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Two Trees

A Memoir


Julie Beekman


Published by Rogue Phoenix Press for Smashwords

Copyright © 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62420-326-8


Electronic rights reserved by Rogue Phoenix Press, all other rights reserved by the author. The reproduction or other use of any part of this publication without the prior written consent of the rights holder is an infringement of the copyright law.




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Dedication


For Emily


A huge thank you to Allwriters’ Workplace and Workshop

and all who believed, even when I didn’t.


Prologue


I was twenty years old and sitting at a Waffle House in Phoenix, waiting to meet my mother for the first time. The restaurant was empty when I arrived. I hoped she would be there waiting, but I was half an hour early, so I was the one who had to wait. Wait and watch people pull into the parking lot, wondering if one of them was my mother. Waitresses in bright yellow and brown sat huddled together, making small talk and filling condiments. The place smelled of maple syrup and old coffee.

After a few people came in, I felt more at ease. I'd found myself worrying the servers would hear our conversation. I wanted it to be private, personal. Still, a part of me felt like screaming out, "Hey, everybody, I'm meeting my biological mother for the first time!" I'd been searching for her for so long.

I sat and thought about all the phone calls, the letter writing, and traveling to find her. What it might be like, would she embrace me, would we have things in common, would we look similar, all of it went through my mind. I'd been in Phoenix less than twenty-four hours and it was finally going to happen.

Around five-thirty, an older model white Volare pulled into the Waffle House parking lot. The driver, a woman, parked the car and sat there. I watched from the window and nervously picked at my cuticles. She sat there for quite some time, sat and smoked. She adjusted her rearview mirror and put her fingers through short hair. I watched every move because I knew it was her. My heart pounded. When she finally opened the car door, she got out and flicked her cigarette to the side. As she walked toward the restaurant, she pulled at the hem of her black stretchy dress that nicely hugged her tall, thin frame. Once inside, Shirley stood at the door, motionless. I knew she spotted me.

I scooted toward the edge of the booth and she finally walked toward me. I didn't stand up to hug her, like I imagined I would. Her sunglasses were still on and I sensed no enthusiasm in her stride. She approached the booth and slid in across from me.

Chapter One


I don't remember the baby showers family and neighbors threw for Marge after the Beekmans adopted me, or that I refused to eat anything other than lima beans. I was nine months old when Warren and Marge brought me home. I listened to stories about how it all came to be. "We kept having boys and, after three, I just wanted a girl, so bad." These were the moments when I loved listening to Marge, when she was just being my mom. She was endearing and it reminded me she meant to love me. "I just told the caseworker we wanted a girl with blue or green eyes. I mean, no one in our family has light eyes!" she explained dramatically. The speech was always the same; Marge telling me it took four years for the adoption agency to approve them, that I cost three-hundred and fifty dollars.

"When we went to visit with you for the first time, you were wearing a little pink dress. You held out your arms to Warren and said, Da Da." She raised her arms out and made a face that looked helpless. "We knew then, we just had to have you." She seemed to always refer to him as Warren and not my dad.

"Did Randy, Scot and Dan want a sister?" I asked like it was the first time I heard the story.

"Oh, of course." Marge lit a cigarette, took a short drag, and then held it near her coffee mug. I hated when she just held her cigarettes and didn't smoke them or take the time to tap the ashes into the ashtray, because I couldn't focus on her. I could only stare at the long cylinder of ash, wondering when and where it would fall. "We came home after meeting you and told the boys all about you. We were especially concerned when it came to Danny because he was only five and used to being the youngest." Marge took a sip of black coffee without the slag of her smoke even moving slightly, although I could see the slight orange glow move fast toward her fingers. "I don't want to be the youngest, Mama! I want a sister, is what he told me." Marge pushed her cheeks out to imitate her idea of what Dan looked like when he was a kid and she laughed. "He was so damn cute! All you kids..." She smiled, stamped out her cigarette and looked far away like it had been some other lifetime and now she was let down. It felt the same to me because I didn't remember any of it.

My first memory is my third birthday and that Grandma Beekman made me a cake in the shape of a lamb. The white sugared icing was thick and billowy, like wool. The lamb's eyes stared back at me with chocolate glare. It was also the first year of many that Grandma made me a baby purse. She washed out old dish detergent bottles, cut out the bottom half and punched holes along the edges. Then she crocheted the holes so that she could build a purse with drawstrings from the plastic base. She showed me how to pull the drawstrings and yarn over the plastic sides, to reveal a crib with a tiny doll baby inside. The crib had a pillow and knitted blanket, too. She demonstrated over and over. It seemed she rather liked talking about her own creations and it drove Marge over the edge sometimes. Thankfully, Marge allowed Grandma to stay on my birthday and the cake didn't end up on the floor.

Grandma didn't come over too often. My dad would go to her house every week and sometimes take us kids. I especially liked to go, because Grandma gave us sugary treats and we rarely got sweets. Once, I spent the whole day with Grandma and we made church window cookies. We melted butter and chocolate, stirred in mini colored marshmallows, rolled everything out into a log coated with coconut, and refrigerated it in wax paper. Once the cookies were chilled, we sliced the log to find all the colors like on a stained-glass window. Grandma cut a lot of slices for me to take home.


When Marge picked me up and we headed for the car, she threw the bag of cookies into a snowbank. "How many times do I have to tell you and that woman, no sugar. You're fat enough!"

I huddled against the passenger door on the way home.

