This Is Me Surviving: Chapter 1
My name is a little weird and hard for some people to say apparently. I always hated the first day of school or days when I had substitute teachers because they never said it right. It’s a family name and has been passed down for a lot of generations. I’m Kiri Michelle. My mom was Joyce Kiri. My grandmother got the name from a sister that had died when it was a baby and she was the oldest girl so it was her job to name one of her kids Kiri to keep the tradition going. My great grandmother was Malissa Kiri. Her mom was Kiri Emmaline. It keeps going back a couple of generations from there. It’s all in this big Family Bible that belonged to my great great grandmother, the one called Kiri Emmaline.
No one knows where the name really comes from but I’ve always thought that some illiterate ancestress thought it sounded pretty and named her kid that and that kid was so hacked off that she decided to doom the next eleventy dozen generations to the same torment she had to suffer. Anyway, the way you pronounce my name isn’t “carry” or “curry” or anything like that. It is “key ree” with the emphasis on the “ree” part. Sort of like Marie only “key” instead of “ma.” I’ve never figured out why that is so hard for people. You’d think with all the weird names people give their kids lately that mine would be an easy one.
Since my mom got to pick my first name my dad got to pick my middle name. Unfortunately for me he was a Beatles fan even when the Beatles weren’t cool anymore. So yeah, I’m named after that stupid song.
I really miss my family. They died when I was twelve. We were coming back from one of my brother’s little league games when a drunk driver crossed the line and hit us head on. Everyone said that there was nothing my mom could have done. It all happened too fast. Sometimes I wonder though if Daddy had been the one driving if maybe he could have saved us. I’m not mad at my mom or anything but it is the kind of thing you wonder about when you are stuck in the hospital for six months. I didn’t get to see where my parents and brother were buried for a long time. I didn’t even know they had died for a while because I was in a coma. I used to wish that somebody would have tripped over a cord back then and unplugged me. I’m passed that part but not passed the part where I miss them. In a way I hope that part never goes away. I think not missing them would somehow be worse.
Most kids when they become orphans go to an aunt or uncle or their grandparents. I didn’t get so lucky. We didn’t live near any of our family. My dad was stationed at MacDill AFB in Tampa, FL when the wreck happened and all our family was up in Kentucky and Tennessee where my folks were from. I was born at Ft. Campbell Army Base but only kind of on accident. My brother was born four years later in San Antonio, TX. We didn’t move around a lot compared to some military families I guess. After my dad was stationed at MacDill we lived in a nice little house in a kind of run down subdivision but everyone looked out for everyone else as a lot of them were military families or they worked on base. I had enough friends to keep me busy and I was doing really well in school. They wanted to bump me up a grade a couple of times but Daddy never let them; he didn’t want me hanging around kids that were too much older than me, especially some of the boys from our neighborhood.
There wasn’t a lot of money ‘cause Daddy wasn’t an officer but there was enough that my brother and I could join a few extracurricular activities like Little League and scouts and stuff like that. Mom worked part time as a seamstress and part time at this placed called JoAnn Fabrics to pay for things that my dad’s paychecks couldn’t cover right away like school field trips, our vegetable garden and canning supplies, and extras for Christmas and birthdays. She made most of our school clothes and our play clothes were generally hand me downs from our cousins. We didn’t mind because that just the way we were raised and we weren’t really old enough yet to get picked on because our clothes didn’t have fancy labels in them.
Daddy inherited some money when his mom died – that was another sad time – but that was all invested in what Daddy called his and Momma’s “retirement home.” It was forty acres up in the middle of nowhere Florida, the nearest real town this place called Live Oak, if you could call Live Oak a real town. It wasn’t bad, it had a super Walmart, it just wasn’t anywhere close to having all the stuff Tampa had which was the whole point according to my parents. Then Momma’s mom and dad died back to back. My Memaw died of colon cancer and everyone said my Granddaddy died of a broken heart three months later. Momma’s brother and sister didn’t want the farm and Momma couldn't afford to buy them out so everything went on the block that no one else in the family claimed. Momma got a bunch of stuff she called family heirlooms that my aunt and uncle just called old “old junk.” My uncle got the little red tractor that they always called the “A” for some reason. My aunt got a car and her son got the farm truck. After the auction, the taxes were paid off and what was left was split three ways.
With the inheritance money they finished paying off the forty, set up savings accounts for my brother and I, and then Daddy and Momma built a house, barn, and shed just like they wanted, doing most of the work themselves. All of our vacations and long weekends were always spent up there working on the place. Sometimes family would come down and Daddy would take themo hunting or fishing too while the cousins and the women visited. Momma named our place “Sparkleberry Ranch” after these wild berries that grow all over the place on the land. That’s where I’m headed as soon as this stupid rain lets up.
