I was 13 years old when my mom kicked me out of the house. It was a late November night in the fall of 1999. I was in the eighth grade – I had recently been voted president of the student council and head cheerleader. Kids at school used to call me goody two shoes and teacher’s pet. They also whispered rumors that I was a lesbian behind my back, because I wasn’t really interested in messing around with boys or talking about “doing it.” Just a few months earlier, I gave my life to Jesus at summer camp and was baptized in the lake. So how does someone like me, the straight-laced goody-goody that I was, get kicked out of her house? Let me tell you.
It was cold that night. Late November in Oklahoma is typically more of an extended fall rather than an early winter, and the days would rise into the 70s and sometimes 80s before nightfall. But it would drop into the 30s at night, and I felt the chill in the air from my bed in our 2-bedroom single-wide. My sister and I shared one of the rooms while mom and Ronnie – husband number 5, though he wasn’t her husband at the time – shared the room down the hall. Between our rooms was the only bathroom, the same bathroom where I found my mom passed out in the tub, holding a butcher knife and covered in her own blood just the year before.
The room my sister and I shared was small, barely enough space for a twin bed. We had a captain’s bed in there, with drawers underneath to store my sister’s and my things. On the floor next to the bed, we kept another twin mattress, where my sister slept – I got the real bed since I was older. Her mattress took up what remained of the floor space, so I had to crawl over her to get to the door. My captain’s bed was tall enough that the mattress was level with the windowsill, and I would often lie in my bed and stare out the window at the road that connected to our gravel driveway. This is what I was doing that November night when I saw a pair of headlights coming down the hill toward our trailer.
I immediately recognized those headlights as belonging to Ronnie’s old Ford F-150. Mom and Ronnie had gone out to the bar down the hill, The Buffalo Tavern, a small beer joint right next to a boat ramp on Keystone Lake, one of two bars our little town of Osage offered its residents for nightlife. Mom had moved us to Osage five years earlier, taking us away from Bartlesville, the city where I was born and where my dad still lived.
We moved to Osage because mom wanted to take us away from dad; Grandma lived there and she had a spare trailer next to hers on a small piece of property. Osage had once thrived thanks to oil – an Oklahoma boom town on the shores of Keystone Lake in the Osage Reservation. It was called Osage City, then – and the railroad, the cotton gin and the oil industry breathed life into it, as it was a division point on the MK&T Railway. I even heard once that there was a movie made in the 1930s about Osage that won several Oscars. I found that hard to believe, though, since by the time we moved there the town had been all but abandoned as a result of the construction of Keystone Lake and the railroad discontinuing service to the area.
In addition to the two bars, there was a post office and two churches – the First Baptist Church and the Little Lighthouse, a Pentecostal church where my great uncle pastored, my great aunt lead the singing, and my grandma taught the kids’ Sunday School class. Mom didn’t take us to church, though – we only went if Grandma made us during the frequent occasions she’d watch us when Mom was in jail or off on one of her “drug sprees,” as Grandma called them.
Though Osage didn’t offer much by way of entertainment, being a kid there wasn’t so bad. In the summers, we would ride our bikes all over town, often ending up at the lake to fish or camp. One year, it was so dry that the lake nearly disappeared, and we would walk out onto the dry lakebed and search for empty clamshells or arrowheads. When we were feeling particularly adventurous, we’d leave our bikes at the boat ramp and walk along the shore to where the abandoned railroad stretched out over the lake. We’d see who was brave enough to walk out on it, and whoever got the farthest before turning back was crowned the most courageous.
When we got thirsty, we’d pedal over to Nosy Rosie’s, an older lady who lived up the road from our trailer and sold soda cans from her kitchen window for a quarter each. We called her Nosy Rosie because she always asked a lot of questions as she performed her merchant duties. There is only one road in and out of Osage, and her house sits right alongside it as you enter the town. She saw all the comings and goings, and she kept a detailed mental record of everyone’s whereabouts. She also told outrageous stories, like how one time she was hit by a passing train traveling 850 miles an hour. We all knew she was a little crazy, but her pop was cheap and what else did we have to do?
On this November night, Nosy Rosie was probably sitting at her window, watching that old Ford F-150 come up the hill from the direction of the Buffalo Tavern, making a note to ask us about it the next time we stopped for a drink. And though she didn’t know it, she’d never get a chance to satisfy her curiosity. However, I knew as soon as I saw the headlights that trouble was coming.
More to come…