind of how mom and dad were after the scary man came by. They quit seeing friends, except for Uncle Soap, and kept the curtains pulled so there wasn’t any way to look outside. They still put me out to play, but it wasn’t the same. Most of the other kids had moved away, or were now in school, so there was no one to play with and I wasn’t enrolled in kindergarten. So that meant I spent most of my home time alone outdoors.
My days were of being pushed outside when my parents woke up, being given money to go to the little general store at the entrance of the park, buy a snack for lunch, and then stay outside until the afternoon, when mom and dad let me back in to play in the house, eat dinner, watch TV, and then go to sleep to do it all over again the next day.
This went on, until the day that next spring. Mom and dad dropped me off at Uncle Soap’s. I don’t know if it’s me looking back and trying to put some prescient thought into that day in my mind, or I did actually pick up that my parents were more excited than usual for a camping weekend.
Mom and Dad started going out camping together. Both came back happy. Both gave me attention that made me happy. It was exciting. Neither of them were fighting any more. The bad old days had disappeared with the visit by the scary man. I got things. Toys. Clothes. Not just new clothes, but new clothes so stiff they itched me. They had funny tags on them. The food was sweeter, and more of everything.
Mom and Dad would go out camping a lot over the next year, according to Uncle Soap. He would take care of me while they were away on the weekends. Uncle Soap was a short, round man with white wisps of hair making him look like the character from the back to the future cartoons, only not quite as tall or skinny. He was always talking to himself. All day long he would mutter about rain, about warming, about trash overload, and people overload. I think he was a researcher of some kind.
His apartment was more cluttered than mom and dad’s, only, it was paper. Paper was everywhere. News papers stacked nearest the door. Sometimes they would be a whole stack, other days almost nothing. In the small living room, there were so many stacks of paper that it was a maze. Uncle Soap had paths to the TV, to the kitchen, to his old yellow sofa he slept on, to the bathroom, to the faded blue easy chair with a brown stain where I threw up when I was sick once, and to a locked door at the very back of the house that he never opened while I was there with him.
Uncle Soap was a good man. I liked going to see him. He was never cross or angry at me, and he never hit me about anything. He answered any questions I had about anything. He always watched out for me. The attention was so much that it was smothering on some days. I’d go hide near the faded blue easy chair in a small square of empty space just behind it, and look at the papers, imagining tall white buildings that things went on in like a person making a stamp like mom did, and stamping out comics.
I took the hint and leaned silently against the door with him. I barely came to his waist as I pushed to hold the door closed. Dad grinned lopsidedly at me. Mom would pound on the door until she got tired, then go into their room and lock the door. Then dad would open my door, and go back to watching TV, or make some crummy sandwich from whatever was in the fridge.
Other times it was mom who ran into the room. She’d lock the door like dad, then push my bed against the door. My bed being the futon mom and dad got for me to lay on. One side smelled like smoke and vomit, making me want to throw up too. If I turned it over, then it smelled moldy. I snuck a blanket into my room and put that on top of the moldy side. I wasn’t moldy then, just damp and moldy smelling.
Mom, toward that last day I saw them, began taking medicine earlier and more often. She needed it, she said, because the management said that the dancers (entertainers, mom said) had to show customers a real good time if they got asked. Mom said she didn’t like it because it made her feel icky all over, and the medicine made the icky not bother her so much.
In crude adult language, mom was supposed to go have sex with men who paid the manager for the privilege. That’s what I found out later. I knew mom felt bad whenever she had to be ‘friendly’. She’d come home, throw her purse and dancer’s bag on the floor, then run into the bathroom and throw up in the toilet.
Dad would get upset that mom was sick. He’d yell that she should stop working that ‘shirthole’ of a place. Mom said he couldn’t get a job, so she had to work there. They would start arguing about everything. I would go to bed, falling asleep to the shouts. I would wake up in the morning and hold my tummy because I knew they were unhappy. It was like the moldy spot on the futon. Mom and dad felt moldy. Dad started taking medicine a lot more too. He would drink until he giggled, then get the needle medicine and stick it in his toe. He bit down on a sock or a pencil because that hurt more.
It was then that the scary man came to the house. Mom and dad looked scared when he showed up. They sent me into my room. He watched me walk all the way to the door. I knew this because I watched him. I looked back over my shoulder all the way. He scared me that I didn’t want to turn my back to him. His eyes reminded me of the monsters dad giggled at when he was drinking. The red eyes scared me more than anything. I kept waking up thinking he was in the room with me. Mom and dad didn’t like that and I had to stand outside until they let me back in after the sun came up.
But, despite all the troubles, I felt loved. My parents paid attention to me. Not always kind and friendly, they sometimes punished me for things I didn’t understand, but they gave me attention all the time. At the age I was, attention was always welcome, even if pain was part of it. Mom and Dad were gods. They fed me, housed me, and, on occasion, actually loved me. It was a place I knew I belonged. The troubles went away after the scary man came.