I don’t know if Larry invited Lynne to come to Florida or if she just showed up. Whichever way it happened, Tonia, Sean, and I were not aware she was coming. I’m pretty sure Elnora and Richie didn’t know either. But Larry had to have told Lynne at least where he was and how to get there. Elnora would not let Lynne sleep in the house with Larry since they weren’t married and I’m pretty sure she didn’t like Lynne. There wasn’t room anyway unless Larry and Lynne kicked Tonia and I out of our room and out to the trailer with the babies. Lynne and her three young kids Shana, Amanda, and Bubba lived in the little tiny camper that my parents had bought when we lived on Siesta Drive, the same camper that Lynne “spent the night in”. It was tiny. It was perfect for camping for a weekend but Lynne and the kids lived there for at least 6 months; maybe it was closer to a year. I have a hard time telling how time passes in Florida or California where there are no real seasons.
So when Lynne showed up and it was obvious that Larry wanted to be with her, that this was going to be a thing and he began sleeping out in the camper with her, Tonia and Sean and I tried really hard to accept her into our lives. I’m not sure how much she tried to accept us. I remember her sewing at my grandma’s dining room table one time and getting irritated with me because I was playing the same song over and over. And I remember hauling Amanda and Bubba and Shana everywhere with us. I especially remember Tonia carrying Shana around like a little baby. Shana was just a toddler; I think she was 3 and Tonia was in love with her. Someone misheard Shana’s name when we introduced them and asked if we had said shake so we started calling Bubba, Amanda and Shana “burger, fries, and shake”. Burger and Fries didn’t last very long but Shake did. The nickname stuck with everyone; all the kids in the neighborhood called her that and we basically stopped using her name. Lynne made us stop because she said it was too sexual. I still think about that. I think it was a cute nickname and I don’t think anyone, in my friend group at least, was sexualizing a 3 year old.
Larry and Lynne got married at some point, I don’t remember when. Tonia, Sean, and I did not attend. It was sometime around then that it was decided that we would all move into a house together because that little camper was just far too small for Lynne. I’m sure it was driving her crazy being in there with those kids and having to walk over to Elnora’s house to take a shower, knowing that Elnora disliked her so much.
Larry and Lynne took us kids to see several houses around the Holt area but eventually they decided to move to Crestview. That was in the middle of the school year and the house we moved into was infested with roaches. It was a two-bedroom house that six kids and 2 adults were living in. Tonia and I shared one bedroom and the other four kids slept in the dining room. No curtains were put up. I remembered we kids took to carrying around a hammer to kill the roaches because it is hard to step on a roach on carpet and kill it. During this time Larry finally got our household goods delivered and Lynne got hers delivered too. So we were in this tiny little house with two households worth of furniture and toys and clothes. Lynne and Larry sold Joyce’s furniture and when Tonia, Sean, and I protested because it was our furniture and we loved it, they said they would give us the money. We never got the money because they said the people that bought the furniture never paid them. I never believed this because who would let goods go out of the house without pay?
In the back of the house was a little tiny shed with no door and that’s where all the bikes went. Before the divorce I had used all my babysitting money to buy a neon green 10 speed which was far too big for me but was my pride and joy. 10 speeds with the racing handlebars were the big fad at the time. I asked Larry to let me store the 10 speed in the kitchen, which was huge, or to buy a lock for the bike so it wouldn’t get stolen. He refused both options and of course my bike was gone in a week. Tonia and I had a teeny tiny closet and we stored all of our Barbies in there; there was no room to play with them. But we had been collecting Barbie stuff all our lives and hoped to save them to give them to our children. We came home one day and Lynne had thrown out all the Barbie stuff because she said we never played with it anymore. I’d also been collecting Honey Hill Bunch dolls and those were gone too. My books did not get thrown away. She threw away a bunch of Sean’s toys, too, in the name of making room. Sean managed to save his Evel Knieval doll, but not much else.
At some point while we were living in this roach house there was another custody hearing and Larry was again given custody of us three children. My nightmares may have started at that point; I’m not sure. I remember changes in the way my sleeping felt. Even though Tonia and I had twin beds she often ended up in my bed and she may well have woken me up from the nightmares so I don’t remember them. I remember trying out for the cheerleading squad while we were living in that house and I made it. Lynne got tired of driving us all to Holt and Baker and back every school day. We moved into a new house. I think the new house was farther away or else Lynne was just a bitch or maybe it was both. Whatever it was, Lynne was no longer going to drive everyone to Holt and Baker and back for school every day; we were going to have to transfer to Crestview schools.
I was told I could continue going to Baker and stay on the cheerleading squad if I could find somebody to give me a ride to and from Baker School every day. I believe they didn’t think I could find someone but I did. It was actually Sean’s teacher. But Tonia and Sean weren’t given the option. They had to change schools again. Instead of changing schools, Tonia opted to go live with Joyce and Jerome and since Lynne hated her she was allowed to go. But Tonia missed me and Sean– remember we were Buddy, Pal, and Friend- and she was back some time after school started again. When I heard Tonia was coming back I had a crying jag in the school gym and no one could comfort me.
