I Can Be Myself Here in This Small Town

When I think about that summer, everything seems golden.  When Rocky drove away, I put him completely out of my mind, like I have done with so many unpleasant things in my life. I put him away so thoroughly, I could’ve forgotten to divorce him if he hadn’t demanded custody. But that came later. Now, I was unburdened, light as a feather, giddy with relief. I asked Joyce and Jerome if I could live at home for a while until I got my feet under me.

Bonnie and Jerome Michael had returned to Wisconsin to live with their mother. Sean had moved into an apartment downtown with a girl named Tammy. Tonia had taken my advice and she and AJ were living in an apartment building on South Hill that housed single mothers. Those apartments were tiny! Tonia had put AJ’s bed, toys, and clothes in the single bedroom so she could put the toddler down and shut the door while she was still awake.  Tonia’s bed was in the living room and there was no room for anything else in there. There was a tiny little table shoved up against the kitchen counter. But it got Tonia out of Joyce’s house and on her own. 

Park South Apartments: has been a church, a theatre, low-income housing, I don’t know what else…

There was room for me and my kids to stay comfortably with Joyce and Jerome, so we settled in. If Rocky called, I don’t remember it. That part of my life was over. The week we arrived back in Minot, AJ was staying with Joyce and Jerome. Joyce didn’t know where Tonia was; she’d just leapt at the chance to keep AJ for a week and called in sick to work. When Tonia showed up, more beautiful than ever, she was glowing with happiness. She was married. She and the Best Man had decided they were in love and he’d flown them to Las Vegas to get married. I teased her about making me fly all this way for a wedding that wasn’t going to take place and we hugged for a long time.

The Hacienda, which Mike used to own.

Tonia’s new husband was Mike, a cheerful blond North Dakota man. He owned a restaurant and raced Modifieds at the NoDak Speedway. Tonia and I began taking the kids to the races every weekend. Mike got us our tickets and he gave us money for hotdogs, popcorn and pop. He and Tonia decided she would apply for the cosmetology school in town, which is how I found out that’s what Tonia wanted to be when she grew up.  Tonia was wildly in love with Mike and was genuinely happy for the first time in a long, long time. She and AJ moved out of the tiny apartment and Mike found them all a house just outside of town.

Sean was working as a cook in an all night diner and he seemed to have gotten his life on track. Sometimes Tonia and I would take the kids over to his place and we’d sit outside and talk while Tonia and Sean smoked and I drank too much coke. Sean had inherited Midnight, an old, old man now, and he’d sit outside with us at Sean’s feet and watch the kids run around. Everything was calm and relaxed.

I got a job as a stocker at Target and went and found my old friend Ronnie. His mother was still running the community theatre in town, but they’d moved to a larger building–the same one Tonia had just moved out of. The Mouse River Players had “Mini Mousers,” a children’s theatre program as well as MRP, Too!, a theatre program developed to make theatre by and for people with mental and physical disabilities. Ronnie was directing a production of “Frankenstein with a cast of teens and tweens and he asked if I could be his costumer. Could I ever!

The clock at Dakota Square Mall

I became very involved with Mouse River Players; I was the main costumer for a few years. I acted in many of the plays–including the role I continue to be most proud of: Marjorie, the rape victim in “Extremities.”  I helped with MRP, Too! And Mini Mousers, learned to be a Stage Manager, a set decorator, a board op. I assistant directed under Sandi, so I could learn to direct, and I was part of the traveling children’s theatre camp. 

Ronnie was dating a bundle of energy named Stephanie and we became friends. Another friend from high school, Burt, was one of the main set builders. I remember going to house parties with Ronnie and Stephanie, and playing Dungeons and Dragons with Ronnie, Burt, and Brad.  I was back to my first love: theatre, and Sandi basically handed me the costume shop. I could bring Nick and Monica with me to rehearsals and workcalls. Monica would have meltdowns when we had to leave; she loved the place. I did, too. The energy in the building was positive and creative and happy. It was strikingly different from the energy we’d been living with for the past two years.

Sometimes Ronnie and Burt would come over to Joyce’s and visit. I found another high school friend who ran a daycare, so I had someone to watch the children while I was at work. When I wasn’t at work, Nick, Monica, and I spent time at Tonia’s and all the cousins played together while Tonia and I talked endlessly and became best friends again. When I wasn’t with Tonia or Ronnie and Burt, I was at the Mouse House, rehearsing, costuming, learning theatre. On Sundays we went to the races. Jerome would barbecue sometimes and when he didn’t, I helped Joyce make dinner. Or Tonia and Sean came over and we all helped with dinner and then sat around the dinner table for hours, talking. 

Downtown Minot

Sometimes we’d go over to Tonia’s for dinner and at some point she’d learned how to cook and she was fantastic. At night after the kids went to bed I had time to read and watch TV. Tonia said it was sad that I’d never been allowed to be a young person and since Mike worked at his restaurant at night, she started taking me out dancing.  She would buy me different drinks because I didn’t have a clue about what I liked. I would sew us outfits, or we’d dig through Tonia’s closet and get dressed up–far too fancy for any bar we visited, but we didn’t care. Tonia would fix our hair and help me with my makeup and off we’d go, leaving our kids with Joyce and Jerome, and calling Mike to come get us if we had too much fun. 

Used to be “Fridays, ” where we loved to go 2-steppin’

I remember feeling light and young and joyous. I was so happy to have Tonia back in my life. I was doing theatre and I’d started working in a fabric store–the only place I’d be happier to work at would be a bookstore. I was back in North Dakota, and my memories of that summer are gold, like the golden North Dakota prairie and the golden sunset as we sat outside and talked. Me, Tonia, and Sean, together again, relaxed, content. Golden.

That was the summer of 1990. I turned 25 that August. I felt like I’d been given a do-over.

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