Wherever I wandered, there was Blackie. Blackie was adopted about a week after I was. She was the runt from a litter of short-haired mutts. She was a sweet little dog that, right from the start, tried jumping into my crib. She ate everything I didn't want and protected me as best she could. At night, she slept under my covers and growled when anyone entered my room.


~ * ~


Even though I was making friends in the neighborhood and at nursery school, Blackie was my best pal.

Bob Barker was my friend, too. When I first started watching him on Truth Or Consequences, I couldn't pronounce his name and I screamed, "Fuck Farker's on! Fuck Farker's on!" and it made my family laugh.

Bob hosted the show where contestants were asked to answer a silly question and if they couldn't answer it correctly or the buzzer went off because they were taking too long, the contestant would have to pay the consequence. This meant that the player would have to do something embarrassing and I loved it. Bob Barker made me so happy. He was warm and safe. He made me forget the things that worried me. It was his voice I heard over Marge's yelling, not my dad's.

The contestants didn't seem to mind making fools of themselves and they were all so nice on television. I wanted to be in that audience every night.

My favorite part of the show was Barker's Box. He would go into the audience and have someone pick from the drawers in the box that contained money or a surprise. In three of the drawers, there was money. Either a ten, twenty, or fifty-dollar bill, which was huge! The surprise was always a snake that jumped out and usually startled the hopeful player. No matter what, though, the person won prizes from American Tourister Luggage, china from Stonegate or a gift certificate from Spiegel Catalogue.

I felt like I knew Bob Barker since I saw him every day. I often cried when the show ended and Bob saluted. It meant bedtime, for one thing, but it also meant I couldn't tune out or escape. I retreated upstairs to my room where I heard arguing or wondered what got broken. I never heard my dad raise his voice, I only heard mumblings through the floor and figured he was trying to reason with her. She screamed. If only Bob were around always.

I was not as fond of Jack Lalanne, he couldn't compete with Bob, but Marge and I exercised with him every morning. Jack had huge muscles like the kind Danny and Scot were always looking at in the back of their comic books. I didn't see what was so great about muscles.

He wore a short-sleeved jumpsuit with a shiny belt. When Marge had time, she put on a leotard. I just stayed in my pajamas and followed every step. I didn't want to wear a leotard because I was afraid Marge would tell me I was chubby. I was always happy when she commented on my exercise abilities. "Julie, you are so limber!" I sat with my legs stretched out in front of me, buried my face into my knees and peeked through my long hair to see if Marge was looking. "You still could stand to lose a few pounds," Marge moaned into a stretch.

When we finished the exercises, Jack sat, straddling the back of a chair, and gave a talk about what it takes to be happy and lead a good life. He showed menus of a perfectly balanced meal and I hated him for it. Jack Lalanne was the reason we didn't have anything fun to eat in the house and I blamed him for some of my issues with the neighborhood kids. Jack told Marge that it would be best to feed her family whole wheat bread and all natural foods. The kids in my neighborhood equated brown bread with being poor. They teased me as I unpacked my roasted soy nuts that looked like dried cricket torsos, and my banana along with a brown peanut butter sandwich. I told Marge about it and she got really mad, said that Roman Meal cost a lot more than Wonder.

There was one health food store in town and every time we went in there, we seemed to be the only customers. Marge stocked up on brewer's yeast and wheat germ. Every morning, she blended the two with milk, a banana, natural peanut butter, honey, and an egg. She poured the concoction she called Tiger's Milk into tall glasses for us kids to drink. I loved it, but the boys gave her trouble until she practically forced them to swallow it.


~ * ~


The boys were always difficult and I couldn't understand why they wouldn't just follow her rules and keep peace in the house. Once, when she was trying to clean and the boys were running all over the place, she yelled at them, "Stop horsing around or go outside." But, they continued wrestling and running. Finally, she tied them all to chairs and made them sit quietly while she finished vacuuming. They were all lined up like little soldiers and I sat on a chair, quiet, but occasionally sticking my tongue out. She seemed to do these things while my dad was at work. My dad was patient and kind and I know he wouldn't like some of the things she did, even if the boys were sometimes bad.

Scot was the worst, but she seemed to connect with him because he was weird, I guess. She sent him to art classes at a very young age. Randy, the oldest, always said Scot's expensive art classes were the reason we drank Carnation powdered milk and we couldn't afford real milk. Meanwhile, Randy sure enjoyed his Karate classes at the Y and he made money cutting lawns so I figured he could buy real milk if it was such a problem.

The majority of Scot's artwork was based on the solar system and random body parts. He came home with colorful, thickly coated oil canvases that made me feel uncomfortable. There were whirling planets, gooey asteroids, and then, a flying leg or an eyeball. Scot was strange and gross, as far as I was concerned, but I loved him because I was supposed to.

Dan was only a year and a half younger than Scot and always tagged along with him. It never made sense to me that they were so close. They seemed to have very little in common. They shared a big bedroom that was attached to the attic, but the room was separated by a large sheet. Scot's side of the room was filthy, while Dan's side was tidy and fun to visit. When I went to his side, he was usually reading or studying for school, but would stop everything to play games with me. He had blue plastic cabinets on his bookshelf that had tons of little drawers in them. Each drawer held something like a nail, a penny, a stamp, or a Tootsie Roll. Dan asked me a question and if I got the answer right, I was allowed to pick a drawer. It was kind of like Bob Barker's Box, but Dan's questions were always serious.