The reason I didn’t get shipped off to my parents’ family was because I was sick in the hospital for a long time and had lots of “problems” after the accident. Some lawyer had also gotten himself signed up to be my guardian ad litem and he took the drunk drivers insurance company to the cleaners on my behalf. In the process a lot of other people got into my business too and that meant that most of my family was declared ineligible to be my guardians. The only one that made it through their screening process was some cousin of my Dad’s that lived in Tampa and who was already a state-qualified foster parent with years of experience with “troubled kids.” I had to call her Aunt Wilma and her husband was Uncle Charlie. They weren’t bad people, they just weren’t my parents. I know I gave them some grief. I’m sorry for that now mostly; they just believed things that were so different from the way my parents believed and they tried to cram what Daddy used to call “all that new age, feel good @#$%” down my throat too much. All for my own good of course. And for the record I really don’t challenge authority like they used to say. I just think I should be allowed to have my own opinions. I’ll follow the rules, I just don’t always agree with the rules and I have a bad habit about it showing.
Anyway, about that money. It was all put into this trust and I don’t think I’ve ever really seen a dime of it, not that I could put in my hands. The money was used to maintain Sparkleberry Ranch and to pay for a week’s vacation up there every year for Aunt Wilma, Uncle Charlie and whatever foster kids were living with them at the time. I dreaded and loved that week every year we went. Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie also got paid for taking care of me which didn’t help with my “feelings of resentment.”
During that week it hurt to see someone else “living” in my parents’ house but at the same time I got to go back and live there and touch all of my parents’ stuff which made me feel like they were closer. I know they weren’t really there; Daddy didn’t go for that ghosty-ghouly stuff. I was “brought up in the church” until I had to go live with Aunt Wilma who had a thing for stuff my parents wouldn’t have touched with a ten foot pole. One of the beefs I always had with Aunt Wilma is that because I refused to go to what she called a church she wouldn’t let me go to what I called a church. It sounds worse than it was but it still made me mad sometimes.
Between the so-called group vacations some local guy came by once a month to bush hog the long dirt road that leads back to the house, around the house itself and in the orchard and the fire break that goes around all forty acres. Personally I think he let that last bit slide most of the time because last time I was there the saw briers had taken over the five-strand barbwire fence that encloses the property. I guess you get what you pay for and this guy really wasn’t getting paid much if you listened to him complain. I know for a fact he got paid for fuel and labor plus he got to keep the Bahia hay off of the road and the three acre hayfield that is in the middle of the heavily wooded acreage because the lawyer always made me sit and listen to the yearly accounting of expenses. The rest of the money is supposed to be in some kind of secure investment account but I haven’t a clue whether it exists anymore nor how to get at if it still does.
I learned to live with the way things were. My original plan was to get my emancipation when I turned sixteen but I found out that there were all of these requirements to be able to prove I could support myself and of course I couldn’t with the way things were tied up. So I changed my plan. I would wait and go away to college and then I could figure out what I was going to do with my life and no one could tell me what to do if they didn’t like what I decided. It gave me a reast to keep my grades up and look like good college material. After all that work it doesn’t look like that plan is going to work out either.
The problems that put me on the road weren’t big at first. I had to listen to Uncle Charlie run his mouth all the time at the dinner table about what was wrong with this country. Of course everything he thought was a problem my parents had thought was what made us Americans and made the country great. It was like Uncle Charlie had made some kind of project out of me, constantly bombarding me with crap about “hope and change” and how it was our moral duty to make sure the distribution of wealth in this country was fair. To say I didn’t agree with him would be the understatement of the century but most of the foster kids ate it up like candy. So stupid. Sometimes I agree when adults say teenagers don’t know their own minds. Some of the kids I went to school with didn’t even act like they had their own mind half the time so they borrowed the thoughts of other people to make up for it.
See I look at it like this. There were kids in the school where I went that always got things they didn’t earn because it made the school as a whole look good. Some of the jocks got graded on the curve so that they could play even though they hadn’t really earned the grade that showed up on their report cards. Some of the rich kids got special attention because of who their parents were. The PTA parents’ kids always got what they wanted because their parents were the squeaky wheels and made the most noise. Some of the kids were given labels because that was easier than making them follow the rules or live up to their full potential. There was always an excuse for why the rest of us had to give up things so that other students could have a “fair deal” they didn’t do anything to earn. What was going on in the adult world may have been called socialism, special interests, lobbying, or other stuff but it all boiled down to the same thing … excuses; big fat excuses why people didn’t have to be graded on their own work and why some people just like to be the boss of you.
