Queer Town Abbey asked for “My best summer memory” for this blog hop… prepare yourselves, sweet readers!
(To avoid my over-sharing of personal memories, scroll to the end and click the link to enter their awesome giveaway.)
It might have been the worst summer of our lives. It should have been. But now, over twenty five years later, when I think back on my summers it is the one I remember most fondly.
My mother’s second husband was an asshole. He was wealthy, and powerful, and smart… and dangerous. He made us walk three paces behind him when we went out, we could never run ahead. He controlled everything in the house: what kind of food we ate and what music we listened to and what we wore. He was easily offended and quick to anger. The first time he hit my mom, she forgave him. He bought her a full length mink coat a few days later. The next time he hit her, we left. We drove around and my mom cried, but it was late and there was school and work the next day. It was cold too, the middle of winter, and so we went back. That time, along with his apology, he gave her a gold pin in the shape of a bumblebee with sapphires for the body and tiny diamond eyes.
For a year we lived with him. I had my own room which had been professionally decorated just for me and everything matched, even the wallpaper. It was the nicest house we’d ever lived in, with cable television (and MTV!), a maid who came once a week, and a huge lush yard at the edge of a forest. That year my mom got a lot of bruises, and a lot of expensive gifts.
I was eleven. I was old enough to call 911 when he hit her, and old enough to testify against him in court. And I did.
So when school ended and the divorce was final, we left that scary-beautiful house and my mom rented us a beach cottage while we hunted for a new home. It was a three room shack, in the middle of an RV park, right across the street from the beach. It was tiny and run down and dirty, and it felt so safe to me. I could hear the conversations of people in RVs around us, the laughter of other kids and the late night beer fueled talk of their parents.
All the residents of our dusty little temporary trailer park were pretty much like us: families on vacation. The beach was a busy one, and the street separating us from it was lined with bars, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels, and tourist shops. The world was hot, crowded, and loud, in the happiest possible way.
Every day that summer we walked across the street to the beach, and swam in the ocean, and stretched out on our pink paisley beach blanket in the sand getting golden tans. My little brother played and my mom read, and I did a bit of both. And at night I cooked, because I loved to cook, and my mom supervised with half an eye on me and most of her attention in a paperback.
The tiny kitchenette had no fancy appliances, and I learned to do things the long way. I had to keep washing the one big mixing bowl and the one good knife. I struggled to bake cookies and cakes without a hand mixer. But I felt powerful. I felt grown up. I was making things, and helping. And when my mom bragged that her fingernails were long and pretty because she hadn’t had to wash dishes in weeks, I was so proud of myself. Like I’d helped heal her, even if only in that one tiny way.
We had no television in the little cabin, no phone either. There was a payphone by the street, and my mom used that when she had to call the Realtor or the lawyer or my dad. We played cards and board games, we read books, and we talked to each other. For two solid months we lived in that tiny house, the whole thing no bigger than the perfectly decorated bedroom I’d left behind. We laughed a lot and we argued a little. We sang along to the top 40 radio station on my boom-box. We peeled big flakes of sunburned skin off each other’s shoulders. We shared clam cakes and ice cream and frozen lemonades. We made up our own jokes and coined new code-words to add to our private family language.
In two months we undid a year of damage.
That summer we rebuilt ourselves. That summer I learned I can make my own happiness. Because of that summer, I know there is strength in my frequent tears and my goofy laughter. I know that what is most important isn’t a fancy house or expensive things: it’s time and family.
And so although it isn’t sexy, or fun, or even all that interesting – that is my best summer memory.
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