The Exodus North

Qualified Entry: Non-Fiction Category

By: Robbie Cox

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Circle City.  However, when I was three my parents came to the Space Coast of Florida on vacation and never went back.  My dad had fallen in love with the beaches on his visit and decided Eau Gallie was going to be the new home for his family.  The odd thing is that I don’t recall going to those beaches much as I grew up, but he was content, so it was all good.  As it stands, however, outside of an occasional visit to see relatives back in Indianapolis, all I remember of the city was that it was cold and dirty; I abhor cold and I detest dirty.  I wanted nothing to do with the city of my birth, so when I was told that we were moving back there at the beginning of my sophomore year, I was pissed.

I didn’t want to move and I made sure everyone knew it.  My life was in Eau Gallie.  My friends were in Eau Gallie.  Everything was in Eau Gallie.  I argued.  I fussed.  I started packing.

I also started saying goodbye.  I had bought a small, brown autograph book, one of those cheap ones you can pick up for three bucks, and carried it with me those last few days having anyone and everyone sign it.  This was to be my yearbook minus the pictures, minus the “Most Likely To” sections or pictures of the choir or cheerleaders.  This was all I would get to remember my friends that year, this small four-by-six book of multicolored paper.

I also said goodbye to Poochie.

I have no idea where Poochie came from, but he was an awkward misfit just like me.  He ate around the clock and never gained a pound.  His ribs protruded from his sides like a malnourished Ethiopian that you see on television, which I could understand because mine did the same thing.  If we both laid flat on the ground you could see our hearts beat.  On his bottom jaw he had two fangs that protruded past his upper lip, which always gave him a ferocious, snarling appearance.  Yet, Poochie wouldn’t hurt a falling leaf.

He did, however, have one annoying habit.  We had a chain link fence around our backyard and Poochie was an expert at climbing it.  One paw at a time he would put his feet in the open spaces and climb to the top in order to leap over and escape.  However, he never went anywhere.  He was smart enough to break out of his prison, but not to run away.  Once he was free from his chain link cage, he would run to the front door and bark, just to let you know he had made it out – again.  We tried keeping him tied up, but he was so scrawny that he could slip out of his collar and leash without hassle.  He was a regular canine Houdini.

Poochie was my dog, the only pet from my childhood that I remember.  Laurie, on the other hand, had tons of pets:  cats, hamsters, fish and a Chihuahua named Midget.  She even had a turtle that had “followed her to school.”  It was a miracle that she had even made it to school that day, but the story was cute and she was able to keep the turtle.  Laurie was allowed to keep everything.

She was always pulling stunts like that growing up.  In second grade she set her entire class screaming when the lizard she had hid in the storage tray of her desk escaped and crawled up another girl’s leg.

Laurie always had animals around.  I had Poochie.

The day I was told we were moving, I was also informed that Poochie, my dog, would not be making the trip with us.  Of course, all of my sister’s animals went, but for some reason my dog was one animal too many.

When I woke up one morning, he was gone.  Just like that.  I had put up with my dad’s brothers when they lived with us, a band of misfits if I ever saw one; I had tolerated Laurie being the spoiled brat, and still I was the one who had to sacrifice a pet.  My misfit dog was taken to the pound where I knew, because of his odd nature, he would never find a home.  I had often fantasized that since Poochie was such an escape artist that he had orchestrated a massive break out and Eau Gallie was suddenly over-run with stray dogs seeking revenge on a society that had abandoned them.

Misfits, I learned, are easily discarded and since I was a misfit myself I began to wonder how easy it would be to cast me away like Poochie.  I didn’t really fit in.  I had been told that all of my life by those I grew up with.  I also knew I never would.  Would I be so easily set to the side and forgotten one day?  My parents had always said that their animals were part of their family.  My mother had often teased that she “liked her pets more than her kids.”  So, a family member had been cast aside because there just wasn’t room and he just didn’t fit in.  It was a message that I never forgot.

