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Florida Nightmare Part 1



This has been a public service notice after the recent activity
on Pinterest of sharing this story with children.  NOT FOR KIDS.

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I left my husband once and stayed in the guest house on a horse farm for a while. I worked on the farm and had gotten to know the owner fairly well. When I tore the cartilage in my knee one day while trying to give Sonrisa a special treat and fell out of the hay loft, it was determined through an MRI that I needed knee surgery. I would fly to Florida for the surgery, but in the mean time I needed somewhere to stay.

The owner was a kind man. He knew the kind of situation I found myself in, so he handed me the key to the guest house one day and told me that it was mine to use. There was a small kitchen, a lovely bedroom, a living room with a large TV and even an office with a computer for me to use.

Outside of the office window sat one of the largest spiders I'd ever seen in my life. Each night she would build her web spanning over one of the windows looking out into the forest and over the river close by. Sometimes I would set a lamp by the window and turn it on in order to attract moths. They would flutter down toward the light, getting ensnared in the web. She would jump into action and wrap them up in her sinuous fibers, pull them to the edge of the web, and then repair everything for the next catch. Watching her draw them in and save them for a midnight snack became a nightly ritual for me.

I couldn't help but feel that there was a lesson to be learned from her. I still believe it to be an omen of things to come, now that I look back on it. Sometimes in life I've been the spider, other times I've been the moth. Occasionally I was even the web, spun and molded into a trap for someone else, manipulated into doing something whether I liked it or not.

When I flew to Florida it was in order to stay with my Grandmother while I got the surgery on my knee. She was waiting for me when I landed and we went to her home - the home I remembered her living in the only time I remember ever visiting her. I was about four the last time I had been there. She had the rock garden still, with googlie eyes and pipe cleaner smiles glued on them. Her yard was all sand and rock with a couple of wild poppies poking out here and there. The inside was exactly what I had remembered it to be and suddenly had flashbacks of three lovely little miniature Schnauzer puppies I tried to feed by hand until told not to. There I was at four years old, sitting on the linoleum floor by the oven, feeding these cute little yippers little pieces of dog food that looked like round meatballs mixed with light colored bone shaped pieces. I had no idea why I remembered that so clearly, but it was as if I was looking down at myself sitting there.

The next day we took off from Daytona and drove across the state to Tampa. My Aunt was going on a cruise and needed my Grandmother to watch over her dogs while she was away. We were there for about 3 days when my cousin happened to come by. I hadn't seen my cousins in many years and didn't realize that one had ended up in prison, one was in jail for two years, and the one that came over hadn't done any time, but was always the ring leader. These details had escaped me, since I hadn't seen them in so many years. Grandparents dote on all of their children, no matter what they've done, so she didn't tell me any of this either.

Chad offered to take me out to Clearwater Beach for a day or two in order to show me around. Grandma said that she was fine with the idea. Up until then all I had done was sit on the couch and do cross word puzzles every day. I couldn't wait to go to the beach and see something of Florida, other than the four walls and three dogs. Away we went, me still as naive as ever about my cousin, the web spinner. It was the last time I ever saw my Grandmother.

The first day in Clearwater was wonderful. My cousin had a furnished apartment right on the shore, not far from where he worked on a fishing boat. I spent my days in the sunshine, walking the sand, collecting shells and meeting new people. My cousin's girlfriend didn't like me from the start, so I just tried to stay out of her way. I couldn't understand WHY she didn't like me. She came from a wealthy family and had everything I never had. Maybe she didn't like me because I didn't envy her for that the way most other girls would. I didn't want what she had. I wanted to get my knee surgery and go back to work for my old boss. It had been a great job with a great boss.

When the time came the following morning for my cousin to take me back to my Grandmother, he welshed on the deal. He backed out, claiming he had to work and that if she wanted me to come stay with her, she could come get me. I didn't understand what I had done wrong! Trying to make up for some unknown offence I had committed, I baked a cake and cooked a pot of chili. They loved it. They ate every drop without ever offering me a bite. When I asked Chad to take me back to my Grandmother, he said he would the next day in the morning. Again, he claimed that he had to go do something and that if she wanted me, she could come get me. He had her phone number stored into his phone while I didn't have a phone. I couldn't even call her to come pick me up. Apparently Chad never bothered to. The third day I was overdue, I screamed at him that I wanted him to call her right then.

