When I was twelve years old, I lived on a cul-de-sac in Ohio with the kind of houses that looked like they could have been assembled straight out of the Suburban Estate Toy set from the 1960s. All of the houses on the street were similar, plain on the outside and modest on the inside. Most of our yards were divided by chain linked fences lined with some kind of shrubbery. Our family was lucky enough to have an above-ground swimming pool. Sameness was the theme on our street. It was clear we were all in the same socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial demographics. The moms stayed home with the kids, and the dad’s kissed them each morning as they headed off to work, and again when they returned before dusk at night.
The best thing about my neighborhood was what in today’s terminology would be called the “free-range” approach to parenting subscribed by most of the families. It was the kind of parenting that could land a person in jail these days. My brother and I, like the rest of the two dozen kids on my street, spent as much time as possible outside, playing rubber ball, hide and round-up, shooting hoops, and wandering around the local woods and creeks until the street lights came on. We explored every nook and cranny in “The Terrace”, even the underground sewers. When the street lights came on at night, that was when everyone scattered to their homes. Some were summoned by whistles, some were fetched by their younger siblings, and some parents called out to their children from the front porch.
In my household, it was different. My parents were too busy tending to my two baby sisters and had more pressing things to worry about than whether we made it home safely. We stayed out with the few other kids whose parents were otherwise occupied. We sat under the street lights on the curb talking about an array of topics, like whether we believed in ghosts and aliens. We would stay out there until the gruesome horror stories we told to one another brought goosebumps to our sweaty flesh. We stayed out until the mosquitos took over where the chiggers left off, leaving bright red patches all over our bodies.
After awhile, even the late crowd would be called home. Reluctantly I would follow my brother into our house, where the sameness of the world outside seemed to morph into an alternative universe. At that point in my life, I knew there was something different about my family, but I didn’t know what. I hadn’t yet learned about the illness that caused my mom to accuse me of being the devil and to circle frantically about the house trying to get away from the voices in her head. Overcome with fear and sadness, I would retreat into my bedroom at the end of the house, where I spent the rest of the evening looking out my window at the stars above, wondering what was up there; day dreaming about the day I could explore a universe beyond my own four walls.