ARIZONA CHRONICLES – PART I

13 Jun

I suppose as a writer you must be endowed with an impressive memory.  We are told in Creative Writing 101 class to write, “What we know” and other cliché directives.  I like to believe I have an amazing memory from my childhood despite my mother’s insistence that eighty-five percent of it did not happen.  You can show her photographic evidence, and she will still deny the memory in question.  This is my story of Arizona and my memories, faulty as they might be.

I was very young when my father announced we would be moving across the universe to this strange land called Arizona.  Barely seven, I had no concept of geography and where this place might exist.  My information beforehand was gleaned from my father’s insistence it was indeed a magical place and my grandfather calling it a desert where we would die.  There was discussion of being scalped (yes, my grandfather was a racist) and scorpion attacks.

To my father’s credit, despite all the naysayers, he loaded our meager belongings onto a station wagon and headed west anyway.  At this point, I look back in total slack-jawed awe at my father.  Here was a man of wanderlust, who wanted to embark on a grand adventure and he did it.  The fact we were actually in the car and moving is even more a miracle when you realize my mother was the exact opposite of this.

Let’s get this over with.  My mother was born seventy-five.  If there is a complaint to file, she has a cabinet full.  For every suggestion, she has a tale of someone injured or dying as a counterpoint.  When I told her I was moving to NYC, she insisted I would be mugged, raped and murdered and probably more than once.  This is the mother I know.  The surprise is she agreed to move thousands of miles away from her family to live in the desert with two small children.  I chalk it up to she was fairly young herself and had yet to become completely cynical and bitter.

So bags were strapped to the roof, a bed was made in the back for my sister and myself, and my father took off cross-country to the great unknown.  I remember being excited and unable to sleep as we crawled across highways and away from the only home I had known.  Everything was bright, shiny and new and I wanted to soak it all in.  We left in the dark of night, only headlights visible, but in the distance, a silhouette beneath the moon, I saw the horizon and the possibilities that lay ahead.

This trip was the first time I tasted Dr. Pepper.  I remember a gas station in some sweltering town and a beautiful young boy handing me one.  There was a roadrunner on the side of the road that looked nothing like the cartoon version.  There were scrambled eggs in a diner like nothing I had ever tasted and a man with a turban.  Then there was the accident.

I remember crossing the highway to a rest stop.  My sister and I were in the back of the station wagon on a pallet of blankets and probably arguing.  My father was driving and probably arguing with my mother.  Then there was a large truck plowing into our car.  My next memory is standing on the side of the road, uninjured and watching my mother fall apart.  She was crying hysterically and being hugged by my Grandfather’s wife who had been in another car.  The entire back quarter panel of the car was crumpled and pushed in.

As I stood on the side of the road in the Texas heat, watching the chaos around me, I was too young to realize how close we had come to dying.  My sister and I had been in that back end and here we stood disoriented and unhurt.  Our trip had become derailed by our accident.  We holed up in a hotel with air conditioning and orange trees.  For better or worse, we were not turning back.  I remember standing in the parking lot of the hotel, with an orange in my hand, watching my baby sister toddle in the grass and the seed was planted.  I inhaled the scent of that orange and wanted more.  Always more.

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