At twelve, Kat lived in the same 1960s style three bedroom ranch house her parents built when she was three years old.
It sat on a plot of land originally owned by her mother’s grandparents. Kat’s great grandparents were Italian immigrants, who on weekends escaped the neighboring city and its shoe mills to work a piece of land in what they referred to as the country. They grew vegetables and raised chickens. They made wine out of the grapes on the vines still growing alongside of the barn.
It was the second to the last house on the right. A big old oak tree grew proudly at the front of the house while weeping willows offered shade from the sun and heat in the backyard. If it had been built another quarter mile through the woods, Kat would have lived in New Hampshire. Or Cow Hampshire as she often times heard people refer to the state to the north. Instead the dark brown ranch, adorned with matching colored planters made from old tires filled with brightly colored tulips, was located on a dead end street in the City Known as the Town of Methuen.
Not knowing that her hometown’s moniker had to do with its form of government, Kat snickered when she heard people say, “The City Known as the Town.”
“Being called the City Known as the Town is just plain silly,” she would proclaim. Adding, “You can’t be a city and a town.”
In the twelfth year of her life, the town trucks covered the dirt road she lived on with shiny black asphalt. She no longer lost her rubber boots in the spring mud as she raced home from school. Along with the dirt, the trucks covered at least one pair of boots Kat had lost the prior year. It was the first of many changes to occur on Quincy Street that year.
When Kat walked home from school that spring it was to the same dark brown house with the welcoming oak. But, it wasn’t the same.
It was the same house in which she lost her first tooth. The same house where she learned to ride a bike. Where she rode the Tony the Pony Santa gave her on Christmas Eve; scraping red handlebar paint intermittently onto the hallway walls from the kitchen to the bedroom she and one of her three sisters shared at the end. But, it wasn’t.
It was the same house in which she and her three sisters would randomly decide to change bedrooms and sleeping arrangements. Two girls per room. However, in the lively house at the end of Quincy Street it was not always the same two girls. Without any warning the contents of the bedrooms of four young girls would be shuffled into the hallway; the sisters rearranging their new bedrooms for hours. Their mother watching on and shaking her head; knowing this would not be the last time her daughters switched the two bedrooms around.
It was the same house Kat and her three sisters ran around playing hide and seek in the backyard. Climbing trees and laughing while their father tended the animals in the barn at the back and their mother watched over her daughters from the kitchen window as she cooked dinner. But, it wasn’t the same.
Her parents, three sisters and Kat lived in the same house they had since she was three. It was the only house Kat remembered vividly. And the only house her two younger sisters remembered at all; one an infant when they moved and one not yet born. But it wasn’t the same.
During the year Kat turned twelve, things began to change in the last house on the right. No longer did the house on Quincy Street revolve around the buzz of four children. Kat’s oldest sister, Nan was at the center of the change.
It was the year of Challenge House.
Nan, a junior in high school, was hanging around with the wrong crowd. Skipping school to hang out with college aged boys who did not got to college. Boys who viewed the local high schools and colleges not as institutions of learning but as pick up joints. Although Kat’s parents were quick to pull in the reins, Nan like many of her generation, who came of age during the late 1960s and 1970s, did her share of experimenting.
Although Kat’s parents stopped Nan from running the streets wild, Nan’s behavior threw the family and the house on Quincy Street off kilter. It was all in for Nan.
It was the year they spent less and less time at home on Quincy Street as a family and more and more time at Challenge House, the drug treatment center located in historic Grey Court Castle on the grounds of St. Basil’s Seminary.
Kat wasn’t sure who it was that found Challenge House. Whether it was her parents desperate for help or her sister desperate to socialize didn’t really matter to Kat. To her parents, Challenge House was the solution. To Nan, Challenge House was her social circle. To Kat and her younger sisters, Challenge House was the place that they were dragged to, the place that cut into their play time and made their parents fight.
Truth be told, Kat did enjoy some of what came with the Challenge House year. There was an interesting cast of characters – the seminary students who smoked weed in the woods behind the Salvatorian Center; the bearded biker with the red bandanna who reminded Kat more of a cowboy than a biker when he sat at her family’s dinner table like the big brother she and her sisters never had; and the married couple who met when he was a Father and she was a nun. It was ironic to Kat that although Catholics didn’t believe in divorce, the wife divorced Jesus Christ whom she’d been married to as a sister in the church to marry a man who many still called Father even though his official ties to the church had been severed.
Sometimes Kat and her younger sisters did not want to go to Challenge House. Some of the people scared them. The recovering junkies with needle tracks up their arms or the parents desperate to save daughters whose stomachs had been pumped out one too many times from overdosing on drugs; daughters and sons who had turned to stealing and prostituting themselves to support their drug habits. Kat didn’t know what any of this meant so she would go home and look it up.
Sometime Kat’s parents let her and her younger sisters stay home for a few hours; leaving Kat in charge of the nine year old and six year old girls far sooner than her parents had ever planned. But, Kat was level headed. Dinner was already prepared by her mother. There were strict rules – no turning on the stove, no answering the door, and if there was a problem Kat was to call Challenge House and her grandparents. The three youngest girls liked staying home together, watching television and giggling.
Kat didn’t think her sister had the problem others had. After all, Kat and Nan shared a bedroom that year. They had an understanding Kat would not rat Nan out but if their parents asked Kat would not lie. And sometimes, Kat’s parents asked and Kat told the truth. Kat and Nan both knew if Kat attempted to lie, both Nan and Kat would end up in trouble. This way only one of them ended up being punished – Nan. Kat hid cigarettes, weed and an occasional pill or two for her sister. But nothing more, there were no needles, no heroin or other drugs some people talked about at Challenge House.
It was the year that her parents started to fight more but not about money or her interfering grandmother about Nan and what they should do. She had never heard her parents fight about her or her sisters. Her parents usually presented a united front. It was during the year where it was all in for Nan when that changed too.
The year Kat turned twelve, whenever she walked into the ranch at the end of Quincy she knew it was the same house she had known since she was three. The house where she and her sisters entertained her parents nightly. Standing in front of the gold colored Frigidaire covered with artwork and school papers, the sisters danced, sang songs and told stories after dinner. It was that same house she walked into every day. But, it was not the same. And, it might never be the same again.