We grew up here. Right in this complex. There was a sign out front that said Gravity Gardens but I guess they changed that when the new management took over. Now it’s Longleaf Commune, LLC.
Jeremiah Pettit used to live in that yellow house there. He was always loading up his truck to go fishing, coming back with coolers full of something or other. In the summer, he’d invite the whole complex over and grill some for us. A few times he gave Robbie and me a couple of dollars to find worms for him to use as bait. We’d dig around in the dirt and fill a little plastic cup right up to the lid and he’d give us 2 or 3 dollars. We were never really worried about the money. You know when you’re young, half the fun of anything is being covered in dirt when you get home anyway.
Look there on the corner. There’s our old house. We used to watch the sun set from the porch in the summer. Dad would bring us popsicles and we’d sit on the white lawn chairs. They’re gone now, but they were white. I remember that. And we’d come back inside with purple faces and purple hands and silly grins. We were so happy we didn’t even complain when it was time for bed.
I used to pretend I was Superman and jump off that picnic table out back with my arms spread wide. I always came back down, though. Once Robbie tried to jump, but he was smaller and he twisted his ankle. He screamed and cried. My mom didn’t even ask any questions when she came into the yard. She picked up Robbie in one arm, took my cape off, and guided me by my shoulder back into the house. I couldn’t play outside for a week and I never got my cape back.
And here! Here’s the pond where I showed Robbie how to steer that remote-controlled hovercraft. Mom bought it for us for our birthdays the year Dad left. Our birthdays are actually three months apart, but Mom always bought us one gift that we had to share and she’d give it to us on alternating birthdays. I remember that year it was really cold for April and she didn’t want us out by the pond. We begged and begged and I realize now that it was probably because Robbie looks so much like Dad that she finally said yes. We all put our coats on and walked down to the water together. I remember Robbie wanted us to take his hands and swing him high up in the air like Mom and Dad used to do, but I wasn’t big enough.
The next year, when Robbie died, Dad came back for the funeral. He picked me up and hugged me. He whispered an apology before he put me back down. I didn’t know what to say to him and I couldn’t look at his face so I looked at his shoes. I put my foot next to his. I thought about what I would do when I was finally big enough to swing Robbie.