When I was four, my mom and I lived in a filthy little trailer on Willis Ave. behind the car wash and the T&L Hot Dog. For awhile her coked-out boyfriend Mark, who liked to roller skate up and down our street in tight little shorts, a bandana around his head, and tube socks pulled up to his knees—somewhere there is a picture of this fiasco on wheels—lived with us, too.
I entertained myself in various ways. MTV had just started that year (1981) and I was enthralled. I spent a lot of time nursing my horrendous crush on Tom Petty, trying to literally nurse our kittens from the tiny nipples on my flat-as-a-board chest the way that I had seen their mother do, and wondering if I’d have to be buried alive with my mother when she died since I was too young to live alone.
Fortunately, I also had more normal pursuits. One of these was spending time with my best friend Chris.
Chris was my age and lived with his parents and older brother Ryan just a couple of houses away. My memory of the way he looked is hazy—I can remember his shaggy blonde hair and little boy jeans—but mostly I remember the way we spent time together. We particularly enjoyed eating green apples off the tree in my yard, rolling each other down the hill in tires, and trying to “fish” with a string and a stick in the creek behind my trailer.
We both loved animals and would make regular rounds to visit and pet all the dogs and cats on our street. When my little cat Cookie got hit by a car, we were devastated. Instead of accepting her tragic death and moving on, we developed a conspiracy theory about what had happened to her. Specifically, we believed she was being held hostage in exchange for the top secret information we possessed. This information was so top secret, in fact, that it was a mystery even to us. All we knew was that someone somewhere knew some information about my cat and we were determined to uncover it. We prowled around for hours looking for “clues.” We felt certain if we could spot just one single flea in the grass that we were hot on the trail. We hid behind porches and bushes listening to neighbors’ conversations, certain that someone in our midst on Willis Ave. had a dungeon full of terrified cats being held hostage. I don’t remember how long we were on that kick, but I suppose eventually we got tired of never overhearing anyone confess that they had all the missing cats in the neighborhood in captivity.
We moved on, and our relationship began to change.
One hot summer afternoon Chris invited me to his house. His mom sat in the front yard at a picnic table cutting up cantaloupe, and she offered us a piece. I eyed it suspiciously—the only thing I liked that was orange was Kool-Aid—and politely declined. After polishing off a crescent-moon-shaped piece, Chris took me to look for toys. We entered the dimness of the musty garage and, though his mother was only feet away, it immediately felt secluded and isolated and my shyness took over. While he rummaged through old boxes, I stood shyly staring at the oil stains on the cement floor, uncertain of what to do with myself. I don’t remember the moment I realized he was walking toward me, but suddenly Chris stood in front of me. I recall briefly catching a whiff of his cantaloupe breath before he quickly leaned forward and gave me a peck on the lips. He then took off running—why did the boys always run away?—out into the front yard. “Mom,” I heard him say breathlessly, “I kissed Amie.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. He was telling his mother about it?
“Did she cry?” she asked.
“No,” he reported.
She seemed nonplussed. “Well, then, I guess it was okay.”
I felt incredibly awkward about making my conspicuous exit from the garage after that. Actually, the last memory I have of that moment was standing there and wondering whether to act nonchalant in front of the two of them or to take off running for home. I don’t recall what I decided to do. I do remember, however, that soon after that I invited Chris to join me on one of my “trips.”
My bedroom in our trailer was incredibly tiny. There wasn’t room for both my twin bed with the Strawberry Shortcake blankets and my dresser, so the dresser was inside the closet. I loved this closet dearly. It felt luxurious to me because it had its own light that came on when I pulled a string, and it had folding doors that slid shut with a thunk of authority.
One of my hobbies was pretending this closet was an airplane that would take me away where no one could find me. I had recently flown for the first time and was desperate to get in a plane and go somewhere—anywhere—again. I would pour cherry Kool-Aid inside my jewelry box to take with me and then climb into the airplane. I pulled the drawers of the dresser out to make stair steps leading to the top. I turned on the light just as the pilot announced, “Last call for flight 842-6360 [our phone number],” and the doors of the plane were closed. I shut my eyes and leaned back to simulate the force and angle of the plane taking off, humming to myself as the engines whirred and I was lifted off the ground.
I never had a clear conception of where I was going—Florida was the only place I’d been to and I knew I wanted to go somewhere different—so I just considered it to be somewhere far away where no one knew who I was. It was always sunny and filled with strawberries there, and everyone would always be nice to me. My pilot seemed to be equally vague about our destination. “You are now landing far, far away,” he would announce. “It’s 80 degrees and sunny.”
Sometimes I was so absorbed in the fantasy that I truly expected to open my closet doors and find myself in another world. Sometimes my mom broke the spell to ask me what in the hell I was doing in the closet with a jewelry box full of Kool-Aid. But it was on such a trip that I invited my new boyfriend Chris—we had kissed, after all and that meant something—to take with me.
He usually had no problem disappearing into an imaginary world with me, but he thought that using my closet as an airplane was really weird. “It’s hot in here,” he complained, “and I put my hand in sticky Kool-Aid.”
“Just be quiet and enjoy the flight,” I instructed, certain that he just needed some time to warm up to the idea.
“What flight? We’re not going anywhere,” he protested.
“I can’t hear what the pilot’s saying,” I said, clicking my seat belt shut.
“Let’s go out and play in the creek,” Chris suggested.
I was growing impatient. “I’m taking us to the most beautiful beach in the world!” I informed him. “It’s better than the creek!” He was impatient, too, and pushed open the closet door with his foot and climbed down out of the plane.
“You can’t do that,” I said flatly. “We’re still flying and if you get out you’re going to fall to the ground and die.” He ignored me, and hopped to the floor. “Fine,” I said dismissively. “I guess you’re dead then.”
I slammed the closet door behind him, and continued on my journey. I never invited anyone again; I just packed my Kool-Aid and went alone.