Where I grew up, there were dumpsters next to the parking lot out front. I grew up in gritty strip mall suburbia in a crummy apartment that wasn’t hideous but it wasn’t pretty either. There was an asphalt covered play lot with a metal merry-go-round and a set of monkey bars but no swings. There were concrete tunnels for us to hide out in and those dumpsters always smelled bad but not as bad as that grape candy smell from the McCormick’s plant down the road.
Where I grew up, everyone was poor but us kids never knew we were poor. We existed in some alternate plane where we were queens and kings ruling from the top of the monkey bars and meting out punishments in the concrete tunnel dungeons. We held trysts in our gardens: the forsythia-lined collection of air-conditioning units. We were mean to each other and nobody told us to stop.
Where I grew up, we hid behind a tree and watched a couple of thirteen-year olds make out behind the bushes and we liked it. I can still taste my shame, hear my laughter, and feel my legs stretching to get away when they noticed us watching. Nothing will ever feel that good again.
Where I grew up I used to be brave. I walked by myself to the store starting when I was seven and a friend’s big brother used to chase me every time. I always narrowly escaped.
Where I grew up we had lug our clothes to the communal laundry room. More than once my clothes were tattooed by the neighborhood badasses, and after that we hung out in the hot small room while the clothes dried. My mom wanted me to be a good girl.
Where I grew up the kids were mean to me. They called me French fry because I was a skinny white girl and they used to push on me and nobody ever stopped them. The kids were mean to me and I had to deal.
Where I grew up everybody was just getting by. There was a girl named Brandy whose dad was a drinker. She and I were fraught, like girls always are. We fought as much as we played. My mom sort of adopted her for awhile until I don’t know what happened but we didn’t see each other anymore. Brandy was cool. I don’t think she minded dropping out of school in ninth grade to take care of her dad. I saw her a couple years later on her way out of the Planned Parenthood by the mall, her hands on her big belly.
Where I grew up I couldn’t stand to go outside on summer days because of the grape smell but I never really minded the dumpsters until I got to high school and had to beg rides home from the cool kids who had cars. You know, the ones who never saw a dumpster before. Where I grew up, I learned to like ugliness.
Where I grew up, I found a story around every corner.
Thanks for the inspiration, Samara.