We were house sitting during the professor’s sabbatical and my mom was studying to be a Montessori teacher. Professors have kickass houses, but children: note that the mysterious professors to whom these houses belong can be used as a specter to prevent you from making a mess or bouncing balls down the stairs. Our roommate was my mom’s “friend,” Miss Noel, who was also my Montessori teacher – and unbeknownst to me until about 20 or 30 years later, my mom’s love interest. The fact that she once shacked up with a woman is one of the few things my mom has ever managed to keep to herself for more than three days. Living there was a pretty good time. Once I found out my Mom had been dating Miss Noel, I always kind of wish she’d stayed with her. Miss Noel was really nice.
A lot of unpleasant memories can be traced to this address, including the first time I ever heard “Mr. Bojangles.” This living situation was not so great, partly because my mom was not super good at taking care of me, partly because—according to family lore—we were so poor we couldn’t afford to buy pepper for our Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I have no idea why my mom moved here, maybe a job? Who knows. Apparently, the break up with Miss Noel was kind of a rough one that also ended her interest in Montessori-style education. This year introduced me to the normal-school practice of sitting glumly in rows , which was kind of a bummer. So much so that one day in class I started crying uncontrollably. The teacher asked me to stop crying. Why? Because it might make her favorite student, Susan, cry, too. Yes, let me run that past you again. I was asked to not cry so that I would not make the teacher’s favorite student cry. Teacher and students started pressing me as to the source of my grief. Even at that young age, I didn’t want to crack open the whole my-parents-are-divorced-and-I’m-now-in-the-sole-company-of-a-woman-with-an-as-yet-undiagnosed-mental-illness-who-has-started-randomly-moving-around-Indiana story, so I just said that a poster in the room reminded me of a kitten I used to have. You can put a positive spin on this weird interaction and say that it started me on the path to being a creative person. I’m listening — I like that idea.
This is the place we moved after the Muncie apartment debacle. It was great. The Shack was a small, aptly named structure in Bloomington, Indiana, housing my mother’s best friend Luanne and Luanne’s two children, Jimmy and Joel. The decision of whether to move there was given to six-year-old me. Since I adored all of them and especially Joel, one year my senior, the choice was an easy one. Yes, I thought it would be a great idea to move into a place I would now estimate at less than 300 square feet. Yes, I would like to sleep on the floor with all the other inhabitants, and yes, I would enjoy living next to a farm run by irresponsible young hippie dudes (who were also our landlords). Us kids spent a lot of time running through woods, cooking eggs, and generally not being supervised by our mothers who were off on adventures of their own. At one point, bees moved into the living room and we could not enter it until such a time as they were banished. At another time, Jimmy was allowed to have a pet goat, and it spent part of its time in the shack with us. I remember all these things with unwavering fondness to this day.
Second grade was spent far from the bohemian madness of Bloomington, Indiana, back to the working class bosom of my mother’s family in Northern Indiana. In other words, my mom decided to move back home and try to get her life together (which worked until she met an alcoholic dude only she could love – a process that did not take long!). Living with my grandparents was a bit different from visiting and being cosseted by them. For instance my grandma, who worked rotating shifts, was not a super fan of me being loud during the day when she was trying to sleep. Nor was my stern grandfather visibly thrilled when I threw up at the table after being forced to sit until I finished my food. After that, however, this one-time attempt to place me under the rule of law was at an end and I was free to once more be the pickiest of eaters.
Strong Street was the scene of my epic battle with Mrs. Sojka, the fearsome second grade teacher who put me in the lowest reading group, which was a travesty that I continue to feel angry about, since reading is quite near to being my only skill as a human being. This is the year my nose started bleeding uncontrollably one night after I fell out of bed. My grandpa Ed was the only one home and tried everything he could think of to stop the onslaught, including holding me upside down, god bless him. Finally my mom was called in, she phoned the doctor, and the terrible ordeal was brought to an end by sensible application of pressure to the nose. But after that, I had a “glass nose” that would randomly start bleeding at inconvenient times.