Gaining Strength

From 1984 to 1986 my family lived in a military housing development in Key West, Florida. 1622 A Spaulding Court. Our home was part of a quadriplex, which was part of a rectangle of quadriplexes. I vaguely remember one particular evening that must have been sometime during hurricane season. I was lying in bed listening to the rain. The winds were high, as was the frequency of lightning and thunder. I had just learned the 5-seconds-is-a-mile trick. The rumbling thunder, the beating rain, the whole world seemed to be swirling, and at the time I had no idea of the storm’s severity. Then I heard something snap. I kneeled on my bed, leaned against the headboard and opened the blinds. One of the big trees in our front yard was now flattened against the ground. Other trees were whipping about, exercising flexibility I–and the trees–didn’t know they had. Suddenly I was scared. I kept the blinds open and started counting upon seeing lightning flashes. Sometimes I couldn’t even get to five. Or one.

It was sunny the next morning. I woke up and opened my blinds again. Water covered the streets and I saw some kids riding their bikes and leaving small wakes behind them. Downstairs I heard Frank mention something about playing outside, and one of our parents mentioned something about ringworm. So that was out of the question. I remember receiving a two-man inflatable raft for one of my birthdays when we lived in Guam, and I imagined my little brother and I making our way through the new canals. We would have taken turns navigating and paddling.

Eventually that day we were allowed outside. However, we weren’t allowed to break out the raft. It wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. It was hard walking through the then thigh-deep water, and in certain parts of the road the water wasn’t still. The sewers stopped backing up and water began draining. This generated rather strong eddies and I was terrified of getting sucked into the sewers. Plus I couldn’t stop thinking about ringworm.

The water subsided within 2 days. I don’t remember an actual break in the school schedule, but I do recall we returned to school shortly after. Maybe it all happened over the course of a weekend. Those kinds of details have escaped my memory.

Key West was a chapter in my life where the plot was especially thick. I moved there in the middle of third grade. Did the whole making of new friends. Got off at the wrong bus stop my first day and had everyone looking for me. The ordeal would have been prevented if someone actually told me where my bus stop was. Didn’t know that then. As I reread this chapter, there seem to be some details I either overlooked or have completely forgotten. Trying to make sense of pieces.

My little brother, being between 2 and 4, was rather impudent and cute. Both seemed to get him into trouble. One particular episode resulted in my dad chasing Frank around the front yard. Dad being 6’1″ and Frank being 2 and 1/2 feet tall in little tennis shoes and a t-shirt and a diaper. Dad was trying to catch Frank to give him a spanking. He caught him and swatted him a couple times on his padded butt.

A few days later some strange lady knocked on our door. I answered. She introduced herself, said she worked for the HRS and were my parents home. Had no idea what that meant, but both Mom and Dad were home, so I told them that Ms. HRS was there to see them. Supposedly a neighbor called the agency because she saw Dad spank Franklin. So someone had to conduct an investigation to determine whether my family was abusive. At one point Ms. HRS sat with me on the sidewalk outside and drilled me with questions while smoking a cigarette. Her smoking scared me. She also talked separately with Frank. Then she walked around the house taking mental notes.

The only conclusion she expressed (that I remember) was that our house was too clean to take care of children. That never set well with me. She was creepy and imposing and I just didn’t get how she knew more about my family than my family did. I was thinking maybe Mom and Dad should assign her our chores. Our parents only taught us to be thorough, to take pride in what we do. I saw nothing wrong with our family.

My mind flashes to two years later, when I was actually pulled out of class and interviewed by two men in suits in a room with a table and cushy chairs near the principal’s office. They were probably from a similar agency as Ms. HRS. One of the men pulled a device from his bag, plugged it in and pressed “record.” I was scared and felt sick to my stomach, and I didn’t know why. They asked questions, and I answered the best I knew how. I was also nervous about missing class and getting in trouble and getting bad grades. I found out they visited my home later that day wanting to interrogate my dad, but he was at work.

Those people asked me questions. But no one, not them, not my family, told me why.

Trying to make connections here.

For the most part, people make choices for themselves. If they have issues to overcome, then they CHOOSE to overcome them and live in the now, which inevitably affects the future. Growing up, my parents laid a very strong moral foundation for me. However, I believe subconsciously I kept a log of their inconsistencies. I believe I’ve pushed some incidents so deeply under my subconscious, I’ve only now begun to understand why I’ve struggled so much to distinguish affection from intimacy. When are they appropriate together, and when should they be separate?

My perception of relationships has been grossly skewed for so long. It has taken from Key West until now to be able to understand people at my current level. Still, I don’t know what that means.

Key West wasn’t lopsided, though. My winning streak of winning spelling bees and math bowls and writing contests continued. I was incredible at marbles AND hopscotch, and I was never chosen last for team sports during PE. I had one of the lead roles in the 4th grade Christmas play and I was first chair in our little recorder band. I wanted an alto so badly, but my fingers couldn’t cover the more distant holes, so I played soprano. My artwork from art class was displayed in local museums and won contests. My parents never pushed. They always supported, but never pushed.

Now I’m just sounding hugely compensatory. Differently lopsided. But I didn’t know.

Frances is bigger than Florida. I called my family, and they’ve assured me of taking all reasonable precautions. There’s no way they can be right in the middle of the storm’s calm eye, oblivious to danger or consequence. They’re going to be hit from the outside. They’re definitely aware of potential disaster. It might seem better that way, but we deal, regardless of what we know. We might even be (made) stronger or more flexible than what we thought. Or knew.

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