Broken Homes

“Hey, I’m home!”

I pushed through the screen door, depositing bookbag and coat on the scarred linoleum with a tidy thud. Silence greeted me, along with the faux wood paneling and annoyingly cheerful 70’s décor. It wasn’t much, but it was now home. Tasteless tchotchkes lined the fireplace mantel, alongside my brother’s Little League trophies and dated family photos, showing two bright-eyed smiling youngers and their equally young and bright-eyed parents; a nice memory of the past, but the status quo no longer.

Dad left when I was nine and Sam only five years old. Mom took it well, or as well as to be expected of a college drop-out, divorced at twenty-eight and left to fend for herself and two children. She’s done the best she can, managing to keep a house and steady job for as long as I can remember. We’ve never wanted for food to eat or a roof over our heads- maybe for more quality time with Mom, but at this point I’ve learned that beggars can’t be choosers.

Mom always says don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, maybe that’s why she uprooted us- Sam, me and Maggie (our golden retriever,) to accept this promotion in New Haven. She always worked, for as long as I can remember. She constantly tells my brother and I how she struggled just to keep afloat in the early days, and that she just has to work a little harder, a little longer, and one day we’ll be able to take off into the sunset or something as equally corny. I used to be jealous of friends that came back from summer vacation with pictures of them waterskiing or visiting their grandparents in Utah. Now I just accept that sometimes life isn’t fair, those are the breaks, and anyways, my grandparents are long dead.

I wandered into the kitchen, pocketing a granola bar from the cupboard and let myself into the back yard. A shivering ball of golden fur streaked from behind the woodshed and darted between my legs.

“Maggie! How are you girl?” I bent down and wrapped my arms around her warm vibrating body, burying my face in her tawny fur. I grinned as she gave my face a liberal washing with her big pink tongue and scratched her favorite spot behind the ears. I felt a momentary flood of guilt at her being locked out of the house all day, but Mom says it’s the only fair thing for her and could I imagine behind locked up for ten hours without going to the toilet. Mom can be kind of blunt sometimes.

I grabbed Maggie’s favorite toy, a chewed-up yellowed tennis ball, and threw it into the far reaches of the backyard. A yellow streak of fur and wagging tail propelled after it, with an enthusiasm for life that I imagined I’d never know. Her innocent faith in me, that I would keep throwing this ball for as long as she  had energy to retrieve it, was a silent comfort. Besides Mom and Sam, I’d seldom known the joy of unconditional love, and lately, Maggie was one of the few solid friends I could count on.

Since the move four months ago, everything has changed. I went from being a nobody in a high school of 3,000 to being a nobody in a school of barely 600. Well, not a total nobody; my first day at New Haven High I was subjected to many a queer stare and pregnant pause when lost in the halls, trying to find my advanced trig class. I guess they never saw a sophomore in senior’s advanced math before.
I can’t imagine they’ve had many kids from the “big city” of Des Moines try to join their ranks that often. I look different, I speak different, but there’s always one uniting factor at any school you go to- the cafeteria food always stinks. I ended up chatting uneasily to a group of straight laced Born-Agains over lumpy gravy and mystery meat casserole. They didn’t laugh at my “three rabbi’s walk into a bar” joke- maybe they’d never met anyone who wasn’t a Christian before. They were really concerned about my impending Judgment Day doom until I finally agreed to show up at one of their prayer meetings. They hold them outside the school in this dingy courtyard, but I figure it’s a good excuse to explore the marginalized sects of this infernal breeding ground for social misfits.

I’ve been trying to get a look at the kind of kids who hang out in the smoking section of the courtyard for weeks. I have English with one of them, I think. He has long dark hair that hangs past his collar and wears this leather jacket with a big Day Glo Abortions patch on the sleeve. I didn’t think anyone in Kansas even knew punk rock existed. I guess you learn something new everyday.
I mean, it’s not like I can just stroll up to these kids and make friends. It might seem that simple, but nothing is that straightforward, not when you’re in high school.

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