Wednesday, February 22, 2006

In the Ghetto

In my life, I've lived in ten different dwellings. I used to joke that I would never live anywhere more than five years, although I do not believe that will be the case looking forward. Tonight I want to write about the place my family lived for a summer before we moved to Minnesota.

It was the early eighties and my dad was laid off from his job working construction. My parents decided it was time to sell the yellow house in Raymond and move into the city, finding an apartment in a part of Waterloo that was not where the rich and famous would set up residence. The apartment we stayed in was small and I don't remember much of the time we were there. In fact, I have only three memories of living there. They are vivid memories however.

It must have been the summer of 1984. I would have been five, eagerly awaiting my sixth birthday and the start of kindergarten. The first memory I have of that place was a bad dream I had. I must have recently seen Ghostbusters and it caused me to have a dream where ghosts were invading the neighborhood and if they touched you, you would become a ghost. What I remember most, besides the dream itself, was waking up over and over and each time I fell back asleep the dream would continue. I was disoriented in this new place and kept trying to remember how to get to my parents' room. I did finally make it to my mom's side and she let me sleep with them and the dream stopped. There were boxes everywhere. My parents didn't plan on living there long and not much was unpacked.

The second memory I have of this place was being outside (on a balcony maybe overlooking a courtyard?) with my dog. Our dog's name was Frog, a nickname given to great hockey players (according to my dad). Frog was a beautiful animal. He was mostly collie and smart and loving and I adored him. My second word (after money) was Bobby. My mom called Frog, "Buddy." He was so important to me I tried to say his name. Bob, a friend of my mom's, thought I must really have liked him. She didn't have the heart to tell him that I was calling for the dog!

Frog and I were outside and I know there were a few kids close to my age playing with us. They kept asking, "Why doesn't he have green skin?" and I remember being upset by this. It still bothers me if people make fun of the name; I loved that dog (I can also hold a grudge - true Scorpio here). The kids were nice enough and they invited me to this "hip, awesome place!" They promised "singing and dancing and fun times for all!"

What five year old could resist? I stopped by the apartment to ask permission to go with these kids. My mom looked a little puzzled but said, "Um, sure. If you really want to go." So I went.

When I arrived back at home, my mom asked about my afternoon. My response, "It was CHURCH!" I was not pleased. That may have been the last time I went into a Baptist church. I have nothing against Baptists or others who practice religion; it's just not my bag.

The final memory I have of living in that place was the day Frog was put to sleep. My dad left the apartment with him and came home, hours later, without him. I didn't understand it. For years, I would still cry at just the mention of Frog. Even now, I still tear up thinking about how special he was.

Both of my grandmothers had their words to say about our family putting Frog to sleep. Each should have kept their mouths shut.

My paternal grandmother, the one who is still alive, said to me at my young age something that did scar me. She said, "He had to be put to sleep because he was tired. You played with him too much." I do love my grandmother, but there are times when I am reminded of how bitchy she can be. I believed what she told me that day and for years, I felt like I killed him. She honestly made me believe that a toddler could wear out a healthy animal enough to make him terminally ill. It was years before my mom knew what she said to me that day and clarified that it was no one's fault.

My maternal grandmother said to my mom and I once while visiting her in Arizona, "[My dad] had no problems taking him to the vet. That dog was such a nuisance and your place was so small." My mom was furious and corrected her right then and there.

"[My dad] loved that dog. We all loved that dog. Space had nothing to do with it. He was sick and in pain and it was hard enough having to let him go. [My dad] drove around for four hours before he got enough courage to go to the vet. Never say anything like that again."

These stories, these memories, are just part of my past. I am trying to get better at telling stories on this site and not just day-to-day activities. What I really meant to touch upon when I started this post is that parents can hide things from children. When my parents were at the lowest point in their lives and broke and living in Section 8 housing without government help, I never knew we were in trouble. They hid all of their fears, they worked hard to change their situation, and I never felt like opportunities were out of reach. My parents were strong and they still are.