The phone rang on the other end. Someone picked up.

"Grandma? 'Manda wants me to bring her back to Mom's now," a pause... "Oh." Another pause. "Ok, bye."

"So?" I asked. "When is she coming to get me?"

"She's not" he told me, straight faced.

"So you're taking me back?" I was confused.

"No." At this point my face turned purple and I was beginning to get very upset. "She's gone."

"GONE?! What do you mean, gone!?"

"She went back home to Daytona."

"Without me?!"

"Yeah, she said that if you can find a way to get back, you're welcome to."

Thinking I was only going to be in Clearwater for a couple of days I had only brought about $200 with me for touristy stuff. I had already spent all of that on a swim suit, a dress, sandals and groceries to cook the chili and cake. Chad had borrowed what was left, promising to pay me back. I had no money and was stuck in a strange town with a cousin I was quickly learning to dislike, his girlfriend who hated me, and my cousins fisherman boss, the fat, pretentious, lazy, ugly, stinky, smelly, appalling, good for nothing boss. He wanted to take me out for dinner or for drinks or dancing. He was over 50 and I was 19 years old. His ugly 40 year old girlfriend didn't even object, which was only that much more appalling. She gave me $20 to save towards my bus ride back to Daytona one day, and told me that if I went to dinner with her boyfriend, she would double it. The whole thing grossed me out. I tried to give the $20 back, but she refused. I jammed it into my wallet in a huff and walked away.

One day I had gone out for a walk. I had been with Chad for a little more than a week at this point and desperate to get back to my Grandmother. I had grown to hate my cousin for manipulating me the way he had. His girlfriend would constantly come over and talk to me as though I were a 5 year old child, treating me like I was beneath her. That day when I came back, Chad and Jennifer were standing in the kitchen, staring at my purse.

"'Manda," my cousin looked at me, "Did you steal from Jennifer?"

"What? No! Why would you think that?"

"Are you sure? We wont be mad as long as you tell us the truth."

"Chad, no, I didn't steal from Jennifer. Why?"

"Because she has $20 missing from her purse, and I know you didn't have any money. We just checked your wallet and you have $20 in your purse."

"That's MINE!" I was incensed. I was so far beyond angry I couldn't see straight. Here was this girl who came from a wealthy family accusing someone who had loaned her boyfriend money the week before of stealing from her. They didn't believe me no matter how much I protested.

"Manda, Jennifer marks all of her bills with red marker." My eyebrow shot up in the air. Why would a wealthy girl need to mark her money? "If we look at your $20, will you see red marker on it?"

"Not unless you put the marker on it just now," I said. They had already looked at it. They already knew my $20 had no marker on it.

Sure enough, red marker was in the top right hand corner of the bill. Disgusted, I threw the bill in a crumpled ball right at Jennifer, hoping to smack her in the eye with a corner and blind her. I grabbed my purse and my one change of clothes and walked out the door. That was the last time I ever saw Chad.

Chad's boss' girlfriend took me to the bus station after one night of crashing on her couch. She didn't want me around anymore either. I imagine that was because Chad had decided to tell everyone that I had stolen from Jennifer to make himself look good in the eyes of others. She handed me a bus ticket for the Greyhound to Daytona and $5. With that I bid a not so fond farewell to Clearwater Beach. I left in tears - but not of sadness. I was happy beyond belief to be leaving and to have the chance to get back to my Grandmother. I had never been so close to being homeless. I had been used, betrayed and manipulated into hurting my Grandmother. I was the web, she was the moth.

The ride to Daytona took a full day on the Greyhound bus. I talked and laughed and told my story to the people sitting closest to me. They sympathized with me and I just smiled the whole time. I was finally on my way back to my Grandmother and my knee surgery. Once I got the knee surgery out of the way, I had a job lined up in Florida working for the same boss - but the only number he had to reach me at was the number for my Grandmother. Without her, there was no job, no surgery, no home.

