We lived in an apartment over a hardware store in a blue collar town in central New Jersey. We lasted there the better part of 5 years. That was a milestone, hadn’t made it past 18 months anywhere else up to that point. For the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I that was a bit of stability. Everything else was a bit of a shit storm but at least we had friendships that lasted beyond a single school year.
The apartment was small but it was home. You approached it from the outside via steep wooden stairs on the back north corner of the hardware store. At the top of the stairs was an enclosed landing….porch sounds too fancy. Once you opened the door you stepped into a hallway. To the right was a closet and straight ahead was an opening to the living room. If you made a left in the hallway you were steps from the kitchen which was large enough to have the necessities and a small table. The kitchen also doubled as the laundry room with a washer and dryer in the corner. Just past the laundry area was my brother’s bedroom. He had his own bedroom, I’m sure I was jealous of that. Off of his bedroom was a storage room which lacked proper insulation and for some reason there was a window shared between the storage room and the bathroom. There was a second short hallway off the kitchen which provided another entry point into the living room and a closet, my closet. It was also the means to get to the only bathroom and the second bedroom which I shared with my mother. There was a door at the end of this hall which led to another apartment. This was weird because it locked on our side but we could open the door and be in our neighbor’s apartment. We lived there from the summer of 1978 to October of 1983. In school terms we were there from 5th grade to the beginning of 10th grade.
The layout of the apartment became intimately familiar to me. Every day when I got home from school I would walk through the apartment. I would go into every room and open every closet, every damn day. I did this looking for my mother’s body. She talked about wanting to die so frequently that I would go through the apartment on auto pilot searching for her. I don’t even think I connected what I was doing until much later in life but there it is.
My mom drank alcoholically and she was pretty expressive with her feelings. Basically she had no filter and no control. Drunk or sober she told my brother and I countless times “I wish you were never born”. Literally so many times I can’t even give you a ball park estimate, 100 times, a thousand…..does it fucking matter? I guess part of her was kind enough to say that instead of “I wish you were dead”, she reserved that wish for herself. She would vacillate between being completely over protective and affectionate to wishing we were never born. Between apologies, isolation, madness, drunken debauchery and uncertain life circumstances we never knew what to expect from her.
My mom worked her ass off to support us. My father was shitty and inconsistent with child support payments and as a result we were broke. We had enough to eat, thank you school lunch subsidy and we got food stamps but there were no luxuries. Most of my clothes were hand me downs from my cousins. Mom had to splurge on clothes for my brother because there were no hand me downs to be had for him. Our grandparents would take us shopping before each new school year and we would get some needed items – jeans, shoes, jackets. They were good to us and our lives would have been so much worse without their help.
Besides the clothes and money they slipped my mom our grandparents also took us for occasional weekends so mom could get a break. This was after spending a year living with them. Our means to get there was less than delightful. My brother and I would take a bus from Sayreville to Waretown. It felt like 3 days but it was probably a good 2 1/2 hours with several stops including bus stations in Lakewood and Toms River. I would always get off the bus in Lakewood to cause my brother anxiety and stretch my legs. It was a bit of a ghetto there and my brother was always afraid that I wouldn’t get back on the bus in time….I never missed. We started this trek when we were 10 years old….pretty sure parents would get locked up now for putting their kids on a public bus for such a long period but in the late 70’s it was no big deal. Aside from the horrible fumes, second hand smoke, freaks and intense motion sickness it wasn’t so bad. Kind of like the scene from Trains, Planes and Automobiles just switch out the open space for a more urban setting.
To be continued…..https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2016/01/16/keep-on-truckin-part-9/