When we got married more than twenty years ago, I don’t think anybody thought we were going anywhere. I had essentially run away from home and crossed state lines to move in with my boyfriend when I was 17. He was in a computer science program at Lion’s World Services for the Blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, his only income from disability checks. We both had dropped out of college in Texas, and I didn’t even have a high school diploma to my name.
When I moved to Little Rock, we moved into a house across the street from Lion’s World that we shared with another couple that were in the program. The area was known to the local police department as the “war zone” because of all the gang activity. I’m pretty sure the house would have been red-tagged if anybody official had been able to get a look at it. The crawl space under the house was wide open and full of rats. (We knew this because our dog Sasha, who we were too stupid to train properly so she could actually live inside the house with us, would bring us rats and drop them at the back door.) The living room had a hole in the floor, an actual hole with torn up carpet going through to the crawl space. The door had a hole in it, I think, from a missing lock. The gas stove had no functioning pilot, so we lit it with matches. We had a washing machine but no dryer and no dishwasher. The kitchen was carpeted. (Whose bright idea was that anyway?) The wiring was iffy, and the breakers went out constantly.
We had no car, not for the first few months. Once I convinced Central High School to enroll me without my parents’ signatures, if I missed the bus I had to walk about 3 miles to get there. We regularly walked a mile and a half each way to the grocery store and carried the groceries back. Occasionally, we’d splurge and get a taxi back, filling the trunk so we wouldn’t have to go back for a while. Eating out happened maybe once a month, someplace cheap. We saw a movie once. Otherwise, we didn’t go anywhere except school and work, and to go hang out at the mall.
All of our furniture was damaged or worn out, hand-me-downs, garage sale finds, curbside salvage. Our waterbed heater’s thermostat didn’t work, so we’d plug it in for a few hours to warm up, then unplug it until it got uncomfortably cold (which actually felt good, sleeping in the afternoons in an un-airconditioned house in an Arkansas summer). When our parents came out for the wedding, they were probably horrified all over again that we preferred to live there, together on our own, than to live in comfort and security with our parents, apart and dependent.
I remember learning how to cook by trying to make various recipes out of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Buying store brand soda for the first time ever. Trying to get a doctor to see me without insurance or Medicaid, and waiting in an emergency room for a doctor to see Brian because that’s where you went with Medicaid. Selling my plasma for a little spending money. Working in a phone call center that was thunderclouded with cigarette smoke at all times. Riding the bus and having that little old black lady tell me I had “too much hair for a white girl.” Watching the cat get tangled up in crochet thread she’d strung all over the house. The old guy next door with his Santa Claus beard and the bandanna he wore while mowing the lawn (never blue or red, not in that neighborhood). Watching Rocky Horror for the first time in our living room. Bananas and Rice Chex for breakfast. Tear gas getting released in the halls while I was at school. Working the night shift near the airport and watching the planes come and go. Sending in Publisher’s Clearing House mailers just for fun. The idiot in one of my classes who thought it mattered to me or the school if I had been seen smoking in the mall over the weekend. Borrowing the pianos at the UALR music building to practice. The drive-through Chinese place where you could get an absolutely enormous order of fried rice with meat in it for just five bucks. Finding an occult shop up the road where I could buy incense and candles.
For all the things we’ve been through over 20 years, for all the broken things we have now, the holes in walls and broken appliances and broken furniture, the worries about money and bills and kids and politics, we sure do have a lot more than we started with. A whole lot more. And I still wouldn’t trade it to go back, to not run away, to follow the expected path.