At one time my family had taken each one of my uncles into our home and crammed them into my room.  My father had given them jobs even though it had made him work harder and probably cost him contracts.  My uncles wanted hand-outs and free-rides; they didn’t put the care into their work that my father did and they had a bad habit of running their mouths about things they didn’t understand.  They were complainers, whiners, and back-stabbers and even though they couldn’t manage their own pathetic lives, they thought they could tell my father how to run his business.

None of my family’s sacrifices for them mattered.  When it came time for these men to step up and return the favor all they did was help us load the U-Haul to see what we left behind that they could keep.  They were vultures circling the dying carcass of my family, eager to feast on the remains.

I hated them.  I hate them still.

I’m not sure how my father felt about it at the time.  If he was anything as I am now it hurt like hell.  He had given his all to these three men and their families and here they were looking for the scraps of his life that he was forced to leave behind.  Yet, and this is where my father and I differ on our viewpoints on family, he forgives them for being who they are.  I can’t.  I won’t.  My entire world was being turned upside down as was my sister’s and parents’ and all those ungrateful bastards could do was wave goodbye and laugh.

I would do anything for my family and have endured many abuses of conduct and personality from children and in-laws alike.  However, there comes a point when the poison of some people has to be severed to keep the rest of the family from being affected.

We had lived on Sandalwood Drive since I was in first grade and now ten years worth of life had been crammed into liquor store boxes and shoved into the back of a U-Haul truck.  My father had gone up ahead of us to land a job and after a couple of weeks, he flew back down to bring his family to their new home.

My mom had spent that time packing up the house with my Aunt Peggy hovering around asking, “You going to take this, Mary?”  It’s funny now that I think about it, but Aunt Peggy was never Aunt Peggy.  She was just Peggy.  It was the same with my uncles.  They were just Billy, Ronnie, and Tommy.  My mom’s sister and her husband were always Aunt Laura and Uncle Von.  I never even dreamed of dropping the aunt and uncle from their names.  It would have been like calling our priest Sheedy instead of father Sheedy.  All I can surmise is that it was a matter of respect.  Aunt Laura and Uncle von were a real aunt and uncle to me.  The others never really were.

My last day of school, a couple of friends walked home with me to say the final farewell and help pack if needed.  What I found as I turned the corner was a pile of discarded life in the front yard and only what we could fit into the truck had been salvaged.  The pile in the yard appeared bigger.

My uncles and their spawn were there to help us pack up and shove off as fast as possible.  My folks said their goodbyes, loaded Laurie’s pets into the cab of the truck and then we climbed in, all four of us.

I didn’t say goodbye.  I had already written these people off.  I was being forced to leave my life and I hated it, and it was all too easy to transfer that hate to them.  I looked back, but not at my uncles.  I looked back on the pile of belongings that had been so important a month prior, but were now Friday’s trash pick up.

When we hit the interstate, I slid down onto the floorboard of that truck with a pillow and a book and that’s where I remained for twenty-three hours, listening to Laurie’s cat meow my frustrations the entire way.  My back was to the door and my legs were stretched out under everyone else’s while Laurie got the cushioned seat between Mom and Dad.

I wanted the door to open up and just let me fall out.  Unfortunately, it didn’t and I woke up in Indianapolis. My aunt and uncle’s house is unique.  It had started out as my grandparent’s house and when they passed away they left it to Aunt Laura, because, well, Grandpa didn’t like my father as I understand it.  They also left Uncle Von the family business, West Asphalt, but I don’t think my mom and dad really cared.  I can understand the animosity, however, because Char’s family never really liked me and after her father died we were pretty much written out of the family.  Like my parents, we were not that upset because they’re pretty much a back-stabbing, every man for himself group that we are healthier without.

Aunt Laura resided on Washington Avenue, one of the major business streets in Indianapolis and their home was one of the few that had not been converted into a doctor’s or lawyer’s office.  My uncle had asphalted his entire yard because he didn’t want to worry about a lawn and then he enclosed his front porch giving the house a business-like appearance, which confused several people including the Sheriff’s Department.  It didn’t help that they had four children and the place was always filled with cars making the “yard” look like a parking lot.

