It was white with a rainbow down the side. My dad tried to paint over it, but the faint hues of red, yellow, blue and green still glowed through.
It was our home for a couple of years — a Dodge school bus with a Hemi engine converted into a living space. It even had a bathroom and bunk beds my dad built for my sister and me.
I think of how rugged life was in those intermittent months between cold. We bathed in the lake. We had an outhouse. We chopped firewood. I compare them to the luxury I live in now, where everything operates on dials and switches.
I have a handful of vivid memories of that time.
I still remember waking up on my fifth birthday in that bus, the voices of the radio guiding me into consciousness. Under the heaviness of crocheted quilt I recall thinking happily with my eyes still shut, I am five today.
I remember being sick to the point of delirium and my dad bathing me in a metal bucket through a fever-induced haze.
I remember pounding nails in two-by-fours alongside my dad with a hammer as long as my torso. I was small then too.
I remember the afternoon my sister cut my hair with my dad’s silver hair trimmers, carving out a neat box in my bangs. “It will look pretty,” she promised, just before she lopped them off and took a chunk out of her own hair.
I remember my pink jellies — the ones I blame for shaping my toes into the awkward twisted mess they are now.
Through it all, I lived a life sheltered from the painful and heavy roll of responsibility my dad held.
I have a window to it now that I share the title of “grown up” with my parents. I hear about ill-health and the perpetual struggles of parenting a teenager and the stresses of work, and my heart breaks for them that it isn’t easier. They deserve a life of retirement and travel and all the perks that come with an empty nest.
I wish I could fix it and sweep it all away. I wish I could win the lottery and give them $10 million. I wish I could mend the hard starts to life my adopted siblings had, which in turn might cure the brokenness that exists today.
The 1,000 miles that span between them and me render me helpless. So a phone and Skype serve as the lines that string us together. Somehow, no matter how hard it gets for them, they still are there to boost me up when my life has its minor turbulence.
I’m thankful I have them and that bus to put life into perspective.