This is what I wrote in this morning’s memoir workshop. I needed a narrative to explain how I came to live on the streets of Washington DC in 1970.
I had lost my mind – or that’s what everyone thought. I ran away from William and Mary. I left the white clock radio mama and daddy had bought me as a graduation present and packed only what I could carry. I ran from my own expectations and the expectations of my family. I ran from student loans. I ran from the prospect of returning to that ramshackle house of Sharp Street where my Mama was slowly drinking herself to death and Daddy spent most of his time in bed drinking Seagrams and reading paperbacks. Anything had to be better than that. They expected me to be the success they never were. I couldn’t go home again. I couldn’t sleep in that closet sized room with Addie’s music blaring through the too thin walls – “Tommy can you hear me” – with mama’s Chesterfields burning in the ash tray I’d bought her from Luray Caverns – with Willis, eleven years old, still sleeping on the nalgahyde couch in the living room because Mama thought her daughters needed their own rooms. In four years of college I’d come home only twice. For four years I’d lied myself into believing I wasn’t their daughter. For four years I hated them for being poor. Everytime I went to the post office and found a letter from Mama – with misspellings and a five dollar bill, I hated her. “I write you everyday in my mind. You’re the only one of my children I’ll never have to worry about.” I’d take the five dollars that I knew she’d earned by selling Avon door to door to women that couldn’t afford the Topaz perfume or the Here’s My Heart talcum powder – I’d take it to the snack bar and buy myself and donut and a glass of orange juice and pretend I hadn’t just spent all the money I had.
One of the times I’d gone home was so mama could fit the dress she was making for me to wear to the Phi Mu pledge dance. It was white eyelet. A beautiful dress. More beautiful than the store bought dresses the other pledges wore. How could I tell me mama I ruined that dress making out in the back of John Harbert’s Ford – drunk on vodka and orange juice. Those seams she had stitched just ripped apart by his fumbling hands.
No I couldn’t go home again.