Chapter 3.4: A Liminal Space

Chapter 3.4: A Liminal Space

The time we spent back in California was about a year and a half. When we first arrived we lived with our friend (the one who had ‘rescued’ us) and her family of four in a small two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment. We also immediately started attending our old congregation. Some of our old friends were there but many had moved on. New people had moved in and the culture of the congregation had changed. It was the mid 80s now, and the days of hanging out and singing religious songs with acoustic guitars was over. The tech industry was booming, and people went to malls for fun.

I was happy to be back in Santa Clara, even while I watched my parents’ marriage continue to fall apart.

My dad gave up trying to convince my mom to come back to Texas after a few weeks. After a few months he left everything in our old house and followed her back to Santa Clara. When he got there, he persuaded my mom to get a small apartment and try to reconcile. Meanwhile dad got the only job he could find at the time, as a grocery bagger.

Over the next six months, mom and dad fought and argued and disparaged one another to different people, and sometimes to the same people. Our congregation watched us implode, gossiping and taking sides. There were meetings with Elders, which made ‘saving the family’ a priority—never mind that both my parents were miserable and had done irreparable damage to one another and our family. Good Christians don’t get divorces, after all. Until they do.

My parents formally separated after a year of us being back in California. Mom struggled to maintain the apartment on her own, but soon realized that single life with two kids was going to be as challenging financially as it was emotionally. She decided to move closer to her mom and youngest sister who had settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. The cost of living was less there, and she would have family support.

I think, too, she needed to get away from the memories. So much of our family life to that point had happened in Santa Clara, and so many of our friends knew both my parents. It was hard to look at people’s faces knowing they were trying to puzzle out what had gone wrong. After all, a Christian marriage was sacred. What kinds of people break a sacred bond?


During that small window of time we were back in the Bay Area, I’d turned 13. I started seventh grade at a large junior high school where I didn’t know most of the kids. Despite my declining mental health, turmoil at home and my own deep insecurities about our family’s poverty, I was a good student. I was placed in the Gifted & Talented program, and once again, it was my teachers who provided much-needed support for me as I struggled to make sense of what was happening at home. It was my teachers (Shout out to Ms. Bertania and Mrs. Kurtz!) who met with me after school on their own time, made accommodations for me to talk to them whenever I needed to, and recommended my mom take me for counseling.

Even though our day-to-day life was tough in California during that time, I felt like we were home. Mom worked part time doing house cleaning, we were still broke all the time, and going to our weekly meetings was often awkward in light of my parents’ separation. But I knew how to navigate that place. The prospect of moving to another state where we knew no one (except a few extended family members) was horrifying. But we had no choice. It was getting harder and harder to pay the bills, and mom was feeling the pressure now that she had to take care of us on her own.

So we packed up our Ford Escort once again, and in the early spring of 1987, we drove to Salt Lake City, Utah to begin a new chapter.

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