"What is the capital of Alaska?"

"Juneau!" I leapt for a drawer.

"Wait." Dan held up a finger. "That answer is...correct! Now, pick a drawer!"

"It's a paperclip." I frowned and shut the drawer.

"What’s two times six?" Dan smiled and picked at the rubber on his tennis shoe. He knew I hated math.

"I know the answer," I assured him.

"I know you do. I've taught you this over and over." Dan waited.

"I know, but I'm not supposed to know because I'm only four!" I giggled and held my hands behind me to count fingers.

"You forgot. No drawer for you." Dan brushed his hair from his face and grabbed his book, like the game was over.

"It's twelve!" I grabbed his arm. "It's twelve! Don't stop playing."

"Time's up."

"No!" I pleaded. "Please, may I have another question?" Blackie barked in support.

"Well, since you said the word may instead of can, yes, you may." Dan placed his book on his pillow and sat with his legs crossed on the edge of his bed. "Who is my favorite catcher in the Major Leagues?"

"Joe Gargee-lo-eel!" I yelled with pride.

"Gar-oge-ee-o-la," he corrected me. "Pick your drawer!" This time, I got the Tootsie Roll.

Whenever I left their room, I tried not to look at Scot's side. If he called me over to him, I felt obliged to go and he would end up touching me with clammy hands in places where I didn't want him to.

Randy didn't have much time for me since he was ten years older, but occasionally, we played Go Fish. His room smelled of metal from his trombone and coins that he carelessly threw on the floor. He seemed to be an authority on most subjects. Even his looks were somewhat domineering; tall, dark hair, and black rimmed glasses. He was always sweet to me and even bought me a Bobby Sherman record, Julie, do you love me? He played the record and games until he had to leave to meet friends or go to some practice.

I had plenty of ways to stay entertained. I sometimes put on shows in front of the three-way mirror my dad made for me. The mirror was a lot bigger than I was, and he painted it lavender, along with my closet door and set of drawers. Marge made my flowered curtains with traces of lavender and green in floral print.

I stood in front of the mirror and practiced imitating Cher. I stuck my tongue in my cheek and flipped my hair behind my shoulder and Blackie lay on my bed and watched me. I called her Sonny. "Sonny, someday, we're going to leave Grand Haven and be big stars with Bob and Cher."

She wagged.


Chapter Two


Grand Haven, Michigan is home to the world's largest musical fountain and The Coast Guard Festival. The town sits right on Lake Michigan and is flagged by a giant red lighthouse. The musical fountain played every night during the summer since 1962. Colorful water displays dance over a hundred feet in rhythm with whatever music is played. On most nights, I could hear it from my bedroom window. Blackie and I sat on my bed, my ear pressed against the screen. Every night, it started the same way, "Good evening...I am the voice of the musical fountain." The voice was soothing, yet strong, like waves off the lake.

Thousands of people crowded the downtown beach area during summer, to watch the fountain, get ice cream, or a Pronto Pup from the original corn dog stand. The busiest time was the first week of August, Coast Guard Week.

The festival started at least thirty years before the fountain and included a parade, a carnival, fireworks and a pageant to crown Miss Coast Guard. During the late sixties and early seventies, there was also a pageant for Little Miss Coast Guard. Pictures of the four and five-year-old contestants were on display at the community center for a whole week before the pageant, so everyone could catch a glimpse of the young girls.

In my picture, my long curls lay hair-sprayed softly against the pink dress Marge made for the photo shoot at Olson's Photography. She seemed to think it was a big deal. She spent hours sewing while I sat under a portable dryer on the floor in the living room. For the pageant, I wore a light teal cotton dress with white polka dots, patterned tights, and white patent leather shoes. I would have rather worn Dan's old cut-offs, but I didn't seem to have a choice in the matter. I liked the idea of being on stage, but I didn't want to be dressed like a doll.

During the pageant, many girls were eliminated, but five of us remained from the original twenty-some girls. The announcer told us to go back on stage and when were called out, we should answer a question. Marge ran backstage to make sure my curls were in place and there were no wrinkles in my tights. "Just be honest, Julie." She pulled my tights up so that I left the floor a little. "I've always taught you kids to tell the truth."

The lights on the stage were bright, but I could see my dad near the front. He was smiling at me. The announcer talked with some girls while I waved at my dad and some neighbors that I recognized.

"My next question goes to Miss Julie Ann Beekman of Grand Haven." I perked up and moved close to the man, waiting for a chance to talk into the microphone. "Your question, Miss? What would you like to be when you grow up?"

Without hesitation, I stood on my toes, felt the cool metal of the microphone on my lips, and said, "I want to be a witch."

The audience roared with laughter. My dad and Marge sank into their seats. They were looking at each other like they didn't know what to do. My heart raced for fear that I may have done something wrong. I didn't want Marge to yell at me, or worse.

I stood still and waited, and then she started laughing, too. Relieved, I basked in the attention. Not only did I win the pageant, I got to ride on a float in the parade and attend special events, all while wearing a red velvet cape and beautiful crown.

The girls in the neighborhood, Sheila, Susie, and Angie, all wanted to see my crown. Too embarrassed to have them come in for fear of my parents arguing, I brought it outside and showed it off with pride. "My mom says I can only have it off my shelf for a few minutes, so I have to take it back into the house," I said, satisfied that they eyed every rhinestone. Then it was back outside to be a tomboy.


