Between Two Trailers

A Memoir

About the Book

A powerful, unforgettable memoir about a girl who escapes her childhood as a preschool drug dealer in rural Indiana—only to find that no one can really “make it out” until they make peace with where their story began: home

Home, it turns out, is where the war is. It’s also where the healing begins.

Dana Trent is only a preschooler the first time she uses a razor blade to cut up weed and fill dime bags for her schizophrenic father, King. While King struggles with his unmedicated psychosis, Dana’s mother, the Lady, a cold and self-absorbed woman whose personality disorders rule the home, guards large bricks of drugs from the safety of their squalid trailer. But when the Lady impulsively plucks Dana from the Midwest and moves the two of them south, their fresh start results in homelessness and bankruptcy. In North Carolina, Dana becomes torn between her gritty midwestern past and her newfound desire to be a polite southern girl, struggling to reconcile her shame with an ache to figure out who she is, and where she belongs.

But the past is never far behind. After persevering through childhood and eventually graduating from Duke University, Dana imagines that her hidden Indiana life is finally behind her, only to realize that running from her upbringing has kept her from making peace with the people and places that shaped her. Ultimately, Dana finds that though love for family is universally complicated, there is no shame in survival, and for those who want it, there is always a path home.
Read more

Praise for Between Two Trailers

“[Trent] captivates with this coming-of-age memoir about her parents’ mental illnesses, her realizing the meaning of home, and yearning to belong . . . This debut is everything fans of memoirs could hope for: a beautifully written, searing and honest tribute to family.”Library Journal, starred review

“A potent memoir about a young woman’s escape from a toxic childhood . . . [and] a powerfully intimate look into the struggles of American poverty and mental illness.”Kirkus Reviews

“Fans of Jeannette Walls and Tara Westover will be drawn to Trent’s blend of grit and hope.”Publishers Weekly

“In a striking narrative of childhood trauma survival, Between Two Trailers pulls you into every breathless moment with ‘Budgie.’ Readers that exhale while rising beside her will find hope in the sweet air of redemption.”—Carine McCandless, New York Times bestselling author of The Wild Truth

“If Dana Trent's books were truthful, that would be enough. If they were elegantly written, that would be even better. If they spoke straight to the hearts of her readers, that would make her a writer worth reading. In fact, they are all of these things, encompassing what it means to be human on this earth, making reality more bearable because it is so clearly a reality we share. Between Two Trailers reminds me of that again.”—Barbara Brown Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of Learning to Walk in the Dark

“Hopeful, hilarious, and full of resilience and redemption, Between Two Trailers is delightfully messy and deliciously rare. Each chapter ventures deeper into the author’s riveting background—a world most of us were spared from. The whole journey is weighted with important reminders of how trauma-informed stories can both educate and heal us. Dana Trent provides a road map for assembling the different parts of one’s psyche that are so often split and shattered during childhood.”—Sarah Edmondson, actress and author of Scarred

“How often do you come across a story about a grocery-store, kiddie-ride, drug-trafficking business? It’s a tough tale to tell, but Trent communicates it with winsome charm.”—Jonathan Merritt, contributing writer for The Atlantic 

“Come for the luscious prose and ludicrously good plot. Stay for a story about home that will haunt you with its beautyand unflinching truth.”—Erin S. Lane, author of Someone Other Than a Mother

Between Two Trailers is a memoir in the vein of great literary coming-of-age narratives like The Liar’s Club and This Boy’s Life.—Micha Boyett, author of Blessed Are the Rest of Us
Read more

Between Two Trailers


Razor Blades and Preschoolers

A preschooler’s hands are the perfect size for razor blades. I know because I helped my schizophrenic drug-lord father chop, drop, and traffic kilos in kiddie carnival-ride carcasses across flyover country.

