The house was being built and I was miserable. My best friend, Daniel no longer raided his mother’s jewelry box and brought me gifts. He felt I should have control over where I lived, when in fact I had none. I spent my days fawning over Dylan with the white hair and trying to keep up with the uncles who were barely older than I was. I baked with my fake grandmother (she would forever be known as Dorothy as she had stolen my papa away from my granny) and waited until we moved into our house, which now had green exterior walls and a poured concrete foundation.
My parents in their euphoria did not notice their eldest was unhappy. If they did, they simply could not acknowledge anything negative when so many positive things were happening to my family. I, on the other hand, was becoming resentful and angry we were moving yet again and no amount of appendix scar attention could ease my suffering.
Even Dylan became tarnished with my newfound colorless view of life. I would sit at my desk and seethe at his shallowness and the way the girls doted on him. Was I really one of those girls? When he called my name at lunchtime, I pretended to not hear him. Instead, I sat on the football field with a book and retreated into a world that was not mine. I was a festering cauldron of burgeoning female ready to blow at any moment.
There are things that happen in life. You can look back and see them as you did as a child. Worst possible moments of despair and pain, or you can see them for what they really were. Just moments. As you get older, you collect them like seashells in a plastic container and you’re not really sure why you still have them. You keep meaning to throw them out, but you went through all the trouble of collecting them, surely they have some value. They don’t. Because every time you walk on a beach you will see there are more shells. Just like moments. There will be more. Some of them wonderful, a few of them painful.
Arizona has become like that for me. There were things that happened emblazoned in my brain. Things I cannot always find humor in. Every place I’ve moved, they were wrapped in bubble wrap and carried with me. I could look back at Arizona as a place of pain, but it wasn’t. There was the smell of alfalfa, the feel of the sun on my already bronze skin, the millions of stars I miss every time I look in the sky from somewhere else. There was so much good, I refuse to let it be tainted by anything awful that happened.
At the time, I was too young to process how life cycles through these wonderful and miserable moments. I was miserable and made more miserable by events occurring I felt I had no control over. I hated the house and everything it stood for. I hated everyone and every thing. Except my dog, Peppy. He was the one consistent thing in my life.
A fur faced ball of energy who would sit beside me and ponder the hopeless of the world, he was my companion in pain. He understood when my parents were too self absorbed to. He understood when no one around me saw me. When he curled beside me, it was like a hug from someone who loved you despite your unpleasantness.
Then I came home from school and my father was not at work. He was waiting for me at the gate and he put a hand on my shoulder. He led me around the back of the trailer where a mound of dirt was covered with rocks we had found in the dried riverbanks of the Little Colorado River. He explained a farmer had shot Peppy. Probably chasing cattle at night. He had made it home and died on our rickety wooden porch. When dad had come home from work that night, he found him and buried him.
That morning, I had not been greeted by Peppy, and I remember looking around the yard for him. He was off somewhere doing something and I had not given it a second thought. He was always there when I came home from school. But not anymore. I remember standing, looking at that dirt mound, thinking of my Peppy dying alone in the dark on our porch. I wondered if he had lain there, alone and cold, and wondered why I hadn’t come out to comfort him. I had not been there for him when he needed me. It made an already difficult time in my life unbearable. If possible, I retreated further. That unexpended rage had come what fueled me. It was just a matter of time before it was unleashed somewhere, on someone.
My uncle, Russ was four years older than I was. He was cocky and deranged in a future serial killer sort of way. He made his brother, Micha’s life miserable and mine. We hated him, loathed him. There were things, things that I will never speak of. Yet, we were powerless to him. He was bigger and a bully and we cowered in his wake.
One day we were walking along the road up to the graveyard. As morbid as it was, I did find comfort amongst the dead. It was proof I wasn’t alone in losing someone. I walked behind, watching Russ smash bugs beneath his sneakers and toss rocks at the lizards he came upon. When he stopped at a ditch, retrieving a stick and began dragging something from its murky waters, I stopped too.
In horror, I watched him drag a freshly dead dog from the water. Obviously, hit by a car and left to die. He laughed in glee and suggested we autopsy it. I became not myself that day. Everything flashed as if it were happening to someone else. Suddenly, I was standing over Russ who was lying in the road. There was bright red blood spurting from the cut above his eye and I was panting and holding a rock. I felt that rage unraveling from my belly and my body shook with it.
My parents punished me for hitting him. There had been stitches. I have many regrets in my life, but that was not one of them. It wasn’t the act of violence, I would never condone such a thing, but it was my no longer standing there as a bystander to something horrible. I had done something. Maybe not the right thing, but I had done something.
He, of course, would retaliate against me in a hundred ways. He would push me down in a ditch or into a barbed wire fences. I would return with bruises and cuts, but I would never tell on him. He would taunt me, call me names, and invoke the name of Peppy to try to hurt me. However, he never did. Whenever he seemed to get the upper hand, I would remember him that day lying on the road and crying. Big tears of pain, surprise, and the fear in his eyes as I stood looming with that rock. He was no longer a monster to fear, but a weak boy who would grow into an even weaker man.
I suddenly forgot about Daniel and Dylan and the dog grave we were leaving behind. I was ready for a fresh start in a new house and I felt hopeful.