Places I’ve Lived part 17: Green Duplex

a green duplex
Lawrence, MA

We were in a brown Ford Fairmont, Debbie and I. Stuck in traffic, driving North. All our stuff had been packed up, and what didn’t fit in the moving van was stuffed into the trunk and spilling out of the backseat of the Ford. We were singing as we drove, singing as we sat in traffic.

The cars were stopped. We looked ahead through the windshield. We kept singing. People were getting out, climbing onto the hood of their cars. We craned our necks out of the side windows. Smoke. Heat. I knew my dad was in the moving truck up ahead. The song trailed off. The highway was a parking lot. There was grass next to the road. I wonder if I wanted to run.

Arriving at the park with my son C he sees the playground, the grass, the open space, and asks “Can I run.” He asks it like I’m gonna say no, but really I’ve said yes every time. He takes off. He whooshes his arms behind him, alternating between superhero and rocket ship. I can see him wanting to rocket ship in the grass by the road, zooming past the stopped traffic.

It wasn’t until we saw my dad walking toward us through the traffic that we got out of the car. I hung onto the open door. He had news of what lie before us. Everyone’s out of their cars, all up and down the highway, all the way from DC to Boston. Debbie turns off the car. We sit on the hood. Dad sits with us for a while. Dad and Debbie smoke. An oil tanker had spilled across the road. The oil had caught fire.

We were stuck between DC and Boston, stuck between one life and another, one family, and another. My parents were split but had both been living in DC. Now my mom had taken a job in New York, and I guess my dad didn’t see any reason not to move home to Massachusetts, where his mom and sisters and brother lived.

The time I spent with my beautiful Gramma, my auntie Mere and my auntie Dale, is big in my mind. It takes up lots of space of early joy, of camaraderie, of feeling special, and interesting, and brilliant, and funny. Auntie Dale would give me rides to school in what we called her Blue School Bus. In my mind this car was a souped up race car. Blue, slick, fast, and we zoomed all the way to ECLC, my school. Katrina went there too, and she was my best friend.

My favorite thing is when Debbie and my dad play guitar and sing together. I don’t know how often that happened, but it’s big in my memory. It doesn’t matter how often something really happened: going to Dairy Queen for a chocolate dip, being psyched when the DJ plays Violent Femmes at the school dance, going to the Hanover mall and buying new cassettes with Carolyn, dancing to Diana Ross in the living room of your mom’s DC townhouse share, a first kiss on a foggy Nantucket beach, or your dad and your unborn sister’s mom playing guitar and singing in a duplex apartment in Lawrence, Mass. Things that hold a big place in memory are not diminished by their infrequency. A single experience can hold as much weight as those that are repeated. If you remember it big like that it is real.

I only learned that thirteen years later that Debbie was my sister’s mom. She and my dad split, Debbie moved back home, to upstate New York. I don’t know what she experienced, I know it was hard, I know that she died eight years later. I know that everyone involved has a different narrative of what really happened.

Janet moved in with us sometime after Debbie moved out. She tells me it was a weird transition, she tells me I never wanted to clean my play room, she says I called her Debbie on more than one occasion.

If I understand it right, both of these women suffered from debilitating mental illness.

I wonder if their stories are even mine to tell.

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