Home Is Where The Family Is

I yelled and screamed as the police clung to my arms, dragging me into the orphanage. We stopped at a rustic wood desk. A lady wearing cat-eyed glasses perched behind it.

“What’s your name?” she snapped.

I had seen the movie Annie twice before, but I had never imagined a real-life Miss Hannigan.

“Carrie…Carrie Shaw,” I replied.

I was sent to a white-walled room with chipped paint and a sign smack in the center that stated “San Diego Harbor Orphan Care.” I was scared— no, scared would be an understatement. I was terrified, confused, and the worst… alone. Alone without my mom, who had been my everything. The one who surfed with me, loved me, and bought me a charm for my charm bracelet on every one of my birthdays. I glanced down at the silver bracelet on my wrist. I had a total of twelve charms. I flicked the small surfboard charm that lay on the inside of my wrist. Suddenly the door to the white room open and feet approached. A woman came up to me.

She was wearing ragged clothes, but her eyes looked sincere. The police told me I would be living with her. I guess they needed the money. The car ride took us four hours, and when we passed a sign that read “Barstow,” I couldn’t help but wipe a small tear from my eye. I was being torn away from San Diego, my home. In Barstow there was no beach, no friends, and no Alana Shaw.

Alana Shaw, my mother, had died June 3, 2015. We were on our afternoon surf when she hit her head on a rock, disappeared, and then died in the freak accident. I got sent to an orphanage, and was now going to be fostered in a small town where I would never be able to surf again. That was all there was to it.

When we arrived at the little hut in central Barstow, I grabbed my suitcase containing the following items: three sun dresses, two bathing suits, a framed photo of mom and I in Hawaii, my hairbrush, and some surf wax. Still in shock from the events in the past nine hours, I uncomfortably shuffled into the house. Once I entered the house, I noticed a man sitting at a table with a little girl who looked about five. The man walked up to me and introduced himself. I found out his name was Phil and the little girl’s name was Emma. Phil gently touched my back and took my bag down the hall. My foster mom Karen offered me a PB and J sandwich, but I wasn’t in the mood to eat or, frankly, do anything. Karen and Phil were kind, but nobody could replace Alana Shaw. Exhausted, I walked into the miniscule room they had set up for me and lay down on the fluffy cotton bed.

The next day was just as confusing as the day before. I woke up to find Karen and Eric screaming with joy.

“What happened?” I mumbled.

Karen wrapped me in a tight hug while balancing Emma at her hip. I struggled to escape.

“We won the lottery! We won, we won!” exclaimed Karen.

“Looks like you’re our good luck charm… Lucky. We picked up you and 400 million dollars in twenty-four hours,” Phil joked.

“Haha,” I laughed sheepishly.

Karen ran off to her room and returned with a large red-wrapped box that had medium-sized holes poked into the top.

“Phil and I thought you were feeling a bit lonely.”

I opened up the box and a golden retriever puppy was nestled in the corner.

“I’ll call you Bali,” I said. My mom and I had traveled the world for surf competitions. We were heading to Bali for Nationals. Bali would have been the most exciting trip yet with snorkeling, tubing and all the adventurous things my mom would plan. Tragically, Bali couldn’t happen, but I promised myself it would.

I spent the next few weeks adjusting to my new life. Karen bought a new home a couple blocks away which we would soon be moving into (due to the lottery win); Phil took Bali, Emma, and me to the parks on Sundays; and Emma attempted–and failed–to make brownies in her Easy Bake Oven. Even though I missed my old life, I was starting to get used to my new life, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected.

“Lucky, come down. I want to see your dress!” Emma called from downstairs.

“Be right there,” I shouted back.

That name’s always struck me as ironic. I’m not Lucky— my mom’s dead, I’m in foster care, I haven’t been in the ocean in six years. But it could be worse. My foster parents and little Emma are loving. Things just aren’t the same as they used to be.

I flipped through my high school yearbook, my mind wandering off in dismay, as I realized my mom wouldn’t be attending my high school graduation.

Emma helped me snap back into reality. “Lucky, come on down here!”

I scurried down the spiral staircase, my perfectly curled hair bobbing up and down as I went. Karen and Phil greeted me with a hug as I strolled into the kitchen. Then Emma came up to me and hugged me. I hugged her back, but quickly pulled away. I wished I could love her like a sister but… I couldn’t. Em is twelve years old. The age I was when Mom died. Emma has had her life handed to her on a silver platter. She has everything I could only wish for when I was twelve.

When we arrived at Barstow High, all the seniors celebrated with a pre-graduation cake that had obviously been over-frosted and read “ConGRADulations!” Students went up in order of last name, and when Shaw was announced, I got up to the stage and shook hands with our principal, Mr. Turtle. It’s not that I wanted high school to end; it’s just that after I got my graduation money, I’d finally have enough money to put my escape plan into action.

Five years ago, on a day I was upset and stuck in a ditch of sadness and misery, I flung myself onto my bed and felt a tear run down my cheek. I remembered myself saying, “I need to get away from these people, they aren’t my real family, I will never call this monster my mom.” I needed to leave and go to a place I felt most united with my mother. I couldn’t bring mom back to life but I could bring back our memories.

