We moved to a trailer in a desert with no television, radio or reason to live. Surely, tribes in the outermost reaches of a Brazilian jungle had better accommodations. My parents plied us with comic books, novels and a monopoly board. This, of course, did not take the place of a working television. I was hoping our “real” family would rescue us from this psychotic set of parent’s clutches. Instead, we suffered in the heat, whining we were bored. My mother in her infinite wisdom decided to send us out into the scorching sun so we could no longer interrupt her daily sobbing spells.
So without the benefit of sunscreen, we huddled beneath the scarce pine trees looking for shade and watching the other similarly abused children hide beneath decks and cars until the sunset and we could go back inside for dinner. The funny thing about the desert is that at night it was cold. Therefore, you spent all day frying in the sun and then at night you covered yourself in layers of blankets. To this day, I am not sure how long this torture continued. I just remember one day we were in the desert and then it was time to move to the mountains.
The Superstition Mountains of Arizona were beautiful, majestic and full of things that given the slightest chance would eat you. We were in a trailer at the foot of a tall hill and at night in the pitch-black darkness, you could hear the howling of the coyotes in the distance. Except some nights, they were not so distant. They were roaming in the alfalfa fields on either side of our trailer. I would have been frightened by their presence, but I was more concerned about the mouse living in the bathroom.
This trip to the mountains was also the first time I contracted strep throat. I remember this distinctly because as my parents hacked their way through two packs of cigarettes each daily, I could no longer breath in the confines of the smoked filled coffin we called home. One night delirious with fever and unable to swallow, I remember lying on my side in the bed, the light from the bathroom illuminating the tacky tile floor and there was the mouse. Scurrying along and then pausing to look at me. I would have screamed in fright had any sound been possible from my swollen shut throat.
A trip to the local doctor, a shot of penicillin and bed rest, and that is where I lay for a week watching that mouse watching me. At the time, I did not think about bubonic plague or the diseases they carried. I simply did not want it in my bed and snuggling on my pillow. Night after night, I watched that mouse unable to sleep until finally I told my parents about it. A quick snap of a mousetrap and it was gone. I had been responsible for its demise and I was racked with guilt.
When I was better, we began taking weekend trips into the mountains for rest and relaxation. For one, there is no rest. You must be aware of your surroundings at all times. If you wonder why, refer to the list of things that will kill you. The woods contained all elements of danger. Half-fallen trees called widow makers, the tell tale rattle of a rattlesnakes nearby. Tracks that could belong to any type of hungry carnivore. A great place for a picnic.
Relaxation is subjective. I was not relaxing when sliding down hillsides onto trucking roads with my male cousins. Not relaxing trying to jump over a rushing creek only to slip and fall in and have to drag yourself to safety. Not relaxing when stepping onto a red anthill and enduring their sting. There was an incident when I lost my shoes. It is a miracle I made it out alive.
On a side note, even in the city life was dangerous I told myself. There was a time when I was following my cousins on a big wheel and they lost me in the dark. I pedaled around the ever-darkening streets of the apartment complex until a man found me crying and unable to find my way home. In a stroke of sheer luck that would indeed follow me my entire life, he picked me up into his arms and carried me home. He just so happened to know my aunt and where they lived.
I began to embrace the dangers of living in the mountains. There were things you did and did not do. My hair was bleached white and my skin a golden brown. I was beginning to get the hang of living like a savage. Then in one moment, my father helping to put a roof on someone’s trailer distracted me, and I stepped back onto a nail. A rusty nail.
I remember my mother being angry I was so careless as I sat in the doctor’s office having my wound cleaned and receiving a tetanus shot. My foot was bandaged and I was told to hop around for support. In other words, I was house bound in that trailer for another week. I almost missed that mouse.
After moving out west, my mother had two moods, depressed and angry. It must have been difficult for her I concede. She was young and thousands of miles from home and living with two small children in a confined space. My father worked all night and slept all day. Living in a new area with all its dangers could not have been easy on her.
When we first moved to Arizona, my father worked at the Arizona State Prison. I knew he was a guard and the position stressed him. I overheard him discussing with my uncle one night the tour of the gas chamber the new guards had been on. I pictured those old movies with prisoners escaping with bed sheets and nail files and could not sleep at night until I heard my father return from the late shift. I would wait for him under the table and watch as he ate the dinner my mother saved for him on a plate in the oven.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when a job came open at the sawmill just outside of town. It was steady pay and steady work and it meant my father did not have to deal with murderers and rapists on a daily basis. At least not convicted ones. It also meant he worked outdoors in the heat during the heat and could be at home with us at night.
