I arrived back in Colorado to find my mom, Abby and Jon still living in a huge apartment complex near my grandma with tons of amenities. My sister had a small group of friends she had cultivated at nearby Edgewater Elementary, where I had spent an ill-fated few months getting my first lumps from bullies for not hiding my brains. I intended to avoid both bullies and being smart this time around. I had plenty of shady experiences in Anchorage to prove my bonafides to this new group of kids with a fuzzy memory of me from an entire school year ago. Ancient history in kid time.
Sarah was my first real girlfriend in Colorado and happened to be my sister’s best friend and lived in the same apartment complex, all very convenient coincidences. There was just enough summer left to spend a month at the pool kissing and tickling before school started in September and we all went off to nearby Wheatridge Junior High. It wasn’t long before Sarah succumbed to the wiles of Darryl (the man she would marry after high school) and I was left to my own devices as the new kid on a block I hoped to never see again. At least I wasn’t carrying an old leather briefcase this time. I had gotten pretty skilled at shoplifting in Anchorage, so I was able to supply a steady stream of cigarettes and candy that kept me mostly under the radar and in the good graces of the resident juvenile delinquents.
Not long after I started eighth grade, my folks were looking at another round of reconciliation. Dad was living in Aurora with a friend and spending regular weekends with his kids again, so perhaps mom was feeling nostalgic. It lasted just long enough for dad to start drinking heavily with the guy across the street from our house. I believe he was the dad of one of Abby’s friends, but those sorts of details are beyond recall. What I do remember was the dark brown Craftsman we rented on North Harlan Street with the awesome attic bedroom I got to claim as my own when we moved in. Abby and Jon had their own rooms on the main level along with a master bedroom near the front of the house that mom shared with dad until she didn’t.
The basement contained a full-size washer and dryer tucked into one neat corner near the stairs. The rest of the large space was a demolished apartment with spray paint on the walls, massive holes in all the drywall and the sooty remains of a fire in what was once a small kitchen. Apparently the owner’s son had rented the apartment while upstairs was reserved for non-family tenants. One crazy night, a party had gotten out of hand and resulted in the molted wasteland that was the lowest level of our home for the entire time we lived there. Kind of odd looking back, but it does play nicely into the rest of the story.
A steep set of stairs off the dining room climbed to my attic bedroom. Since mom rarely went up there, the location couldn’t have been better for the various delinquent pastimes my sister and I enjoyed. Chief among those was smoking cigarettes by leaning outside of the small window tucked under the eaves at the peak of the roof. As long as the wind wasn’t blowing the wrong way, the smoke floated away from the house and we remained undetected. We moved into the place during winter, so the cigarettes could be tossed conveniently into the snow in the backyard beneath the window to disappear with a hiss. What we didn’t anticipate, being kids, was the pile of butts mom discovered when the snow melted in the spring.
One morning my sister was sneaking a smoke when the rest of the house was still asleep, including me on the other side of the room in my bed. She finished her illicit activity and slid the window shut. As Abby negotiated the steep stairway to the first floor, head still buzzing from the nicotine, she had a massive seizure that sent her careening down the last half of the steep stairs. Mom was in the kitchen making breakfast and saw her 12-year-old daughter pitch head first into the wall where the steps ended and turned into the dining room, as if she was thrown by somebody or something. Abby came to a rest on the small landing at the bottom of the stairs, teeth clenched and small body shaking violently.
Mom’s startled yell woke me up. I ran to the stairs and shot down them two at a time, one hand to each side providing balance. I came to a stop on the step above the landing where my mom was doing her best to keep Abby from thrashing, but there is nothing that can be done to stop a grand mal seizure except wait for it to end. They seem to last for hours as time slows down with helplessness, but it was only a couple of minutes before Abby’s eyes focused on mom and she started crying, scared and disoriented.
Her diagnosis was epilepsy which was quickly controlled with medication. Not trusting or believing in doctors, my Grandma Margaret was convinced evil spirits tried to possess her granddaughter and lived in our wreck of a basement when a dead cat was found in a laundry basket a couple weeks later. Mary appeared one morning with specially-treated salt in one hand and a large crystal in the other. The cleansing ceremony was completed in short order and was pretty spooky with my grandma chanting and spreading salt around like fertilizer, pointing the crystal like a wand into dark, damp corners.
We never did have demons, so it must have worked.