~ * ~


Summer afternoons were the worst because Marge would call me in from playing to rub her varicose veins. "Julie, my legs hurt so bad. I'll pay you a dime." She made it sound like I had a choice. The only good thing about the situation was the dime. Ten cents would buy me candy at John Casmier's grocery store a few blocks away. Marge never asked what I did with the dimes, so I felt I could do as I pleased.

I squirted lotion down the length of her legs and rubbed it in while she told me I needed to become a nurse because I could make people feel better. She also told me she hoped I would never get varicose veins because they were awful. I made faces at her as I pushed the lotion over the ripples. I wondered if they were so awful, why I needed to have anything to do with them. I stayed silent so I could hear her breathing. Once she fell asleep, I could take the dime that was on her nightstand and be on my way. A few times, she said, "Uh-uh, I'm still awake."

A few weeks after the pageant, I earned my dime and took off to get the new candy bar that Angie told me about. It was called Chunky. I felt a little weird buying a Chunky bar since Marge already yelled about having to shop in the husky section for my kindergarten clothes. But I had to have it.

When I approached the store, some kid came up behind me on his bike. He said he was the fire chief's son and that I better get him some gum or he would take my crown or have me arrested.

"I don't have money for gum." I frowned, thinking I might have to give up my Chunky. Besides, he couldn't have been the fire chief's son because my uncle Frank was the fire chief of Grand Haven.

"Well, whatcha doin' here, then?" He moved his bike back and forth as he straddled the bar.

"I just have to get something." I turned to leave him.

"Hey!" he yelled as I approached the automatic door. "Get me the gum, or the crown goes bye-bye." He pointed at the top of his head and pretended to pout. "I'm not kidding, I'll be right here."

My breathing changed and fear took over me. He wasn't kidding. I thought about how my brothers would pummel this kid. Unfortunately, I was already somewhere I wasn't supposed to be, so it's not like I could be rescued. I stared at the boy and tried to memorize his rotten face. "Adam's grape." He motioned to the already opened door. "Now move along."

I took a deep breath and went into the store. I thought about just staying there. Maybe after a while, he would go away. If I was gone from home for too long, I would be in trouble, so I couldn't wait around. Walking around the store and contemplating my fate, I wanted that candy bar and as I approached the checkout lines, there was the display for the new Chunky bar. It was beautiful. It was a large square wrapped in silver, with red lettering. I picked one up, held it and promptly got in line. While waiting, pretending to look at everything, I slipped a pack of Adam's in my pocket and put the Chunky on the conveyor belt. My hands shook as I gave the cashier lady the dime, but I walked slowly and steadily as I exited the store. The boy was waiting at the corner and started to pedal toward me. Then suddenly, he made a quick turn and took off.

"Excuse me, miss?"

I stopped in my tracks and turned to face a man in a short-sleeved dress shirt, tie and name tag. I'd seen him before behind the service counter. I walked to him with my head down, reached into my pocket and handed him the gum.

"You need to come inside so we can call your parents." He grabbed on to my shoulder.

"Please." I started to cry. "Please don't call my mom," I begged. I wish he could call my dad but, he worked at a newspaper and I just couldn't have my name showing up for stealing especially since I was just in the paper for Coast Guard.

"Honey, you did something very wrong and we need to let your mom know that you stole." He led me through the produce section and back to an office. "Now, I need your name and do you know your phone number?"

I recited the number through sobs and apologies.

After making the call, he seemed upset and started walking me to the front of the store. He stopped in an aisle that had paper products on one side and cookies on the other. We both saw Marge storm in at the same time. She pounded down the aisle and hauled off to punch me right there. I landed on the floor with my nose bleeding. The manager fumbled to open a roll of paper towels. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Get the fuck up, Julie!" Marge's nose flared and her lips pursed tight. "What in the hell are you doing in this store and what in the fuck are you doing stealing?"

"The fireman's son wanted me to steal him gum." I stood up, held the paper towel over my face and cried.

"So, you just do what everyone tells you to do?" She held her hand up again, but caught the eye of the manager. "What happened to the dime I gave you?"

"I wanted a Chunky bar." I sobbed the words quietly.

"What?"

"I wanted a candy that Angie told me about." I realized that somehow, I lost the candy. I ducked and covered my head, expecting another blow.

The manager grabbed for a package of cookies and tore them open. He shoved them toward me. "I'm so sorry," he repeated.

"Get those away from her!" Marge practically growled. "Julie, get your fat ass in the car!"

Marge followed me to the parking lot and demanded more of an explanation before I opened my door. "Who is this boy?"

"He's a fireman's son and he said he would take my crown."

I think Marge believed me, but she still wanted me to get the lesson about how bad it was to take things without paying for them.

When we got home, my dad was still at work. Marge used one of his belts against my naked bottom. "Are you ever going to steal again?" Whack!

"No!" I reached to cover the next blow.

"Move your hands, Julie! Move your goddamned hands!" Whack!

I could hear Blackie barking outside of my parents' bedroom door. I could hear her over my own cries and Marge's yelling.

Eight times, the belt came down. I knew because Marge counted them. "If you hadn't tried to cover, you wouldn't have gotten so many," she reasoned.

I went to my room and cried while looking at the welts in the mirror. She spanked me before and slapped me, but never anything this bad. I prayed I could go live with Sheila and Susie Wildrom or Angie McCaleb. I didn't even care about the Chunky bar. The boys came home and then my dad came home. Marge explained why my eyes were red and my face was puffy. "Julie did something she wasn't supposed to do." She smiled and glared at me. "Didn't you, Julie?"

