Read an Excerpt from J. Dana Trent's Powerful New Memoir About Her Time as a 'Preschool Dropout with a Knife' (Exclusive)

In 'Between Two Trailers,' the author confronts her difficult childhood in what she hopes is "a companion for anyone who also longs for relief"

<p>Venu Gopal Photography; Convergent Books</p> J. Dana Trent and

Venu Gopal Photography; Convergent Books

J. Dana Trent and 'Between Two Trailers'

By the time spirituality writer and professor J. Dana Trent had reached double digits she'd already lived more life than many do in decades.

As a preschooler, Trent was helping her schizophrenic father King with drug-dealing, while her cold and distant mother, Lady, dealt with her own personality disorders by becoming a recluse in their small trailer, leaving Dana to fend for herself from a very young age. In her forthcoming memoir, Between Two Trailers, Trent writes about her upbringing, in an attempt to make sense of it.

"Joan Didion famously admitted that she wrote to untangle her thoughts so she could make sense of them. Writing Between Two Trailers helped me set broken bones of home, identity and belonging in casts of meaning," Trent says, about her writing process.

<p>Convergent Books</p> 'Between Two Trailers' by J. Dana Trent

Convergent Books

'Between Two Trailers' by J. Dana Trent

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"I knew that if I confronted my wartime injuries from the safety of a ceasefire, I stood a chance at healing," she continues. "This memoir is for every reader who wants to do the same: treat those fractures inside themselves that show up as shame, loneliness, rage, pain, anxiety and sadness. I wrote this book to help us all make sense of the shrapnel of our lives. May Between Two Trailers be a companion for anyone who also longs for relief."

Below, read an excerpt from Between Two Trailers.

<p>Courtesy of J. Dana Trent</p> J. Dana Trent as a baby with her parents

Courtesy of J. Dana Trent

J. Dana Trent as a baby with her parents

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.

Along with his drug boss, my father, King, 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.

<p>Courtesy of J. Dana Trent</p> J. Dana Trent as a toddler with her mother

Courtesy of J. Dana Trent

J. Dana Trent as a toddler with her mother

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 ABC’s, 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.

“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.

<p>Courtesy of J. Dana Trent</p> J. Dana Trent sleeping on her dad's chest as a baby

Courtesy of J. Dana Trent

J. Dana Trent sleeping on her dad's chest as a baby

“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 36 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 was 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.”

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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.

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“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, soldier?”

“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.

<p>Courtesy of J. Dana Trent</p> J. Dana Trent and her mother in the bed where she spent much of her time

Courtesy of J. Dana Trent

J. Dana Trent and her mother in the bed where she spent much of her time

A minute later, King burst through the trailer door, his hazel eyes nearly hidden under the brim of his dirty Yankees cap. “I’m going to get you, little girl!” he growled in a monster voice, grabbing me by the arm.

I jerked myself free, leaped off the counter and forced my slimy limbs into a fighting stance. “I’ll kill you, f---g dickhead!” I screamed, holding an imaginary knife to his gut because I’d been too flustered to draw the real one he’d just given me.

Insanity was the best defense, King said. No one—not a kingpin, cop, dealer, enemy or shrink—wanted wild on their hands. In King’s book, the unexpected explosion of a preschool dropout with a knife would pay for itself in dividends.

“At ease,” King said. “Good job, Budgie.” He patted me on the head. My jagged bowl cut bounced.

Excerpted from Between Two Trailers by J. Dana Trent. Copyright © 2024 by J. Dana Trent. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Between Two Trailers is out April 16 from Convergent Books. It's available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.

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