By Kacie Brockman
I remember the continuous packing. Every Friday afternoon I would gather up my clothes for the coming school week and my ratty, stuffed golden retriever, Shadow, who was my riding companion from house to house. I would cram my belongings into my small, black suitcase that rested at the end of my twin-sized bed. I would say my goodbyes to whichever parent I was parting from for those seven days, always ending with a kiss on the cheek and an “I love you.” That was my weekly routine for as long as I can remember. From the age of 5 on, I lived out of that small, black suitcase.
That suitcase symbolized the changes that happened after my kindergarten year of school, the changes that have impacted me every day of every year since then. The shifting of having one place to live to two. I went from my familiar Disney princess-themed room to now decorating the walls of a different room, in a different house. As a child, my thoughts were consumed with things like, “what time is recess” and “what did mom pack me for lunch?” But over time they changed to things like “why are mom and dad fighting” or “are they ever going to hug and make up?”
The answer is no. They didn’t ever hug and makeup. But, rather, they said their goodbyes and my mom packed her things out of my childhood home.
I remember the plaid couch that sat in the living room in her mostly bare apartment. My sister, Hannah, and I took turns sleeping on it every other week while the other slept in the guest room equipped for only one.
My childhood home felt completely different post-war. The dinners of four my mom used to cook us had turned into the religious menu of spaghetti and buffalo chicken salads every week we stayed at my dad’s. As a motorcycle-driving, sports-loving man, he did his best to raise two adolescent girls. We called ourselves “the 3 Musketeers,” and it stayed just the three of us for many years after.
My mom had a different plan in mind. When I was 6 years old, she remarried and we moved into a two-story yellow-paneled house now home to not just the three of us, but four other tenants as well. David, my mom’s work “sweetheart” from the veterans’ hospital in Wilmore, Kentucky, brought along three boys with him that made up my step-family. Jamie, 12; Jason, 9; and Taylor, 7, all brought their own suitcases into our blended home of seven. It was the merging of two households into one. We were a modern version of the Brady Bunch. My step-brothers all had dark hair and dark eyes with the exception of Taylor with blue. Hannah, my biological sister who was 11 at the time, had sandy blonde hair with aqua blue eyes and then me with dark brown locks and hazel eyes. To any bystander who could’ve seen us all together at the grocery store would assume we were blood-related. My heart knew otherwise.
The days were few and far between when there wasn’t some sort of shouting that came from the master bedroom upstairs in the yellow-paneled house; or nights that I didn’t cry from David not allowing my mom to tuck me into bed. Every year we packed up our mini-van and headed to the beach with his side of the family to Ocean City, Maryland in mid-July. His side, the people who went from strangers to my family and who I spent my birthday with summer after summer. Those seven years of ups and downs led me some of my happiest memories throughout my childhood but also some of the greatest disappointments. I saw the desperateness in my mom’s eyes, the rage in my stepdad’s red cheeks/neck and the constant support from my dad after every phone call he received from me during one of their abusive arguments.
Those arguments led to disagreements that would never get resolved.
I am back to packing my small, black suitcase to a new, temporary home. This time I did not have to sleep on the plaid couch but my sister and I both got our own bedrooms. Milestones in the life of a middle-schooler.
A red-brown brick townhouse on the far left side of a gated community served as this short-term shelter that represented the ending of an era and the bright future that was surely ahead of us. I embraced this change as I prepared for my high school years and all that came with being a teenager. For me, this included shopping for a stylish wardrobe from my previous dull dress-code induced attire for school and experimenting with ways to fix my hair such as curling it.
Eventually our time at the townhouse was up and I again visited my old friend. My small, black suitcase didn’t house my ratty, stuffed golden retriever anymore but now was home to my cheerleading uniforms and makeup bag.
My mom and I unloaded our belongings into a one-story suburban home a mile away from the townhouse that accommodated room for the three of us whenever my sister decided to come home for a weekend from her university.
In the meantime, a guest took her place. A new man on my mom’s radar. Yet another fling but from a different workplace. Here we go, I thought… another one to add to the count. This one was different. I did not see any fear in her eyes or bruises on her arms but in its place were joy and a sense of safety. Greg, a man with no kids or baggage, made his way into the walls of our fresh place, time and time again. He won my mom’s heart over and along the way mine, too. He created a foreign kind of love that I knew she craved and had finally found.
The summer after I graduated high school my mom and Greg married and resided in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. As they packed the remains of my mom’s suburban house, I again reached for my small, black suitcase. I loaded it with 18 years worth of memories and lessons. I loaded it with my entire closet and recently purchased dorm room essentials. Its contents changed over the years from innocent childhood trinkets like my Polly Pocket dolls to mature, teenage belongings like my diary, much like my lifestyle. This time I wasn’t going to be joining them with the un-loading into our modern, three-story house just a street over. I would unpack into my new home away from home in Bowling Green, Kentucky where I began classes at Western Kentucky University that fall.
In this new journey my mom and I individually set out on, we collectively got to plant new roots in a more permanent foundation. With this fresh take of consistency in our location, we found a sense of stability in ourselves that we had been searching for all along.