Robert Kees Beach
by April Q
I will always have a place in my heart for Robert Keys Beach in Florida. It is an oasis in an otherwise dark chapter in my life.
At the age of 13, my parents packed me, my little sisters, Ashley(10) and Cadence(4), and my little brother, William (8)into our old truck. We were only allowed to take one bag, and our favorite toy.
We were cramped in the covered pickup bed with our few possessions, on our way to a new life in Florida. We had only ever lived in the hills of Virgina, raised by our grandparents, as our parents had little means to care for us. When my papa died, my grandmother couldn't care for us alone. We were very close to our Aunt Lucy, and Uncle Mac, who often helped our elderly grandparents, essentially being the mother and father we desperately wanted. Our grandmother appointed them as our guardians.
They petitioned the court for custody, but our parents did as well and were given priority. We were sent back to them. Within 6 months, the expense of raising 4 children, while maintaining an addiction to alcohol and drugs, caused us to be evicted from the our home.
My parents decided to start over, and we left our old lives behind. "A new life" our mother called it. "A chance to be a real family."
We began to believe the things they promised us during our three day journey: that we would have a nice house, that Will could play baseball, Ashley could take music lessons, Cadence would have a room full of toys, and I could go to a good school, and take art lessons. "Now things will be different, " our parents promised. " We arrived in Florida on schedule, and began our "new" life. Except, it felt a lot like the old one.
Our parents were quick to find the people who shared their taste for drugs and alcohol. From the first day, we were often left alone in our tiny apartment, where there were bars on the windows, and we could here gun shots as we slept on the floor at night.
To venture outside meant dodging the drug dealers, and the men who threw bottles at people from the top floors. One frightening day, Cadence wandered out, and we found her talking to a man attempting to coax her into his dirty car. I never let my mind think about what could have happened.
When my mother enrolled us in school, we feared for Cadence, who was too young to attend,and was left alone while are parents went out. Ashley and I took turns skipping school to remain home.
As our situation became desperate, it became a matter of survival. Our parents did not work, so money ran out quickly. When we ran out of food, we stole it. When we were threatened by dealers, and muggers, we quickly adopted a street attitude. We kept walking, never answered them, and found an abundance of shortcuts in the 4 blocks from school to our apartment.
When Will cut his foot open on a jagged piece of glass, we needed bandages. Ashley inherited our grandmother's wisdom, and soaked a clean shirt in a mixture of medicines, wrapping it around his foot. It healed without becoming infected, or leaving a scar.
Too soon, the landlord was demanding money for rent. After dodging him for weeks, he locked the doors one day while we were gone. Our things were in the hall. The same bags we had brought with us when our parents promised us a better life. We went upstairs, to the apartment where our parents spent their days.
For the next week, we slept on the floor of a strangers apartment, unsure of our future. One morning, the adults left. We were locked outside, along with the two children who lived there with there mother. As the day wore on, we became thirsty in the Florida heat, then hungry. We had been banned from the supermarket for stealing, so we started knocking on doors.
At the third door, a woman holding a tiny baby answered. Seeing the six of us, she handed us a gallon of juice, and a box of cereal. She asked us to stay put for a few minutes. She went inside, coming back after several minutes, and ushering us into the apartment.
We sat on her couch, watching cartoons, until a kind looking police officer came to the door. He asked us where we lived, and we led him to the apartment on the fourth floor.
After looking at the dirty apartment, he came out and asked us several questions. We answered them honestly. He talked on his radio briefly. He asked us to collect some belongings, and we followed him downstairs. More officers arrived, along with a woman, who spoke to us kindly.
"We're going to help you", she said.
Amazingly, neither I nor my siblings objected to being taken to her car. The other two children put up a ruckus, the youngest child kicking and biting as they attempted to put them in another car.
Our parents returned home in the chaos, my mother began to cry, our father cursing at the men. He yelled at me to get out of the car. I started to open the door, and the woman stepped in front of me. "It's going to be okay, Leah. It's time to go now." she gently closed the door.
