"Wow," said Casey Brown as she walked up the driveway of 36142 Carroway St. "This is really the place where I grew up, Mom?"
"Yes, it is, dear," said Mrs. Brown.
Well, Mrs. Brown was able to understand her daughter's surprise. The house was in really bad shape, and it always had been. The windows were cracked, the roof tiles were falling off, and it just overall looked... sad.
Raising a child right after a divorce had been really hard. Not only did she have to live with the grief, but now she had another mouth to feed, and all on her own at that. Of course, friends helped her out, making food and bringing it over, watching Casey while she went to work, and tidying up the house a bit. Then again, it was never really enough.
Luckily, Casey had always had an overactive imagination, and she would imagine that it was a beautiful castle, a dungeon she was trapped in, or anything else she dreamed of, instead of a dirty, cracked-windowed house. She would pretend that her mother went away on long missions to the Congo to find a rare plant to cure cancer, or went to make clothes for the queen of Africa, instead of going to McDonald’s for drive-through duty.
Unfortunately, when Casey turned 4, all of her imagination just flew out the window. There were no more trips to the Congo, making clothes, or surgery, just McDonald’s. There was no more castle or dungeon, just the messy, dark house it really was. Luckily, Mrs. Brown received a job offer that paid really well in Mississippi six months later, or Casey would have grown up really depressed. They moved away to Mississippi to start over. She gained new friends, a much better house, and overall, a new life.
But when Casey turned seventeen, Mrs. Brown decided that Casey was old enough to see where she had really grown up, and that’s where we left off.
“You see, Casey?” Mrs. Brown said. “We have to be grateful for what we have. That job offer was a true miracle from heaven. Every time things like this happen, we have to count our blessings and…”
Casey wasn’t listening. She just stared at the beat-up house, thinking to herself, How could I have grown up here? I don’t think this is possible! I mean, I always imagined a nice little house with a garden, maybe even a treehouse, but definitely not this mess!
“Hey, Mom? Can we please go inside?” asked Casey.
“Inside?” said Mrs. Brown, surprised. “Um, I don’t know if that’s safe, honey-”
But Casey was already walking through the door.
Once she was inside, Casey looked around. It was even worse on the inside. It was a dirt floor, and only one at that. A few flies were zipping around in search of a bit of old, rotting food. In the corner were two cots with frayed blankets on top of them. On the left was a gas stove, and a table with a vase of paper flowers on top of it. They looked strange with their bright colors in the middle of the dark, dull room. There were no lightbulbs, meaning no electricity, and, from the look of it, no running water. On the walls there was ugly mustard yellow, peeling wallpaper. Cobwebs were everywhere, and Casey could’ve sworn she saw a rat or two scamper by. Casey opened a closet to find some coats and a bunch of shoes, and two boxes that when opened, held McDonald’s merchandise: Happy Meal toys, a McDonald’s apron, and a McDonald’s ID badge, and old photos of her mother and what must have been her dad. He was very handsome. He was tall and very muscular, with blond hair and a goatee. It showed the happy couple in Malibu, Kitty Hawk, Washington, D.C., Mexico, Greece, China, and Japan. This really shook Casey up, and she tried, unsuccessfully, to hold back tears. Sniffling and wiping her eyes, she put the photos in her bag. She was about to go explore some more, when she saw yet another box. Inside were pictures of her. There were baby pictures, pictures of her and her mom playing, and pictures of her climbing trees in the park, bird-calling, and running and playing with other little kids as small as her. Now in a daze, Casey wandered back over to the cots. Out of curiosity, she looked under them, and was amazed by what she saw.
There was a cardboard sword, a paper crown, a play vaccine needle, some paper dolls in little nurse scrubs, a pair of binoculars, and at least seven paper flowers, four books: Green Eggs and Ham, The Robinson Family Tree House, Matilda, and Cinderella, and a mysterious cardboard box. Inside was paper, a box of crayons, some yarn, and a pair of scissors. She picked everything up and put them beside her on the cot. Then Casey looked out the cracked window and saw a water pump and a bucket of dirty dishes that had also collected cobwebs. She turned around to put everything in her bag, and found her mother staring at her with a worried expression on her face. Casey jumped; she hadn’t heard or seen her mother come in.
“Casey, honey, are you OK?” asked Mrs. Brown.
“Oh, um, yeah, Mom, I’m fine. Just fine.” She quickly put the rest of the things in her bag and put it on.
“OK…” Mrs. Brown said skeptically. “Come on, sweetie, let’s go home. Maybe stop for ice cream. You can even get two scoops if you want. Then we’ll catch that plane. It takes off in two hours, you know.”
But as they walked away from the house, Casey took one last long look at the house she had grown up in, and imagined, for the first time in a long time, what it might have been like if her mom and dad were still together.