"Yes," I turned away and looked at Blackie.

"Well, what happened?" My dad smiled gently.

"A boy said he would take my crown if I didn't get gum for him. I stole and I'm sorry." I slipped a green bean down the edge of my chair where Blackie was waiting.

"Well, that's not good."

Chapter Three


Marge rarely came upstairs. Since she started attending classes at Grand Valley State College, she didn't have as much time to make sure the upstairs was in good order. It was up to us kids to get our dirty clothes down to the basement and keep everything neat. With my dad working six days a week, printing at The Grand Haven Tribune, and Marge pouring coffee third shift at the Donut House on weekend nights, it was tough for them to keep tabs on us.

Every once in a while, though, she came upstairs to have a look. My room was in decent shape because I needed things cleared out for tea parties. I had a little table and four chairs in the center of my bedroom. The places were set for Blackie, a stuffed bear, and my Crissy doll. The boys' rooms usually passed inspection, too. She didn't seem to care that Scot was a pig.

One summer morning, I was up early, dressed and ready to go to college with Marge. I wasn't happy about it. I would have much rather played with Susie and Angie, like I did every summer. Marge didn't think the boys were around enough to keep an eye on me, so I had to go to classes with her. As I was getting ready to leave my room, I heard Marge yelling at Scot across the hall. I quickly retreated to my bed and sat down. I waited and prayed that she would leave me alone.

"What in the hell is all of this?" I heard a loud rumble that sounded like she was moving furniture. No one answered her. "Jesus Christ! Whose are these?" Still, no one responded. Music that was playing, was suddenly shut off. "Both of you, get this pile downstairs into the bathroom, now." I heard the scurrying and then stomping down the stairs. Suddenly, my door opened. I stood quickly. "What are you doing? Get downstairs!" Marge turned away and followed the boys.

She stood at the bathroom door, barking orders. I was curious to see what was going on, but I was afraid she would pull me into the situation. I wanted to eat breakfast, but that might cause more chaos. I looked and she hadn't made Tiger's Milk. I decided to go to the front door and let Blackie out. I couldn't be yelled at for doing something useful. "Scrub, dammit! I want all of that clean!" I heard her snag her keys. I quickly got Blackie back into the house, grabbed a notebook and a few markers, and waited for Marge to reach the doorway. "Let's go," she said.

On the way to college, Marge rambled about how disgusting it was to find dirty underwear with shit stains, how those boys would learn not to do that again by having to scrub them in the toilet with Comet, and how I better never go in my pants or I would have to clean my underwear with toilet water, too. "And to hide them in the attic?" Marge pounded a fist down on the steering wheel. "What were they thinking?"

I felt bad for Danny because I knew he could not have done something like that, but he was taking the blame with Scot and scouring his brother's underwear. It was smart for Dan to appear weak and keep his mouth shut when it came to Marge. That came naturally to him. It was smart for all of us to stay silent.

When kindergarten started, I went to the morning session at a school in downtown Grand Haven, which meant I was late almost every day. Long after the boys went to school, I sat patiently by the door. "Go wait in the car." I heard most mornings. While I waited, Marge screamed at my dad. She threw things. I could hear stuff hitting the walls from all the way outside. She was loud, but I couldn't make out what she was saying. I rarely heard a peep out of my dad. I thought about what the boys would do if they had to be late every day. I figured Randy would tell her to shut the hell up, run out to his truck, and go to the farm where he worked. Scot would have viewed having to wait as an opportunity to miss school. He would have gone to his room, put on his big headphones and listened to Frank Zappa. If Dan were in my situation, he might have asked them politely to please stop arguing, and when she didn’t stop he would have walked the three miles to school not to miss anything.

Once, I went back into the house because she was taking so long. I walked in to find Marge on the floor, lying on her back. My dad crouched over her with his hands pinning her wrists to the floor. "Enough!" he pleaded. "You need to stop this!"

I stood watching, horrified, yet amazed. Marge was struggling with him and sobbing until she saw me standing there. "Julie, go wait in the car!"

My dad jumped off of her and walked me back outside to the station wagon. "Your mom's just upset today." He spoke softly and opened my door.

"I know." I sat down in the front seat.

"You have a really good day, okay?" He bent down and kissed my forehead. "Don't worry about anything, honey."

I did worry. I worried all the time. I acted out in school that day and threw a book at my teacher, Miss Lilly. We always read books about kids or animals that had good relationships with their families. Miss Lilly was reading something sweet while everyone sat on their mats nicely. I got fed up with Bedtime For Frances, so I grabbed another book from a nearby shelf and flung it toward the front of the class while yelling, "I hate Frances!" stunning everyone around me. I immediately regretted it. Miss Lilly took me out into the hallway and made me sit alone until school was over. I pretended not to care when I saw my classmates playing and enjoying the morning snack without me.

"How could such a nice young lady get so angry?" Miss Lilly sat next to me after class and tucked her hair behind her ear.

"I'm sorry." I picked at the buttons on my jumper dress. I knew I couldn't tell her why I got so mad. Marge threw things, my dad tried to calm her, my brothers were washing underwear in the toilet, and now I was throwing things. I'm not going to be like her! I wanted to be good like Dan, Randy, and my dad.