Standing there in the middle of the dark station at 10:00 pm staring into the faces of strangers, I started to realize how very alone I was. My Grandmothers number was listed in the phone book and I had called. Her husband Vic had told me that she wasn't going to come pick me up. They wanted nothing to do with me and they didn't care if they never saw me again. I was on my own and it was time I learned what that was like, he said.

I sat on the curb at the front of the bus and cried. I sobbed like there was no tomorrow, like a child with a broken heart. I cried like I had lost my whole world, like there was nothing left to live for. My body shook with the sobs. I barely noticed when the bus had changed out several times as I sat there. The homeless population were beginning to make camp around me. None of them looked at me or touched me or talked to me. I was a still frame in a world of moving images. The world became a blurring mist of movement as I sat there with my head on my knees, my arms wrapped around my face.

"What's wrong" a sweet and gentle voice asked me. Through my blurry eyes, she looked like an angel. She was young and had a perfect complexion with a halo of blond hair. Her green eyes sparkled in the glow of the nearby trash fire the homeless had started in order to warm their hands. Even the stench of urine lifted as I sat there looking at this kind stranger. In a miraculous moment of irony, she told me that her name was Jennifer, but people called her Jenny. The tall young man beside her with blond dreadlocks was Chadwick, but everyone called him Adam. It was Chad and Jennifer all over again.

I told them my story and sobbed a bit more. Jenny put her arm around me to comfort me. Adam sat on my other side and put his arm around me too. Before long, I found myself crying into the long blond hair of total strangers as I leaned on their shoulders like a frightened child.

"We were on vacation in New York" Adam explained. "We got a phone call that someone had broken into our place and robbed us. We had to spend everything we had on bus tickets back. We don't have any money left but we don't live far away. We have an extra room - its yours if you want it, just until you get back on your feet."

Astonished at my luck, I took their offer and gave them my $5 for a cab ride to the place. They had far too much luggage to walk the 8 blocks. There wasn't anything left for a tip, but the cabbie didn't mind. He picked up on enough of our story that he felt bad taking the $5 for fare. He tried to make us take it back, but we refused.

The house was a disaster. Adam and Jenny had lived upstairs in this house with a separate entrance from the outside. Their landlords were subleasing the upstairs to them and lived downstairs. They had decided to skip out on the rent, taking off with Adam and Jenny's money, but deciding to take all of their stuff when they took off.

When we walked in, the place smelled like a kennel. The previous owners had put two litters of kittens and the mother cats inside before taking off, pouring a full bag of cat food on the floor in the middle of the kitchen. The cats all had fleas and just walking from one side of the house to the other we all ended up with no less than 30 fleas on our pants and legs. They jumped and flew through the air like miniature acrobats. There was not a room in the house or an inch of carpet that wasn't infested with fleas.

My grandmother's husband came by the new place one day with my things. He dropped my bags off in the flea infested sand at the bottom of the stairs. Before I had time to say anything at all, he got back into the car and drove away. Adam and Jenny put their arms around my shoulders to comfort me. I wanted to beg, to scream and cry and kick my feet like a two year old who didn't get his way. I wanted my Grandmother to take me back, just long enough to have my old boss call me. I would have a solution then. I would have help.

I slapped my leg. Another flea had bitten me.

Adam walked to the unemployment office daily in order to look for work. He would be given day jobs, weeding someones garden or taking out their trash, or painting a house. Sometimes he would help work on a roofing crew by carrying the heavy bundles of shingles up to the roof for the crew. He never had the same job two days in a row, and sometimes he didn't have a job at all. He got paid daily though, and they hoarded that money away to pay for the rent. Jenny was only 15 I found out and too young to legally work. Her parents had allowed her to move in with Adam when they thought he had a full time job. They both had horrible family histories and were run aways at young ages. Adam, who was then 20 years old, claimed to be madly in love with Jenny.