Due to my injury, I was forced to stay indoors with my mother and my sister while dad went off to cut down trees. Trust me, I did not like this any more than they did. I would hobble around with my bandaged foot and spend my day coloring and writing. It was during this time I wrote my first book about a witch who lived in a trailer vaguely based on my mother.
Then one day dad was home in a cast. A tree had fallen on his foot, we were both hobbling around the trailer, and mom was losing her mind. I remember spilling a bowl of Fruity Pebbles on the kitchen table and she would not speak to me for two days. My father finally read her the riot act and all was forgotten, for a moment. She was homesick. She missed her parents. There was no pleasing her.
Me, on the other hand, ran outdoors as soon as the bandage was off my foot and did not look back. Summer was almost over; there were too many dangerous things to try before school began. I was a constant fixture in the fields with my uncles who were barely older than I was. My grandfather had remarried and had a son three years older than me and the youngest one month after I was born. They and a group of rough and tumble boys were my only friends and I aspired to keep up with them.
This meant catching lizards with my bare hands, walking the plank over a pit of broken glass and nail riddled boards and jumping off a shed over a barbed wire fence. I was, to say the least, fearless in my attempts to show I could do everything they could do and better. What is a miracle is I did not see the inside of the hospital more than I did. Some of that could be attributed to my mother, who believed in unless you were punctured enough to gush blood, you could walk any injury off.
I did not want to be a boy, I simply wanted to best them. It was during this summer my hair was long and bleached out and a chore to wash and comb out every night. My mother was not sympathetic of a tender scalp and would hit you with the brush if you dared to complain. One night, I begged her to cut off my hair and she was happy to oblige.
I had in mind a cute pixie cut easy enough to wash and let air dry, but would still indicate I was a girl. So much for daydreams. Instead, she butchered off inches and inches of my flaxen locks until I was left with a Buster Brown cut that did nothing for my girlishness. I cried nonstop until she made me an appointment at the Aloha Beauty Salon the next day.
Two things happened at the beauty salon. The owner/hairdresser chastised my mom for doing such a bad job and I was secretly thrilled someone could tell my mother she did something wrong and she had to take it. Second, I met Daniel.
His mother was white, but his father was Hawaiian, and he was a beautiful dark haired boy, on the heavy side with a smile that dried my tears. He told me he liked me in short hair, and I was officially in eight-year-old love. My uncles told me I looked like a boy, but I did not care. Daniel had said I looked good and that was all that mattered.
Less than a week later, my mother pushed me out the door one morning when it was barely light out and told me I had to walk down the half-mile dirt road to
the bus stop. School had started suddenly and I was not at all prepared. I walked the entire way down the road, saw two kids at the bus stop and walked back up to where my mother informed me I had no choice. There were probably threats of bodily injury if I missed that bus.
Terrified beyond all belief, I trudged back down that road in tears and climbed on that bus, praying it was going to the right school. Instead of brick buildings usually associated with school, we were led to a series of trailers. I would be taking class in one of them. Still disoriented, with my hair too short to hide behind and my hands trembling, I met my teacher and my classmates. I was an interloper and a specimen to be dissected. “Tell us how you came to Arizona,” my teacher insisted.
So, instead of tales of beds in the back of a station wagon and a detour in Texas due to a horrific accident, I regaled them with a plane that crashed over water and my father who had to save us all. At the end of my story, the teacher nodded, obviously not as impressed as my classmates were. She said, “Quite an imagination you have there.” I merely shrugged. She had not been specific she wanted the truth.
As I sat in a desk at the back of the room, someone tapped on my shoulder. I turned to look into the pale blue eyes of a boy with hair as white blonde as mine was. His skin was golden brown from the sun and when he smiled, there was a gap between his teeth. Just like mine. I remember staring into his eyes as he asked me, “Is there an ocean between Kentucky and Arizona?”
I swooned. My first of many stupid boys who would blind me with their good looks. I shrugged and learned his name was Dylan. Now, I no longer wanted to best the boys. I wanted to sit quietly beside them, giggle at their every juvenile joke, and bat my eyelashes like they did in the movies. I was going to settle in Arizona just fine. Being in love, even meant mom’s mood swings could be tolerated. If I had only known what was in store.