I was nagged by those boxes from my old life stacked in the garage. I didn’t want Aunt Charlotte to think I was at loose ends. If she found me hanging about, she would worry that she wasn’t doing enough for me and start feeling guilty, and then the guilt would turn into resentment. I had watched my mom fight this progression in herself after we had moved from Forsterville to the mountains and had been cooped up for too long in our miserable upstairs apartment in Jewel while our life went from bad to worse.

Mom and I had always shared a bedroom and a bed. I had never given this a second thought until the day I brought my best friend Wheezer to our apartment back in Forsterville. It was a far better apartment than the one we were to have in Jewel, but there was only the single bedroom. I invited him home with me reluctantly—it was much nicer to go to his house, where he had his own room and his grandmother, who ran the household, made us special treats. His father traveled around the state selling Forster’s furniture, and his mother—they had long been “estranged”—lived in Palm Beach, organizing women’s golf tournaments. Wheezer had confided to me that he had been “an accident.” His mother had been eager for his big brother, Drew, to leave for college, “but then when Drew turned eighteen, she and Daddy messed up and I was the result.” Drew, who worked for an accounting firm in Charlotte, was old enough to be Wheezer’s father. He came home frequently on weekends, suntanning himself in the backyard if it was warm enough and shut up in his bedroom listening to jazz and blues except for mealtimes. He treated Wheezer and me with a grumpy bemused forbearance.

Wheezer was fascinated by my closeness with my mom. He was also curious—perhaps too curious—about the “socioeconomic” differences between us. It would be safer, I thought, for him to go on romanticizing my home life as frugal but noble, like the homes of the poor in Dickens. But he persisted in digging for details about how we lived until Mom said to ask him over one Saturday when she wasn’t working at the furniture factory. She would go out and get pizzas for our lunch. She said it was only right that we return his hospitality when I spent so much time at his grandmother’s house. How different our life might have been if I had not invited Wheezer over that Saturday!

People on couch
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