The room I was given was all the way in the back of the house. The carpeting had been removed in this room, so there were less fleas per square inch. I had a small air mattress on the floor they gave me that was normally reserved for visitors. Since the carpet had been removed and the carpet nails hadn't been, I had to leave the air mattress in the middle of the floor for fear of it popping. For a dresser, I stacked 5 gallon paint buckets and planks of wood atop one another in the small closet without doors. It resembled more of a book shelf than a dresser, but I could find my clothes easier.
I pulled out a pair of pants I hadn't worn since I left Arkansas and slid into them. They were brand new when I left, fit tightly in all the right places and looked good. Now they were practically falling off of me. I needed to eat a better balanced diet with actual food instead of the Ramen Noodles I ate at Chads place other than the one time I cooked for everyone. We were collectively too poor to afford a scale so I don't know what I weighed, but I knew that I had survived on Saltine crackers just a year before, so I had no doubt I would survive. Ramen Noodles was better than nothing, and a damn sight better than Saltines.

Adam went grocery shopping one day and came back with one bag full of something. When he started to unpack it, I groaned internally. I couldn't complain since I wasn't paying anything for the roof over my head and the air mattress to sleep on, but the only things he pulled out were the only things in the world I never wanted to see again; Saltine crackers and Ramen Noodles.

I looked for work every single day. I would get showered and dressed each morning, throw on the most professional clothes I could find, and walk for miles trying to find a job. I lived in the worst part of Daytona Beach, I found out. A crack house was situated just across the street. Prostitutes and their pimps would fight daily. I was permanently scarred as I watched a John smack a Pro one day for not giving him what he had paid for, and the pimp nearly killed the guy for it. The John, later identified as "John" was picked up by the police later on from his position in a car waiting for a Pro to walk out of the crack house.

 Because of these events, I was often mistaken for a Prostitute. I would walk down the street on my way to the next series of stores in order to apply for a job and people would honk and wave. I was so embarrassed that I hung my head in shame. I was still such an innocent girl back then. I was so shy it was painful.

As I approached the corner to a small side street, a very large man in a very small car pulled up to the curb. He jumped out and began to run straight at me. I took off and he pursued. He never said a word or uttered a syllable, he just grabbed for me. Scared for my life, I didn't stop running or even turn around until I didn't hear his footsteps falling behind me. I was certainly screaming the entire time, but nobody looked or tried to help. A police car drove by silently, no lights or sirens, no assistance, nothing. He didn't even look my way, and I was trying like crazy to flag him down. That's when I knew I was in the worst neighborhood I had ever been in.

The hulking man returned to his car and turned it around. I ducked behind some holly bushes, getting stuck mercilessly by the thorny leaves. I began to bleed, long streams of blood running down my arms and neck, my forehead, my legs... it dripped onto my shoes and stained the holly leaves. The white car slowed down as it drove past, looking intently for me as he went by. Nobody in their right mind would crawl on their hands and knees behind a holly bush. The car continued on its way and disappeared in the distance. Frightened, I scraped my way out of the bushes and ran the whole way back to the house, bleeding like I had been cut with 100 razors.

That night as I fell asleep with my skin stinging from the soap of the shower, someone crept through the dark veil laid over the hushed house. The floor creaked slightly as they stepped on the loose board in the kitchen. I paid no attention... all the way up until I felt the cold steel of a sharp knife against my neck.


  1. OMG Amanda, I stop and continue reading your story over 3 times you are such strong woman,
    the many challenges on your life is something
    have shape you to be who you are now and even we have never meet in person, I hold you dearly and
    respect you like you won't believe
    I thank the powers of be for putting you
    on my path and be able to call you my friend

  2. this is one of he best textes I have been reading as an alien this year. You are a brilliant storyteller!

  3. LADY!!! WHAT A CLIFF HANGER!!! I can't believe it, wait yes I can. You've been through some tough crap and it has made you a tough cookie! ;) Can't wait for more! Good thing I know the ending... or so far, you make it out alive. whew. ;) Still full of suspense... and more scary creepy old guys... you'll have to do a post just on all the creepy old guys you've been in contact with. I had a janitor once that seemed to take a liking to me... glad I shrugged that off!!!


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