In the 1980s, our family business was working for a big drug boss named Viper, buying and selling drugs. My parents were broke—educated but jobless, capable but troubled. My father had unemployed time on his hands and a constant dependence on mind-altering substances, so he turned to the pastime he knew in and out: street pharmaceuticals. That’s when Viper found him and recruited him to serve as regional manager for a trafficking front called Carnival Captivations. My father had graduated to the big leagues.

Along with his drug boss, my father used kiddie-ride cardboard boxes and fiberglass carcasses to move drugs across the country. These hydraulic ponies turned out to be the perfect mules. With each drop, we unloaded inventory and transformed bland Kmart entrances into mini carnivals that boasted dollar-generating rides for young children.

An inexhaustible supply of marijuana bales and cocaine bricks occupied our single-wide trailer alongside Dad, Mom, and me. Drugs were funneled to us by Viper, who organized drops and headed the kiddie-ride business. Dad’s entourage were loyal men with street names that reflected their personalities or vices. Together with them, our little family supplied midwesterners with enough uppers and downers to soothe the monotony of landlocked Vermillion County.

I was eighteen months old when we moved twenty minutes south from a trailer in my paternal grandparents’ yard in my namesake of Dana, Indiana (population six hundred), to the brand-new single wide on Ninth Street in Clinton (population five thousand). My mom, Judy Trent, and my dad, Rick Lewman, bought the Ninth Street trailer on credit in the early 1980s after going broke in L.A. It came standard with white-and-brown lace curtains and formaldehyde. Mom called it a shotgun house because if our enemies spent twelve-gauge buckshot through the kitchen window, we’d drop like dominoes.

Our new trailer sat on a rented lot of weeds poking up through sparse gravel, twenty minutes from my father’s parents, my aunt and uncle, and my two cousins. Across the potholed blacktop, I watched corn grow taller than Larry Bird by Labor Day.

My earliest memories of that trailer are of the skunky smell of marijuana and the dull shine of razor blades scattered across the scratched kitchen counter.

Dad was known in Vermillion County as a cult leader. Everyone called him “King.” Lore had it that Dad had earned the street name playing one of Shakespeare’s title characters in his Vermillion County high school play. But I knew by the way he answered the phone—“Talk to me!”—that he was King of all play. He was the one you called when you were down and wanted to be up.

Back then, his long bushy beard was still black. Tall, olive-skinned, and potbellied from cirrhosis of the liver, he commanded our living room like a fire-and-brimstone preacher holding forth from a pulpit. In his signature dirty overalls, he cast his manic “veeshuns” (visions) into smoke clouds, a congregation of devoted gang members gathered to hear the prophecies. They were loyal, attentive disciples with weathered faces whose given names I never knew. Dad, too busy to bother with me before I could walk, used duct tape to fasten my hands to my baby bottle filled with chocolate milk. I sat on the kitchen counter by him all day, lifting that duct-taped bottle to my mouth and catching his marijuana exhales as weed ash fell onto his open King James Bible.

My mother, whom we called “the Lady,” smoked joints in bed in the trailer’s back bedroom while binge-watching The 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network. She was only in her forties but was in a constant state of depression and anxiety. “Your mother’s never satisfied,” King said once when we were chopping at the counter. “It’s ah-lah-way-es some-a-thing,” he added in his best Gilda Radner impression. The Lady stayed sprawled out on the king-sized bed they’d bought on layaway. She wasn’t sick or inept or in need of a hiatus. She just fancied herself Victorian royalty, lounging around braless with sagging breasts in dirty sheets and a holey T-shirt that read, “I Believe in Miracles!”

“Help the poor,” she’d shout when she was hungry. We took her food on bed trays usually reserved for children with chicken pox or broken legs. In bed, she scribbled marginalia on the pages of How to Win Friends and Influence People and What Color Is Your Parachute? And she cried through Tammy Faye Bakker’s earnest pleas for a hurting world. Unfinished “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” cross-stitch patterns were strewn across the bed, her stained sheets piled high with textiles. But the Lady never seemed to mind smoking King’s inventory. In that trailer, she was a sitting duck who didn’t even know how to pull the trigger of the Glock that Viper made us tuck away in a rust-colored pillowcase. Instead, the Lady relied on King’s wild threats of knife-slicing and disemboweling his enemies, which had gotten him that far. Her cocktail of benzos and weed—and a passive death wish—didn’t hurt either.

