Young America

It took a while to realize that growing up in Young America was different from growing up in most places.  Mostly, though, I’ve been walking through life thinking that my childhood – apart from the abuse – was no different than anyone else’s.  No more, or less boring, or wrought with dysfunction, or packed with weird happenstances.

Like the year young Billy dropped off his girlfriend after a night of drinking, only to find out the next day that she’d died on her doorstep of hypothermia. It was the dead of winter afterall.

Or the year that a classmate, Carl, mowed down a whole row of students lined up for the school dance with his car.

Car accidents were common, and always seemed to happen at the same four-way stop.  Suicides were too, and drug overdoses, and … I could go on.  But I won’t, because you see – I remember having fun.

We lived at the end of a dirt road, houses built down the south side – with a dirt cul de sac that served as an entrance to the cornfields across from our house.  Ours was the stucco bungalow, and the Bergrens, which sat five houses up, at the top of the hill, theirs was a two-story ranch house…with a basement. We all had basements.  My sister, Georgie, and I used to hang out there everyday as young girls until mom came home. We were initiated into all sorts of teenager stuff – sex, drugs, music….  My first taste of weed was at the age of twelve – and George? She was nine. The Bergrens had six kids, all older than us; a tight-knit Catholic family – one I wanted to model my own family after.

I learned to ride horses there, and the parties – the whole damn neighborhood would come to their barn dances – and we would just run wild. After all, we all thought we were “safe” up there, safe in the rural bosom of Young America.

Maybe we were different from most neighborhoods, I know my household wasn’t normal. What ‘became’ normal, was never being home – we were always visiting our neighbors houses, always trying to get to know the new kids – because the way we saw it, we didn’t have a lot of time with them.  The new kids seem to always move in, and move out -  maybe a few months later, maybe a couple years. Deep down, we felt the loss, we felt the regular rotation – but never knew how to articulate it.

Kerry DelConte was one such friend.  She and I would get into so much trouble, her dad was never home, and she was always babysitting her younger siblings, so I would lie about it to my parents in order to stay overnight. Trust me, she needed the help. Her twelve-year-old self was not yet prepared to take on two kids under the age of five.

The DelConte’s had this humongous pantry, filled with all sorts of international foods – greek olives, sardines, dolmas, even caviar.  We spent a lot of time in there stuffing our faces (basically, it was the kids’ food stash, as they weren’t allowed to use the kitchen appliances). We spent a lot of time snooping, too.  Sneaking into her father’s bedroom – and accidently pulling down a box filled with 2 dollar coins – with rolled up bills at the bottom. Kerry was adamant that we not take anything, of course, her fear of her father was absolute. They moved away after 18 months. In the middle of the night.

Then there was Janie Hansen. Her father was in the military, and she couldn’t talk about it.

“Why can’t you talk about it?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly. I just can’t.”

“Well, what kinds of things are you not supposed to be talking about, anyway?”

“Well, I don’t know, “ she shrugged. “That’s just what my mother told me to tell everyone.”

Janie’s father liked to stare at us as we sunbathed on her porch. Typical creepy stuff, as far as I was concerned.

After I left school and entered foster care, during my Junior year, she wanted to talk about a lot of things. About how she felt abused, just like I was.

They moved away the next year.

Then there was Jen Levine. Her father travelled all over the world, bought her all kinds of things, and was spoiled rotten.  She taught me how to use a juicer, and how to make homemade yogurt with their fancy new kitchen gadgets. Never did see her father once the whole time we were in junior high and high school. You know, come to think of it, I don’t think she did either.

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