Buddy. Pal, and Friend were no more. We were broken. We couldn’t talk about what Larry let Lynne do to Tonia. It was like if we talked about it, we had to admit to ourselves and to each other that Larry had betrayed us, that he’d chosen his new wife over his kids, and had even set himself up with replacement kids. So we didn’t discuss it. After the devastating phone call, I forgot the incident. I just put it in a box in a locked room in my brain and never looked at it.
But we were unwell. Larry and Lynne had torn us apart. We were no longer best friends; instead we seemed to do everything in our power to avoid each other. When Tonia had briefly come back to Minot to live with Joyce and Jerome, she’d met my friend Ronnie and dated him. When we returned to Minot, she and Ronnie started dating again. Ronnie’s mom ran Minot’s community theatre and Tonia spent a lot of time there, or just being out with Ronnie.
Before school even started up again, I’d had a crying jag. I started crying and couldn’t stop; I couldn’t say why I was crying. Joyce and Jerome admitted me to the psychiatric ward in the local hospital, which made me feel even more isolated and unwanted. I threw a giant temper tantrum and demanded to be released NOW or by god, I would never speak a single word to Joyce or Jerome again. I dared them to try me. I was released and sent home with antidepressants and weekly appointments with a therapist.
Jerome’s children also came to live with us. Bonnie was a year younger than Sean, in 6th grade. Jerome Michael was 2 years younger than her, in 4th grade. Bonnie, Tonia, and I shared a bed until Joyce and Jerome bought us bed/chair cushions. Once again, Sean was in a tiny room with someone he didn’t know, sharing bunk beds. As far as I can remember, Jerome’s ex-wife called him one day and said, “come get your kids,” and they arrived much like we had: 1 suitcase each of clothes and belongings.
Bonnie didn’t talk, not a word. She’d nod or shake her head or point, but she wouldn’t make a sound. Tonia started treating her like a baby, carrying her around (even though Bonnie was nearly the same size as Tonia), feeding her, helping her drink, tucking her in. They did this for 3-4 weeks; they seemed to heal each other. Bonnie started talking and began to act her own age. Tonia seemed to let go of the anger she’d been carrying around. I couldn’t. I couldn’t stop being angry, but I couldn’t express it either.
One day while Joyce and Jerome were at work and I was babysitting again, Tonia and I got into an argument that we couldn’t get out of and before we knew it, we were rolling across the floor, punching each other and screaming. I ended the fight by pinning Tonia and shouting into her face to leave me alone, and I told her if she didn’t I would take her down again. I let her go and stomped off to Joyce and Jerome’s bedroom. Five or ten minutes later, Tonia opened the door. I shrieked at her to get out. Through tears, she told me she’d come back here to tell me she’d taken all my medication and she was sorry she’d done it and she needed help. But now she was glad she’d taken it because she wanted to die. She went running back down the hall toward our room and I tackled her. I held her down and made Bonnie call for help.
Tonia was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and had her stomach pumped. She spent the night in observation and was sent home. Joyce never sent Tonia to a therapist. Why not? I keep asking why not? I feel like taking a bottle of pills is a more urgent cry for help than crying ceaselessly. I don’t know if Tonia ever, ever went to therapy. It’s not like they were against therapy; I was going! It was my medication that Tonia had taken.
Sean started sneaking out his bedroom window at night. The cops brought him home several times at 2, 3, 4 am. Joyce laughed and told her friends there was nothing she could do: the cops would bring Sean home and he’d be out the window again before they’d pulled away. I didn’t think it was funny. Maybe alarm the window or something? It got less funny when Sean started coming home smelling of cigarettes. It got even less funny when Sean started coming home drunk by the time he was 13. He told Joyce and Jerome he’d found a six-pack down by the river and drank it out of curiosity. They told him that was stupid and dangerous and to never do it again. He got better at hiding his drunkenness and better at hiding from the cops. Joyce never sent Sean to therapy either. She never sent him to rehab.
Once again we were sent to three different schools, widening the breach between us. Sean was in middle school, making his own friends, listening to his own music. Tonia was at Central Campus, getting involved in the theatre department. And I was at Magic City Campus, floundering. I was unable to put myself out there to try to make friends. I kept to myself, hiding out in the library during lunch and off hours.
I met Trish because she decided to sit behind me in French class and kept whispering snide remarks in my ear until I smiled. I don’t remember meeting Sue–I tease her now that she saw me in my misery and decided we would be friends. The three of us became inseparable. I don’t think I ever told them exactly how miserable my family was. But I’m pretty sure I never could’ve survived the two years following our escape from Florida without them.
Tonia was having a hard time in school. She had friends in the theatre department, but she was picked on by the other kids in school. Tonia was astonishingly pretty–no. She was outright beautiful. She spent time learning to apply makeup and fix her hair. She could walk in heels way before I could. Unlike me, Tonia was NOT a late bloomer. She developed early and she developed fast. She was wearing D-cup bras before she graduated high school. Some of the girls at her school decided Tonia’s figure, clothes, and perfect makeup made her a slut. They’d chant “Tonia’s a slut. Slut, slut, slut!” on the schoolbus while I told her to ignore them. They circled her in the hall and pushed her from one to another until they pushed her into the wall and broke her arm.
I rode the bus from my school to Tonia’s, then transferred and we both rode the same bus home from there. One day I was standing inside, trying to stay warm and unnoticed. Outside, on the other side of the window I was standing at, Tonia was waiting with her friends. I saw this gang of girls come up and surround her. Her friends took off running and I saw Tonia looking around for me. I dropped everything I was carrying and ran outside and confronted the gang leader. I told her to leave Tonia alone and she asked who was going to make her. She clearly assumed 1) this shrimp of a girl wasn’t going to do anything, and 2) if this shrimp did do something, she could take her.
The girl was waving this lollipop in my face. She said, “Who’s gonna make me? YOU?” and poked the lollipop at my face. I was NOT going to let Tonia get beat up again while I stood helpless. I grabbed the lollipop and threw it across the street. Gangleader Girl only wasted a moment being shocked, then she went to grab me and I fucking swarmed up her, punching, kicking, screaming. She couldn’t even begin to mount a defense; she was just trying to get me off her when the principal arrived and pulled me away, still screaming and trying to get to her. Tonia’s friends hadn’t abandoned her; they’d gone to get help.
The Central Campus principal spoke to the Magic City Campus principal and I had to have a meeting with the latter. He told me how surprised and disappointed he was that I, a quiet, smart, straight-A student would be brawling on school grounds. I told him that I, a quiet, smart, straight-A student was shocked that they’d let a gang of girls break my sister’s arm and then let them roam free to terrorize her again. He said he couldn’t control what happened on Central Campus. I asked him what I was doing here in his office then. He told me since I’d never been in trouble before he was willing to let me go with a warning if I apologized to Gangleader Girl and promised to not get into anymore fights. I told him I would apologize to her after she apologized to Tonia and that I wouldn’t get into any more fights as long as they left Tonia alone. But if I saw them messing with my sister again, I was going to end it. Again.
He sighed and said he was going to have to give me after-school detention. I told him he better make it in-school detention because if I missed the bus there was a very good chance I would freeze to death walking home. No, my parents couldn’t come pick me up; they worked until 5:30. And that’s how I ended up being chauffeured home by my principal in a very warm Lincoln Continental after my one and only after-school detention.
Tonia did not get beat up again.