The last thing I wanted to do the morning after my mother died was bury her. But I knew she would have wanted it that way.
I think, after being haunted by her mother so many years before, Mom just never got over ghosts. And the last thing she wanted was to be one. So, despite how hard it was for me—just barely a teenager, now an orphan, living entirely alone—I acted in accordance with her wishes.
I did hope she was happy. Sort of. Well, half of me hoped she was happy, and the other half hoped she was miserable. Because that was what I was—abjectly miserable and confused and lost. I wasn’t even near to adulthood. And now, I had no guide. No parent.
How would I live? How would I make money? How would I do… anything?! I had parties to go to, people to see, things to do!
All of that was down the drain now.
To be fair, we weren’t struggling. My mother left a fair amount of money behind. But between food and bills and school and… everything, I knew enough to know that it wouldn’t last long.
It was fierce reality I was now facing. When you live with a parent, there’s the expectation that they’re in charge. That they make the money, provide the food, do the work. All you, as the child, are in charge of is going to school, and maybe doing well (if you feel like it). The sharp edges of the world ahead were dulled by inconsequential concerns and the veil of your parents’ protection. There were no stakes.
Reality was staring me in the face, daring me to tackle it—as I was, no preparation or weapons or guidance. There was nothing for me to hide behind, even when all I wanted to do was that: run away and hide.
What other option did I have? I tried to arm myself with what weapons I could.
School was the only way that I could go forward in life with some degree of preparedness. And, for that matter, it was the only remaining block between me and the real world. Once school was gone, I had no buffer. Teachers, at least, could give me advice.
What everyone always says is BS, Janelle.
Now, before you get upset, Janelle-I know you often misinterpret what I say. I am not saying that I’m not proud of how well you did in school. I’m immensely proud of the hard work and dedication you put in (though I wish you’d been a bit more like your brothers—thrown a few keggers, pulled a few pranks, really enjoyed it).
But for me? No, the second I got to school, completed homework in hand, a heartbroken look on my face—sure, teachers gave me a pat on the back. Sure, they said kind things and consoled me for my loss and praised me for my responsibility in the face of “adversity.”
Then, they sent me to the counselor and told me to await a Child Protective Services officer.
I wasn’t a child, dammit. And there was no way they were going to take me from my home. That house had been in my family for two full generations, soon to be three. I was going to make damn sure that it last for more than that.
Once they left me in the counselor’s office, I snuck out a window and bolted. They didn’t know where I lived. They couldn’t find me.
You know how you’ve always asked to see my high school degree, Janelle? Well, the reason I never you showed you mine is that I never received it. That was the last day I went to high school.
So much for the buffer.
It would have been a waste of time anyway. School doesn’t teach you how to do practical things. Who needs calculus? I needed to know how to use a knife without cutting myself!
Another skill it would have been nice to learn? How to be alone.
That was something I had never had to deal with. Sure, I had been left in the house alone for a little while, on occasion. And there were times when your grandmothers had been busy, and didn’t have time for me right at that moment (especially when they were in the middle of… you know *winkwink*). But to be entirely by myself for days on end, knowing that no one was never coming home?
It was harder to deal with than anything else, I think. I was a social person. I loved people, and I loved to love people. And now? I had no one within arms’ reach. And, on top of it, I was severely limited in who I could talk to. Okay, so maybe that adult neighbor across the street wouldn’t turn me in to CPS if I said hello to them. But, you know, I had thought that my teachers wouldn’t turn me in either, and that worked out so well. They couldn’t be trusted—I needed to stick to teenagers and children for conversation.
This made finding a social activity much more difficult, and mostly led to my wandering around the house, trying to entertain myself.
Looking back on it now, though, I like to think that it was all for the best. If I had found more social opportunities, if I had been out and about more rather than sticking to my safe home, I wouldn’t have wandered as much. I wouldn’t have set out to explore every nook and cranny of the building. Which means that I probably wouldn’t have found the storage room.
The storage room was a sad, sad place. It was dark and damp and mostly empty, filled up with half-nude mannequins. It was made even sadder, and somewhat more disturbing, that the outfits all looked very much like some of my mothers’ old clothes—I’d seen them in pictures. Why were there weird mannequins dressed like my mother in the storage room?
Honestly, I didn’t care. Maybe I should have been more frightened? But I was just intrigued. It looked like the barebones of a store, really…
There were some more interesting doodads from the Newman Family past, scattered around in different tiny rooms. Like masterpieces once painted by my grandmother.
But really, I was most fascinated by the potential that this tiny underground store had…
I decided to call it B’s (for obvious reasons). And, in honor of my love of love and people (and loving people), I decided to make my store feature my favorite thing-lingerie. I had good taste in it, after all. And your grandmothers had provided a good example of the benefits of love and loving each other-I just wanted to share that sentiment of love and fun and flirtiness around.
There were some kinks to work out (no pun intended *winkwink*). Like the fact that mostly men were visiting the store I had set up to sell women’s lingerie. But those would be worked out in time (as you well know, Janelle, the clientele problem turned out to be an inspiration rather than a hindrance—a good lesson in how to turn a problem into a solution).
The horrors and hardships of reality were still looming right around the corner. But at least I now had a plan (or, the outline of a plan, more like). If things turned to shit, I had a store to rely on.
Now I just had to figure out how to reliably run it.
And, of course, not get discovered as a teenager… I don’t think many CPS workers (or people at all, really) would take kindly to an underage girl running a lingerie store… They just wouldn’t understand.