Leaves of Farming Ridge Boulevard
Now those memories come back to haunt me — they haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true — or is it something worse?
November was always a special time of the year in the Davis family household. Mother’s birthday had just passed, father’s family would be coming into town for Thanksgiving. That succulent Virginia aroma filled our house for days as our parents worked together to put together a meal all could enjoy. Juicy turkey split between light and dark, cranberries, stuffing, and gravy; all ingredients that would be placed onto rolls days later for Thanksgiving special sandwiches. Pumpkin spice lattes would be whipped up at Reading staple Espresso Yourself coffee shop, Lancaster County pumpkins laced out in front of the coffee shop, and the Davis house. And those leaves of Farming Ridge Boulevard sprinkled all over the yard, jumping out of memory gazing trees and into memory destroying hands.
Mortgage-backed securities. The American Dream hinges on their distribution frequency and the willingness of the banks to lend money to people who might just not ever pay it back. Come 2007, we would find out just how corrupt the backrooms that signed those securities are, watching and learning the middle class was funded by lucrative brainwashers tricking men and women into thinking a six-bedroom house accounted to some sort of equity. Come one, come all, come buy a house for the banks. Such a gift can only be granted to those doers, those go-getters, those trendsetters. They came to Farming Ridge Boulevard in the late ’90s, oh so far away from the homeless and the Section 8 communities attempting to create “hell for suburbia,” and oh so close to the lions and tigers and banks and bankruptcies… oh my…
Now, what’s so wrong with Section 8 communities? Does their inability to obtain mortgage-backed securities automatically write them off as not being a beneficial member of the community? If not for Judge Robert E. Simpson’s ruling on November 30, 1999, forcing me into the foster care system, promptly two years and eleven days after the Adoption and Safe Families Act was signed by President Bill Clinton, I might myself be looking to add my name to the long-lined waitlist of Section 8. Before President Clinton’s signature, the law of the land was the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which American states interpreted as meaning “biological families be kept together, no matter what.” Eleven days… Eleven days….
Christmas was always a special time of the year in our boulevard house led by the pastor and his wife. Popcorn strings covered the Christmas farm tree, waiting for Santa to climb down the chimney and bring us, children, gifts. I sat up all night staring at my neon starlit bedroom ceiling. My first year on the boulevard included binoculars, camera toys, remote control cars and helicopters, handheld gaming devices, a drivable electric vehicle, and a McDonald’s Deluxe Mealtime Set, today a rarity selling for upwards of thousands of dollars on Amazon and eBay. We’re not in Section 8 anymore, and this was no Section 8 Christmas.
A Section 8 Christmas includes, first, trying to get through Thanksgiving. That time of the year in which the Property Manager begins their season of paid days off, unable to sign any vouchers, unable to help the very people they claim to fight for. And these people out there surviving on eight dollars an hour; could you survive on eight dollars an hour? Having a baby on Black Friday, facing eviction for having an unregistered baby on Black Friday while the leasing office is closed. The screams the yells the cries, the threats towards the Property Manager’s life not because they dared hurt the manager, but because the manager does not realize before taking the job such a position includes acting as an agent not for, but against the innocents. “You can be an agent against someone else and not even realize you’re being used. That’s The Matrix.”
No Property Managers ran Farming Ridge Boulevard, instead, the banks sat as agents, waiting for their patrons to come on in with a few derivative changes. The asset, the bank’s asset, would soon be back in the distributor’s hands — a divorce was near.
Lake Wynonah is where the brokenhearted woman would take her four adopted children in 2002. Can they find their way home? Thanksgiving and Christmas were now on the lake, whoopie pies were now our go-to weekend dessert, Keith Urban’s Golden Road was the go-to breakup album, and Shania’s Up! was the go-to female empowerment album.
My rebellious soul was being developed in that house on the lake, too. Pastor Erin and I were making hamburgers together before she had any sons of her own, and I was told, “Don’t add anything to the meat,” as she stepped away for a few minutes. I grabbed the salt container and poured it into the uncooked meat until my mark could be made on the recipe. Pastor Craig remembers that dang house and party, too, reminiscing on it the day before Mother’s Day 2020. “Man, that house was cool!” I laugh and tell him the story of those salty burgers that my mother’s father thoroughly enjoyed.
The man would roll over to Montgomery County not too long after, and we would soon meet his mistress at church, with a story of “all the women in the crowd wanted him.” The mistress invited us over to her house, we played in the pool and throughout the neighborhood. I learned how to grill chicken on the bone, always utilizing Jack Daniel’s Old №7 barbeque sauce. I learned how to powerwash a house, learned how to navigate a John Deere lawnmower, learned that my father would hand down his car to his mistress’s son before his own sons. She showed off her Avril Lavigne Let Go album, always making it hard to remember her very presence helped lead a family into divorce and make things so complicated.
