Follow the garbage truck to Wendy’s house: How my shame stil lingers

“Follow the garbage truck to Wendy’s house” is the refrain an old classmate would use to refer to my home growing up. For years, a large cluster of trash sat in the upper part of the driveway, right under my bedroom window. In front of it sat a dead, dark red Chevy Cavalier that we had no money to fix. Below it, stretching all the way to the street, was a gravel-less patch of thin dirt too expensive to fill with stones or asphalt. At the end, welcoming (or saying goodbye) to visitors, was a broken freezer turned a dull gray after several bitter Pennsylvania winters.

Strangely, even with the piles of garbage, my house was something of a neighborhood hangout, mostly because there were never any adults around. My gal pals and a few trusted guys were always over. We’d cry on the worn out furniture in the unheated basement while listening to Journey’s Faithfully. We’d smoke a few cigarettes someone had snuck out of her mom’s purse. And we’d eat. I’d make bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches or my favorite, chicken cutlets. Ask anyone who’d been to 203 Pin Oak Lane during high school, and I can almost guarantee they’d recall the garbage outside and the yummy chicken cutlets.

shame_familyWhen I was 15, I remember hearing a car pull into the driveway. Running to the front of the house, I peeked outside and saw my boyfriend at the time ambling towards my front door with a couple of his pals. Mortification and shame poured out of me. He hadn’t told me he was coming over. Having friends in my ramshackle home was barely tolerable. Having a guy I liked over was a whole different story. I ran into my mother’s room and hid behind her waterbed, as if my well-intentioned boyfriend and his buddies could see me through the walls. He knocked persistently for a few minutes and then finally – mercifully – got back into the car and sped away.

Yesterday, I received a private email on Facebook from a friend I’d made later in life, years after I said a sorrowful goodbye to the house, the garbage and all of the excruciating memories accumulated over my childhood. My friend told me that she and her family would be in my old neighborhood at the end of June and was wondering if I had any recommendations for things to do or places to stay. Smiling a bit, I posted this on my Facebook wall:

“Poconos friends: a close buddy of mine and her family will be spending a weekend at the Chateau in late June. Aside from the outlets, is there anything else that you'd recommend she do with her family? Any good restaurants? (I know - she MUST hang out at Starner's on Friday; I told her that already.)”

Almost immediately, my Facebook page sprang to life. Friends threw out recommendations for food, better accommodations and activities. One pal suggested that her brother take them on a hike. My old neighbor mentioned a cute, low frills movie house, leading me to recall my first date there, which unleashed many others’ fond memories from that period of our lives. We soon segued into the present, talking about a friend’s tremendous article about Monsanto. In a matter of minutes, my private space had become a hangout again, this time without garbage or shame. My heart glowed when a cherished old buddy said, “Well, first off I have to point out, only Wendy Widom could post something and get 31 plus responses in an hour.”

When I saw this comment, the house on Pin Oak Lane – with all of its abuse, neglect, pain and horror – appeared before me. Then I closed my eyes. When I opened them again I saw the warmth and affection of the people who carried me through that sad and terrifying time. The people who saw that I had worth, even when I couldn’t. Sure, kids can be cruel. But they can also be the family you never had. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

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[photo credit: akeeris/freedigitalphotos]

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