My mom struggled to pay the bills with her secretarial job, and since my dad was raising the two older kids, he felt he didn’t need to send Mom any money in terms of child support for my brother and me (even though the court legally told him to do so.) Eventually, the house payments became too much for my mom to handle, and the bank repossessed our home.
I still remember the date we moved - November 4th, 1972. It was a very emotional time for all of us, packed with grief, humiliation, and an overwhelming task of moving to a small townhouse. Mom found a place to live in her hometown, 5 minutes from her new job, and about 25 minutes from where we were living. Three of her brothers and their wives came to help, as well as her best friend Elsa and her husband, Ray. It was a traumatic move for me on many levels. I felt as though I was being stripped from everything familiar. The only thing I was sure of was that Mom, John and I would be together.
There was a lot of activity packing boxes and furniture for several hours, while I was told to just stay out of the way. Finally, the group sat for a while in the kitchen. One of my uncles lit up his cigar, and a few others lit their cigarettes and filled the kitchen with smoke. I asked Mom if I could have a glass of water, and she told me the water had been shut off. I was suffocating physically and emotionally.
“How much longer are we going to be here?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” my mom responded, irritated at my question. “We need to rest.”
I was so thirsty. The grey smoke hung in the air, thick with unsettling emotions. It was too much for me to bear. I needed a break. I yelled over the continuous noise of everyone talking, and told my mom, “I’m going to Marla’s for a glass water!” She didn’t say a thing, so I went in the garage, hopped on my mom’s blue Schwinn, which was a little too big for me, but still hadn’t been packed in a car or U-haul truck. I knew the bike would get me to Marla’s house a lot faster than walking. I just needed a glass of water and a break from the noise and chaos.
It was a cold, grey and misty November day in Wisconsin.The bike ride was chilling, but refreshing at the same time. The fresh air relieved the oppression I was feeling. I rang the doorbell, and my friend’s father and Marla greeted me with warm smiles. I told them we were moving that day and the water was shut off, and asked for a glass of water. They invited me in, and I spent about 10 minutes at the most, drinking my water and saying goodbye. It felt really good to have that closure, and I was proud of myself for taking care of my thirst.
I hopped back on the bike and rode back home. It’s difficult to describe the shock that I felt when my house came into view. Everyone was gone. The garage door was closed, and all the cars and trucks had vanished. They left without me. I looked in the direction they would go, but there was no sign of them.
Initially I was in shock. This can’t be true. Am I dreaming? Then I went from shock to fear. Had they really left me? How could they? I had been feeling so lonely and abandoned already, that it was just more physical proof that they really didn’t care about me. I was so upset about the move, I was able to reign in my fears before they took off, and felt a strength and resolve rise within me. “It doesn’t matter,” I thought, determined not to cry. “I didn’t want to move anyway. I’ll just stay here.” I knew I would have to leave eventually, because the house was no longer ours. But at least I would have a quiet place to stay, and I could spend a little more time saying goodbye to our home. They’ll find me eventually, although I didn’t know if it would be hours or days. I jumped off the bike and tried lifting the garage door. Locked. I tried all the other doors. Locked. There was no way in the house. And it was cold. My resolve started sinking fast. Now I couldn’t even stay in the house.
I noticed the garbage cans next to the corner of the house. “That’s all that’s left,” I thought. “Me and the garbage cans.”And then it really hit home. They really did forget me. I sunk down next to the trashcans with my back against the brick wall and tucked my knees to my chest with my head buried in my arms. I huddled up tight, trying to block the cold wind. Then I thought to myself, “I guess this is where I belong, with the garbage.”
Tears slowly filled my eyes and fell down my cheeks. I felt an emptiness fill my whole being. My heart had taken all it could take. It felt like I would be there forever. Time stood still and the tears kept rolling down my face. I began to shiver. It was a cold and wet day, and I wasn’t dressed warmly enough.
I suddenly felt a big presence behind me, and had the sensation of someone putting their hand on my shoulder. It was a natural, easy feeling that came over me. Without even thinking, my thoughts started to silently speak. “You must be the one they call Jesus,” I said in my head, tears still falling.
I heard Him answer, “You know you don’t really belong here with the garbage.”
“I know,” I replied. “But sometimes it sure feels like it.”
The Presence of Jesus stayed with me for a few minutes. I felt Him encouraging me to go back to the neighbor’s house, but I didn’t want to move. I cried a little longer until He convinced me to go back to Marla’s and I was getting too cold to argue. The humiliation of going back to say my family left without me, was not as bad as freezing. I had no idea how long it would be before anyone would come back for me.
