Sunday, January 2, 2022



I was a latchkey kid.

I was self reliant.

I wasn’t afraid of the emptiness of home.

We’d barge through the foyer shouting, bickering, 

Flip on the TV, fill the clock ticking silence with sound.

Noise as a way of forgetting you're alone.

I could do what I wanted

I liked being alone 

I could run and shout,

Boss my little sisters 

Pound the basketball against the cement,

Chuck a tennis ball against a cinder block wall 

That had a strike zone chalked in the middle,

At least until mom got home

And had to take her nap.

I preferred being alone.

I didn’t wear the key around my neck

Dangling from a red yarn necklace 

Like some scarlet letter of abandonment.

I stuck it bare under the front porch mat.

We were poor and unaccomplished and white.
Mom did her best.

She worked and went to school

And on Sundays made giant platters

Of food meant to last all week.

Ragu spaghetti, pots of powder mix chili, tuna casseroles

Tin bowls of raspberry jello, halibut stenciled with soft white bones

Frozen peas, tater tots, chalky lima beans.

A Lutheran pastor brought groceries once a month,

The one chance we had to eat the good stuff 

Like Pringles and Cheetos,

Like Frosted Flakes and Count Chocula 

Instead of the usual off-brand Cheerios

You had to scoop from a plastic bag.

I had a special token for school lunches

All through middle school.

Green for reduced, red for free.

I kept mine in my pocket until the last minute

So no one would see.

But the lunch lady always made me show 

When it was my turn to pay.

Later on, I packed my own lunch.

Ate salami with cheese

Enfolded in a slice of  wheat. 

A browning banana, a baggie of mini pretzels, 

An oatmeal cream pie smashed flat.

Counselors called me out of class

To discuss my adjustments

To living in a “broken home”.

But it wasn’t broken, I told them.

The walls were solid,

Our roof never leaked.

Winter air may have gusted through our windows 

But none of them were cracked.

Maybe they saw the fissures in me. 

We went to JC Penny in downtown Massillon every fall

For wool sweaters and corduroy pants.

My winter coat was a second hand Oakland Raiders job

That didn’t quite fit and smelled 

Like I’d been zipped inside an old church closet.

Sometimes we got hand me down 

Toys from the Burgess boys

(Friends of my moms before the divorce)

Who played hockey and baseball 

And had a pool in their backyard 

And all the things I ever wanted,

Like a cool mom who laughed a lot and swore 

And had snacks on plates waiting after school.

One Christmas I got Scott's

Old talking robot 

That I used to covet.

But I found I liked it better

When it wasn't my own. 

Other kids I knew had Intellivision or Atari,

Foosball, bumper pool,

Ping pong tables in the garage,

Weight sets in the basement,

Bedrooms walls laced with baseball pennants

Signed posters of Mike Eruzione

Model airplanes and action figures on shelves.

And cable TV with millions of channels.

I never had anyone over.

I didn’t want anyone to see my own bare walls 

The paucity of toys and gadgets

Or the TV set with the rabbit ears and broken dials,

The way I had to use pliers to change the channels.

When a pack of neighborhood boys rode by on bikes

I ran inside in case they thought of stopping 

And interrupting my secret solo games.
I hid and peered from behind the curtains

Until they turned the corner and were gone.

I was responsible.

I was in charge.

I yelled at my sisters

To finish their chores.  

When darkness fell

I turned the porch lights on

And locked all the doors.

I was the latchkey kid

Who grew up to be a latchkey man

Carrying around a ring of keys

That unlocked all the doors

To lonesome secret places

Sheltering all I came to love.


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