Part One – Summer 2002
Crash! That was the sound of two people falling out of love. Actually, it was a plate hitting the wall, but it's still the same thing. Mom and dad try their best to hide their fights, but you can't fool me. I'm a big girl – I'm ten years old now.
“You don't even care-!” I could hear my mom's voice raising to her dangerous level, the same way she would before she would strike me on the butt when I didn't listen as a child. “You're doped up!”
I couldn't hear my father's reply, if he had even bothered to say one. He never spoke much. He always kept himself hidden away in the basement. I might be ten, but I'm not stupid.
From my room all the way upstairs, I hear a loud yell, a thud, more plates breaking, and then silence. After a minute, the front door slams. Then the unmistakable creek of the basement door.
My parents weren't always like this. Is that believable? Because I should be called a liar. My parents are perfectly not perfect together. I will never understand what force attracted them.
They met as teenagers, and dated off and on for years. That was the first red flag. Never get back together with someone after it's over. I was born when they were twenty-three, and then they married. And here we are, ten years later, as it falls apart.
I've become used to the huffing, scorning one another under their breath, to the full blown fights. Some were worse than others, tonight for example. When one of them hits the other, it's game over. My dad hit my mom this time.
When she leaves, I always wonder if she's going to come back. Or even want to.
This fighting has been going on since I was little. Mainly it was about the small things, like my dad's job. It seemed like he was never home, and my mom thought so too. My dad has had the same job all his life, so it wasn't like it was anything new.
Despite all the fighting, they still stayed together. If they were doing it for their kid, they were foolish. I'd be better off with them apart. Maybe even with some other family.
I rolled over in my bed and grabbed hold to my big stuffed bunny. I allowed myself to think about it a little. What if I didn't have to be here? I could find another family to be a part of. With parents who talk, not yell. Or who show each other that they care. Mom and dad have never so much as given each other a hug in front of me. Was that normal to other kids? I wasn't sure.
I fell asleep to thoughts of being a part of a family that cared.
The next morning, I find a surprise in my book bag. I open one of my folders, and a slip of paper makes its way to my desk.
Shirley, my best friend, looks at it and beams, “You're finally going this year!”
“What?” I say, confused. I look at the paper. It's a sign-up sheet for summer camp.
Last year, Shirley told me and our friends all about Camp Green Tree, where she went every year since she was four. At recess, she would sing camp songs, and tell us stories and I wanted to go so badly. But then my mom told me it was something we didn't have the money for.
Why had she signed me up now? And without telling me?
“And we're going the same weeks!” Shirley says, still looking over the paper.
I begin to feel a little excited. “Do you think we'll get to be in the same cabin?”
“Probably. You should write to be put in my cabin, just to be sure,” she says, “I already handed mine in.”
I take out my pencil and scribble down to keep us together. You can't break up the dynamic duo.
That's when it hit me.
“Josie?” she says my name, when I realize I haven't spoken.
“I think my parents are breaking up.”
“What?” She doesn't believe it. And I kind of don't either. There's still room for doubt.
I shrug it off, “I could be wrong. They were fighting last night. My mom left this time.”
Then again, what if they are? They've been fighting for years. Maybe they finally realize it'll never work out.
“Yeah, maybe.” She sounds unconvinced. Shirley has been a witness to the fights quite a few times. She never knows what to do, because her parents are still together and they rarely argue.
I give my teacher my sign-up slip. Since it was the last day, we spend a lot of the day cleaning everything. My desk, always an untidy mess, was now totally empty. Our class books were returned. Our mailboxes stripped of our names. Most threw out their name tags from our desks, but I kept mine. I'd tape up my 'Josephine Rivers' name tag in my room.
What if it wasn't going to be my room by the end of the summer?
On a better note, my class also got our yearbooks. Since it was the last day and we have nothing else to do, all fourth grade classes get to go around and get autographs.
Shirley and I of course, take this as a cue to goof off and enjoy our final day of elementary school. Next year, we'd be fifth graders in middle school. We're not nervous, not just yet.
We go downstairs and head to the gym. The gym teacher is there, while a couple of kids are shooting hoops. I ask the teach to sign my book. Perhaps he'll remember me for my stellar kickball skills, or maybe as the kid who got pegged in the face with a dodge ball.
After playing basketball for a little while, Shirley and I decide to head elsewhere. All the other fourth graders are still upstairs.
“You should ask Matt for his autograph,” Shirley says.
“You're crazy, he hates me!” I exclaim.
Matt Topper is the boy I crushed on for years. We are going to get married. But he hates me, so it probably won't work out.
Wait, that sounds familiar.
“He's right there,” Shirley points down the hall .And there he is, with his group of friends, at a table out in the hall. With his short, wavy brown hair and puppy dog eyes, it's a surprise no one else likes him. Well, maybe someone does, they just aren't vocal about it.
Shirley pushed me in his direction. “Okay, okay! I'll do it!” I say, “But you come with me.”
We march right up to puppy eyes, and I tap him on the shoulder.
“Oh. Hi, Josie,” Matt says, surprised. I normally don't approach him. I've been 'in love' with him for years, but I've probably only had two conversations with him. This being the second.
