Welcome to Conventional Living, my name is Lisa Wear. Conventional means normal. Living needs no explanation. It’s a lifestyle I craved as a kid. I wanted a schedule. I wanted predictability. But that would never happen – my parents were not normal.
When I was in second grade I woke up one morning and found poop in my shoe. Not like animal poop, but people poop. While I was frantic and crying my mom calmly wiped the shoe out and handed it back to me and said, “There’s nothing wrong with these shoes. Put them on and get ready for school.”
Having to wear shoes to school was new to me. Before second grade I went to Walden, a private school. And Walden said shoes were optional. Walden liked for us to make choices. They made school fun. But sadly I never went back after the day my teachers got arrested for protesting a war.
I tried to make friends at my new school, but I just couldn’t fit in. All the cool girls lived in the new subdivision, wore fashionable clothes, or had braces. Marilyne and Don (my bio parents who I called by their first name) didn’t believe in subdivisions, fashion or braces. So I had to figure out how to make my own braces by using items I pilfered around the house.
I wore my braces to school, girl scouts, and to neighborhood kickball games. Although the braces didn’t help me make any new friends at school I did make friends with the neighborhood girls, Karen and Julie.
After school I raced over to Karen and Julie’s. Their house was amazing! They turned on their air conditioning, their mom bought delicious junk food, and they were allowed to watch as much TV as they wanted. Marilyne and Don didn’t believe in using air conditioner, eating junk food, or ever buying us a TV.
But my friendship with Karen slowly withered away after I diagnosed her with a terminal illness and told her she could die soon. I have my mom to blame for that. She basically led me to believe I was a health care professional at age eleven.
Around that same time my parents decided to join a fringe church. A fringe church usually has a name that has six or seven words in it – and it doesn’t make sense. It’s usually something like Hallelujah Victory Believers Faith Bread Of Life Temple, and it’s filled with people who do odd things. That didn’t stop Marilyne and Don these were their kind of people.
They made friends with Beulah who said she could smell the devil in our house. Apparently we had invited evil in our house and Beulah could sense it through smell. Beulah helped us get rid of it though the night we burned our books in the fireplace.
My parents volunteered a lot at the fringe church. But they weren’t allowed to be front door greeters after the Sunday morning my mom met the new couple and said, “Welcome to church can I draw you naked? I’m an artist and I’d like to give you a drawing as a special gift for your anniversary.”
The church tangent ended abruptly when Don announced, “We are going on a trip!” The trick was it wasn’t a vacation or anything close to a real trip normal parents would take their kids on. “The Trip” was basically a year of reckless parenting that began with a series of interesting events.
First my dad quit his job. Then he sold our home. Next he bought a pickup and a bullet shaped travel trailer and pulled it into our yard. We had 45 days to get the pickup and trailer ready for “the trip” plus we had to figure out what to do with all the random stuff Marilyne and Don collected over the years.
Don called a moving company and said, “I’m going to be living in a trailer for a year, I need to store my stuff.” They were happy to help. They sent out a few ex-cons who loaded up our furniture, broken toys, and puzzles with missing pieces. The ex-cons said, “It will be in storage. Just call when you want it delivered.”
Once our stuff was loaded we pulled out of our driveway and said good-bye to northern California. We had no idea where our next home would be. All we knew was the pickup was our home. And I lived in the back of a pickup for a year.
Now, it’s not like the back of a pick up where your hair blows wildly in your face. Don had a camper shell placed on the back of the pickup and he built three little beds. One for me. One for my sister. One for my brother.
We took off down the road. For how long? We didn’t know. There were no plans. There was no itinerary. No GPS either. No cell phone and no email. We were selectively homeless.
Every morning before we left a trailer park Don would tell us, “Don’t fall asleep kids. This is your history lesson.” And we’d look out our little rectangle windows because it wasn’t like Marilyne and Don had lesson plans for us.
Don and Marilyne didn’t do home schooling – we didn’t have any textbooks with us – because we left school quietly with no formal process. We just walked out one day and never returned. So taking our textbooks would have been stealing and the fringe church had scared us so bad on that, we didn’t want to risk the guilt.
Now it’s not like we didn’t read. We all read. A lot. We had nothing else to do. No TV, no electronics, just us. And we were pretty tired of “us”, so reading was a relief. And we had PLENTY of books crammed in the trailer.