As we pulled away, I couldn't look back. I fixed my eyes forward. I clutched my baby brother's hand. He looked at me, his eyes glassy. He reached over, holding Cadence's tiny hand. Ashley held her other hand, and we formed one unit. We were quiet, not crying, watching the streets go by. Soon, the world was a blur, whizzing by at top speed.
It made me dizzy. In the days that followed, our lives began to change just as fast. We spent our first days at a group home, just some of the several children who lived there.
The caregivers were kind, but overwhelmed. We were told that someone was coming for us, but it would be a few days.
One day, the same woman who had taken us from our home arrived. She brought us new summer clothes, and helped to comb our hair down. She even bought new shoes, a welcome relief from the cramped, holey sneakers on our feet. Driving down the highway, she asked if we'd ever been to the beach. I had been once, but my siblings had never seen the beach.
She parked the car, and pointed. "Look!" She said. Beyond the parking lot was an endless ocean, splashing onto an infinite stretch of golden sand. We climbed out of the car, never taking our eyes from the sight before us. Taking Cadence and Will by the hands, Ms. X led the way.
We walked onto the sand, and I breathed in deeply. It was a mixture of sun, salt, sand, and freedom. Cadence spotted the swing set and squealed in delight. Squiggling down, she bolted for the swings. Will was close behind. Ashley hesitated briefly before running after them. I stood rooted.
Ms. X took me by the hand. "It's been a long time since you've been a child. That's why I've brought you hear, now go on, Leah"
I smiled at her, and ran. I jumped and rolled into the sand. Will launched onto my stomach, laughing so hard, he couldn't breath. Ashley dove into the sand, burying her hands in the dirt. Cadence joined the pile, as we shrieked in delight.
As the hour passed, our year long ordeal melted away as we reclaimed our childhood. We swung so high, we lost our breath. We all climbed to the top of the slide, and flew down in on big pile of arms, legs, and sand covered hair.
Then we flew into the water, rolling into the waves, tasting the salt, and sand. We chased crabs down the beach. Will ran into a flock of birds, giggling as they took flight. Ashley picked up every shell she found, carrying them in her hat. I ran with Cadence through the waves, and watched the sand run under our feet. I heard her little girl giggle, and closed my eyes, never wanting to forget.
Whatever happened next, I never wanted to forget. As the sun set, Ms. X gathered us together, toweling us off, and putting dry clothes into our hands. We went to the rest rooms. Ashley and Will changed while I helped Candace.
Emerging from the rest room dry, Ms. X led us back to the parks entrance. In front of us, we could see two people coming up the path. As we drew closer, my heart began to pound.
I recognized the couple as they came to a stop in front of us. Aunt Lucy and Uncle Mac knelt down, as we threw ourselves into their arms. They sobbed openly, clutching us to them, as if to assure themselves we were in one piece.
That day, ten years ago, was the real start of our new life. We went home that day, and we became a family. In Aunt Lucy and Uncle Mac, we found the love and security we needed.
We found two new siblings in our cousins, Adam and Erin. Soon, it was just natural to call them Mom and Dad. Will got to play Baseball, and went to college this year on a scholarship. He wants to study medicine. Ashly is in college to become a social worker, and Cadence just started high school. She remembers the least of our ordeal, but still remembers every detail of that day at Robert Keys Beach.
As for me, my life has truly been blessed. My husband and I welcomed our first daughter, Penelope, in January. In June, we were matched with a child through an adoption agency. Jonah William is our beautiful 3 year old boy, and he lights up our lives.
All of this was thanks to the many wonderful people, who passed us, hand over hand, back where we belonged, with those two people, my mother and father, the couple who traveled 17 hours to bring home a group of salty, sandy children. Who made us a family, who gave us everything we ever dreamed of. thank you mom, and dad. I love you more than you know.
Dedicated to Lucy, Mac, Adam, Erin, William, Cadence, & Ashley Spencer, Jason, Jonah, and Penny Quinn