We had only been in town a few hours, everyone sitting on the floor talking about the trip up and gossiping about other members of the family, which is every family’s main hobby, when a sheriff opened the front door and stepped inside.

At first, no one paid any attention because my aunt’s door was always unlocked and with their size family someone was always coming in or going out.  It didn’t dawn on me that the man was an officer because of his jacket; winter had already hit Indianapolis and everyone was bundled up.

I was the first to notice the stranger in the house and pointed to Aunt Laura.  “Um, can I help you?”  My aunt stared at him with her what-the-hell-are-you-doing look and everyone in the room now turned their attention onto the man.

“Who’s the driver of that U-Haul?”  The man actually looked petrified, which is funny because he was the one with the gun.  I could understand though.  He thought he was entering a business and instead walked into a room full of gossiping women and one scrawny teenager.

“I am.”  My mom raised her hand, wiggling her fingers the same time her eyebrows arched.  “Why?”  She could have said an entire sentence in the time she dragged out that one word.  My mother has a tone at times that can melt veneer off the furniture.

“We got a call that it was stolen, not having been returned on time.”  The poor officer grew more timid by the second, wishing he would have checked his sources out better, I am sure.

It seemed a dealership had driven by and seen it and must not have had any record of that particular vehicle.  He wouldn’t have, of course, since we loaded it in Florida and a friend of ours had been the one to lease it to us.  We could hold onto it for a week and my mother made sure to tell the officer that.  “And you can tell that jackass that called you that he won’t be getting that truck back one second before he’s supposed to.”  And Mom was always true to her word.

We took up residence in my aunt and uncle’s basement for a few weeks until my parents could find a place of our own within our meager budget.  The basement was rather symbolic, I thought, of where I was in my life right then.  I was hiding at the bottom while everyone else was walking around above me enjoying their’s.

Of course, not having a home of our own wasn’t going to deter my parents from putting their kids right back into school and the day after our arrival Laurie was put into Ben Davis Middle School while I was imprisoned at Ben Davis high.  When we had lived on Sandalwood, I had been five minutes walking distance to each of my schools – Dr. W. J. Creel Elementary, Johnson Junior High and Eau Gallie high School.  Now, I was going to be riding a bus that had no heat through the snow.  As much as I hated the heat back home, I was missing the Florida weather my second day up north.

Everything in Indianapolis looked dead.  There were no leaves on the trees; no grass on the ground.  Piles of muddy snow lined all of the streets, shoved there by the snow plowers that ran at night trying to clear the streets to allow people to get to work.  I couldn’t escape to a friend’s house because I had no friends.  I was trapped in the basement surrounded by other people’s possessions that held no appeal to me.  It was as if I was in exile without having committed a crime.

When we finally did move into our own home my lot didn’t improve much.  I was surrounded by my own belongings, true, but I was back to sharing a room and this one didn’t even have walls!

Dad had found us a two-story house on the other side of town, on the other side of the tracks to be precise.  It was small:  kitchen, bathroom and living room downstairs; bedroom and loft upstairs.  My parents took the bedroom, of course, which I thought totally unfair.  After all, I hadn’t wanted to make this move in the first place and now I wasn’t even afforded privacy.  To further the annoyance, I had to share my lack of privacy with my sister who at least got to put her bed against a solid wall.  Mine was pressed against the loft railing with a beautiful view of the landing at the bottom of the stairs.  I was totally afraid of heights and saw this as a lack of concern for Robbie while Princess Laurie was safely protected.

To make matters worse, I was ganged up on by my sister’s cat, Bandit.  Every night I would go to sleep, I would put my glasses on the railing ledge so that I could find them easily enough.  My eyesight is such that I need glasses to find my glasses and it’s always best if they are in the same spot within arm’s reach.