I was told years after the divorce was finalized, only days before my seventeenth birthday, “Look at all this money he makes. Why can’t I have some of it?” Soon after the judge granted more money in favor of the plaintiff, all of my belongings were thrown outside the house. Days after my eighteenth birthday, I’m told, “I no longer get child support for you. I can no longer support you.”
Somehow through liquidations and divorce battles galore, the mother and her four “kids” were able to move back into the Farming Ridge Boulevard house, not too long before moving over to Laurel Springs. Frequent moves and the addition of step-parents and step-siblings. I sometimes forget that I had a life whatsoever before the divorce.
Father was always away somewhere in the world on his pharmaceutical Information Technology salaryman journey. Pesos from Mexico, chocolates from Chili, rupees from India, trinkets from El Paso, lessons from China, and the Marines. With all that traveling came little time for staying at the house or the events. The Crestwood Swimming Pool closed at 8 PM, would he ever get back to the house in time to take us? One day as we sit waiting at the pool, he arrives, and we are then told that the pool will be closing in five minutes. I couldn’t swim and we wondered if I ever would be able to. I jump in the pool and pounce into a doggie paddle. “I can’t swim!”
“Just cup your hands,” he says. I cup my hands, and then I could swim. On that day, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: The difference between life and death can be as simple as a proper five-minute session.
English is a language I was never supposed to be able to speak. Regardless of the sessions’ lengths, the psychologists the psychiatrists all laughed at the thought of me becoming successful in this world. Advanced Placement Chemistry…? Advanced Placement English Language and Composition…? Ha! Advanced retard, advanced Reactive Attachment Disorder. My Biology teacher laughed at the psychologists as I told her I was meant to be one of the special-ed kids delivering her coffee. “Well, they got that one wrong, didn’t they?” Oh, that 1997 Adoption Bill, which states the more severe psychological condition a foster child has, the more funding the foster home can receive…
The Speech Pathologists tried and tried to get me to speak. Write me off, write me off, write me off they did. What they didn’t realize is that it wasn’t being taught that I didn’t enjoy, it was watching someone attempt to teach without first making a meaningful and valuable connection. You and your alternatives — don’t send me to your therapist.
It would be the Exeter Township Senior High School nurse who would go on to begin my education. One day, she came on over to the boulevard with a crate of Smithsonian books and informative cards on extinct and endangered species. She had already made a positive connection to me, she was a frequent client of Espresso Yourself and even worked there for a while. She enjoyed the pictures of me in a parked convertible, pretending to be able to drive at the ripe age of four, and my preschool tribal fashion show pictures were taken at her house. She had won my trust before I knew what trust was.
I laid those Smithsonian books out on the floor and stared between the bindings for days weeks months. The animal cards found their place with me wherever I went, hidden in my dresser drawers hidden in my pillow sheets. I was learning all about saber-toothed tigers and Egyptian tombs, all on my own, but all with the initial help of the high school’s nurse. I was learning so much — but necessarily speaking about it — for I preferred writing.
The writing lessons came easy. I simply watched my mother sign her name Michele whenever I had the chance, asked her to write it down for me. I knew how to spell and write Michele before I could Kordel. And the handwriting transferred over to me as well, studying the subtle shifts and fragile motions. No bravery came with the skill at first. In first grade, my teacher pulled me aside and asked if she could share what I wrote with the class. I told her yes, and was waiting to hear her tell everyone how to not write.
She read out of that yellow folder, and said, “This is really good. Kordel wrote this.” Everyone seemed shocked. I surely was shocked. I didn’t know until that day that I had any skills whatsoever, I was still hesitant to believe the teacher’s words and wondered if she might be acting. I was soon then invited to eat lunch with the Principal for outstanding performance in which I of course invited my mother as well. I was soon then added to the gifted Mathematics program. Still, I had no idea what was going on, I didn’t have two, or even one parent, to tell me I was getting ahead of the curve. Finally, my mother gets me tested for an even stronger gifted program, after which we are told, “Memory within the 98th Percentile.”
October 2019. My sister was celebrating her arrival into adulthood, it was her 18th birthday party. Halloween themed. The venue was our mother’s new coffee shop, the very one I was told — first — I could use for my own birthday party two months earlier — then — told it was not feasible. Throughout that entire circus, my mother plotted the idea in my sister’s head of her own birthday celebration at the shop. She had fun, I had fun, we had fun.
As I prepare to go to my Airbnb, my mother suggests I stay the night at her house. “All you have to do is ask,” she says. It was only three years prior, during my freshman year at Penn State, that I slept in our garage on the night before Thanksgiving while my mother locked me out of the house. When I got back to campus soon after, the dysfunctions my mother created in the family caused me to believe that Beta Theta Pi would be a more suitable home for me. No matter what they did to me, it couldn't have been as bad as what my mother just put me through. I decide to stay the night, knowing that there is only one road that can help lead me away from State College’s Burrowes Street: Farming Ridge Boulevard.