I was holed up with her and King all the time, a witness to their moods and reclusiveness, their isolation galvanized by depression and the drug business. By age four, I’d been expelled from preschool for peeling the paint off the walls after leading nap-time coups. So, instead of teaching me my ABCs, King trained me up hustling, giving me a full-time job chopping weed for “lip baggies” (sandwich bags of pot). He demonstrated proper chopping techniques while I rested on the countertop, my short legs dangling from the bar. At his command, I twisted my body to cup my left hand inside his right palm. He wrapped my tiny digits over the razor blade with care, then moved our limbs together, swooping up and down over dollhouse trees.

Dad taught me how to separate seeds and stems from the good bud, and we filled the lips three fingers deep. He emptied tiny brown boxes of JOB cigarette papers by the dozen and sprinkled in my finely chopped dope like a chef finishing off a gourmet dish.

King could roll and spit-seal joints faster than I could slurp chocolate milk. Those small doses of loose weed and pre-rolls were necessary in order for us to sell and move kilos, bricks, and bales in bulk. They were insurance: a sample for a would-be client or a venal treat for a narc’s silence.

“Kids make the best hustlers,” King told me the week after I was expelled from preschool. He lifted me onto the counter and coated his arms with palmfuls of petroleum jelly from the biggest Vaseline tubs Walmart sold. Then he greased up mine.

“No one expects a runt in a Looney Tunes T-shirt to shank you,” he explained.

“Budgie!” he said and pointed to my chest, then sealed my street name with a Vaseline cross to my forehead.

“Budgie,” I parroted, finger to my own chest.

I was thirty-six when I learned that a budgie is a parakeet. They are as skilled at call-and-response as larger parrots, perfectly mimicking their owner’s vocabulary and syntax.

At age four, if I were going to help him sling drugs, he needed me to, first, be his canary in the coal mine and, second, copy his every move.

“Guns are for idiots,” he added. “Here.” He handed me my first pocketknife, a foldout two-inch blade with a horse and buggy painted on the handle. Knives teach you to accept the inevitable. “You’ll get stabbed,” he said, “but you’ll survive. No big deal.”

Besides, that’s what the Vaseline was for. An enemy’s grip, punches, and knife points would slip right off. I’d be ready.

He pumped his shiny green-bean arms to demonstrate a frenzy of imaginary switchblade thrusts to the liver.

“You try,” he said.

I willed my spaghetti arms to slice the air.

“Ten-hut! Where is your post, soldier?” he asked, saluting me.

“Back wall, sir!” I said.

“Ten-hut! What is your duty, soldier?” he asked.

“Look around, sir!” I answered.

“Everyone is your enemy, soldier,” he said, his constant twitch making his heavy overalls move in jerks like the ancient Ferris wheel at the Vermillion County fair.

Then he yelled out more questions. “Ten-hut! What’s your assignment, solder?”

“Stranger danger! Explode, sir!” I said.

“Ten-hut! What do you say, soldier?”

“You can’t fix crazy, sir!”

“At ease,” he finished, leaving me to apply more Vaseline to my appendages while he wrapped a garbage bag around an armful of marijuana bricks and took it out to the trunk.

About the Author

J. Dana Trent
J. Dana Trent is a speaker, professor, award-winning spirituality author, and minister. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she teaches world religions and critical thinking at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. More by J. Dana Trent
Decorative Carat

About the Author

Barbara Brown Taylor
J. Dana Trent is a speaker, professor, award-winning spirituality author, and minister. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she teaches world religions and critical thinking at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, North Carolina. More by Barbara Brown Taylor
Decorative Carat