We pulled up to the house and all my stuff was on the sidewalk. Neat piles of childhood possessions stacked atop boxes, atop white furniture gilded with gold trim. I never quite got a handle on my childhood possessions after that.
I didn’t have a family anymore, not the one I knew. My brother and I were separated, and I’d never live with him again. My step-mom, who’d spent years affirming to me that she was my real mom, was definitely not my real mom anymore. This had been my childhood home, the home where we’d lived as a family, and we had used the given terminology. Mother, father, daughter, son. But now there’d been a divorce, the step-family was laid bare, and the terminology was abandoned. We were step-mother, father, step-daughter, son. Once my father was out, I was out too.
In memory, I’m standing there on the sidewalk, next to all my things. I could feel my step-mom inside the house, looking out windows to see how I’d received this slight. I heard her silent thoughts. I didn’t feel the presence of my dad’s car behind me, and mentally took the measure of what I could carry in my arms. So many of the things on the sidewalk were things you don’t take with you when you leave home, like curtains, and nightstands, books you’ll outgrow before you pack your first trunk, teddy bears and dolls. They were things your parents are meant to keep for you, so that you can go through them when you’re older, remember who you were. Or at least that was my thought process. I was 16, and I felt homeless.
I’d moved in to my mom’s house that summer, but I moved in with little more than the clothes on my back. I hadn’t had a chance to go back to the house, to pack up, to sort out, to say goodbye to the walls, to the banisters, to my closet door, to my cat. That was the plan, to go back with my dad, to pack up my things. I’d wanted to go inside, to have a moment alone in my room.
Instead it had all been piled up on the sidewalk outside my childhood home. My dad and I were both dumbfounded. We just stood and stared at it. I could feel the eyes peering out of the houses on the block. “Those are Libby’s things,” I heard them whisper, “I hear she’s going to reform school,” or “I hear she got pregnant, slept with the school bus drivers’ grandson.” None of those things were true, it was just a bitter divorce. My brother was caught in the middle, but I was clearly on the outside. I was a remnant.
When a step family divorces it’s a fucked up thing. If there’s new kids, kids whose real mom and dad are the step-mom and bio dad of the step-kid, then they’re fine. I mean, in as much as a kid who lives through divorce is fine. Their parents split, and that fucking sucks, for real, but for the step-kid, it’s not just their parents who are divorced, when a step-family gets divorced, the step-kid gets divorced too. My step-mom and dad had been together since I was 5, married when I was 6. They’d bought this home together, on a pretty little corner in a brand new development in a pretty little suburb. My room was at the end of the hall on the first floor. Right next to my brother’s. Technically he was my half-brother, but we didn’t subscribe to that terminology. We were a family, a real whole family. My step-mom was my capital M mom, just like my dad was my Dad. My half brother was my big B Brother. It was all very deliberate, very Real, very determined. We reminded each other.
“I’m your Real Mom, you always remember that,” my step-mom said. We didn’t talk about my actual real mom, or my bio mom, as the lingo went. She was off living her life, but it was okay because I was here, I was not left behind, I had safe, secure place. I was lucky, was the legend we told ourselves, my dad had married my Real Mom when he married my step-mom. My mom mom worked, my step-mom stayed home. This was our capital R real family, and always would be. That was the myth that lent security to our tenuous lifestyle. And we all bought it, we all believed it. Kids need security, and all those capital letters and special emphasis were my blanket. I chewed on the corner, I told it my secrets at night, but finally, when I really needed it to wipe my tears, it was gone.
My security blanket of comfort and family wasn’t there on the sidewalk with all my stuff. Neither was my typewriter, which I’d used to clack out stories and poems and play scripts when no one was home. My Bestamore’s little old organ was there, the one she kept in her room right up until the end. It was squat, perfect height for a small bench. It was blonde wood, with a crackling veneer, and smooth little keys under the top. She’d left it to me when she died, and I loved it even though I couldn’t play.
“What do you want to do with all this stuff?” My dad asked. My eyes wide, the pavement seeming to buckle under all the weight of me and my discarded life. This wasn’t my home anymore. I’d never live here again, I’d never get to go home again. I didn’t know what to do with all this stuff.
“Can’t you take it?” I asked.
“I don’t have room for it Libby,” he said. “I wish I did, but I don’t.” He hadn’t found a place yet. He was staying with my grandmother until he worked out something new.
I imagined that my dad had packed up his things, had negotiated for possessions. “You keep the tv, I’ll keep the stereo.” Things like that, options, choices. But for me I just had to take what was given, and if something wasn’t given, like my typewriter, or my brother, or my cat, my favorite fork, Clue in the game closet, the last bite of ice cream, then they weren’t mine anymore. The love we’d claimed to have shared wasn’t mine anymore. My brother still had both his parents, he still had his room, his toys, his address. I was moving on. I had to take what I could carry, what there would be room for at my mom’s house. I didn’t know, I didn’t want to push it all into her and my step-father’s life. Mostly I didn’t know if it would be welcome, and I couldn’t risk another familial rejection.
I let go of everything: the furniture, the linens, the organ. I mourned the typewriter, though it was replaced with a newer model. Then an IMB desktop with a dot matrix printer. When I went to college it was an Acer Anywhere laptop. Now it’s an old Mac. My relationship with possessions is nebulous these days. Mostly I just try to hang onto my data, and turn anything solid into data. Or at least I tell myself that I only want things that are scannable, that everything else can suck it.
My recurring nightmare would beg to disagree, however. In it I’m home, sometimes in my childhood home, sometimes in my mom and step-dad’s home, sometimes in the place where I’m currently living— the most recent version was set in our current apartment. It’s not an unusual dream, it’s probably archetypal, it’s probably been had by billions of people over the course of human dreaming.
The place is on fire. I have to take what I can carry. The baby is out of the house, so too the husband. It’s just me in there. I have a moment, I can decide. It’s a hurry, the flames are hot and I can feel them, but I can look around. I can see what I have and reach for it. I take my laptop, my backup disks, photo albums, things for the baby, clothes for me, then I look for the cat. I reach under the bed with one free hand to grab her. Just as I touch her fur she pulls back, and I lose hold of everything.