“Hey, want to sign my yearbook?” I asked, showing him my book, which pathetically has only a few signatures.
He nods, “Yeah, sure. Sign mine?”
It's a dream come true! I've never signed his book, much less asked him to sign mine.
His book doesn't have many autographs either, so I don't feel as lame. I stare at it for a second and realize I have no idea what to write. Panicking, I look to Shirley, who eyes Matt. He's writing away in my yearbook. Ugh. This will make or break middle school. Maybe he'll fall in love with me next year, but only if I write him the perfect note.
Okay, Josie, I think to myself, tell him how you feel, and then next year will be a breeze. Unless, of course, he hates you.
Awesome. So finally, I write, “Matt, have an awesome summer! I'll see you next year!” signed with a smiley face, Josie Rivers.
Josie Topper will never exist. Good job.
I hand him back his yearbook, and he smiles. Maybe I did have a chance! “Thanks,” he says, handing back mine. “I'll see you around.”
He and his friends walk down the hall. I go to open my yearbook right away.
Shirley stops me, “Wait. Challenge. You can't read what he wrote 'til we're back from camp.”
I bug my eyes out, “What? That's forever!” I shut my yearbook anyways, wondering what he could possibly have written. Maybe he told me to leave him alone. Or maybe after all these years, he decided to like me too!
“It's only a month. Or so,” Shirley says, “I'll bet you ten dollars you can't do it.”
Bets always talked me into things. Last year she bet me I couldn't jump off the top of the monkey bars for her packed lunch. That was how I almost broke my arm.
Anyways, I take the bet.
The rest of the day, others sign my yearbook, but nobody wrote on Matt's page. The most I saw of it was my name. It looked long. I wanted to read it so bad! Ten dollars isn't even that much. I could probably forget that he signed it.
Finally, it was 2:50. Ten minutes left of fourth grade.
Mrs. Kathy, my teacher, stands in the front of the room. “Class,” she begins, “It truly was a pleasure having you all in my class. I hope you all do well in the middle school. And I'm always here, if you want to share your future endevours.”
I smile a little. Mrs. Kathy was one of the greatest teachers I've ever had. She really invested in us, and I plan to take her offer to heart. I'll come visit her when my parents split up. I'll tell her about my new life with my mom or my dad.
I don't even know where I'll be going. I've seen kids go through with divorce in school. Most of them live with their moms. I don't know if I want that. She can be too strict, and my dad has no rules. I like no rules better.
The bell rang, and everyone filed out, not looking back. I wasn't ready to go yet.
“Josie, are you coming?” Shirley asks.
“In a minute, I'll meet you on the bus,” I answer.
When she leaves, Mrs. Kathy is erasing the chalk board. I don't even know what I should say to her. Could I tell her about my parents?
“How are you, Josie?” my teacher startles me.
I blurt, “My parents won't stop fighting.”
She looks surprised. I've never came to her about my home life. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, it got bad. I think they are breaking up.” I don't know why I tell her. Especially at the last possible second.
“Oh, Josie,” now I know why I shouldn't tell people. They will feel sorry for you. You're not even hurt, but everyone will feel bad. “I'm sorry. I really am. I also don't want you to end up missing your bus though,” she looks genuinely concerned, “Will you come back here and talk to me about it?”
I shrug, “Yeah, I can do that.”
I don't know if I can. I don't even know if it's really going to happen. It's the last thing I want to think about.
“But, thank you,” I say, sincerely.
Mrs. Kathy looks a little confused now, but smiles, “You're welcome, Josephine.”
I take my last steps out of my fourth grade class room and don't look back. This is probably my last few days as a child, and it's best to not look back.
“Have you got everything packed?” Shirley asks me on the phone a few weeks later. I'm supposed to stay at her house tonight, and in the morning, we board the bus to camp.
I look around my room. My suitcase has become my new laundry basket.
“Um... yeah,” I lie, “When should my mom bring me over?”
“Seven. We're having pizza for dinner.”
It was five now. Two hours to pack for the next two weeks. It's possible I could do it.
From downstairs, my mom yells, “Josie! I need the phone, so hurry up!”
“I gotta go. I'll be there at seven,” I say.
I run downstairs to give my mom the phone, and then go back to my room to pack.
I empty out the suitcase, and throw pairs of clean clothes in. Mostly tees and shorts. A jacket and pants, just in case.
My big stuffed bunny is too big to bring, so I settle for my smaller teddy bear. Even that doesn't fit in the suitcase, so I guess I'll just carry it.
What else will I need? My toothbrush, I'll carry that since I'll need it at Shirley's, I grab my brush from my dresser. I put that in my former school year book bag. I'll be using it during the day at camp.
After I pack everything I think I'll need, I glance at my Gameboy on my side table. It's a long bus ride, so I figure I'll take it. In the drawer, I grab a few batteries.
In the kitchen, I find a metal water bottle on the table. It's mine, for long trips. I put it in the side pocket of my book bag, and put my things on the table.
I'm done with time to spare, but my mom isn't even home. I have a half hour until Shirley expects me. She lives only a block away, but I sure wasn't planning on walking with all this stuff.
