Part 74: If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now


I'm digging through my father's journal trying to remember what happened after we moved from the place where the woman was held hostage. According to this page, below, this was when Jan and Riley separated...it's confusing, because Jan said it was at Criswell and Halo's place, but here it looks like the separation happened later, when we moved to an apartment on Homewood Street, which has since been torn down.


I remember Jan dumping heaps of powdered milk into a glass of water, the powder lumpy, the color gray/white. Bright orange blocks of government cheese. Perhaps these "foods" weren't meant to be consumed. Jan tried to garden at our new apartment complex, I think she even tried growing food there. She discovered a patch of land that had a banana tree with tiny bananas, I'd never seen such little bananas. It grew near an apartment where a creepy guy named Boris lived. His girlfriend was 16 and pregnant, he was in his 30s. He was a jeweler, and he had a van like many creepers do.


On Homewood, we made friends with a woman named Yvonne, she must've been in her early 20s then, she was tall and lean with full lips and close set eyes. She became like family. I spent time in her apartment watching reruns of "Get Smart" or "My Favorite Martian." I loved brushing Yvonne's long and curly brown hair.

We took hikes, Yvonne driving us to nearby parks, and she often came over for Riley's dinners.


Jan's friend Jenny lived upstairs with her psycho husband Micheal. I was friends with Jenny's daughter, Mandy, whose biological father ran off when Mandy was a baby, never to be heard from again. Mandy was a year younger, and like me, often left on her own. They rarely had food in the house, and Mandy told me she was always cold at night because she didn't have a proper blanket.



*


Another place, another school. Lessons had already begun. I felt disoriented and like an outsider, like arriving in the middle of a party where the punctual guests huddled in a tight circle, deep in a complex conversation that began hours before. Mom let me stay home sick whenever I felt uneasy, so that compounded the detached, lost feeling.

Here, too, Dad was the person I spent the most time with, we had our movies and favorite TV shows, and he would make me whatever I wanted to eat from scratch when we had grocery money. When Mom wasn’t in bed with a migraine, she encouraged me to draw and paint, she read to me, and brought carefully chosen books from the book mobile, or we’d write poems together.

Being the new kid in school made me feel lonely and desperate, and my nervous energy dug the hole of insecurity deeper. I tried to pay a girl to be my friend, offering her the dimes I’d earned for killing flies. She took the dimes, and skipped across the field, avoiding me for the rest of my days there. Often at recess, not knowing anyone, I’d sit with my colored pencils and crayons and the drawing pad my mother gave me, pouring all my energy into whatever I was creating.

One day, a boy with blonde curls and rosy cheeks came up to me. He picked up one of my drawings, a scene of a house with a car parked out front and a sun shining in the sky.

He looked at it carefully, then said, “Hey, you made this?”

It felt good to be noticed. My heart skipped a beat— was this a new friend? When I said yes, he asked if he could have it.

My pictures are good enough for this boy to want to keep! I felt impressive.

“Can you draw me another?” he said.

And so I drew him a horse. He took the two pictures I gave him and ran off, without a word.

The bell rang, and we ambled to our classroom. “Ok, settle down. It’s time to sit down,” the teacher said. The blonde boy was standing up front by her side.

“Class, I want to show you what Duane has created, so pay attention.” The teacher took my drawings and held one up after the other, panning the room so we could all see the picture of the house, and the one with the horse.

“Duane worked hard on these, and we’re going to put his art up on the wall here.” She was smiling, like her whole day was made. “Look what you can do when you focus, put your mind to something, and create.” She looked at us, her encouraging eyes shining, her hand on her heart, then she leaned down and gave Duane a side hug.

That was my drawing. I did that. That was my side hug. I felt unable to change anything, and if I did say something, maybe Duane wouldn’t like me. Maybe no one would believe me. I stayed quiet.

When I got home, I told Jan that a boy stole my art, telling the teacher he was the creator. I knew it was wrong, but felt helpless.


“You should sign your work. Hide your signature in there somewhere. That’ll show him, the little shit,” she said. She pointed to her signature on a new portrait she’d recently finished. “That’s why artists sign their work, so the stupid people with no talent don’t try anything like that. He’ll never have any ideas of his own, that kid. Artists will always be ripped off by dull, unoriginal people.” Mom became more and more angry at the idea of someone like Duane. “He’ll grow up and keep taking credit for things he didn’t do, and will never be able to do, because he’s not talented.”

The next day, Duane asked me to draw him more pictures.

And I did, making sure to blend my name in tiny green letters in with the blades of grass. But not too tiny.

A day later, the teacher came by my desk, hovering over me while I drew a new picture.


She paused for a moment, then said, “Stacy, did you draw those pictures Duane had?”

I nodded my head.

She took my latest creation and strode to the front of the class, stopping at Duane’s desk. I saw her hunkered down with him for a while, his body tense and still. I saw the back of his head–– his ears turned bright red. The teacher stood up holding my new picture, panning the room slowly as before, so everyone could see.

She pointed to the wall. “Class, the other day I held up pictures and told you Duane had drawn them. I’ve spoken to Duane, who has admitted to me that he didn’t draw those pictures. Stacy drew them." She gestured to me. "Stacy, stand up.”

I stood, my knees shaking.

“Never take credit for other people’s work. Taking credit for another student’s work is cheating. Wonderful pictures, Stacy. You may sit down.”


Taking credit for work someone else did is cheating.


I felt self-righteous and mortified all at once. I wanted friends more than I wanted the lesson, but the lesson stayed with me.


After a short while, I began to view Duane through my mother’s eyes. He was a dull no-talent, always trying to take credit from real artists. A phony. A faker. Fake-ass. He was a member of the public, an average person, who might end up working for some dull company at a desk in a cubicle. Duane is probably taking credit from co-workers in a Zoom meeting right now without shame.


There's always gonna be a Duane.


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