I crept out late that night down memory lane only 1.4 miles away. I found myself outside my childhood home on Farming Ridge Boulevard, reminiscing on the times we spent together, the life we lived. Rolling down the yard, getting our clothes stained grass green. Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true — or is it something worse that takes me down to the boulevard? I wondered if the homeowners might be awake if they might allow me to take a look inside the house that built me.
It was only a few years, maybe a few years too many, maybe not enough years. It is well past 12 AM, and the streetlights are on, and this might well be the last time I ever visit this house. I walked up to a tree with branches hovering over the sidewalk, not seeing any lights on yet not caring if someone came out asking what I was doing. For if someone asked me what I was doing as my hands gravitated towards that tree branch, the answer would be simple, “Taking with me the leaves of Farming Ridge Boulevard.” I remember… We were built to fall apart… Are we out of the woods yet…?
The morning of October 27, 2019, I wondered if my mother might know where I had gone the night before if she had some sort of telekinetic insight that my childhood needed a fair and true conclusion all these years later. What was she doing buying a house right across the street from where mother and father had their coffee shop?
One day as our father drove my sister and me back to our mother’s house from New Jersey, he made some pitstops down memory lane, driving to the Pagoda in Center City Reading, driving around and around, driving right past our old house on Farming Ridge Boulevard, ending the tour back on Saint Lawrence Avenue, pointing out the building that used to house Espresso Yourself. Was it reminisce, was it realizing what still could have been, was it post-traumatic stress disorder?
And where did my post-traumatic stress disorder truly begin? Did it begin in that foster care that failed to feed me? Did it begin in that tent in the Farming Ridge Boulevard backyard when one of the twins committed crimes of sexual assault — the one whose first name is my middle name? Did it begin jumping from home to home in the deep south amidst my parents’ divorce, or maybe that helped to heal? Did it begin when my adoptive mother’s fiancé threw me against a wall? Did it end? Does it ever end….
Christmas 2018. Palmyra, New Jersey. A tranquil small town directly across from northeast Philadelphia, separated only by the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. A Palmyra Christmas includes, first, hopping on the train from New Brunswick, then hopping on the Riverline connection in Trenton. My days in Palmyra, filled with family moments and true tender loving care. Going down to the pizza shop to grab a South Jersey staple boost soda drink; picnics at the dockyard with my father and his soon-to-be wife; watching Independence Day fireworks on the boat in the Schuylkill River; learning that my father’s girlfriend was a true human, “I didn’t like The Hunger Games film. I don’t like the thought of seeing children die.” That was all years ago, and in 2018, none of that mattered as maturity is attained and The Truth arises.
I demanded answers. How does a couple adopt four children and then get divorced, with the fourth child being adopted only weeks before the divorce is finalized? How and why did the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allow the children to stay in a dysfunctional household? How does one man have four wives in one lifetime?
“We got a call from a caseworker one day saying they had a child who needs help as soon as possible and the help the child needs could not be given in a foster care setting. We already adopted two children and they saw us as a good fit.” Far from my mother’s story of, “You threw a book at me when I first saw you, and so I knew you wanted to be with me.” It all confirmed what I already knew to be true, what I knew to be true but wished was not true at all, that I was just a pawn in a queen’s game of Marriage & Adoption & Divorce.
“What were you expecting, some kind of sob story?… Why don’t you party anymore? You went to Penn State to party,” my stepmother says. While I got tripped up in some insanity at that school, I certainly didn’t go to college to run through gauntlets known as beer miles. “You can be an agent against someone else and not even realize you’re being used. That’s The Matrix.” It’s not Christmas anymore and that’s The Matrix… Not texting someone back on Christmas but stalking their social media handles — creeping but not caring — that’s The Matrix….
Instead of driving me back to my dorm at Rutgers as planned, an Uber would now be taking me away and away. I should just stop asking, my father suggested, fail to know my father as he did. But we went to Ohio we went to Six Flags I met him you called me when he died, how could you fail to have known him?
The memories of Farming Ridge Boulevard fading into the background, that Spanish exchange student coming on over and chasing me around my own house, throwing up macaroni and cheese as my father thew me into the air, being punished for not being able to name the sport being played in the film Field of Dreams, filling up my cup with chocolate milk, watching as my brother was banned from having green hair because Bush was President and King James was the law of the land, no passion no translation. And as I watched that Uber approach, I was taken back to the day on the boulevard in which my mother called 911 on my father and I watched as the sirens approached our driveway, the day it truly all started…