When I was in high school my mom and I moved into an apartment complex with townhouses. This was the biggest, nicest place we had ever lived in, and it was near the high school and near my mom’s work. It had three levels, including an unfinished basement for storage and laundry. The kitchen, living room, and a bathroom were on the main floor, and there were three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. All the bedrooms were roughly the same size, so my mom took a room on one end of the hall and gave me the room on the other end, next to the bathroom. I don’t remember what was in the middle bedroom. It’s possible it was home to my mom’s small china hutch, the one that houses relics from years past. It’s possible it had a dresser for extra clothes, or maybe my mom’s old green rocking chair. I don’t think it had an extra bed. I don’t think we ever had a bed we would consider “extra.”
I might not remember too much about the second bedroom, but I do remember quite a bit about that townhouse, and the years I lived there. I remember the night someone threw a brick into our neighbor’s glass window and stole a bunch of money from him while he slept upstairs. I remember the way the apartment complex gave way to a trailer park, the “good” trailer park. I remember that when the grass got cut the maintenance men did it so fast, that they missed large portions of it. I remember the rollings hills in between the rows of houses. I remember the playground. The basketball court. The laundry room. The dark, poop brown of the cabinets. I remember the small slab of concrete off the back sliding door where we kept an old, unused grill. I remember the constant feeling of being pressed down, while we lived there. What felt like the inability to catch my breath. The thought that this was it. This was as nice as my life was going to get. The concern that I was in this cycle of poverty, and there was no way out.
It’s a nasty feeling, feeling like you are stuck in a place that you don’t want to be. I would take evening walks around the apartment complex, sometimes down through the trailer park and envision what my life might be. Would I live in a trailer one day? Was it bad to live in one? Some of them looked nice. They had fenced yards, and little pop-up pools. Some had add-ons and car ports. Was this my next step? Did I get married, buy a trailer, have a couple of kids, and work my 40 hours a week, while I watched my husband drink beer with the other men in the trailer park on Sunday afternoons? It all seemed too sad. Too real. Much too real.
I remember walking on the other side of the street one day. There was a subdivision on that side that I had never been through before. The street that separated us was a busy five lane road that ran from one side of town, where the cities of Leavenworth and Lansing met, to the other side of town, ending at the Federal Prison. It wasn’t too hopeful for a sad teenage girl, my hometown. The thing I noticed first about this subdivision, was that unlike my apartment complex, they had a wooden privacy fence running the length of their property, shielding their quiet backyards, and their precious children, from the traffic that clogged up that street.
The more I walked, the more I noticed about the people who lived there. Two car garages meant two parents. Two parents meant more income. More income meant treehouses, and soccer teams, and trips to Florida in the summertime, all things I had no idea about. I pieced together what I knew about my friends’ families. The nice houses they had, the way their mother’s were home all day with stews in crockpots, and at the dinner table at night helping with homework. During this time my mother had developed a gambling addiction, and spent most of her evenings at the casinos in Kansas City. So had my sisters and a few close friends. I was alone a lot of the time, but that was okay by me. It gave me time to dream of my leaving. That was the running joke as a teenager in Leavenworth. Wasn’t Leavenworth really just Worth Leavin’?
I’ve come to see that as a critical point in my life. My walking, my meandering around my hometown. Wondering what would happen to me if I left, more importantly, what would happen to me if I stayed. I knew then, on the day that I walked through that subdivision, that I wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
Sometimes I get sad when I think back to the choices I made. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I stayed. Sometimes I wish I could help other people leave. Sometimes I just want to tell that younger Missy that it is all okay. That she is different, and a little weird, and yeah, maybe she doesn’t belong there, or anywhere, but that it will all make sense. One day.