I didn’t go to kindergarten until I was 6 years old. Mom decided that the she didn’t want me going all alone on a long bus ride. So, she waited until Wren was 5 and we started kindergarten together. Because of all our moving we ended up going to several different schools. I don’t remember how many. Wren had to repeat kindergarten, so I still ended up a grade ahead of her. I remember thinking it all a waste that I started a year late when we ended up in separate grades anyway. I wanted to do well in school. I was just as much a people pleaser as I am today. I remember crying when a girl wrote me on the board for talking when the teacher was out of the room. If I didn’t make an A on a test, I would get very upset with myself. I kept A’s on my report card. I was completely devastated on the rare occasion I would fail a test.

As part of Crawford’s grooming, shaping and isolating us, I was taken out of school after graduating 5th grade. I guess the fear that we would tell someone what was happening to us at home was too great a risk to continue. We were to be home-schooled. I cried uncontrollably the last day of 5th grade. I would never see any of my friends again, but it was going to be better, he said. We could keep our own hours and study on the things that were important. I was put in charge of filling out the forms that we sent in to the Board of Education. I remember trying to come up with things we were doing at home that could count for subjects.

Issaqueena taught us Art because she was going to Brenau University studying art.  I only remember a hand-full of lessons.

We learned to type on a computer without looking. We would type “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” over and over. I can type without looking, all my fingers on the correct keys. This skill serves me well in my writing career. My kids look at me in awe.

As we worked to clear the Honey House property, we learned how to clip down brush, stack limbs, and drag it to a bon fire. Only Crawford could use the chainsaw, and we weren’t supposed to come too close. We learned to build a fence with 6’ pine logs soaked in kerosene, a staple gun, a post-hole digger, and a role of fencing.

I can stack firewood with the best of them and I know everything there is to know about starting a fire with cardboard and kindling (smaller yard sticks we picked up). I patiently stoke and coax a fire into life long after others would have given up or poured an accelerant on it.

We were put hard at work destroying our country accent. Everything time we used incorrect grammar or miss pronounced a word it was pointed out to us by Crawford. We would have to repeat the correct word back to him and restart our sentence. That is why people have a hard time believing I am from North East Georgia sometimes.

I was eventually put in charge of our banking account. I ran QuickBooks to keep track of all our expenditures. We learned to press a button on the recorder attached to the phone every time we answered it. Just in case it was important for later. I answered “Thank you for calling Atlantis, this is Tanya speaking.  How may I help you?” We must take a message. Crawford and Mom were never available to come to the phone.

Debt collectors can be very cruel. Especially when you sound like a 13-year-old.  Some would demand we put our parents on the phone. That was not an option. It didn’t matter how nasty they got. They didn’t understand that the option was worse than they could ever be to us. I don’t answer the phone now. If your number is not in my phone there is 0% chance me answering you. If you number is in my phone. That brings your odds up to 25%. If you are a distant relative, you just got to 50%. My personal close family, the odds are pretty good. I don’t make phone calls to people I don’t know. If my kids need a doctor’s appointment, I am driving to the office. If a child’s Mom is not willing to text me, then my kid is not coming to your house.

I learned a lot about sex. I learned how to give a man with foreskin a blowjob. A skill I have yet had to use anywhere else.

We got old enough eventually to not have to pretend we were being home schooled. I didn’t have to fill our papers anymore. School was never mentioned.

When I was 17 my stepsister Issaqueena volunteered at the Habersham County Adult Learning Center. I went with her one time and it was mentioned to me that I could study there for my G.E.D. For whatever reason, Crawford agreed. I studied there on the days she volunteered and took practice tests. On September 10th, 1999 I took and passed my G.E.D. test.

The Fairy Tale

My mother meet Crawford Thomas Sparks when I was about 10 years old. He was a well-dressed, well spoken, older gentleman. He seemed pleasant and helpful. He was there to help my mother with the business aspect of a gay support group she was running.

He started hanging out more and wiggling his way into our life.  He would babysit us when Mom went out. We found out quickly you did as you were told, or you got a spanking when he was on watch. This was a vast change considering Mom let us get away with pretty much anything.

I’m not sure when friendship changed over to relationship. Soon there was talk about marriage and moving out of our government apartment to live with him in the Honey House.

The house got its nick name because Crawford had many honeybee hives on the property. He collected their honey and packaged it in bottles labeled Issaqueena Honey. As far as I know no business was ever had from the honey. We ate it ourselves over time. The bees were sold not to long after we moved there.

The Honey House was a little run down, but he promised to fix it up. It was going to be castle like. Each girl would have their own tower where the top floor reached the tree tops. We would live there forever bringing our spouses home instead of moving out to live with them. Our family would blend together into the ideal family and be together forever.

My mother and Crawford were married April 15th, 1992 in the forest on the Honey House property under a dogwood tree. The only others in attendance was Logan, my little brother; Wren, my little sister; Issaqueena, Crawford’s only child and 9 years my senior, and a preacher. We all dressed up with flowers in our hair. The wedding vows were changed upon Mom and Crawford’s behest to not say “Until death due us part”, but instead to say “forever”.