During the spring of kindergarten, my parents separated. My dad went to live in a small cabin in Fruitport, which was only fifteen minutes away. Since the cabin wasn't big enough for me to live there with him, I decided it would be best if I went to live with the Partridge Family. They were a good family and they didn't have a father, so I wouldn't be replacing my dad. I could sing backup or twirl a baton. The Brady Bunch would never have worked out; everything was perfect and in place in that house.

I told my dad about the plan and then scribbled a letter to Mrs. Partridge. He helped me mail it. We took a trip to the downtown post office and my dad handed the letter right to the postmaster and winked. It was that important.

I looked out at my front yard often, hoping to see the Partridge Family bus pull into the driveway. After a few days, I packed a bag with some clothes and a peanut butter sandwich for Blackie and me to share. Blackie and I waited at the corner for what seemed an eternity. At some point, we went back to the house where I found Marge crying.

"I won't go, Mom." I kneeled in front of her.

Marge looked up, lifting her head from her hands. "What?" She put her glasses on.

"Tell them not to come, I'll stay here," I said with regret.

"Oh, Julie." Marge stood to walk away. "I don't know what you're talking about, I'm crying because I'm divorcing your father."

I realized she didn't even know I had been out there, waiting for a bus to take me away from her. I went back outside and sat on the front steps.


~ * ~


The Partridge Family never came. The summer before first grade, my parents signed their divorce papers, but we kids still got to spend time with our dad. Sometimes, he took all the boys for a Saturday and then me for a Sunday, or we all went somewhere together. He still taught the boys wood shop in the basement so they could finish some big project. He often dropped by on his way home from work. I missed him, but I always missed him, even when he still lived at home.

When I saw him coming, I either ran to him and held on like he was coming home from a war, or I flung myself onto the sofa and played possum so he would wake me from the 'dead'. He would be the first person I would see when I opened my tightly shut eyes, and all would be good in the world. I loved his wingtip shoes, his pressed white shirts, and the feel of holding onto his hands. I could have sat with him for hours, tugging on his fingers and the ring that he still wore, pointing out his freckles, or placing our palms together. He didn't stay long because the few times when he did, Marge ended up yelling about something.

I’d rather he lived with us, but it was probably better they separated. Marge stopped throwing things, I stopped throwing things, and suddenly, I was considered one of the 'good' kids in the first grade. It was awful not having him around for Halloween and Thanksgiving. "Dad's working all the time," Danny told me when I asked where our dad was. "With this second job, he even worked on his birthday." Dan and I sat on the living room floor and played with Lincoln Logs.

"Why does he work a second job?" I didn't understand why he couldn't just work at the Tribune and come over afterward.

Randy walked in and spoke in his serious voice, "He has to pay for a lot of stuff. I have to work and Scot should have his ass out there, cutting more lawns, to help Ma out." I looked for a reaction from Dan, but he just stared at the floor. Randy stomped swiftly through the room and wanted his presence known. "Next year, you two can start picking blueberries for dough," he called out from the kitchen.

"What?" I whispered to Dan.

"Don't worry about it." Dan suddenly sprung from the floor and left. I heard him pound up the stairs to his room.


~ * ~


Although we got to spend some of the Christmas holiday with my dad, we had to go to Marge's family party without him. Every year, we spent Christmas Eve at Marge's oldest sister's house. Aunt Sue was a wonderful hostess. She not only invited all five of her siblings and their spouses and kids, but a few ex-husbands, too.

"Where's Warren?" Aunt Sue hugged us all as we came in. I watched Scot make a face and squirm away from her endearing arms.

"He's actually in the hospital." Marge's voice was low, but I heard her loud and clear as I made my way around the table, hugging my aunts and uncles.

"What on earth for?" Aunt Babe grabbed her drink from the counter.

"He just isn't feeling well, Babe." Marge had a tone. It was a tone that suggested she was privy to information, like she read a whole book, but Babe was only allowed to know the title. It happened often with her family. Once she spoke that way, they knew not to pry any further, because it might cause a fight.

Dad came over for a few hours on Christmas Day. I asked why he was in the hospital and had to miss the party. "Just getting a check-up, honey."

When he wasn't watching us play with all of the presents he brought, he was sitting at the dining room table, talking with Marge. She appeared overly dramatic, almost animated, when I watched her, but for once, I couldn't hear her. I hoped they were getting back together because she changed, like she realized she loved him more than anything in life. It was only my wish, because for months after their conversation, they still weren't together and she seemed to cry more often.

Chapter Four


I was completely ecstatic when my dad showed up at school during lunch one afternoon. My teacher, Mrs. Walma, seemed to know my dad and talked with him once I finished smothering him with kisses. At recess, he played with me and my friends. He swung on monkey bars and twirled an end of our jump rope. I felt incredibly special, even more so when he started coming to recess all the time. Sometimes he came early and we ate lunch together. No one else had parents coming to play. I was indeed very lucky.

As my dad was visiting school more often, Marge was getting more involved with her college classes and friends that she was meeting there. I didn't even talk to her about my dad visiting at school, for fear that she would somehow take that special time from us, and I didn't tell the boys because I thought they might get jealous.

When summer approached and first grade ended, I was sad because I didn't see my dad as much. I had more freedom running around the neighborhood though, and Marge didn't make me come to her classes. I spent a lot of time at Susie Wildrom's playing grocery store and running through the sprinklers.