Amanda was diagnosed with asthma and so we were made to vacuum, dust, and mop every single day. And by ‘we’ I mean me, Tonia, and Sean because ‘the babies,’ as we called Amanda, Bubba, and Shana, were too young. I remember having chores when I was their age, but whatever. Larry had gotten a second job at the Crestview movie theater as Night Manager and Lynne went with him every night, leaving me to babysit. I have often thought that she went with him to make sure he didn’t fool around on her because that’s how they got together.
I was babysitting my siblings and step siblings constantly. I was 15 and no one was supposed to know that the six of us were left alone. We were not allowed out of our yard and no other kids were allowed in the yard and actually I’m talking about the backyard; we weren’t allowed in the front yard. I was taking driver’s ed at the time; it was one of the required classes at school. But the only vehicle our family had was Lynne’s green panel station wagon and I wasn’t allowed to drive that. I nearly failed driver’s ed because I never got to practice at home. I remember the coach, who I was already afraid of, yelling at me constantly because I wasn’t practicing at home. I remember Larry making jokes about how dumb Bubba was while Bubba was right there. But mostly I remember being alone, just me and the kids. Tonia and I made dinner and washed the dishes and Sean helped us do the laundry and all the other chores.
Every evening we had to do the laundry and fold the laundry and put the laundry away and make dinner and wash dishes and dust and mop and sweep and get the babies bathed and put in bed by 8 and get our own homework done. We weren’t allowed to answer the phone because somebody might find out we were home alone. We weren’t allowed to answer the door because someone might find out we were home alone. We weren’t allowed to be on the phone for more than 15 minutes because what if Larry or Lynne needed to call? I had a boyfriend at the time and I basically got to see him at school and at the games when I cheered.
This was the second time in my life that I went about making up what they now call Urban Families, which is to say a family of my own, made up of my friends because my family had let me down so much. I was full of school spirit and the need to fit in. What I wanted for xmas that year was a Baker Gator jersey and a matching flannel shirt. Tonia wanted more dressy shirts and a flouncy skirt. I still wear Ts, flannels, and jerseys as my main wardrobe components to this day. But what Tonia got for xmas was my Gator jersey and a red/blue flannel, while I got pastel knit dolman shirts, totally Tonia’s style. We of course traded, but why do it? Why deliberately give us the wrong things? And this wasn’t the first time—Joyce did it to us too! Way back in grade school I wanted those white wrinkly go-go boots that were the ‘in’ thing and Tonia wanted patent leather mary janes. So Tonia got my boots and instead of mary janes, I got patent leather loafers. I don’t get it.
On the nights when Lynne and Larry were home because he didn’t work seven nights a week at the theater (or at his day job which was at Eglin Air Force Base), Lynne decided that it was easier to organize the household and keep everybody on track if we had what she called family meetings. Instead of setting up a special time for the family meetings, they were held at dinner time. Instead of actually being about schedules or organizing, they were bitch sessions for Lynne. The babies were too young to really take part in these ‘meetings’ so they just ate. Sean, Tonia, and I weren’t really allowed to bring up any topics for discussion and we weren’t allowed to rebut. The meetings were mostly about how we weren’t keeping the house clean enough, how we were washing Lynne’s copper-bottomed cooking pots incorrectly, and how we were folding the laundry incorrectly or misbehaving in some way. I know that Lynne particularly disliked Tonia and Tonia got the brunt of these things. If Tonia talked back or Sean or I tried to intervene, it devolved into a screaming match. Basically the family meetings consisted of Lynne telling us how we had fucked up, Larry backing her up and making certain that we didn’t hurt her feelings, and Tonia, Sean and I not eating because we were so upset. There was nothing we could ever do, any of the three of us, to make Lynne happy. We washed the dishes wrong, we folded the towels wrong. I got in trouble for leaving uneven, unmatched chaotic lines in the carpet when I vacuumed because I had stood in the middle of the room and vacuumed around myself. The lines left by the vacuum had to be straight and parallel. Same with the lawn mowing, but Sean had to do the lines up and down the yard. it couldn’t be diagonal, it couldn’t be sideways, it couldn’t be circular where you go around the yard till the un-mowed patch gets smaller and smaller and smaller which is oddly satisfying if you’re a little bit in need of control.
We had finally moved out of the roach house and into a bigger house. Our beds were divided up oddly. The new house had a den and three bedrooms and Larry and Lynne took the den as their bedroom. Tonia and I were given the master bedroom, but we were given Sean’s twin beds. A few years before the divorce when Joyce was making good money with her job, she had bought twin beds for Sean’s room and she and Ruby Mae had refinished them so they were a blue “antique” finish. They had headboards with bookshelves in them. Joyce had also gotten Tonia and me a bedroom set: white twin beds that could be bunked. They had two drawers underneath them so we didn’t have a dresser in our room and there was a matching chair and desk with a hutch on it.