Then came the pandemic. Holy geezly crow. Some of the adults acted like nothing was wrong and that the people dying were just made up stories. Other adults acted like the Plagues of Egypt were about to return. Most of us kids weren’t sure who to believe. Of course what we thought really didn’t matter anyway. They left the schools open and a lot of us got sick.
Then the vaccine came out. Those of us who went to public school weren’t given a choice. The school system made it one of the mandatory vaccines to attend school like the MMR or the one for polio. Some parents took their kids out of school but most of us were stuck … yeah, I guess I just made a pun. That slowed the sickness down a little in the schools but the adults still got sick. A lot of them got sick. The economy got worse just because I guess, and things got scarce in the stores but the world didn’t come to an end.
Everyone was jumping up and down and celebrating when the “third wave” of the pandemic was over. The news people said the Spanish Flu way back in 1918 only had three waves so now that the third wave was over for this flu we were all safe. Then something happened. The flu hadn’t gone away, it had mutated like scientists thought it would only not quite the way they thought it would. And people started getting sick again; bad sick.
The vaccine we had all gotten in the beginning no longer worked; like the regular seasonal vaccine, it was only good for that one go around. But no one had been paying attention and the flu virus did what flu viruses do and things got really bad, really quick and there was no new vaccine to slow things down this time.
The economy and junk was already bad off because the pandemic had been messing around with things for over a year. That wasn’t the only reason but that was the big one people were blaming at the time. Uncle Charlie was so shocked that “his elected officials” weren’t fixing things the way they had promised that he actually got depressed about it and cried for us kids to see. All that hope and change was getting flushed down the toilet like Aunt Wilma’s vomit and diarrhea. See Aunt Wilma got sick with the fourth wave when she hadn’t during the first three. And then some of the other kids in the house got sick. Everything became too much for Uncle Charlie and he called social services to come take us, even me, but there wasn’t any place else for us kids to go.
Finally when the cops caught a couple of the kids stealing from the grocery store so that we could eat they came to investigate. Before their investigation was through Aunt Wilma died. I never heard from Uncle Charlie again. They gave us kids that weren’t sick fifteen minutes to pack one suitcase and one backpack and then they put us on a bus and took us to the school where we were going to stay.
They tried to keep the schools open for a while but there were so many sick kids and adults that it just wasn’t worth it. Those of us who were being housed at the school were moved to a warehouse where they hung curtains up to make dormitories for the different age groups with the boys on one end of the warehouse and the girls on the other end. We were supposed to do school in the common area between but they never could seem to get around to it, especially when they started bringing in the Flu Orphans.
Well, that didn’t go over well; too many kids and too few adults. Most of us older kids did try and help out but I’m not ashamed to admit we were in over our heads. It was the worst babysitting job I’ve ever had. And then the kids in the warehouse started getting sick too ‘cause they hadn’t been screening kids right or maybe it was one of the guards that brought it from home. That turned into a nightmare. There was puking and dirty sheets everywhere. The smell was awful. They would just put the kids that died outside in this van and when the van was full it would pull away and another one would take its place.
Then when the dying leveled off and had almost stopped other things started going wrong. The power didn’t stay on very much after a while and some of the kids started going bonkers ‘cause they didn’t have anything to do. They vandalized all the common areas and even wrecked the plumbing. We had fewer and fewer adults showing up to help take care of us. Then some of the kids started creating gangs and it got really crazy. They moved out all of the really young kids and babies but I don’t know where they took them. But then the worst of the worst happened; the food deliveries started slowing down.
It took months for all of this to happen. Sometimes I would lose track of time, especially when the power was off for more than a day or two at a time.
Well, my mouth got me in trouble one day. This guy who had been bothering me for a while came up to me while I was on kitchen duty and said he’d protect me from the other guys if I would … you know, kinda be in his harem. My answer wasn’t polite. A skillet clunking you in the head isn’t anywhere near polite. But the guy wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when I tried to tell him politely when he started bothering me in the first place.
I got scared. I knew I was in trouble when even the adults started avoiding me. So, I made up my mind that it was safer for me to take off on my own than to wait around for the adults to figure out how to fix things. I don’t really look at it as running away. I’ve got someplace to go and its mine. My parents left it to me. And I know things that about the house that Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie never figured out. My dad was a really smart guy. I wish he was here so I could tell him that. And he would never let guys like that bother me either.