To keep the strays at bay was exhausting. I figured Mommy got the hint and I could relax at last, but it wasn’t long before she brought another one home.
The summer before Junior high was the worst year of my life, when our snow globe illusion shattered into a million pieces. I awoke one morning to the smell of bacon and stumbled into the kitchen to see what was going on. Mommy was in her robe and slippers, frying eggs and bacon as if it were just another day.
My eyes darted to the table where a barrel chested, hawkish looking older man with hairy grey eyebrows that seemed to have a life of their own sat in a white t-shirt puffing away on a cigarette, sipping on a cup of coffee without a care in the world.
“Hi Lissie,” Mommy greeted me, “This is my friend Doug from the club.”
I could feel heat as hot as bacon grease creeping up from my chest to my face. Without a word to either of them, I stomped back to my room, slammed the door as hard as I could, and flopped down on my bed.
I couldn’t believe it, not again. I buried my face into my pillow and cried. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why we were never enough. Everything had been so great; we were all so happy.
As if things couldn’t get worse, this one asked her to marry him and she said yes! I didn’t care if he had a good job and could take of us. He was not welcome. I did my best to chase him off, using my best tactics that had worked on others in the past, but he wasn’t having it. None of my efforts ruffled his few remaining grey feathers.
Dabbing his eternal dripping nose, MORON for short, he’d say, “I know a thing or two about raising spirited little girls,” as if he were an expert on me, “I have four of my own.,” his eldest was almost Mommy’s age.
Well, he had never met the likes of me; I wasn’t done with him yet. Gloves were off, I’d drawn the battle lines, and declared war upon his head.
I’d made Mommy so upset and worried when I ran off before that the Scorpion Man bailed, so I plotted another trip hoping to make the MORON leave too. This time I would set out to find my father if it was the last thing I ever did, and I was never coming back either.
Mommy once said Daddy lived in Toledo Ohio, so Ohio it was. While Mommy planned her wedding, right down to buying matching baby blue, full-length bridesmaids dresses with matching midnight-blue velvet boleros for me and Maggie, I planned my next move.
The MORON not only took away any chance I’d ever have Mommy to myself again, but he moved us two blocks south to another blue house, a bigger one with a large enough backyard to store his camper and boat.
On the main level to the left of the entry door was small a den and a flight of stairs which lead to the next level with two bedrooms on either side at the top, Maggie already claimed the one to the right, connected by a freakish crawl space, accessible by a little door in each room.
Down the stairs and to the left was the living room; nestled under the stairs was a bathroom and Mommy’s bedroom. Off the living room was a large kitchen and connected to that was an enclosed back porch. Then, beyond all creepiness, a cellar door lay carved into the floor of the sunroom which led to a sinister, cold, and musty smelling basement. There was one small, empty bedroom and a large family room where the MORON set up a ping pong table, as if he thought we’d be spending time down there. A door led to the backyard and to a flight of stairs back to the sunroom.
It was the largest place we’d ever lived in, our meager belongings didn’t quit fill up the colossal tomb, but I still wasn’t impressed. No longer across the street from Karen, we saw less and less of each other. I had never felt so alone in my life.
Worse of all, was the day when I headed out the door for my first day of junior high and got a glimpse of our neighbor. Our eyes locked for a moment. He sneered an evil grin. The acid in my stomach blazed a trail to my throat. It all came back. It was the man that took me for ice cream when I was little. I hoped he hadn’t recognized me, looked away quick, and made a beeline for school.
I couldn’t believe it. Was this some sort of sick joke or what? I didn’t sleep sound from then on, ever vigilant of my surroundings, always checking the doors and windows were secure and locked. And, whenever I left the house, I checked from my bedroom window to see if his car was there and then walked cat like through the backyard, into the alley, on to the main road and safety.