I would miss Riley and Ashleigh, the few friends I had, but other than that I was excited to start at the University of Washington after summer, but for summer… my plan of action. I went home to find the last $100 I needed from Karen and Phil. I took all of the money I had saved in a mason jar and counted it. $3,768. Babysitting had really paid off. $3,000 was the amount I needed for a plane ride, a ten-day hostel stay, street food, and, of course, a surfboard for the place I had always dreamed of: Bali. I stayed up late that night planning, booking, and more planning. I would tell Karen, Emma, and Phil, but I knew they would want to come with me, and this was something I needed to do alone.

I wrote a note for Karen, Phil, and Em telling them I’d be leaving for a bit, then headed off to the airport. The plane ride was nerve-wracking. I was excited to be in the place Mom and I had dreamed of going, but confused, since I was going to a new place, and sad to be leaving home. The lady sitting next to me and I chatted, and my heart started to ache when she claimed to be a runaway herself and told me how her whole family had died in a fire while she was gone. She advised me to go back, but this having been my dream for so long, I reluctantly refused. I wanted to go home, I wanted to see Em, but most of all I needed to surf and go to the place my mother and I dreamed of.

When we finally landed, I grabbed my luggage and took off for the Kayun Hostel.  I was onto my biggest life endeavor yet. I set my bags down on the bunk bed and stared at the serenity of Bali’s gorgeous beaches. It was about one in the afternoon, so I decided to try surfing for the first time in a while. I paddled out and for the first time was anxious about something that I thought was basically my second home. However, when I caught my first wave, it felt like I had surfed just yesterday, an amazing feeling. I finally felt like I was connected with my mom, doing the thing we had both loved to do. I felt independent like my mom had been, and I was proud of reaching my goals and tackling the thing I’d set my mind on doing.

The next day I walked to Warong Legong, a restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel. I ordered the green papaya soup, and for the first time on the trip I felt sad and didn’t enjoy sitting alone. A piece of me was missing. My family was missing. My mom and I had been close, but I had a new family now. Phil was funny. He could always make me laugh, even on a bad day. Emma was sweet and gentle. She looked up to me as a role model and always tried to help me. She’d never been mean to me like most siblings. And Karen was always so genuine and comforting, no matter how irritating she was. Although Karen wasn’t my birth mother, she had done a pretty good job taking care of me and transformed me from a scared, shy twelve year old to an independent and kind eighteen year old. I missed them… a lot.

Once I finished eating, I headed back to the hostel, climbed into my pajamas, and fell asleep.

I stood on our Barstow lawn, puzzled because the street was empty, which was unusual. The smell of ashes and smoke tickled my nostrils. Suddenly it hit me. I spun around. Em, Phil, Karen, and even little Bali were all in our burning house. “No… no!” I screamed, filled with terror, sadness, and panic. Flames burst from the house like exploding fireworks. I darted towards the house, attempting to rescue all of them, but instead found myself smashing into a glass forcefield, unable to reach them.

“Help me, Carrie, help all of us!” Emma wailed.

I found a neighbor’s scooter and tried to break the glass. It broke, but I was far too late.

I heard Karen let out one sharp shriek, and everything was gone.

I woke up gasping for breath, dried tears on my face. I attempted to slow my pounding heart down as I realized it was only a dream. Still, I had a horrible premonition that something bad would come out of this trip. I loved my family, Karen, Phil, and Em. They needed me and I needed them. I should have appreciated them more while I was with them. As much as I loved Bali and the connection with my mom that came along with it, I loved my family more, and decided to return home early.

Rushing to the Ngurah Rai international airport, I asked the customer service representative if there were available flights to Barstow, CA.

“Yes, the cost is $2,800 if you want to get a flight this late.”

“Umm…I don’t have that much, sir,” I replied.

I silently tilted my head to the left, shocked to see the lady from the earlier plane wearing a camouflage turban and waving a one way ticket to Barstow in her left hand.

She walked up to me and said, “Here take my ticket, sweetie. See your family and don’t worry too much.”

“Thank you… How did you know I would be here and was going to see my family?” I questioned, still contemplating whether or not I should agree to take her ticket.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she eerily said, her voice shaky, then turned away and disappeared into the crowd of people.

Still, I couldn’t turn down a free plane ticket to go home, so I hopped onto the flight and wished more than anything my family would be ok.

Once we finally arrived at the Barstow airport, I called an Uber to come pick me up and take me to 18461 Olive Drive, Barstow, California. The Uber driver dropped me off at the house, I paid him, and Emma emerged from our patio with an odd, neon pink cast wrapped around her skinny arm. I raced out of the car to hug her and let her know how much I loved and missed her and all the crazy dreams and beaches I had seen in Bali. But before I could say anything Emma started the conversation.

“Where were you? What happened? All we got was a note, no phone call or anything! We were so worried about you! Anyways, I’m glad you’re back, but I don’t know how pleased Mom and Dad will be about this,” said Em.

“Em, I missed you, too, but what happened to your arm?”

“Oh I just fell off my electric scooter, no biggie. Let’s go inside and tell Mom and Dad you’re back.”

“Ok,” I replied, as we approached the door.

When Em flung open the front door, we both yelled with surprise to find our parents standing at the door with their arms crossed, waiting to punish me. Or that’s what I thought at least.

“Carrie, we understand you took this trip to get closer with your mom, but why didn’t you let us know you were leaving?”

“I wanted to have alone time with my mom, and I thought you guys would want to come if I told you, so I didn’t.”

“We love you very much and are happy for you to be home, but promise us you will never leave like that again.”

“Of course, Mom.”

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