The Shannon’s house had a pool surrounded by bottlebrush, red flowers the size and shape of hairbrushes that dropped into the water. Our family was still living in Ohio when our parents made the offer on that house. We were having the tubes taken out of our ears and being tested for allergies, and more than anything we wanted our new house in Florida to have a pool. But the Shannons hadn’t moved out by the time we got down to Orlando for our dad to start his new job, processing high-interest loans for speedboats and sports cars, so we moved into a rental with mirrored blinds. We could stand in the yard and look at our reflections. These noses we weren’t growing into. These white, white legs burning in the sun. We took each other’s pictures in the front yard, and Dad videotaped us inside. Like we were on vacation. We were waiting to unpack until we could move into the Shannon’s house, but then the deal fell through—it wasn’t worth as much as they’d said.
The Deming house had red carpet. As in “roll out the red carpet.” As in “stop.” Who could relax in a house where wine stains and blood stains meant nothing? It put us on edge, made us too brave. On red carpet, we could say what we meant. How we hated it here, missed our friends back home. Instead of friends, here we had annual passes. Dad lugged a two-part, ten-pound, late-80s video camera around Epcot to record the hydroponic tomatoes, the Eiffel Tower. One by one our Ohio friends drove down, and we gave them flashing-light visors and cupfuls of tokens, took them synthetic ice skating and deep sea fishing, soothed their hangovers and sunburns, and most of them never came back. At home, we played People Mover with a gold-colored easy chair, pushing each other around the red carpet until the wheels came off. Welcome to Deming Drive, we said in our best imitation of an automated voice. Here is our couch. Here is our table.
The year no one came down for Thanksgiving, we got sailors instead. Our mom’s idea that became a tradition: standing in line at the navy base to pick up adoptees, a pair of off-duty servicemen who needed a home for the holiday. Our family took them to the arcade at Church Street Station, to the movies. We asked where they wanted to go. This was Orlando, after all, and we could show them a good time. They opted to stay home, mostly, drink that glass of wine they weren’t supposed to, perform drills for us. One-handed push-ups. Stationary running. They pretended they were the drill sergeants. Dad filmed them, even after the microphone on his camera broke and there was no sound. Mom sent them back with kisses and postage. We didn’t hear from them again. We started playing U.S. vs. Communists in the backyard among the holly bushes and pine needles. We played Colonies out there, too, and Swiss Family Robinson, rowing our raft across the pool with a whiffle bat. Our backyard was like Epcot, where you could have dinner outside in Mexico without being either outside or in Mexico. Where we knew that somebody somewhere was in charge of making sure we were happy.
Dad had six pine trees cut down to build the pool. We cried over the trees. Cried over the failed vision tests, the failed allergy tests, the failed spelling tests. We weren’t any healthier in Florida. We were stupider in Florida. We switched schools again, and then again. Dad kept planting things, his green thumb wouldn’t quit, and when it got cold, we helped him bundle the palmettos and elephant ears in garbage bags to keep the roots from freezing. The yucca grew so big its spines sliced our legs when we ran around the pool. We competed to see who could stay underwater the longest, and we never got out until dark. Wrapped in towels, our eyes bloodshot, we watched TV through halos of light. Mom sang us songs before bed: “My Funny Valentine” and “Close to You.” Dad swam laps every night, back and forth, longer and longer, like he could get his money’s worth in the distance.
The Jellison house sold to a woman who evicted us at closing. We moved into someone’s vacation house, way out in the drained-swamp suburbs. The house had no number. No phone extensions. It had an intercom system between rooms but no line to the outside. This was a problem, one morning, when our car killed at a Lil’ Champ. Mom was driving. It was our only car, a Dodge Colt with a bad transmission. It’d taken us to Colorado and back the summer before. When it died, we had no way to call Dad at home. No way to get anywhere else. We waited for AAA out by the dripping pumps. Refused to make eye contact with the people who stared at us as they filled up their cars that worked. We didn’t talk to each other, but if we had, we might’ve said: Nothing is wrong. This isn’t us. We’re not really here.
Dad waited until after we’d ordered our food to tell us we were moving back to Ohio. We cried a little over dinner, but we were used to it by then. We visited the new house in Hilliard, the treeless neighborhood. A split-level, where the front door opened on a decision. We never moved in. Dad backed out, forfeited the good faith money. He couldn’t do it, he said. It was the job; it was the weather. And though it would be wrong to say he changed his mind because there were no pools in Ohio, it would be just as wrong to say that pools had nothing to do with it.
The Berrywood house had a fixer-upper of a pool. Green. Algae-covered and stagnant. When we went outside in our bathing suits, fleas attacked our bare legs. Our dogs had fleas. Our cats had fleas. Our bunnies and birds and snakes had fleas. We couldn’t get enough pets: a stray cat from the middle school. An abused kid from tenth grade. We had a wing of bedrooms, just for us, which meant we could hide anything. Boyfriends. Absences. The house like an epicenter, our family rippling around it. Pieces breaking off. When we were home together, holidays, we stayed up all night filming each other: skits, plays, music videos. We dressed up. We reenacted soap operas. We waited for the camera to charge, watching reruns of I Love Lucy and Bewitched. We watched old tapes until we’d memorized them. Sunburned cousins slick with aloe, soldiers sipping wine, people cannonballing into pool after pool after pool. We said, Why did we tape that? We said, Which house was that? In the silent videos, we watched ourselves hold up cue cards and mouth a script. We saw the places our mom edited. Tense Christmas mornings that cut, suddenly, to commercial.
We moved out, moved back, moved out again. Our friends, partners, half-relatives; Dad, and then Mom: out, back, out again. Holidays, now, we congregate in chairs around the pool. Put on sunglasses and pull up our shorts to sun our white, white legs. Dad’s yard has grown into a tropical wilderness, hibiscus and bottlebrush, avocado and lemon. His dog peels the avocados and eats them. Dad bends over the pool, clears a bloated frog from the filter. We sit in silence, watching him. Frogs have taken over the yard. There are tadpoles in the birdbath. Tadpoles in the rafts. Tadpoles in the moldy swim goggles on the plastic table beside our chairs. We poke them, stir their brine with our fingers. The azaleas in the front are filled with breeding snakes.