My family was your typical white, working class family in a rundown ex-factory town. My mother was single, and my grandfather, who lived with her, me, and my two younger siblings, filled in as our father. Our mom was harried, cranky, and very young to have three kids of her own. She worked 40 plus hours a week at a low wage job, and we made it by the skin of our teeth. But we did make it. By the time I was 15, and my siblings were 11 and 3, she secured us a house on the border of the good and bad side of town. Though we had to share bedrooms, it was much safer than living in the Vermillion Gardens housing project, where I spent the majority of my childhood. We were finally safe, and while we didn’t have the kind of prosperity I thought we should of (compared to my some of my classmates at school) among my mother’s friends and their children, we were looking pretty good. Our house became a safe haven. Kids would be dropped off with short notice, because I would babysit for free (not exactly my choice). My mother knew what it was to struggle, and she would open the door for any friend or relative in need.
My favorite house guest of all time was Lorrie Jane. She showed up, completely at random, before the time of cell phones and the planning and checking in of every single life moment. I still don’t exactly know why she came to stay with us, besides just plain needing somewhere to stay.
Lorrie was one of my mom’s coolest friends. She had a sapphire blue 1977 Pontiac Firebird convertible. It was never clear exactly what she did for work, but she usually went to tanning salons or massage parlours to do it, and now I am aware that she was more than likely some kind of sex worker. To us she was wild, exciting, sexy, and free.
She had brought all of her belongings with her, in black plastic garbage bags and cardboard boxes. Most of her things went into the basement. She didn’t have very much stuff. I remember her lacy thong underwear hanging on the clothesline we had strung by the washer and dryer. It was the first time I had ever seen underwear like that and I was scandalized. I could never figure out which side was front or back.
Lorrie was everything that my mother wasn’t. She was kind, fun loving, understanding, energetic, childless. She made all of the same kinds of mistakes as my mother did, living a wild, biker chick lifestyle, but for whatever reason she seemed to handle her life choices with more finesse. I say this even though she had to humbly ask my mom for a place to stay. Having her around never felt like an inconvenience, because she brought such joy into our lives. My mom now had a built in friend, she had so little time and energy to get out of the house, and I know that she genuinely enjoyed having Lorrie there. I always thought, if I can’t be like some kind of full fledged upper middle class lady when I grow up, at the very least, I hope I can be like her.
Our couch was her bed for at least two, maybe three months. I don’t remember exactly how long, the summer I turned sixteen was a massive blur, so much was happening. Her being in the living room gave my little brother an automatic playmate, in the summer time he stayed up late into the night gaming on his PlayStation. I remember the two of them, being loud and rowdy playing some kind of racing game, and me yelling at them to keep it down, because I was trying to sleep. At one point I went out to the living room to really tell them to shut it down, and I saw their silhouettes, sitting cross legged on the floor, not more than two feet from the television screen, engrossed in battle, laughing and happy. No one spent time with my little brother like that, not since I had discovered boys anyway. I left them alone after from then on.
Another perk of having her around was that she let me drive her Firebird. It had no insurance, not even plates for that matter, and I only had a learner’s permit, but when our movies were due at Family Video, you bet that I was given permission by both her and my mother to drive down the street, little brother in tow, to return them. It was absolutely exhilarating. I decided that my first car absolutely must be a Pontiac Firebird. I asked her if she would sell it to me, and she said no way in hell. My little brother and I both eventually owned Pontiacs.
Unfortunately as time went on, tension grew between Lorrie Jane and my mother. Mom was a fearsome parent, she ruled our household with an iron fist, until she ran out of energy, and then we pretty much did whatever we wanted, but when she was paying attention, she could be scary. Lorrie didn’t like seeing mom be so strict with us, and I admit, at times she was downright cruel. I could see her watching when mom was yelling at us, trying to weight the benefits of saying something. She was there by the grace of my mom’s kindness after all.
Things reached the most escalated point on my sixteenth birthday. Mom had a party for me on Saturday, but my birthday was actually on the following Tuesday. The guests were my boyfriend, and a couple of other friends, so like five kids including myself. I went to drivers ed in the morning and got into a fight with mom after that because I was on my period and very cranky. I blew out my candles on my Scooby Doo cake. I think the best part of the whole deal was the fact that my mom rented a rug doctor, and we cleaned the carpeting. It was the cleanest the house ever was, and probably was until my mom sold it in 2004. After cake, pizza, and Men in Black, things wrapped up by about four or five o’clock… in the afternoon. So, on my actual birthday, my boyfriend wanted to take me somewhere nice, The Beef House.
I was talking to my mom about my plans for the evening, and she said, you’re not going anywhere, I have a date tonight. You have to babysit. I collapsed onto the couch, crying as quietly as I could. Then Lorrie came home. She asked me what was wrong. I said nothing, I just wanted to go out to dinner tonight, but I can’t because mom has a date and I have to babysit.
That’s when Lorrie finally had enough. She let my mom have it. How could you not let her go out on her birthday? Her 16th birthday? My mom retorted that I already had a party, and that she never got to go anywhere or do anything. Lorrie said Jesus Christ Melissa, I’ll baby sit. My grandfather even came in, hearing the commotion from the other room, to back up Lorrie. He sometimes stood up for us, but was careful because it usually ended with us in even more trouble. Now mom was clearly out numbered. She glared at me, and I was started wishing that I was just going to stay home and babysit. But Lorrie had my back, and she said come on, let’s go get you something to wear. We went to the mall, and she helped my pick out the most girly, cute outfit I ever had in my life. In my little flowered powder blue mini skirt, and white ruffle sleeve tank top, and strappy pink sandals, with the kind of wedge heel appropriate for a 16 year old girl, I looked more pretty and womanly than I ever had.
That day she became a hero to me. Eventually, Lorrie had a baby, in her late 30’s, and she went back to school to become a nurse. She married, and owns a home, and I get to see pictures of her beautiful family on Facebook. She is still an inspiration to me.