Amanda and Shana had toddler beds, the kind of beds that you took the mattress out of the crib and made into a bed. When they got to Florida, Shana was just a little thing so she was still in a crib. For some unknown reason Lynne put Sean’s blue beds in me and Tonia’s room with our white desk/hutch. We also had a chest of drawers (yellow) and a dresser with a mirror on it (brown). I think that some of Manda and Shana’s clothes were in that dresser with the mirror. Not sure. Manda and Shana got the next biggest room and they both had the toddler beds. They were tiny little beds in what seemed to me at the time a rather big empty room. I don’t remember them having much more in that room; that’s why I think we had their clothes in our dresser.
Sean and Bubba shared the smallest room which is kind of sad because me and Tonia at least knew each other and we shared a room and Amanda and Shana were sisters and they shared a room. But Sean and Bubba (who were wide apart in age–I’m thinking Sean was in sixth grade and Bubba was in kindergarten or something like that) shared the smallest room and they got our white beds that were bunked. They had Joyce’s old chest of drawers in there too. I guess they got the white bunk beds because that was the smallest room but the boys could have easily been put in Amanda and Shana’s room with Sean’s blue beds. Hell, they could’ve had the master bedroom; there was no reason Tonia and I had to have it. The two little toddler beds would’ve fit in that smallest room – the girls didn’t have a dresser in their room anyway. To me it seems to be just one more way of making certain that Lynne had control. We kids were made to do what she said and taking our beds away from us was just another thing, just one more niggling little hurt for no reason. So that was living with Lynn: having to do all the housework, never getting it right, having to dust every single day because Amanda had asthma. I swear that child would have an asthma attack any time she didn’t get her way. I don’t think that she was malicious, I think that she was spoiled. We six kids were left in the house alone more often than not.
Also I remember Lynne throwing a fit because my cheerleader sponsor, who was the Home Ec teacher, made all of the cheerleading uniforms and wanted to be paid for making mine. Making the uniforms kept costs down and the uniforms were unique. For instance, the squad had, instead of the little cheerleader pants or dance pants that go under the skirts that always creep up your butt cheeks, we had what we called bloomers. They were like a little bit longer shorts, a little bit looser with elastic around the thighs so that they never crept up. They were the coolest things. The problem was that I am small. Right now I’m 4’10”. I’ve always been this small my entire life in ratio to other people. So Miss Carol, the cheerleader sponsor, had to make a new uniform for me. She had the fabric already; she just wanted Lynne and Daddy to pay, not for her labor but for the fabric. Lynne had a fucking fit because she considered herself a seamstress and didn’t think that she should have to pay for somebody else to do something she could do herself.
Anyway there was a big to-do because Lynne was not going to pay money for someone else to make the cheerleading uniform. There were meetings with the principal, several meetings face-to-face, phone calls, and letters sent back and forth. I remember being very, very embarrassed about the to-do that was being made. It was eventually agreed that Lynne would make my cheerleader uniform. But Miss Carol was not going to give her the fabric for free or let her have the patterns, which belonged to Miss Carol. Lynne refused to buy the fabric or patterns from Miss Carol because of course she did so she had to find similar fabric and patterns. The thing is, Miss Carol had bought a shit ton of this fabric back when she started as the cheerleader sponsor and it was now several years later and that fabric was no more. The upshot of it all is that my cheerleader shirt was a different fabric that moved differently than the other girls’ shirts and it was a different shade of white. The sleeves, while long and cuffed, were not as full as the other girls’ sleeves were. The bloomers were basically the right color but the wrong fabric. As far as I can remember Miss Carol altered two of the existing skirts to fit me and Lynne made the blouse, the bloomers, and two vests.
I have no idea what happened to those things, whether they went back to the school after the cheer season was over or those were some of the things that Lynne chopped up on the day she found out we weren’t coming back.
All of our stuff went to Germany; it was all packed up and sent over there before Larry and Lynne found out we weren’t coming. That means all of our clothes that were left behind, all of my books, all of Tonia’s makeup and hair stuff, were all gone. We never got them back. Nora told me that Lynne chopped up the quilts Joyce had made us that day she found out we weren’t coming back. Nora also took that time to tell Lynne what a piece of shit she thought Lynne was and told her she was no longer welcome in her house ever again. I don’t know if that was held to when Larry and Lynne returned from Germany because by that time Larry’s family and Joyce’s family were no longer speaking.
Nora paid for me, Tonia, and Sean to take a Greyhound back to Holt two years later so I could attend Baker’s graduation and see my friends. That would’ve been the summer of 1983, the summer Tonia got Richie’s truck stuck between trees and Nora made my (former) friends take me with them to their graduation party. She was angry when they dropped me off after the graduation ceremony instead of taking me to the party. Nora was a force of nature when she was angry.