For almost twenty years I lived in Missoula, Montana, but now I own a house in Lubbock, Texas, and four little girls are doing cheers in my living room. It’s early spring, almost dark, the grackles shrieking in the tree next door, and Destiny and Amarris and Marcia (which is not pronounced “Marsha” but “Marsea-ah,” like the ocean) and a fourth girl who is someone’s cousin, with her hair in two tight French braids and eyebrows like Frieda Kahlo, are chanting “yellow banana…” and stepping side to side. The cousin is about seven, and Marcia, the youngest, is six and snaggle-toothed and tentative, looking at the other girls instead of at her clapping audience, me. Destiny and Amarris are sisters. Amarris, the older, is ten, already self-conscious as a teenager, with a strong face and a knock-off Ed Hardy hoodie that makes her look tough. Destiny, my favorite, is eight and a natural performer, with a permanent and genuinely happy smile and bobbed chin-length hair parted straight down the middle. She’s wearing her third pair of shoes of the day, shiny red ballet flats, after a pair of pink flip-flops with big rhinestone diamonds and a pair of white Grasshoppers with pink polka dots and a little pink bow.
“Want us to do another?” she asks, and I nod vigorously. My five-year-old son Scotty scrunches up his face and covers his eyes on the couch.
I bought my house in January, four months ago, for $12,421, cash. I paid for part of it with the retirement I cashed in before moving to Lubbock and the rest with a credit card advance. The house was a HUD foreclosure previously owned by a woman named Eloisa Quintera and occupied, prior to the foreclosure, by her brother-in-law and some other guys, who, Destiny told me, didn’t have children and always wore hats. The brother-in-law’s name, I know from opening his power bill, which he had not paid for several months, was Aaron Martinez. Before they left the house, they knocked large holes in the drywall of all four rooms and removed most of the light fixtures, the bathroom sink, and the stove and refrigerator. Or maybe these things were gone long before they moved out since the house, with or without these items, would have been only marginally livable. It’s unclear how much they did to trash the house and how trashed it was already.