Marge was in a better mood since she started smoking a pipe and stopped worrying about what we kids were doing. She even stopped making Tiger's Milk and going to the natural food store. It was only slightly disappointing. She was so involved with her school work she forgot about Jack Lalanne altogether.

"Kids, get in here!" Marge yelled from the living room. Randy was working, but Scot, Dan, and I gathered and watched as she opened a can of beer and emptied the contents of a bag of Doritos into a large wooden bowl. "I've been taking a really great health class and I think it's time that Julie learns about reproductive systems, what do you think?" Marge was so excited to teach this lesson that we realized quickly our opinions weren't going to matter. Scot shrugged and reached for the pipe.

Dan stared off toward a set of encyclopedias and grumbled something.

"I think she wants to play a game." I tried to get Dan interested. "Maybe it's flashcards or a memory game!" I poked his arm. I had no idea what she wanted to tell us, but I wanted him to be happy. Maybe it would be like the Spanish she was trying to teach me.

"Sure, a memory game." Dan huffed and crossed his arms while Scot sucked in smoke from the pipe and handed it back to Marge.

I wanted Dan to get out of his bad mood because he was going to make Marge really mad, but then I realized she had no idea what his mood was. She and Scot were giggling and I thought they might have forgotten about the game. "Are we going to play?" I asked.

"Play?" Marge slowed down her laughter. "No, this is about you learning something, Julie." I looked to Dan and he still acted miserable. I guessed then that the lesson was going to be crummy. "Julie, how do you think your real mommy and daddy made you?"

I thought about it and had an idea, but I didn't want to say it out loud. I knew it was from kissing or mixing pee or something. "I don't know."

"It takes love. Like your daddy and I love each other a whole lot and with that love, we were able to make your brothers." I nodded and glanced at Dan who was still sulking. Scot just sat next to Marge's chair with a permanent grin across his face.

"So boys have different parts than girls and you need both parts to make a baby." Marge looked past me and seemed to finally notice Dan. "Do you know that technically, you could marry your brothers?" Dan shot a look at Marge and furrowed his brow. "Well, it's true, you aren't related!"

"Still," Dan responded.

"Danny, why don't you draw a picture of a penis?" Marge kept staring at him.

"No!" He quickly stood. "I have stuff to do and I don't want to draw anything!" He walked out of the room, dismissing himself from the big lesson.

Instead of yelling at Dan, Marge laughed and said, "It's not like I'm asking you to whip it out!"

Within a minute, Scot drew a picture his version of a penis. Underneath it, he penciled a vagina.

Marge continued to talk about how the parts functioned, while Scot sketched things I didn't recognize. "They have to really love each other." Marge repeated.

"Or it doesn't work?" I asked.

"I guess you could say that." Marge laughed a little while she held a flame over her pipe.

"I think it's all yucky." I stood, hoping to be excused.

She sucked in and finished with a coughing spree that allowed me to leave and go to my room, where Blackie was already asleep.

The following morning, Scot called to me from his room as I started down the stairs. I immediately turned around and stopped just inside the room, taking notice that Dan was missing. "What?" I held onto the door frame.

"C'mere." Scot smiled.

"Why?" I stepped a few feet closer.

"Just come here." He continued being nice through his voice.

"What?" I inched toward him. I really hoped he wasn't going to do anything.

"Feel." He clasped my wrist and pulled my hand into his underwear. "It's a penis."

I looked out Scot's window to see Susie Wildrom already in her sandbox. She was probably wondering where I was. Scot held my wrist tight against warm flesh that was changing against my balled-up hand. He pressed against me and reached for the waistband on my shorts. His clammy hands worked their way to my vagina. I continued looking at Susie, across the yard.

I thought maybe Angie and Sheila would get out there and everyone would start playing without me. I wondered if we were going to run through the sprinklers or maybe go to the beach. I should have put on my bathing suit, I thought. I heard Scot make a noise as he tried to pry open my fist.

"This is a secret," he whispered and let go of my arm.

"Susie wants me to come over." I stepped back and quickly left.


~ * ~


My dad decided to take all of us kids to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio, one weekend in July. He bought me new clothes to wear on the trip, as well as his new car to get us there. It was really exciting, especially since we stayed in a Holiday Inn with a swimming pool and went out for breakfast.

The boys went on the big roller coasters, while my dad watched me on the kiddie rides. He stood against the railing and simply smiled. We ate junk Marge would never approve of and I wished we didn't have to go back to her. My family seemed really happy and that made me happy.

When it was my turn to spend the day with him, my dad and I usually went to the beach or to a movie, and always to get ice cream. During the last week of August, he came to get me one afternoon. We drove to the dunes at Hoffmaster State Park. I loved it there. It was like looking at a picture of mountains, made completely from sand. My brothers liked to go there and ride down the dunes with old cardboard, like they were sledding.

As we climbed the log stairs to get to the top, my dad suddenly stopped. "You go ahead." He took heavy breaths.

"I want to wait for you." I grabbed his hand.

"No, I want to watch you fly down those dunes!" He waved his arms like he was soaring and smiled, "Go ahead. I'll watch for you."

The idea of him watching me run down the dunes thrilled me. I climbed fast, careful to look back and wave to him. When I reached the top, I spotted him watching with his hand held up like a visor. He hadn't budged and that made me squeal. I took a deep breath and raised my arms. I took off and ran down taking long strides that cooled my heels and made me feel like I had super powers, laughing all the way. My dad clapped for me and walked down to meet me at the bottom.

