Remember our preview video by Jeanne and Jason de Perrie-Turner of Heliorana Filmworks? In the video one of our storytellers, Sarah Gilbert, tells a story that centers around her large backyard that naturally attracts people. Our friend Nicole deParrie actually grew up in what would later be Sarah’s house!
At some point we all think of that old adage, “If these walls could talk”. We all wonder what happened in our space before it was ours. Well, we have a rare treat for you! Two different families, two different times, two different stories in the same house with the same big backyard that has a tendency to bring people together.
Growing up, we lived in a large house on Cesar Chavez, or 39th, as us locals used to call it and some stubbornly do to this day. Our house, seated comfortably between Holgate and Powell, had an immense backyard, which maintained a size perfect for an urban farm, or in our case, for attracting every child within several blocks’ radius to play in it. As it happened, the fence that spanned the length of the back half of the yard, did not extend to separate it from the adjacent parking lot, which belonged to an apartment complex.
This complex always had a rotating cast of characters that never lasted more than a year. One summer evening two of those cast members wandered into our yard. Their names were Tiffany and Stacy, sisters whose only family resemblance was their slick, straight, blonde hair. Tiffany and I were both eight and Stacy was only two, but very precocious for a two year old and she followed Tiffany everywhere.
Tiffany and I became friends instantly and tried to finagle a way to spend time together every day possible, but the most prized activity for girls of our age was spending the night. We each approached our parents separately and they each decided the only thing standing in our way was they hadn’t met each other.
“Hello, I’m Raygene.” she said, extending one slender, tan arm toward my dad’s plump, hairy one. What most impressed me about Raygene, was her blonde feathered hair, her thick pink lipstick and how it contrasted with her tanned skin. She was the kind of woman who wore high heels and two-piece swimsuits.
That night, Tiffany and I tried making ice cream with her ice cream maker, that like the Easy Bake Oven had for some reason inexplicable to me, found it’s way from the kitchen isle to the girl’s toys with a redesign of plastic materials and a pink paint job. Soon after receiving the gift for her birthday, the ingredients had run out and her mom said she was too broke to buy more.
“That’s ok,” I said reassuringly, “let’s find something else to do.” which was an uncommonly kind thing for me to say given my usual selfish and babyish nature. Something about Tiffany compelled me to be especially sweet to her, something troubling I could sense but couldn’t put my finger on.
Once darkness had fallen, the shouting and cursing began to sound from the living room beneath us, along with the slamming and the bang of objects striking the walls– hard. Raygene’s boyfriend, Chad, arrived late and both drank themselves into a rage.
“I know this ghost story,” I began, pretending I didn’t hear any of the noise from downstairs. Tiffany relaxed a little and we spent the rest of the night trading stories. The next morning, despite Tiffany’s pleas not to, I had determined to tell my mother. Unlike Tiffany, I sensed that this situation extended far beyond my capacity for problem solving. It reeked of danger that Tiffany’s senses had been deadened to long ago by exposure on a daily basis.
After my mother caught Tiffany eating raw hamburger off our counter out of desperation and hunger, my parents decided to intervene. They invited Tiffany’s mom over for a talk.
Mascara stained all of the tears, which ran on grey tracks all the way down Raygene’s swollen red cheeks. I stood back and to the side, watching my father, who looked very stern as he poured one silver can after another down the drain of our kitchen sink. I wondered to myself whether she was crying for the loss of her beer or from the emotion evoked by my father’s come-to-Jesus that he performed in hopes of an equally dramatic conversion.
“Come here girls, give your mother a hug.” Tiffany and Stacy did as they were told and Raygene collapsed into bigger sobs. “Now, can booze do that for you?” Dad said in a final push for maximum effect.
In his mind, he had succeeded. Now she would turn her life around, ditch the booze and the boyfriend for good and become a good and virtuous mother, putting her children first in all she did. In reality, the following day, my mother felt she had no choice but to call Child Protective Services on Raygene. I went out back to see if Tiffany could play to find she and Stacy in front of their apartment where they banged on the door begging their mom to open it. Raygene lay passed out on the couch and Stacy had red nail polish painted all over her naked body. The police came to collect the children. They pounded on the door for some time before forcing their way in. Raygene’s tears ran grey as they rolled the squad car out of the parking lot. She moved away soon after she lost the children to the state.
When you’re a kid, you don’t choose your friends based on common interests or personality traits. They are chosen for you by your parent’s job, where they choose to live, what school district you find yourself in. They are the people close at hand; they are your neighbors.
I saw Tiffany again. She called me and my parents arranged for me to spend the night once at her new foster home. Her foster parents were old. They had white hair, sat in recliners and had a smelly old bloodhound. She had a foster brother her own age in place of her own blood sister that the state chose to place elsewhere. I never went back again. Things weren’t the same and I think we both were old enough to see that.