Right before we left on the trip I hit the mother lode at the mall where my dad worked. I found a year’s supply of brand new books in the garbage the last week my dad worked there. So we stuffed those books so tight in a bin under the dining room table, it almost required a crowbar to get them out.
One of those books was about people who went metal detecting. Marilyne got real excited about it. She said, “You guys, if we had a metal detector, we could find a gold doubloon on the Texas beach!” She was so excited it made us all get excited. Even Don got excited. So excited he made a business proposal to Tina and I.
He said, “If you kids each give us $100 we will make you partners in our metal detecting business. And when we sell our gold doubloons you will get a profit.” My sister and I eagerly handed over $100. Our parents drove to a creepy spy store in New Mexico and bought a shiny brand new metal detector. We were so excited! A few months later I realized why you never go into business with family.
After randomly traveling for almost a year Marilyne decided we needed to settle down and get a home. That’s kind of a problem when you haven’t worked for a year. But they had a workaround. We pulled our trailer into a Texas State Park and Don said, “Kids this is your new home address. We’re gonna use it to enroll you in school.” And that’s how I started high school. Only not living in a house. But living in the back of a pick up.
We eventually moved into a real house – but not out of choice. Don got involved in some shady business deal and never got paid. Instead he got a small house as a “gentlemen’s agreement.” But this house was way too small for our family.
When we got to the small house we couldn’t afford to have all our furniture delivered from those storage units we rented in California. So Don called the moving company and asked, “Can you bring just half of my stuff for half price?” They said, “Well we can do that but you can’t specify what pieces you want. You get what you get.”
The moving company delivered kitchen chairs with no kitchen table, dressers without drawers, patio chairs without seats. But in that load of furniture was a full twin bed that was mine! I got the whole bed – frame, box springs, and mattress. I was the only one in my family who got a full bed.
But my joy was cut short. Don told the movers, “Just put that bed in the living room. We don’t have enough bedrooms.” They set my twin bed right by the front door. And that’s where I slept for about a year – until we got another (small) house.
This next (too small) house was way out in the country. Like 18 miles down a one lane road. It wasn’t like our mom’s choice or our choice, it was another business deal gone awry. This too tiny house was so far in the country it wasn’t even our school district. But we’d learned how to borrow addresses and go to the school of our choice. It seemed Marilyne and Don had a workaround for just about anything – well except for a couple of problems.
First the water had so much iron in it our clothes turned yellow and the whole house smelled like an elephant farts. Second, no one had ever lived in the house before us so it was teeming with scorpions, centipedes and tarantulas.
I endured many scorpion stings and always hoped that it wasn’t the two types (out of seventy) that kill you. The tarantulas only seemed to be in the plant pit that was by the front door so it wasn’t like they jumped on us when we were in our bed. But the centipedes were GIGANTIC! And every time their yellow and black legs came charging out of a dark corner my mom would pee her pants.
I left the insect house when I graduated from high school and staked a claim in the midwest where I work hard to live a normal life in my head. I swore I would be a normal parent and never just get up and do a dance in front of strangers at the YMCA. I kept my kids in school let them watch TV and eat junk food. They have all grown into lovely adults.
Marilyne and Don amicably separated not too soon after us kids left home. I see Don a couple times a year. He swears he’s going to move to Kansas soon to be near my sister and I. But he’s still trying to figure out what to do with all the stuff he has in storage.
My sister and I celebrate Marilyne’s birthday in August each year. But that got off to an interesting start the first time we celebrated when she was skeptical of the Las Vegas water. “It contains 13% sodium and it won’t make good coffee.” But we are always thankful when she unpacks her bag and says, “I packed a coffee pot in my suitcase so you girls will have good coffee this trip.”
I live a non-descript conventional life sitting in a cube working for corporate America. Although corporate life far from the ideologies Marilyne and Don raised me with – there’s something to be said about having a retirement account, health insurance, and a steady paycheck.
I’m married to a man named Doug who was raised by normal parents. He thinks the way I grew up was “interesting” and “unique” and never calls me crazy when I revert to ways of my childhood, like when I’m cultivating a Pee Farm. He just looks at the Pee Farm smiles and says, “Don’t ever change who you are.”
Doug loves to make lists, plan things, and he has never sold my house or quit his job to take me on a random trip with no itinerary.