The First 22 Years Are the Hardest, a memoir by Angela Giles Klocke
Begin Here: Introduction
Trigger Warning * Violence * Language
I kicked the thin sheet off my legs and stared at the sky outside the filthy rollout window. Life sucked. It was hot, the trailer reeked because none of us had emptied the bucket toilet yet, and unless Mom woke up soon, we’d never make it to Blue Springs. The Florida summer heat was unbearable, and it felt like we were going to die, but I wasn’t brave enough to wake her and remind her she promised to take us swimming today. She’d stumbled in drunk from a date with some new guy and plopped herself down in the bed beside me. I pretended to be asleep instead of pacing and watching out the window all night like I was a thirty-year-old mom instead of a thirteen-year-old girl. She fell asleep fast, and us four kids knew better than to wake her. Now we sat around in the tiny living room, whispering, daring each other to make just enough noise to make her finally get up.
“Just do it,” I whispered, urging my youngest brother to be the one. He was the safest bet, the one most likely to get away with it. “Just accidentally trip and cry. She won’t be mad.”
He shook his head, his eyes wide. I didn’t blame him, really. Mom was scary when she was mad. Even if she didn’t yell at him, she might come after me or my older brother since we were bigger, and he hated that.
I got off the ugly plaid couch and went to the front door to open it for some fresh air. Sometimes it was hotter inside the tiny spider-infested trailer than outside. But as I lifted the door to open it, a rare gust of stifling, stale wind kicked up and pulled the door out of my grasp. It slammed against the side of the trailer, metal against metal, and we all froze.
“What time is it?” Mom yelled down the hallway.
I looked up at the sun. It seemed to be about noon. She was the one with the watch.
“I don’t know,” I said. The boys all sat quietly on the couch, content to let me handle things. “Sorry about the door. It must have popped open again.”
Sometimes lying went over better with Mom. Us kids learned to say what we thought she wanted to hear. It didn’t always work, but most of the time it did. Today, it did.
“It’s so damned hot,” she said.
We all smiled at each other. Before long, we’d be on our way to Blue Springs. That’s how we spent most of the summer, driving the twenty-five miles or so to the freezing swimming hole with our six-dollar season pass. When we went, it always felt like we survived another day. Nope, Florida heat wouldn’t kill us yet.
“I’ll get your bathing suit,” I offered, running outside to the clothesline before she could object. We were already dressed and ready to go.
I ran her suit down the short hall to our bedroom and pulled the sheet over the door so she could change. She was sitting on the edge of the bed we shared, her eyes still closed, hands holding her head as if to keep it from exploding.
“Can we do my hair today?”
Mom peeked at me for a moment and then shut her eyes again. “Not so loud, Angie. Damn!”
Her breath reeked of the soured beer. I took a step back.
“Sorry,” I whispered. “Do you need some water? I’ll get you some, if you want.”
“Just get ready to go.”
I went back to the living room and gave a thumbs-up to the boys. We grabbed our towels off the line and put them in the little beat-up station wagon Mom had scored a few months earlier. And then we waited. Life with Mom meant waiting. We spent a lot of time waiting outside of stores or friends’ houses, or waiting for her to pick us up, always the last kid, always wishing we could disappear because we knew what the other adults were thinking about poor little us.
Sweat was pouring off of us by the time she finally slammed the door on the trailer, but the idea of the ice-cold water at Blue Springs kept us smiling. We dared not complain that she took so long.
“Do you have the peroxide?” she asked.
I nodded. Today was the day I’d become a blonde. I was grown now. Mousy brown was for the ugly little girl I was. Being thirteen was going to be great!
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!