I left the bike in the driveway and slowly walked back to Marla’s house. My heart was heavy, but I had a self-assurance that I was ok, thanks to Jesus’s presence. I rang the bell and this time Marla’s mom answered the door. “Julie, did you forget something?” Her face fell when she saw mine. She knew something was wrong.
Quietly, I somehow managed to get the words out, “Everyone is gone. They left without me.”
By now Marla’s dad was there too. I could tell they were shocked, but they did their best to make light of the situation. “That’s okay, we’ll just adopt you and you can stay with us.” This of course horrified me, (remember, I was only 9 at the time.) I didn’t trust this family, but I had nowhere else to go. (Years later, the husband was accused of murdering his wife – putting her in the river behind the house to drown. It was blamed on drug dealing.)
There were no cell phones, and I had no idea what our new phone number was, or even if we had a phone yet. The only thing we could do was wait. They gave me a snack, which I reluctantly ate out of obligation, and they told Marla to do something that would cheer me up. She put on a record, and said we could make up a dance routine to it. This was a brilliant idea, since music was one of the most important things in my life, but I was not in the dancing mood. She insisted that I join her. I could tell this was a very awkward situation for them, and I didn’t want to make it harder than it had to be, so I complied. The song she chose was a bit ironic and it almost made me start crying again, but I held back the tears as I heard, “I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again.” It was something I wish I could do, and yet at the same time, felt like I was abandoned, just like the person in the song was doing to whomever they were singing to.
It was a couple of hours before my mom called. She actually never noticed I was gone. It was her good friend, Ray, Elsa’s husband, who asked where I was. She thought he was joking, but he told her he would never joke about something like that. Marla’s mom gave me the phone.
“How could you leave me?” I asked.
“I thought you rode with someone else.”
“Did John ride with someone else?”
“No, he rode with me” she answered in a way as to say, ‘what’s the point of that question?’
“Then why do you think I would ride with someone else?”
“I don’t know. I just figured you rode with Ray or Uncle Dick, or….somebody.”
She was not going to admit fault. She was placing all the blame on me. She didn’t say “I’m sorry”, are you okay?” Nothing. She just spewed irritation that I wasn’t in someone’s car when we left, and now she had to deal with the inconvenience of somehow getting me there.
“I told you I was going to get a drink of water at Marla’s house. I even asked you if we were going to leave soon, and you said, ‘no, we need to rest’.”
“I never heard you say you were leaving,” she said in an irritated tone. And then she admitted that it wasn’t even her that noticed I was gone. She told me all about Ray wondering where I was, and how she thought he was kidding, and then they started looking for me in a panic. This made matters even worse. I wondered to myself how long it would have taken beforenoticed I was actually gone.
“Julie, I have so many people here helping me, and they don’t know where any of our things go. I can’t leave now. I’m going to have to send someone to pick you up.”
This made me livid. It was an insult enough that she forgot me. But now, with no apology, she was going to send someone else to come and get me, like I was a piece of furniture that got left behind.
“The boxes are marked,” I firmly replied. “The ones that say ‘kitchen’ go in the kitchen. How hard can it be?”
She started explaining to me that I just didn’t understand.
It was one of the rare moments that I stood up to her with intensity. “If you send someone else to pick me up, I won’t come with them. I’m not leaving unless you come and get me. You’re the one who forgot me, you’re the one who’s going to pick me up.”
I was willing to see that threat through. I have no idea what Marla’s parents thought of me at that point, and I didn’t care. It felt good to stand up for myself. I had been through enough with this move. Mom was exasperated, but she came about 45 minutes later. She thanked Marla and her parents, and apologized for any inconvenience, explaining what a busy and hard day it had been. However, she never apologized to me. In fact, she told me on the way to our new home how rude it was of me to demand that she pick me up and how I inconvenienced a lot of people.
I stayed stone silent. She had no idea the message she was giving me. I felt that at least I was able to have the power to make her “deal” with me. She had to face the neighbors, and she had to face me. I don’t remember crying in the car. Clearly, she had no sympathy for me. It just affirmed how much I hated the place we were moving to and how utterly alone I felt. When we got to our new place, everyone else had gone. I wondered if they had a sense of the weight of what had just happened to me, and that’s why they left, or if they were just tired, and it was time to go home. It felt to me that no one cared. And one of the strangest revelations I had didn’t come to me until years later. John didn’t even notice that I was missing. Had I put that together at the time, I might have concluded that I really had no one in the world who cared about me - no one except God and Jesus.