Monday, June 20, 2005


Someone in the building next door left a pile of books on their stoop. I took three copies of the YALE REVIEW. On the subway, riding to the pool, I read a story called "Skin Deep" from a 1996 edition, written by T.M. McNally. It was the story of a girl, maybe eighteen, from a small town in the west, perhaps Colorado. She works as a landscaper. Her father is in prison for a series of felonies. Her mother, a dreamer, has a no-good boyfriend and hopes that the girl, Lacey, will become a Broadway star. Unknown to mom, a mysterious wealthy man, who may be behind the father's imprisonment, has arranged for Lacey to go east, to Massachusetts, to attend college. The story ends with Lacey on the plane, heading to her future. She never returned home.

Reading the story, I started to cry. Luckily for me there were few people on the subway car and I had on my dark sunglasses. So much of it reminded me of my own life. I remember leaving for Chicago; I could not sleep the night before and I took one of my mom's xanax, but it gave me a horrific stomach ache. Outside my mother's house, the U-Haul my father had rented for me stood, packed with all my worldly possessions: a futon, a table and chair, my books and records and clothes. Not much, really. I had not spent much time in my mother's house in years, and lying on a mattress on the floor in my old room, sleepless in the awful early September heat, I thought about what awaited me. I had only ever been to Chicago for one day, when I went to see the University that had offered me a fellowship--my ticket--and I had little idea of what to expect. I was moving into an apartment I had never seen, for $275 a month, university housing. Little did I know how wretched it was, infested with roaches and mice, and at street level on a busy intersection where a 24-hour bus stopped every ten minutes. I had a check for $300 from my father, for food. The first month's rent was paid, and I would have money from my fellowship once school began.

I left very early in the morning. My mother was not really speaking to me for some reason--she tended to be like that--and I just wanted to get out of there. It was hot and humid and the truck had no air-conditioning, and only an AM radio. I had an old walkman (remember them?) and as I drove I listened to tapes. In the mountains in western PA, outside of Pittsburgh, a state trooper pulled me over. I was going very very slowly--the truck would not climb the hills--and it is illegal to drive with headphones on. After checking my drivers license, the man told me that he would not give me a ticket. He asked me where I was headed, and when I told him "Chicago," he said that anyone who had to drive in that vehicle in the scorching heat with no radio didn't need a ticket.

The first night that I was in that apartment, at two in the morning, a car ran up the sidewalk and crashed into a lightpost just outside my window. I had just fallen asleep, exhausted. I did not sleep for the rest of the night. I didn't know a single person in Chicago, I had no phone service, and it occurred to me that if I died, no one would know.

That was the beginning of a long time when I had no home. Chicago was not my home. My mother's house was not my home. I would stay for short visits, but she had remarried a man who was a stranger to me, and I had no friends in that town anymore anyway. My father lived in the same town with his wife and his adopted kids--four of them--and I felt no part of it. To this day, thinking of it makes me feel panic, but at least it is distant enough that I can keep breathing.

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