My dad is in the basement, so I open the door. A funky smell hits my nose, but I'm used to it. When my dad isn't down there, the basement is where I like to hang out, watch TV, and play Super Nintendo. But then dad comes down, and I have to leave.
“Dad?” I call, “Where's mom?”
“I don't know. Said she'll be back in an hour,” he says shortly.
“When was that?”
“A few minutes ago.”
I know my dad won't take me to Shirley's, since it's not that far, so I might as well start walking. “I'm going to Shirley's. And I'll be at camp for two weeks.” I pause, and he doesn't answer. “Dad?”
More silence. Then, “What?”
“I'm leaving for two weeks.”
“Okay. I'll see you later,” he says, letting out a loud cough.
And that was it. I won't see my mom for two weeks either, and she didn't even say goodbye.
I put on my book bag and grab my suitcase. It's pretty heavy, but I think I can manage.
When I go outside, my life changes. There, on the front lawn where I've played all my life with the neighborhood boys, is a for sale sign.
I drop my things, and run back inside, and take my last few looks. The garage, where my kiddie basketball hoop was set up. I used to play with my dad. It led into the kitchen, where we would make breakfast on Saturday's. The living room, and the two bedrooms at the end of the hall. My mom and dad's being the first one on the right. Mom used to read to me in her big bed every night. Usually the same book, but she never complained. Up the stairs, and the hallway leading into my bedroom, where I spent so much of my life. I won't see it again. Despite all the bad that led up to this moment, there were still so many good memories I had. It wasn't fair.
My room is the biggest in the house. It is a painted a light blue, and always has been. My bed, my dresser, and my side table will be gone by the time I come back, if I do.
When I finally do get to Shirley's, I'm mad. My parents couldn't even tell me they were selling the house. I thought that at least one of them would still live there.
I tell Shirley my recent discovery in her room, eating pizza.
“Where are you moving to?” she asks.
“I don't know,” I say, taking a bite of pizza, almost choking on the cheese. “I didn't know we were going to move.”
“I'm sorry,” I know Shirley doesn't know what to say. Her parents have been together her whole life. But I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I don't say anything.
She continues onto something else, “I'm wicked excited for camp tomorrow!”
“Me too,” I smile.
“When we get there, we have to find out what cabin we're staying in. Then I'll show you around. It's pretty big.”
I start to wonder what camp will look like. Where our cabin will be. If I'll even like it. What if I get bored? Or if I want to go home? I know my mom won't pick me up at a time like this. I tell myself I'll enjoy the next two weeks.
Shirley and I play board games in her room, until her mom comes upstairs and tells us it's time for bed. She kisses the tops of our heads, and says goodnight. Her family shows me more affection than my own.
We get into our pajamas, and get into bed. She has a bunk bed, and I always get top bunk when I stay over. We lay for a while, talking, and teaching me camp songs. She and I fall asleep mid-song.
Shirley and I wake up early the next day. The bus will pick us up at 7:30, so we wake up an hour beforehand. She makes sure she's packed everything, while I put on some shorts and a shirt.
I check how I look in the long mirror on Shirley's door. I brush out my shoulder-length brown hair and realize that my bangs have finally grown out. I've spent the past year growing them out. I figure I'm plain looking, even for a ten-year-old; the brown hair and eyes, still too young for makeup, not to mention I still have some baby fat on me.
Before we know it, it's time to go. Shirley's mom helps us load our things in the trunk of her car, and we say goodbye to her dad. Shirley promises to call when she can.
We drive to a shopping plaza a few minutes away, to where they bus would be picking us up.
The bus is already there. I get nervous, thinking it will leave without us. It's only 7:28, so I guess we have two minutes.
Shirley grabs her things and huffs her way to the bus. I put on my book bag and take my suitcase. Our suitcases are supposed to have name tags, and it looks like Shirley's parents put one on mine the night before. The bus driver puts the suitcases in the top compartment over our seats. This was no ordinary school bus, they have cozy seats, cup holders, and there was even a television in the front.
This was going to be a long ride. Shirley had warned me about it last night. I got my Gameboy Color started up and ready to go for this ride.
She was right. I felt like I'd been on the bus for years when we finally stop. I shut my game off, and look out the window. We just pull into camp, and I hear a jumble of songs coming from all the other kids. I feel weird about it, because I don't sing.
The bus stops in front of a huge wooden building. The doors open, and someone steps on. He's older, with light brown hair that looks like it's beginning to gray. He has a clip board and glasses.
“Welcome back, campers!” he says happily, “And if this is your first time here, welcome to Camp Green Tree! I'm Greg, the director. We're not all jumping off the bus yet, just let me explain a few things. When you get off the bus, you need to check in at the main building, where you'll get your assigned cabin. Then, you'll have time to settle in. Meet back at the clearing here at noon, for lunch.”
He dismisses us, and all at once everyone gets up. It's a crazy gaggle of people, and Shirley stays put.
“Just wait, there's no getting out of her for a little while.”
In less than five minutes, almost everyone has cleared out, and Shirley and I have our book bags and suitcases.
We step off the bus, and I am in awe. I can't help feeling that things will soon be much, much different.
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