Authors: Danielle Paige
For Mom, Dad, Andrea, Sienna & Fiona
I first discovered I was trash three days before my ninth birthday—one year after my father lost his job and moved to Secaucus to live with a woman named Crystal and four years before my mother had the car accident, started taking pills, and began exclusively wearing bedroom slippers instead of normal shoes.
I was informed of my trashiness on the playground by Madison Pendleton, a girl in a pink Target sweat suit who thought she was all that because her house had one and a half bathrooms.
“Salvation Amy’s trailer trash,” she told the other girls on the monkey bars while I was dangling upside down by my knees and minding my own business, my pigtails scraping the sand. “That means she doesn’t have any money and all her clothes are dirty. You shouldn’t go to her birthday party or you’ll be dirty, too.”
When my birthday party rolled around that weekend, it turned out everyone had listened to Madison. My mom and I were sitting at the picnic table in the Dusty Acres Mobile Community Recreation Area wearing our sad little party hats, our sheet cake gathering dust. It was just the two of us, same as always. After an hour of hoping someone would finally show up, Mom sighed, poured me another big cup of Sprite, and gave me a hug.
She told me that, whatever anyone at school said, a trailer was where I lived, not who I was. She told me that it was the best home in the world because it could go anywhere.
Even as a little kid, I was smart enough to point out that our house was on blocks, not wheels. Its mobility was severely oversold. Mom didn’t have much of a comeback for that.
It took her until around Christmas of that year when we were watching
The Wizard of Oz
on the big flat-screen television—the only physical thing that was a leftover from our old life with Dad—to come up with a better answer for me. “See?” she said, pointing at the screen. “You don’t need wheels on your house to get somewhere better. All you need is something to give you that extra push.”
I don’t think she believed it even then, but at least in those days she still cared enough to lie. And even though I never believed in a place like Oz, I did believe in her.
That was a long time ago. A lot had changed since then. My mom was hardly the same person at all anymore. Then again, neither was I.
I didn’t bother trying to make Madison like me anymore, and I wasn’t going to cry over cake. I wasn’t going to cry, period. These days, my mom was too lost in her own little world to bother cheering me up. I was on my own, and crying wasn’t worth the effort.
Tears or no tears, though, Madison Pendleton still found ways of making my life miserable. The day of the tornado—although I didn’t know the tornado was coming yet—she was slouching against her locker after fifth period, rubbing her enormous pregnant belly and whispering with her best friend, Amber Boudreaux.
I’d figured out a long time ago that it was best to just ignore her when I could, but Madison was the type of person it was pretty impossible to ignore even under normal circumstances. Now that she was eight and a half months pregnant it was really impossible.
Today, Madison was wearing a tiny T-shirt that barely covered her midriff. It read Who’s Your Mommy across her boobs in pink cursive glitter. I did my best not to stare as I slunk by her on my way to Spanish, but somehow I felt my eyes gliding upward, past her belly to her chest and then to her face. Sometimes you just can’t help it.
She was already staring at me. Our gazes met for a tiny instant. I froze.
Madison glared. “What are you looking at, Trailer Trash?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Was I staring? I was just wondering if
were the Teen Mom I saw on the cover of
It wasn’t like I tried to go after Madison, but sometimes my sarcasm took on a life of its own. The words just came out.
Madison gave me a blank look. She snorted.
“I didn’t know you could afford a copy of
.” She turned to Amber Boudreaux and stopped rubbing her stomach just long enough to give it a tender pat. “Salvation Amy’s jealous. She’s had a crush on Dustin forever. She wishes this were her baby.”
I didn’t have a crush on Dustin, I definitely didn’t want a baby, and I absolutely did not want Dustin’s baby. But that didn’t stop my cheeks from going red.
Amber popped her gum and smirked an evil smirk. “You know, I saw her talking to Dustin in third period,” she said. “She was being all flirty.” Amber puckered her lips and pushed her chest forward. “Oh, Dustin, I’ll help you with your algebra.”
I knew I was blushing, but I wasn’t sure if it was from embarrassment or anger. It was true that I’d let Dustin copy my math homework earlier that day. But as cute as Dustin was, I wasn’t stupid enough to think I’d ever have a shot with him. I was Salvation Amy, the flat-chested trailer-trash girl whose clothes were always a little too big and a lot too thrift store. Who hadn’t had a real friend since third grade.
I wasn’t the type of girl Dustin would go for, with or without the existence of Madison Pendleton. He had been “borrowing” my algebra almost every day for the entire year. But Dustin would never look at me like that. Even at forty-pounds pregnant, Madison sparkled like the words on her oversize chest. There was glitter embedded in her eye shadow, in her lip gloss, in her nail polish, hanging from her ears in shoulder-grazing hoops, dangling from her wrists in blingy bracelets. If the lights went out in the hallway, she could light it up like a human disco ball. Like human bling. Meanwhile, the only color I had to offer was in my hair, which I’d dyed pink just a few days ago.
I was all sharp edges and angles—words that came out too fast and at the wrong times. And I slouched. If Dustin was into shiny things like Madison, he would never be interested in me.
I don’t know if I was exactly interested in Dustin, either, but we did have one thing in common: we both wanted out of Flat Hill, Kansas.
For a while, it had almost looked like Dustin was going to make it, too. All you need is a little push sometimes. Sometimes it’s a tornado; sometimes it’s the kind of right arm that gets you a football scholarship. He had been set to go. Until eight and a half months ago, that is.
I didn’t know what was worse: to have your shot and screw it up, or to never have had a shot in the first place.
“I wasn’t . . . ,” I protested. Before I could finish, Madison was all up in my face.
