After moving in the next day, I unwound with the Cosbys. Just as Dr. Huxtable was about to scold Vanessa for sneaking out to see a concert, another breaking news announcement disrupted my viewing. A ten-year-old named Carla, was kidnapped. She disappeared from the Circus Midway, a place my mom promised to take me that Saturday. Carla's mother had taken her to the bathroom and waited outside, but her daughter never came out. This scared my mother even more than the story from a few days before, because it could have been me.
My mom was frantic. She forbade me to leave the house unless accompanied by a family member. That burden that fell upon my reluctant sister, who would have much rather given me to the first stranger she saw, who would, as she put it, "put up with your annoying shit." Like most of my mom's promises, punishments, and resolutions, I expected her to forget about it in a few hours.
But the barrage of updates on the kidnappings that bombarded our television revived my mother's fervor. Driving down the street, billboards with the words MISSING in a thick font over the victims' last school photos loomed above us. Our milk cartons also had their pictures. The few joys life afforded me at the age of ten (the pool or 7-11) were off-limits unless I could coax someone to accompany me, which was practically impossible. My mom was either working or too tired. Even though my other roommates, my uncle and sister Maggie, were unemployed, they could not be bothered by my need for air, sunlight or Slurpees.
Although Maggie hardly left the house, I hardly interacted with her. Maggie's daily routine consisted of sitting by the stereo with the headphones on, drowning out the world. One year ago she had everything: a boyfriend and freedom from the family she despised. My mom trusted Maggie's boyfriend Mark, and as long as she was with him, she could do whatever she wanted including ditch school and spend her days speeding around LA in a sportscar.
Then, faster than it came, it was gone. He was gone. Mark died, not by racing down Santa Monica Boulevard as predicted, but due to a preventable infection. His throat swelled to the point that it suffocated him in his sleep. Everyone who'd frowned upon Mark dropping out of high school his senior year, was now consoled by his choice to live his life to the fullest, as short as it was. At the funeral, the mourners sang along to Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird."
But nothing consoled my sister. She became more distant from our family, as though we'd strangled him during the night. She resented being forced back with us. It was one month after Maggie's loss that my mom plucked her 350 miles away from her friends.
About two weeks after we moved, a Barbizon modeling school ad in Seventeen magazine asked, "Has anyone ever told you, you have beautiful eyes?" Mark had. On that, she decided to be a model. This surprised me, not just because depressed people don't usually want to smile for the camera, but because fashion never interested Maggie. That was my domain. From the age of eight I was a clothes-whore, while Maggie's wardrobe consisted of a flannel shirt and Levi's. Her only "accessory" was the feathered roach clip she used as a hairpin.
Even harder to believe than my sister's choice of careers was that my mom agreed to finance the $2500 courses. Mom wouldn't spare twenty dollars a month for ballet lessons I wanted, but spent $500 for a class called "Tips for the Catwalk."
Barbizon replaced Maggie's depression with egomania. Maggie lived in a fantasy world in which she already was a model. The only time she was ever nice to me was to say she would die to have my waistline. But usually, she just yelled at me for touching her shit, which now consisted of a mountain of make-up. Barbizon might have given her the look and confidence of a model, but it took away her ability to have a conversation unless the topic was "her big break" or "her next photo shoot."