It’s a beautiful Virginia Saturday and I’m banished to the bedroom upstairs at Chestnut Street when a rock hits the window. “Psst! Emma!” I lift it open and look down at Sadie. We’re not supposed to be talking. “Throw something down for me to climb up,” she begs. Earlier in the day, Sadie and I were sent outside to get out of our mother’s hair. We climbed up to the unfinished tree fort my stepfather Henry has been building for us and swung our legs over the side of the sturdy platform overlooking the neighborhood rooftops, planning the secret knock for entry once the walls go up.
My kitchen is not just messy but days worth of messy – the kind when you’ve run out of clean spots on the counter to set something down. Usually that drives me crazy, but not today. It is afternoon but I couldn’t say what time, having been unemployed now for nine months. I’m still in pajamas, typing on an unmade bed. This is about all the disorder I can handle, but for me that’s a lot. I roll out of bed every morning, reach for my laptop, and start typing, not sure from where this energy is coming.
Grandma has been sitting with me for an hour with a jar of peanut butter trying to loosen up the wad of gum that Sadie stuck in my hair. My aunt Kate barks, “You two are the reason I’m not having kids.” She is my mother’s younger sister and has just appeared on the cover of a body building magazine. She always adopts the look of her new boyfriend, the former one being a hairdresser with a long frosted mane. The newest claims to be a professional body builder, but behind his back everyone thinks he’s with the CIA.
When I tell people my parents are divorced I get a sympathetic sigh as if it is the most tragic thing they can think of, which makes no sense to me. I hardly remember my mother and father together, and I love having such a big family. Sadie and I have two sets of grandparents and two sets of step-grandparents living within miles of our home, so Christmas is outrageous.
My father’s spot is on the short end of the L-shaped couch, facing the television. Sadie and I are on the floor in front of the long side with our knees under the coffee table, still finishing up dinner. We have never eaten at the real dinner table with its fancy mahogany legs protruding out from under a mound of miscellaneous junk – disposable diapers, sunglasses, empty coffee cups from 7-Eleven, and a pile of bills growing up the wall in the corner it is pushed against.