My grandmother was my weekend sidekick as we drove all over Northeast Philly and Bucks County, PA on ‘outings’ to mystical places like New Hope, PA, and Clover on Frankford Avenue. We were in the Acme on Torresdale Avenue across from Lindenfield projects (they have since been torn down) and we went through the usual routine. Gram would get food for the weekend along with whatever I wanted. All I had to do was ask.
“Gram, can I get these people snack crackers?” I asked her once excited at the fact of me being able to ingest mini, crunchy people.
“People don’t taste very good,” I garbled between crunches. I ate two of them before I read the box and figured out that they were dog biscuits.
Clearly, I needed therapy long before it became a thing.
Once, we were in the checkout line and I eyeballed rows upon rows of Snickers, Milky Way, M & M’s chocolate candies along with boxes of colorful gum. Oh, the gum! There were skinny seven-stick packs of minty stuff stamped Wrigley and then the best of all: Chicklets and Bubblicious! There were these little snack packs of gum that came in a yellow pouch. I forget what they were called but they were eye catching.
This day my eye was drawn to a pack of watermelon Bubblicious. I stared at it for a good two minutes, imagining a big, juicy wad of that gum in my mouth, sticking to my tiny teeth as the scent of fake watermelon wafted to my nostrils while drool puddled at the corners of my mouth.
I looked at my grandmother who was busy putting groceries on the conveyor belt. I looked behind me. No one there and on either side of me was racks of candy and magazines.
I could hear my heart beating as I snatched the watermelon wonder off the rack and slid it in my shorts pocket. I looked around again. No one was staring at me. No sirens or alarms rang. No dog came charging down the aisle with gnashing teeth ready to bite off my thieving hand.
I played it cool. I did it. I got away with theft. I was a bonified genius.
We went out to the car, loaded the groceries, got in and before we even pulled out of the parking lot, I decided… I wanted a piece of my new gum.
Bonified genius my ass…
I pulled it out of my pocket unwrapped a piece and popped it in my mouth. It was glorious! It tasted better than I had imagined and I truly had little drool pockets at the corners of my mouth. I smiled and looked at my grandmother who was staring me down which made me super uncomfortable.
“Where did you get that?” she asked me calmly.
I just kept staring at her like a corrupt criminal under the blazing spotlight of degradation while I flipped through a catalog of excuses in my mind.
“Darlene, did you steal that gum?” she asked in the same calm voice.
My catalog was empty, after all, I was seven. I had no justification except, “I wanted it.”
Again in her same calm voice, “I am so disappointed in you,” she said and pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.
The gum, now rancid and bitter, sat in the cheek of my mouth as we drove home. I looked out the passenger window filled with shame and discomfort. My eyes welled with tears but I wouldn’t let them fall. I had to get rid of this gum. Just holding it – my tainted prize of pushing boundaries – felt dirty.
I threw the gum in the trash (chewed piece too!) as soon as we got home. I never stole anything again.
Hard lessons stick the best… sometimes better than stolen gum.
It was late on a Thursday in May 2005… I was headed out to see a band in Chicago. I needed to drive over seven hundred miles to clear my head – that’s what I told myself. It was a 1,400-mile round trip so I brought about two hundred dollars worth of cocaine with me. So in retrospect, the whole “I gotta clear my head” thing was bullshit.
I was remarkably good at telling lies that even I started to believe my own untruths. Go figure.
So let me back up for a moment. There was this thing called MySpace back in the day and it was like Facebook but more personalized. So, I got to talking to this guy on there about music and he told me about this band and I had to see them because they were so good.
Where do you live? I typed as I popped some pills and washed them down with coffee.
I’m in Indiana; not too far, he typed back.
It’s not exactly local. That’s over 700 miles from here!
Come on, you’ll never get to see these guys. This is the closest they’ll ever be to you.
I thought they were from Chicago?? I questioned. Was this guy a serial killer trying to trick me?
Yeah, but they’re playing Detroit.
After considerable investigation, I justified that Detroit was closer than Chicago or Indiana (where my new friend lived) and well, hey, I could sure use a vacation from my self-inflicted drama. Right? Plus, if the guy was a serial killer, I factored in my height and the fact that I can go “crazy bitch” face in two seconds. He won’t want to mess with me after that.
So, off I went on a dreamy car ride at the end of May, missing my eldest daughter’s fifteenth birthday while I drove west on the highway – stopping at every single rest stop on the way, which would cost me two hours total.
In hindsight, what I should have done was woman the fuck up and stay local for my kids. But no, I was too busy feeling sorry for myself because I relapsed in February, lost my home two weeks later and then to ice the bitter cupcake of self-pity, my boyfriend committed suicide in late March which devastated me.
Instead of staying and dealing, I guess I figured bailing on everyone that mattered to me was the thoughtful thing to do. Right? Self-righteousness and insolence were the train cars of the year back then.
2005 was the year before I got sober and after going through the index cards and flashbacks in my mind, I can say it was certainly one of the worst years of my life. Instead of sticking around the homestead, I bailed and traveled halfway across the country to hang with people I never met and find out how their local lives went from day to day.
Ironically, the guy who I befriended was in recovery (which I guess was some sort of sign from above – but I didn’t give two shits) and while I couldn’t grasp his whole clean living phase, I was still mindful to keep my drugs in the car and away from him.
Gosh, I was so thoughtful.
Everywhere I went people pointed out to me that I was not a local… and I wasn’t sure how they knew but it started making me uncomfortable. Like, so what I wasn’t a local? How do you know this? I found out later it was because A) I talked different than the Midwesterners did and oh yeah, B) I had a Pennsylvania license plate on a green ’98 Dodge Intrepid with heavy metal band stickers all over the ass end.
I try to stay pretty local these days… the furthest I have been from home since I got sober is Pittsburgh for a tattoo convention my husband worked. I’m sure at some point I will venture further out, but staying local has its perks.
We all have a place we like to go when things get unbearable… or maybe we go there when things get great. Maybe we go there for no reason other than we just want to be there.
If I could live in any season for the rest of my days, it would be autumn. The crisp, cool air coupled with bright, crunchy leaves hanging off of tired trees as the Earth prepares for a winter slumber reminds me of a true fantasy world.
Even the air smells better in autumn… could it be pumpkin patches and corn fields? Bright, blooming mums? Or maybe freshly baked apple pies with a touch of cinnamon perched on windowsills to cool in the crisp, autumn air? Or maybe it is just the air itself as it waves through forests, fields, and meadows lassoing the earthly scents and taking them on a journey to make us smile.
I take a week vacation at the end of every October to drive the back roads of Pennsylvania because nothing is more humbling than to see the natural, morphing beauty of my home state.
What is your favorite season? Do you like road trips?