I was sitting cross-legged on the counter of the ladies ready-t0-wear store my Grandma managed eating red liquorice and drinking grape soda when I called home for the fifteenth time. Where did my parents go? I’d been staying with my grandparents for a week and Grandma wanted to know if Daddy was going to pick me up this Sunday and should she cook dinner.
I cradled the heavy yellow receiver and dialed over and over again. All day. Surely my brother would answer. Even if they’d gone to the pool, that wouldn’t take six hours. I wasn’t afraid. Just really curious.
The next day, I started calling again at 9:00 AM. They still weren’t answering and it was ballooning into an obsession for me. Where’d they go? By 5:00 PM that night, my dad finally picked up. My mouth was full of Juicy Fruit gum I’d helped myself to from my Grandmother’s purse. “Where’ve ya’ll been?”
“We went to Oklahoma,” Dad explained without further explanation. I assumed he was kidding. There’s no way my family would take off for a trip to Oklahoma without me. My reasoning: You can’t take a trip when 1/3 of your children isn’t there. Think of how stupid the pictures would look. Hey, here’s the Tate family in Oklahoma. But where’s Christie? How odd she wasn’t there.
For family trips, the family members themselves are essential.
“Very funny. Grandma wants to know if you want chicken fried steak and okra or corn on Sunday? Are you still coming to get me after church?”
“I’m pretty beat from the drive back from Oklahoma. How bout I come Tuesday?”
Wait. He was serious? They went to Oklahoma? Now my brother and sister would have stepped foot in more states that I had. That’s not fair! In my mind, Oklahoma was a western Disneyland– instead of wearing those mouse ears, everyone wore cowboy hats and red bandanas while strolling around eating cotton candy.
How could they leave me behind?
I wanted to hang up, but mine was not a rebellious spirit. I swallowed the Juicy Fruit and my pride. “Daddy, why’d you go to Oklahoma . . . without me?” His answer didn’t quell the hurt– it was something about going to Ponka City to get a piece of antique furniture from some friend’s dead mother.
Later, everyone who got to go (everyone except me) would describe how awful the trip was–there was a story about a dead rat in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken that we were sure would give my mom a case of PTSD for the rest of the 1980s. They’d tell me about lumpy hotel beds, empty ice machines, and depressing slot machines in every gas station.
I didn’t care. They’d left me behind and made memories that didn’t include me. When you’re left behind, a dead rat in Kentucky Fried Chicken is like a saber tooth tiger on a safari– it’s exotic, it’s worth taking a picture of, and it’s something to be sad you missed.
I didn’t even get a t-shirt, but if I had, it should have said: “My family left me behind when they went on a fabulous 48-hour trip to Oklahoma and all I got were feelings of abandonment and a lifelong obsession with Oklahoma.”