For a few years, before I slept flat like a normal person, the only way I liked to sleep was on my knees. With my butt in the air, resting my head on the bed with my thumb in my mouth. They tried to get me to sleep flat but this was the only way I felt comfortable falling asleep. I remember how cozy that position felt, how my body involuntarily just happily wiggled and snuggled into sleeping on my knees. Butt in air, thumb in mouth, rotating my feet around each other feeling their softness, was the magic combination I needed to be drugged into sleep world. My little bed in our bus was made out of pieces of 2×4 wood. I had a reoccurring dream almost every night of falling from my bed, falling falling into the darkness. Sometimes this dream would startle me awake. The dream would often happen right after falling asleep. Or at least it seemed.. but it also seemed quite a lot, that all night long had only been 2 seconds before I had to wake up in the morning.
I hated wearing plastic pants over my cloth diaper at night. Plastic pants were worse than getting pricked by diaper pins, they itched and made a red line around my waist and legs from the tight, unfriendly elastic boarders that didn’t always keep in the pee despite their grisly tightness.
“Coldy coldy coldy. Coldy coldy coldy” is what I chanted, especially if the fire had gone out, when I had to get out of bed and get clean with wet rags from the water in the silver pitcher on the woodstove then get dressed as I shivered and hugged myself jumping up and down on the dark strip of grooved lines running the length of the bus, the isle that school buses have.
While we used lanterns and candles, the main communal places were hooked up to DC power. Like The Laundromat. It was filled with lots of small washers and a few gigantic ones always washing away. You could get clothes from the pile of unclaimed clothes. Everyone dropped off and picked up their clothes in big bronto bags made from a mesh like fabric that were closed with bronto pins which looked like giant diaper pins. I got the impression that bronto pins were like a status item. It was cool to have coveted, useful bronto pins if you were a grownup.
Laundry didn’t get dried here, just washed, then you were suppose to take it home and hang it on a clothesline.
The Laundromat was fun and scary. There’d be other kids to play with, kids I didn’t know from other households and neighborhoods. While my mom did laundry in the dark, noisy laundromat, it was fun to jump in the bags of clothes, the piles of bronto bags, on the wood pallets outside but mostly I played in the back.
Picking a compatible play partner at The Laundromat was dire. Some of these kids just wanted to hurt each other. It was a dangerous amusement park graveyard of old washers to climb into and get spun around in. Playing with kids who thought it was fun to spin other kids around too fast, too hard, too much was something I earnestly tried to avoid. There were also some see-saws. They were even scarier to play on with the mean crazy kids than in the machines. The mean crazy kids would go too fast, too hard and too high, purposely trying to cause harm and many kids got hurt. One after another, dropping off like flies from the wild west laundry machine jungle labyrinth, a barbaric but irresistible metallic beast in the grasses, with a cold see-saw heart. But it was too much fun to avoid all together. Finding a kid who didn’t want to hurt you or get hurt themselves, but just have some good fun was the best. So many kids, mostly boys of course, seemed to want to prove how cool and brave they were by see-sawing the hardest and highest and knocking each other off with bounces. Not me. I just wanted to have fun without getting hurt.
The horror I felt upon realizing I was see-sawing with a psycho maniac kid out for blood, made the fear of biting my tongue off, cracking my head open and death an imminent reality. If I survive this, I desperately wished holding on for dear life, I’ll just never get back on the stupid see-saw again. But, of course, I would. In some situations, “never” is only 5 minutes. Though, I could not understand why these horrible kids didn’t want to just play nice and safe. Sometimes a grownup would come out and yell and try to get things under control, usually to not much avail. A very special, trained in epic battle, warrior adult was needed to control these wild delirious lunatics, sky-high on washing machine spins and teeter tottering madness.
It was such a relief to find another kid who shared my sentiments of wanting to stay intact. Then we could just see-saw our little hearts out, only pushing the boundaries of scary harm instead of going all the way over board like the sadistic maniac kids with an apparent death wish for everyone.
When I did find a compatible play partner to see-saw with, we sang and sang over and over “Teeter totter, milk and water. Wash your face in dirty water”. That was the song you were suppose to sing. All the kids sang it. Wash your face in dirty water? Oh yeah, it felt so nasty to say. So bad. So filthy and nasty, I loved it. Could I be any naughtier than singing a song about washing your face in dirty water? Nope. That was just so bad and naughty, I relished forming the words with my lips, belting it out over and over, feeling the awesome, ultimate dirty naughtiness roll off my tongue. With each chorus of the short teeter totter song, I looked forward to getting through the first part to say the super naughty part again.
Mostly we went to The Laundromat in the middle of the day but one time my mom was going up to The Laundromat in the evening. She asked if I wanted to come but I decided to stay at our bus. Perhaps I forgot I would have no light when it got dark because I do not light candles by myself. After she left, I decided what the hell was I thinking, of course I wanted to go with her. I figured I could run and catch up. I started up 1st Road hoping to catch up to her before reaching the main road. I had never been off 1st Road by myself before. As I neared the main road, running as fast as I could calling out “Deborah! Deborah!”, I started to panic as the sun was setting. I wanted my mom bad. Things turned into dark silhouettes. Each silhouette I saw, I prayed to God it was my mom. I got to the main road. Oh no, I am too little to walk on the main road by myself! I could go back now but she’s probably not too far ahead. I took the path in the grass beside the road, my feet padded the ground as I anxiously hurried ahead praying with all my might that each tree, each bush was my mom. “Deborah! Deborah! Wait! Wait! I’m coming! Deborah!” I saw a silhouette ahead, it has to be my mom. I ran anticipating the wonderful, safe feeling of finding her. But it was just a pole. A stupid, scary tall pole. I kept running. That must be her up ahead coming towards me – she must have heard me or decided to come back for me, thank god. I ran towards her, “Deborah!”. But then I saw it was a man. I tried to act normal, not let him see that something was horribly wrong, that I was horribly scared. Just walk normal, try to act like it’s normal that a little kid is out here by the main road by myself. I murmured “hi” as we passed. Phew, he didn’t stop and question me. I continue running toward the Laundromat along side the big fields. There is another pole silhouette, it’s darker now, I wish it was my mom. What if there’s something scary up there behind the pole? But it’s too late to turn around now, it’s already farther to go back to the bus instead of on to the Laundromat. I can see the Laundromat finally and I have to get off the path and walk on the road for a few moments before getting on another path directly connected to my paramount destination. I can’t believe what a fast walker she must be. I finally reach the Laundromat with welcoming electric light I’m not accustomed to and my humming mother, who is shocked to see me, out of breath and so happy and thankful to see her.
I can finally relax and know that the walk home in the dark won’t be super scary because I’ll be safe with my mom and we’ll look at all the stars.