Empty Rooms and a Runaway Cat
When I was Three, we lived in the Foxwood apartments in Westbrook. It was convenient to my maternal grandparents’ home in Old Saybrook and close to my paternal grandparents in Branford. We had friends downstairs, and I played with kids from other buildings in the complex. Our building was at the back, near the marsh and central in the complex.
My father was a superintendent which helped pay the rent, but it took him out at odd times. Most of my memories of that place are foggy. We had a cat. We lived on the second floor. The hallway outside the door was enclosed but unheated. A teen girl babysat me a few times. She could color inside the lines. I had a lot of Legos. And I remember my mother yelling sometimes.
My father was a hardworking, easy-going guy. He was an athlete, but not very competitive in his nature. He was an amazing swimmer, an accomplished artist, and he has the bluest eyes, the kind that melt the hearts of old ladies and make people trust him. He is the oldest of three children (all still living), a good student (except in math), and he put himself through art school by mowing lawns and doing odd jobs.
My mother was the baby in her family, twenty years younger than her oldest sibling. She was always creative and outgoing and a talented student (except in math). She was a bit of a dreamer, more high-strung than my father, and had the temper of a youngest sibling. My parents were compatible with each other, but a third party threw a monkey wrench in their relationship. When one half of a couple is much more easy-going than the other, imbalance causes irritation.
Eventually my father let family control too much of our lives and my mother made a demand that my father couldn’t understand. The last straw, according to my mom, was when my father said, “Why can’t you just get along with my mother.” With two strong women fighting through him, he buckled to the loudest voice and my mother moved out, going a too convenient five miles down the road to her parent’s home.
My perspective on the split was typical for a three-year-old. I got a new bedroom and got to spend more time and Grammie’s house, where there was a big backyard and lots of cooking going on every day. I saw my father often and didn’t miss much about home, except my cat.
Some things changed. My mother started working in her father’s insurance office. My grandmother worked for him sometimes, too, but there was a fun daycare I went to a few days a week. It was winter, but I still went outside to play. Sometimes my grandfather would take me along on his daily trips “down street” to get the mail and the afternoon paper. He was well known and respected so there were people to talk to and they all wanted to know me, too.
I don’t recall missing my home at the apartment. My father lived there a while longer. I remember being there when he was moving out and cleaning up the apartment. I wandered through the empty rooms, remembering what had been in each one, and looking for my cat. When I asked my father, “Where’s Maynard?”, he said that the cat was lonely living there without me and that he left to find a new home. He saw him near the dumpster one time, but couldn’t catch him.
The transition to the new living arrangements was smooth for me. My father was with us for fourth of July and Christmas and my birthday. He took me to his parent’s some weekends and holidays and on his summer vacation. My parents went out together a few times, even after my mother got a divorce over my father’s objections. She said she went to Mexico for it. She brought me back a bag of blocks and a suede coat with fringe on it. I loved my fringe.
What I didn’t know was how my parents felt about each other or about the separation and divorce. They shielded me from the process and neither talked much about the other. By all accounts, my father fought the divorce and tried to put the marriage back together. As far as I could tell, they never disliked each other. In later years, my mother admitted that she gave up on the marriage too quickly. She even mended fences with her ex-mother-in-law, and they got along well enough to visit with each other on pleasant terms.
I once had a friend ask me how I felt about the divorce at the time. I had to admit that I almost didn’t notice. There was a bit of stigma at being a child from a “broken home”. There were a few accusations muttered under breath in my paternal grandparents’ home. But they never used me as a tool to get back at each other, and I was on good terms with everyone in the family. Mostly, I hardly noticed. It was years before the effects showed up in my life. As I gained step parents, half siblings, and step siblings, life became more strained and I regretted and resented it more.
All-in-all, I had a very happy childhood, and my life on the Shoreline was tinged with the more rose than sepia. Today people might call it ignorance and privilege. It wasn’t until my teen years that the wheels fell off.