Thirteen Years Old
The window’s cool against my forehead as I rest against the glass, meeting the stare of my best friend; she’s disappearing from view as my mom drives our car from the only neighborhood I’ve ever known.
Not for vacation.
Not for a weekend at my dad’s.
I refuse to blink; I don’t want the tears to escape. My mom feels bad enough, and I refuse to add to her burden. Fingerprints smudge the window where I’ve tried to hold the connection as long as possible. As Olivia breaks down in her parents’ arms, I face forward and resolve myself to my new life.
“Saylor, I’m sorry baby. I tried everything I could.”
“I know, Mom.” And I do know.
I heard the countless phone calls from debt collectors.
I watched everything valuable be sold off.
I heard all the sobs she tried to hide.
I accepted our fate.
The ‘For Sale’ sign was hammered into the lawn, boxes assembled and packed, erasing the last thirteen years of my life. This was the home I grew up in. This is the street I learned to ride a bike, dribble a basketball, climb a tree . . . the same street I watched the U-Haul cart away my dad’s stuff when he abandoned us.
Two years ago it all changed. Today it all ended.
I accepted the divorce. I was tired of the arguing, the shouts, the tension.
I wasn’t prepared for the knock on the door six months ago. Drunk. Dead. Gone.
He wasn’t a bad man; he just wasn’t a good one, either. During my early childhood he was, but as the years went by, the pressures grew, the bills piled . . . he crumbled.
I did my time with him every other weekend, which consisted of eating cardboard microwave meals while he drank, partied, entertained . . . never sparing a glance at his daughter. But he was here, at least. Alive.
Now he’s gone. Without his measly child support, the debt he carried . . . it all passed to my mom. Somehow they had never finalized their divorce. So we’re leaving New Mexico and moving in with my grandparents in Florida.
I look at my mom, the lines more prominently marring her face, the worry eating her from the inside. Grabbing her hand, “I know,” I reiterate. I watch her face relax, her head bob, and although no smile lights her face, I hope in the years to come the joy will return . . . to both of us.
Eighteen Years Old
Glancing at the sheet of paper in front of me and checking the address of the house . . . I stare. This can’t be where I’m living the next year. I know I have roommates, but I don’t think my part of the rent will cover this place. The yard is enormous; the house sits off the road with a huge cement pad to park. I maneuver my car next to a black BMW and silver Lexus, feeling overwhelmed. My Honda SUV is in good condition, but it’s six years old. That was one concession I wouldn’t allow my step-dad. He’s footing the bill for college, at least the portion my scholarship doesn’t cover, but I refused a new car.
I refuse to be indebted to anyone. I watched my mom work herself to near death for eighteen months working three jobs and doing whatever else she could in her spare time for money. She refused financial help from my grandparents, with the exception of living rent-free. Jack had been pursuing her for a year, and she wouldn’t commit with my dad’s debt hanging over her. He’d plead with her to let him take care of it; she refused, making me even more proud of her. She’d lived dependent on one man already but wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. The second the last check was sent off to cover my dad’s indulgences, Jack dropped to bended knee begging my mom to marry him. She did.
Now I’m here.
The day I received the acceptance letter, I balled it up and threw it in the trash. No matter how far we’d come, how wealthy Jack was, there was no way I could cover out of state tuition and expenses. It would put my mom back in debt, and I had no way to come up with the money upfront. It was a pipe dream. She found the letter and confronted me over dinner.
“Saylor Lynn, why’d you throw it away?”
“We can’t afford it, Mom.” Her disposition changes from frustration and happiness to worry. Her smile droops into a frown, her eyes devoid of the pride they had shown a minute ago.
“Saylor, if you want to go, I’ll find a way.” Jack reaches over and covers her hand.
“Nina . . .” As he gazes at my mom, his eyes show the depth of his love for her. He’s a lovesick fool. “We’ll handle it.”
“It’s too late.” I need to stop this train wreck. We’ve worked too hard to throw it away for an out of state school. If they don’t work out, she’ll have this financial burden . . . once again. “I missed the deadline for dorm rooms, so I don’t have anywhere to live.”
“Saylor, there are plenty of college kids who rent places. I’m sure we can find roommates or whatever you need. I have the money; it’s yours as well as your mom’s. We’re a family.” That’s the thing about Jack . . . you can’t help but love him. He doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body, yet he isn’t a doormat, either. He loves my mom, and by default . . . me. I just cringe at the word ‘family.’ It doesn’t mean the same thing to me.
“Then it’s settled.” My mom kisses him sweetly, her cheery personality back.
“Thank you, Jack.” I swallow the bile and plaster on a smile. I’m not ungrateful; I know how lucky we got. I just don’t ever want to owe anyone anything . . . it destroys everything.
The house found by my mom, roommates screened by Jack, bags packed by myself. I take another look at the information my mom gave me three days ago as I started this road trip. Emberlee Winchester and Avery Michaels are the names she wrote down; apparently I am sharing this house with them. I look at the luxury cars again and decide to take the plunge, meet the people I’m living with.
I relax my stance as I head up the walkway. I can’t be classified as a people person. Since I left my life in New Mexico, I haven’t forged deep relationships. I was a loner by nature, even though I longed to fit in. I’m a regular oxymoron. Olivia was the one person who understood me, but moving so far and restrictions the first years with computer time . . . it wasn’t conducive to our friendship. Like most, we drifted, and now we have the relationship where we click ‘like’ on the occasional Facebook post.