"You really were flying!" he laughed.

"I know!" I said while suddenly noticing that other people were on the dunes. "Can we get ice cream now?" I skipped toward the car while my dad walked along slowly.

"I really need a nap, but we can go later." I heard him call out from behind me.

"Okay!" I yelled back, even though I hated naps.

While my dad rested at his cabin, I watched television. I got through several shows and realized it had gotten dark outside.

"Dad?" I knocked softly on his bedroom door and heard no reply. "Daddy?" I stared into darkness. When he still didn't respond after several minutes, I looked through my dad's phone book and called his best friend, my Uncle Lou. Lou would be reasonable and calm and would get there quickly.

"I'll be right there, honey." His gravelly voice sounded shaky, but kind.

My plan to have Uncle Lou wake my dad so we could get on with our night didn't work. He came through the door and went straight to my dad's bedroom, with Marge close behind. He turned on the light. "Warren, Warren!"

"Julie, go to the car," Marge said firmly.

Why do I always have to wait in the car? I thought. This is my night with him.

When Marge came out to the car, she explained that we were going to bring Daddy to our house. "Julie, he's sick. He's going to come stay with us for a little while."

"Why don't we call Dr. Groat? He always makes me feel better," I said.

Chapter Five


Uncle Lou and Marge put my dad in the back of Uncle Lou's car. Marge drove me to the store where we could pick up some things we might need for my dad. I don't remember what we bought because Marge was scurrying around so much and babbling, even crying. I suggested Sucrets and maybe some aspirin like I saw in the commercial. When we got home, Uncle Lou was talking to the boys in the living room. He left soon after Marge and I arrived.

Daddy lay in Marge's bed, his old bed. Dan and I took turns holding orange popsicles over his mouth because Marge told us that he was probably dehydrated and it would help. I couldn't figure out why anyone would want a popsicle while they slept. Plus, he didn't wake up to tell us to change flavors or anything. Randy and Scot came into the room, but never stayed very long. Everyone just walked in with their heads down, sulking. On the second day, Marge took me out front to sit on the steps.

"I don't want you to be frightened," she sat tall and rubbed her palms over her knees, "but an ambulance is going to come and pick up your daddy."

"Why?" I immediately started to sob.

"Julie, please don't cry. Your daddy is on the other side of that screen." She pointed to her bedroom window. "He's in a coma, but I bet that he can still hear, and he wouldn't want to hear his little girl crying." She started talking about everything he was to her and what a good man he'd been. The ambulance pulled into our driveway as she talked. Then, before I could even ask what a coma was, she told me he had cancer and he was going to die.

I ran to the side of our yard and I cried hard. A crowd of neighbors gathered on the sidewalk and I could hear someone calling me. I wiped my face with my arm and came full circle around the house to the front. Ambulance workers lifted my dad's stretcher over the steps and on to the front walkway.

"Julie," Marge spoke calmly with tear-filled eyes, "come kiss your daddy."

I walked slowly to the back of the ambulance and kissed my father's orange-stained mouth before they drove him away.

Most of the neighbors that gathered in our front yard dispersed quickly. Mrs. Wildrom and Sheila came to the front steps where Dan and I sat. "Can we do anything for you kids?" Mrs. Wildrom asked.

I caught sight of Marge who was pacing along the sidewalk. I wanted Mrs. Wildrom to hug me and take me to her house with Sheila. I wanted to find Susie and Angie and play a game of Red Light, Green Light. I wanted happiness and safety. "No," I looked to see if Marge was paying attention. "Maybe I can come to play tomorrow or something."

"You come over anytime." She looked into my eyes like she knew what I was feeling; the deepest sorrow possible. The person whom I loved the most was just taken away in an ambulance and I might not be able to talk with him again. Blackie came running from around the house and jumped up to sit on the steps next to me. Mrs. Wildrom smiled for a moment, looked back at Marge, and then her expression changed. She turned back to me like she knew that Marge was fitful and a tricky one to deal with. I wonder if she knew I was trapped.

As she turned to leave, she patted Dan's knee and then spoke to Marge who was now lighting a cigarette. "Marge, we're here." Mrs. Wildrom must have known to keep it distant, short and sweet. She waved a hand behind her leg as she turned the corner of our house. I tried to imagine Marge showing the same kindness. I doubt she would have ever travelled all the way from our backyard through the alley and past the small field to comfort Mrs. Wildrom's children. Well, maybe if there was a beer waiting for her.

Marge finished pacing and walked to the steps where we still sat. "Julie, get some night clothes together. You're going to have to stay at my friend, Norma's, tonight."

"But I can stay at the Wildrom's." I never even met Norma. "Mrs. Wildrom said…"

"Mrs. Wildrom is nosy and fake!" Marge cut me off. "She does not want you over there."

I bowed my head and wrestled with oncoming tears. "May I bring Blackie?"

"Oh, for God's sake, Julie!" Marge opened the front door and held it open. "Just get your shit, so the boys and I can get to the hospital."

Marge dropped me off at her friend's house. Before she left, she explained I couldn't see my dad because no one was allowed to visit who was under the age of twelve. I was the only one under the age of twelve. She would come to get me in the morning.

Norma seemed nice enough. We talked for a little while after Marge left. She asked about my school and if I was excited to go into the second grade. She asked about my brothers and my friends and if I was scared about my dad. I didn't know her, so I kept my answers short. Even if I was scared, Norma's daughter coming through the back door changed everything.


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