I was in the 4th grade less than a month when Mom made an announcement.
“We’re going to have to move. This is just too much house for me to take care of and I want to live closer to work. I’m looking for a new place now.”
What?! This was like a bombshell. We were just getting settled and finding our rhythm after all the chaos. I didn’t want to leave my teacher or my friends from school. John and I both tried to talk her out of it. I don’t know if she ever told John, but I found out when I was 18 years old that the bank took the house. Mom was not making the payments. Her friend Elsa, tried to talk her into selling the house before it came to that. She even offered to make some payments for her to buy her some time to sell. She refused. I don’t know why.
One Saturday morning, Mom bought paint at the hardware store and started painting the stairwell to the basement. She painted big eyes with long eyelashes on the overhang. She was not painting the wall, she was “doodling!” We thought it looked like a lot of fun and wanted to do it too. “No!” she said firmly. “This is my wall. I need to do this for my sanity.”
It was clear that this was some sort of therapeutic process she was going through. She explained it to us well enough that we knew we couldn’t participate. At one point, she let us do one tic-tac-toe game on the wall, but that was it. I loved walking down the stairs and looking at her new creations. There was something about it that felt good to me. Seeing Mom express herself through the paintings brought me a sense of relief; maybe because it was bringing her a sense of relief. I don’t know her exact reason for doing it, other than personal therapy, unless she was just trying to leave a little bit of a mess behind for someone to clean up, which is entirely possible.
Things moved quickly once Mom made the announcement. She told us we would be moving in November. She looked at several different places and told us she was having difficulty finding a new home. People didn’t want a divorced woman with kids moving into their place. There was a big dark cloud over that label. People didn’t trust her for several reasons, including making the rent. Mom asked John and I at one point if we would share a room with bunk beds. We loved the idea. John always had bunk beds but I never did and I wanted to know what it was like. Thank God she thought twice about it.
Instead, she ended up finding a 2-story, side-by-side drafty townhouse with 3 bedrooms and 1½ baths. The yard and the house were small compared to where we came from. She showed it to John and I once she signed the papers, and told us we were going to have to start going through our things for the yard sale. We knew we couldn’t move everything we had into that tiny place. So we made piles – “keep these toys and clothes” and “these can go.”
The yard sale started early Saturday morning and I had slept hard from all of the work we did to put it together. I noticed that there were a lot of things missing from my room. My keep pile was reduced by at least 50%. I wondered where everything was.
I came out to the garage and the sale was in full swing.
“How’s it going?” I asked my mom.
“It’s going great. I even found someone to buy your bed. They’ll come by later today and pick it up.”
“You sold my bed?!”
“I’m going to buy you a brand new bed, Julie. We’ll go tonight and pick one out. That bed was too big for the new place,” she said firmly. You knew it wouldn’t fit in your new room, and it was time for you to get a new one anyway.”
I was crushed. My head was reeling. A new bed!? I never wanted a new bed. I loved my white and lavender, frilly canopy bed that was made for a princess. It felt safe and beautiful having that cover over the top. And it held memories of the times my sister and I shared it. It was more special to me than she could imagine.
“I don’t want a new bed!” I blurted out. “I don’t care if the bed takes up the whole bedroom. I love that bed!”
“Julie, there’s not enough room for that bed,” she was getting angry.
“But you didn’t even ask me. Tell the person buying it that they can’t have it.”
“It’s too late, I can’t do that,” she said in such a way that it was MY fault I didn’t speak up about my bed.
“It’s not fair,” I retaliated. I knew I was defeated. Mom was firm and angry about her situation and thought I was being petty about my bed. John jumped in and tried to cheer me up while taking the pressure off of Mom. “Don’t worry, Julie. We’ll have fun picking out your new bed. You’ll see.”
I imagined being in the store and realized I could just get another canopy bed. It would be a twin size instead of a queen, but it might be okay picking out a new one. “Can I get another canopy bed?”
“We’ll see” she said with a forced smile.
Her reply didn’t sound hopeful. But I was determined to get a new canopy bed. It felt like the least she could do for selling my bed without telling me. (Side note: We did not get another canopy bed. We looked, but Mom said they were too expensive. I got a simple twin bed that I had until I gave it to my stepson 20 years later.)
I looked on the tables and noticed toys that I didn’t put in the giveaway pile. I started to panic. I ran to my room and took inventory. I immediately noticed that one of my favorite toys was gone.
I ran back out to the garage. “Where’s my Barbie Fashion Show?!” I yelled. You didn’t sell that, did you? It wasn’t in the sell pile. Where is it?”
“Yes, Julie, I had to sell it. We have to get rid of a lot of things. You never played with it anyway.”
“I played with it all the time!” I couldn’t believe it. I knew she hated me having that toy because it was the only thing Dad ever gave me. “Where is it!” I demanded. I was going to get it back. “Who bought it?”
“The neighbors down the street.”
The 3 bratty kids that I didn’t like had one of my favorite toys.
“Them?!” I said, incensed. “I’m going to their house right now and getting it back!”
“Julie, you can’t do that.” Mom was firm. “They bought it, it’s there’s. They were very excited about having it. You can’t take it back.”
“I didn’t sell it. YOU DID!”
“Well, if you had gotten up earlier, you would have been here to help me and you could have saved it. But since you slept late, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
What?! She was putting this on me? It was not in the sell pile. As I looked around the garage and my room, I realized that she went through all of my things and decided what I could keep and what I couldn’t.
I don’t remember what she threatened me with, but I didn’t go to their house and demand it back. Instead, I went into my room and cried. This move was like being stripped from everything I held dear. She was taking things away from me and selling them without my consent. We were moving to a little town where we knew no one. Mom took us to the school for a day visit, and John and I both hated the schools. They were slow and backward. The house was small and cold. And to top it all off, she told us a few days before we moved that we couldn’t take Diamond with us.
“Diamond has to go with us,” John and I begged.
“They don’t allow pets. You have no idea how hard it was for me to find a place that would allow kids, much less pets.” (I felt like such an inconvenience.)
Between the move and her choice of boyfriends, I was getting the feeling that we were not assets in Mom’s life.
“I’m sad about it too,” she said genuinely. “I found a farm that will take her. She will have lots of space to run around and can catch mice and do all the things that she loves to do. I’m sure she’ll be happy there. We can all take her together, so you can see for yourself.”
John and I were very unhappy about this new development. The day we said goodbye to Diamond was a gray Wisconsin afternoon. The farm was a pretty nice place, and they seemed happy to have her. But I realized she was going to become an outdoor cat and live in the barn with a couple of other cats. I couldn’t imagine what the cold winters were going to be like for her. I petted her and said goodbye before Mom set her down. It was hard to say goodbye. Once Mom released her, she ran off into one of the barns eager to explore her surroundings. We watched her until she disappeared and then slowly walked back to the car. I slid into the back seat and tears fell down my face as I silently cried. Another big loss.
It was too much. I hated everything about this move. I think it was at this point that I told myself on some level, “Don’t ever get attached to anything, including an animal. Someone, including your own Mom, could take it away. Basically, your life does not belong to you. Just be grateful you have a roof over your head.”