It was a prayer come true the day I saw a moving van parked outside his house. I caught up with the neighbor boy and asked him if he knew anything about it. He said he’d overheard his mom’s telephone conversation how the man’s car went off the side of the mountain on Steven’s Pass Highway this past weekend and he died. Good, I thought, I hope he rots in hell.
Mommy and the MORON’s gaggle of moth-eaten friends made their wedding a big to do about nothing. They married on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Like that day, this day too would go down in infamy.
Unsure of when my next meal would be, I gorged on the party food. While they were away for the night on their honeymoon, assuring Maggie was fast asleep, I crept into the living room and gathered my coat and backpack from behind the couch.
All ready to go, I opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch. It was as dark as a wolf’s mouth and raining. I hesitated, but told myself it was now or never, how it would only get worse, and Mommy needed to learn a lesson.
I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head, tied it underneath my chin, and slipped my arms into my backpack. As I stepped off the last stair, I tripped over a tiny black kitten who appeared from out of nowhere. I scooped it up. It meowed at me plaintively and purred.
Great, now what do I do? I thought, and I tucked him into my coat. Then, we were off to find my dad. I walked fast the half block to the bus stop just in time to catch the last one for the night. I avoided eye contact with the driver and cruised with purpose to the back of the bus and got off at the last stop in Burien. The wind and rain bit at my cheeks as I roamed in search of a pay phone. I saw a light for a grocery store in the distance and made my way towards it. The kitten didn’t stir, he seemed content within the confines of my warm and dry coat.
I dialed MB’s house. Not disclosing my near whereabouts or my plans to find my dad, I asked her if I could come back to her house. She said there were other children living with them and there wasn’t room for anymore.
Daunted but undefeated I headed back out to the road. I stared at my feet as they crunched over the gravel, and my heart beat in cadence with my steps. My chin quivered, and hot tears splashed off my cheeks. I had hoped MB would have come and got me, but now I had to find my dad; there was no going back.
I crossed a large intersection with the walk signal. There were no cars; it was dead; everyone must have been in bed. I walked a little further, away from the streetlights, and turned to face the traffic. With blind faith, I stuck my thumb out every time a car passed.
After about a dozen, a man in a blue mustang pulled over. He reached over and opened the passenger side door.
“How far you are going?” he asked.
“I’m going to find my dad in Ohio,” I yelled over the din of the howling rain, “How far can you take me,” I asked while climbing into the passenger seat.
He looked like one of the Bee Gee brothers with a beard and everything. He seemed nice enough, so I stayed.
“It’s getting late and the weather’s bad; how about we get a fresh start in the morning; I just got off work and am bushed. I’ve got an extra bedroom at my place if you’d like to stay.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
I told him that my mom had died, and I was staying in a foster home and how my dad said he was coming to get me, but hadn’t yet, and how they said they haven’t been able to reach him, and how I was tired of waiting, and going to find him myself.
At that moment, the kitten popped his little head out from my buttoned-up jacket.
“Whoa, whatcha got there?” He laughed.
“He was a gift from the foster mom.” I said.
“What’s his name?”
“Midnight,” I said off the bat.
“Well, I have a cat too; so, Midnight can have a snack along with us.”
We drove on the freeway for a short while then exited and continued down a long dirt road. It reminded me of the road to Dusty and Kelly’s house. We pulled up to a big yellow house that sat sideways to the road. There were no other houses nearby and a dimly lit, solitary street light flickered over it.
Something didn’t feel right as I followed him into the house. He took Midnight to his cat’s litter box and food dish in a room with a laundry machine and fixed us a plate of cheese and crackers with a glass of milk. When we finished, he showed Midnight and me to the guest room.
I turned off the light, tucked Midnight into my jacket, and sat on the edge of the bed. I watched the clock on the night table until an hour had passed and the house was silent; then, I tiptoed to the window and looked out.
The room was over the garage and its roof was even with the road, just like one at the laundromat. I slid the window open as quiet as I could, put my backpack out first, and then made my escape, the second in just one night.