I was five years old when my mom took off with me to the coast. She said she needed a do-over. We were starting fresh, with no belongings, no toys, no furniture. She said we had empty hands so that we could catch new blessings.
We also had empty pockets, and she had no job. She’d drank our whole life away, and the booze had left us washed up in a tiny beach town called Rockaway, Oregon. She was hoping the ocean would catch her tears and loosen her chains.
My mother loves the ocean. She is more herself when it is nearby. She believes that it sees and knows, that it moves and feels. It inspires her wonder and fear. She revels in the uncertainty that it could become angry at any moment and take lives at its will. To my mother, the ocean is God.
“Don’t you ever take it for granted, Krissy,” she would say to me. “When you look at that ocean, remember there’s always something bigger than you. Respect her.”
Summer had just ended, and the quaint coastal town had begun to fold up. We found a small cottage—really a motel room with a kitchenette. We never said it was our home; to us, it was just “Number Six.” My mother paid the first month’s rent, enrolled me in kindergarten a block away, and bought us a sack of potatoes and some ketchup. And we began our new life.
“If I were a thief, I would go over there and steal those rotten cabbages for you. But I am not a thief.”
I don’t remember being excited about school. It seemed so frivolous, and I thought I should be getting a job. “I could get a paper route,” I told my mother one night as we walked back to Number Six from the pay phone, where she’d called my dad, begging him to send the $75 child support check. He promised he’d send it as soon as possible, but I knew the potatoes were running low.
My mother looked for work, but the car we’d used to get to the town had broken down, and there were only two or three restaurants within walking distance of Number Six. She…