“Listen, Dumb Gumm,” she said. I felt a drop of her spit hit my cheek and resisted the urge to wipe it away. I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. “Dustin’s mine. We’re getting married as soon as the baby comes and I can fit into my aunt Robin’s wedding dress. So you’d better stay away from him—not that he’d ever be interested in someone like you anyway.”
By this point, everyone in the hallway had stopped looking into their lockers, and they were looking at us instead. Madison was used to eyes on her—but this was new to me.
“Listen,” I mumbled back at her, wanting this to be over. “It was just homework.” I felt my temper rising. I’d just been trying to help him. Not because I had a crush on him. Just because he deserved a break.
“She thinks Dustin needs her help,” Amber chimed in. “Taffy told me she heard Amy offered to
him after school. Just a little one-on-one academic counseling.” She cackled loudly. She said “tutor” like I’d done a lap dance for Dustin in front of the whole fourth period.
I hadn’t offered anyway. He had asked. Not that it mattered. Madison was already steaming.
“Oh, she did, did she? Well why don’t I give this bitch a little tutoring of my own?”
I turned to walk away, but Madison grabbed me by the wrist and jerked me back around to face her. She was so close to me that her nose was almost touching mine. Her breath smelled like Sour Patch Kids and kiwi-strawberry lip gloss.
“Who the hell do you think you are, trying to steal my boyfriend? Not to mention my baby’s dad?”
“He asked me,” I said quietly so that only Madison could hear.
I knew I should shut up. But it wasn’t fair. All I’d tried to do was something good.
“I didn’t talk to him. He asked me for help,” I said, louder this time.
“And what could he find so interesting about you?” she snapped back, as if Dustin and I belonged to entirely different species.
It was a good question. The kind that gets you where it hurts. But an answer popped into my head, right on time, not two seconds after Madison wobbled away down the hall. I knew it was mean, but it flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to even think about it.
“Maybe he just wanted to talk to someone his own size.”
Madison’s mouth opened and closed without anything coming out. I took a step back, ready to walk away with my tiny victory. And then she rolled into her heels, wound up, and—before I could duck—punched me square in the jaw. I felt my head throbbing as I stumbled back and landed on my butt.
It was my turn to be surprised, looking up at her in dazed, fuzzy-headed confusion. Had that just happened? Madison had always been a complete bitch, but—aside from the occasional shoulder check in the girls’ locker room—she wasn’t usually the violent type. Until now.
Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones.
“Take it back,” she demanded as I began to get to my feet.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Amber a second too late. Always one to take a cue from her best friend, she yanked me by the hair and pushed me back down to the ground.
The chant of “Fight! Fight! Fight!” boomed in my ears. I checked for blood, relieved to find my skull intact. Madison stepped forward and towered over me, ready for the next round. Behind her, I could see that a huge crowd had gathered around us.
“Take it back. I’m not fat,” Madison insisted. But her lip quivered a tiny bit at the f-word. “I may be pregnant, but I’m still a size two.”
“Kick her!” Amber hissed.
I scooted away from her rhinestone-studded sandal and stood up just as the assistant principal, Mr. Strachan, appeared, flanked by a pair of security guards. The crowd began to disperse, grumbling that the show was over.
Madison quickly dropped her punching arm and went back to rubbing her belly and cooing. She scrunched her face up into a pained grimace, like she was fighting back tears. I rolled my eyes. I wondered if she would actually manage to produce tears.
Mr. Strachan looked from me to Madison and back again through his wire rims.
“Mr. Strachan,” Madison said shakily. “She just came at me! At us!” She patted her belly protectively, making it clear that she was speaking for two these days.
He folded his arms across his chest and lowered his glare to where I still crouched. Madison had him at “us.” “Really, Amy? Fighting with a pregnant girl? You’ve always had a hard time keeping your mouth shut when it’s good for you, but this is low, even for you.”
“She threw the first punch!” I yelled. It didn’t matter. Mr. Strachan was already pulling me to my feet to haul me off to the principal’s office.
“I thought you could be the bigger person at a time like this. I guess I overestimated you. As usual.”
As I walked away, I looked over my shoulder. Madison lifted her hand from her belly to give me a smug little wave. Like she knew I wouldn’t be coming back.
When I’d left for school that morning, Mom had been sitting on the couch for three days straight. In those three days, my mother had taken zero showers, had said almost nothing, and—as far as I knew—had consumed only half a carton of cigarettes and a few handfuls of Bugles. Oh, and whatever pills she was on. I’m not even sure when she got up to pee. She’d just been sitting there watching TV.
It used to be that I always tried to figure out what was wrong with her when she got like this. Was it the weather? Was she thinking about my father? Was it just the pills? Or was there something else that had turned her into a human slug?
By now, though, I was used to it enough to know that it wasn’t any of that. She just got like this sometimes. It was her version of waking up on the wrong side of the bed, and when it happened, you just had to let her ride it out. Whenever it happened, I wondered if this time she’d be
So when I pushed the door to our trailer open an hour after my meeting with the principal, carrying all the books from my locker in a black Hefty bag—I’d been suspended for the rest of the week—I was surprised to see that the couch was empty except for one of those blankets with the sleeves that Mom had ordered off TV with money we didn’t have.
In the bathroom, I could hear her rustling around: the faucet running, the clatter of drugstore makeup on a tiny counter. I guess she’d ridden it out again after all. Not that that was always a good thing.
“Mom?” I asked.
“Shit!” she yelped, followed by the sound of something falling into the sink. She didn’t come out of the bathroom, and she didn’t ask what I was doing home so early.
I dropped my backpack and my Hefty bag on the floor, slid off my sneakers, and looked over at the screen. Al Roker was pointing to my hometown on one of those big fake maps. He was frowning.