Bandit and I had a love-hate relationship, and to be honest, I hated him even more since he had made the trip and Poochie hadn’t.  Bandit had the run of the house and had been forced to become an indoor cat due to our new location and the weather.  The feline had decided to take his frustrations out on me.  He would climb up on the railing, stretching himself out in front of my glasses and the minute I noticed him there, he would swat my glasses with his paw sending them bouncing down the stairs.  Every morning I would have to go hunt my eyesight down.  Of course, Bandit never got punished.  No, my parents and Laurie thought it was cute.  I, on the other hand, kept leaving the back door open, hoping he’d escape.

He never had the guts.

My parents had been quick to get us enrolled back in school using my aunt’s residence as our home.  However, moving onto Warman Street put us into another school district and my parents weren’t thrilled with it.  Apparently at that time Washington High had a bad reputation and while we were stuck living on the wrong side of the tracks, my parents didn’t want us going to school there, which made my life even more annoying.

Being in another school district meant there wasn’t a bus stop near my home.  So, every morning my dad would drop my sister and me off at our aunt’s house where we would then walk down to the bus stop and catch a ride to school.  At the end of the day, it was the opposite.  However, since I was in high school and my sister in middle school I had over an hour to wait around at my aunt’s house before Dad would come to rescue me.

I never saw any need to make friends because I could never go over to their house or have them over to mine.  I couldn’t even give out my phone number because they would notice the first three numbers belonged to a different area and soon our crossing school districts would be discovered.

“Then you’d be getting beat up every day by kids stealing your lunch money for drugs.  Is that what you want?”  Mom seemed almost in a panic.  She hadn’t lived in Indianapolis for fifteen years, so I wasn’t sure how she had kept up with the school’s reputation.

“Getting beat up is better than ignored.”  How was I to get a girlfriend if I couldn’t call her every night and talk for hours?  This year was getting worse every day.  I had been kicked out of my home and put into exile, teased with the possibility of friendships that could never exist.  My parents had family, brothers and sisters, which they cold visit and socialize with and my sister and cousin, Penny, were the same age so they got along great.  I was denied outside bonding.  It was like the plot of a bad B movie.

It wasn’t until I attended Ben Davis High that I discovered ninth grade was supposed to be the beginning of senior high and not the ending of junior high.  It was because Eau Gallie did things differently that I was instantly a year behind the minute I crossed the threshold at Ben Davis.  For instance, in Eau Gallie I had signed up for Beginning Auto Mechanics.  It was perfect for me because they started the class with “This is a bolt.”  I had never worked on cars with my father, so this was great for me to get the basics down.  However, in Indianapolis, the tenth grade mechanics class was already taking cars apart and dissecting distributors.

I shook my head in surrender, cheated my way through, and haven’t been under a hood of a car since.

The same held true for shop class, as well.  Kids were building China cabinets for their moms and all I could do was carve my name out of scrap pieces of wood.  I’ve always blamed our move north for my ineptitude at construction and mechanics.

The kids at Ben Davis were just too far ahead of me in everything and in my funk I didn’t want to put the effort into catching up.  Even choir seemed totally different and I dropped out as soon as I could.  “Run, and run fast” was my motto.

I stood in Health class one day, staring out at the frozen football field and the snow drifting down to cover student and faculty cars alike.  An announcement had just come over the PA system stating that all students would be taken home by bus; the condition of the roads was too severe to allow for students to drive home.  The school had probably seen most of them walking in it and knew that lawsuits would be in their future.

As I stared out, waiting for class to start I could see the reflection of students walking down the halls behind me, laughing, yelling; doing what kids do when they knew you.

They didn’t know me; I didn’t know them.

Truth is, I didn’t want to make friends.  I wanted to go home.  What I didn’t know was that I wasn’t the only one who hated Indiana.  The entire time we were up there my mom had been telling Dad she wanted to move back.

“Indiana is where I grew up, but Eau Gallie is my home.  I want to go home.”

And we did.  As soon as the school year ended, we packed everything that wouldn’t fit into the car into a storage unit and headed back home, animals and all.  This time, no one was left behind.