ARIZONA CHRONICLES PARTS 9 & 10

30 May

The house was finally finished.  My mother cried as we walked through the empty rooms, our voices echoing.  I marveled at the new carpet and the smell of fresh paint.  We had a breakfast bar and a room for a table.  There was a large wood burning stove in the living room.  There were two rooms with closets and I nearly wept at getting my own room, until it was announced I would not be getting my own room.  Di was too afraid to sleep in hers alone and I would have to share one with her.  Oh yeah, and she insisted on a nightlight.  My first night in the room, I cursed my parents for having a kid afraid of the dark.

The first day in our new home, I stood outside in the gravel driveway and looked around at the houses.  Across the street, a blonde boy played with his dark skinned sisters.  Next-door three little girls dug in the dirt beneath their swing set.  I could see a dark curly haired boy riding his bike up the dirt road.  A place where I was new.  Where I could reinvent myself.

I made a conscious decision to forget about the sadness and put aside my anger.  The new house with its new appliances represented a clean slate for us all.  My mother was happy for the first time we moved to Arizona and it affected the entire house.  My father began making pies and leaving poems on the refrigerator for us.  This is what happy is, I thought.

I met the curly haired boy first.  His name was Robby and he lived with his grandmother and his sister.  He did not know where his mom or dad had gone.  He invited me to his house and his grandmother gave me a cup of punch with a scoop of ice cream in it.  I remember the smell of patchouli and carne asada always cooking on the stove.  He showed me his older sister’s room and it was a revelation.

Her dresser was covered in perfume bottles and bongs.  There were pictures torn out of a Playgirl magazine taped to her walls.  Robby showed me her record collection, but my eyes could not tear away from the myriad of penises before my eyes.  They were in all shapes and sizes.  Who knew!

We rode our bikes down to the blonde boy’s house.  His name was Bobby and he lived there with his very religious parents and the two Native American sisters they had adopted.  He resented their very existence and I remember him sweetly telling the youngest to eat a grasshopper, which she did with relish.  Bobby called his friend Stoney who came over to meet the new girl.  Like that, I had forgotten about Daniel and Dylan.

I came home one afternoon, covered in dirt and exhausted from riding my bike through trails no child should ever be on.  My parents oblivious to the dangers of mountain living, simply said be home by dark.  My mother and father were fighting.  My granny and his brother were coming to visit.  To see our new house.  My mom did not want them staying with us.  There was bad blood going back years, but my father told her she was being unreasonable.

This is as good as time as any to dissect my mother’s psyche.  She grew up with alcoholic parents who nearly killed each other.  Her brothers and sisters are all in their own way as damaged as anyone.  My mother would like to believe she escaped the same fate, but she is wrong.  If there is anything my mother clings to, it is that she is right.  Always.

Therefore, she is qualified to sit in judgment of all those before her.  This pertains to strangers, friends and especially family.  She did not like my father’s mother, who yes, was an alcoholic in her own right.  Yet, it was this same disease she excused from her parents.  My mother specifically did not like anyone in my father’s family and made no bones about it.  Her contempt was always barely concealed and the tension could be cut with a knife.

My father has survived his marriage by conceding a lot to my mother.  However, he was not budging on this one.  My granny and Uncle Daryl were coming to visit and that was final.  I remember the slam of the bedroom door and my mother standing there gape jawed.  She had turned to me as if looking for me to say she was right.  I merely shrugged.

My granny arrived with my uncle exactly three days later.  They pulled into the driveway in a Pinto and empty beer cans stashed in the seats.  Daryl was the youngest of my father’s brothers.  Longhaired and good-looking, he said his quick hellos and then left for the bars.  My granny hugged us with a Camel cigarette clinging from her mouth and exclaimed we looked like the natives with our brown skin.  My mother sneered, pouted and harrumphed through the visit.  I had never been so entertained by her hostility.

If my granny asked where the coffee was, my mother shoved it in her hand and slammed the cabinet door.  If my granny poured beer into a glass, my mother shoved a coaster beneath it.  If granny lit a cigarette, my mother went outside to smoke a half pack.  The entire equilibrium of our world had been thrown off its axis and I would giggle in delight at the sparring between the two of them.

They stayed a week and in that time, I saw Daryl maybe twice.  He was awash in booze and local women and did not even bother coming home.  My granny on the other hand insisted on trailing my mother everywhere.  I think she too was taking some perverse pleasure in pushing my mother over the edge.  Then the talk of us returning with them to visit in Kentucky began.  I could see my mother really wanted to go, wanted to see her parents, but the thought of being in a car with my father’s family was almost too much.

Until my father decided, we were indeed going back to Kentucky for a short visit.  We would drive back with granny and Daryl and fly back to Arizona.  I was excited about the trip, I had not seen my mom’s family in a couple of years and the thought of a road trip and diner scrambled eggs was enticing.  Until I realized we were driving back in the Pinto.  You know the car that in certain crashes the gas tank exploded.

Also, let me mention this Pinto was years and years old and quite small.  Riding back to Kentucky would be my father, mother, granny, Daryl, myself and my sister, sans car seat of course because there was no room.  Therefore, while granny and my mother and sister shared the back seat, I sat on the floor on the hump.  I would be sure I lost my virginity on this trip, if it had not hurt so much when I actually did.

So there we went, across the same highways we had traveled on to get to Arizona.  Except this time, my sister and I were trapped in a ticking time bomb with four smoking adults who bickered and fought along the way over a course of three days.  Yes, there were diner scrambled eggs and chocolate milk shakes, but as we crawled toward Kentucky, I prayed for a bed and some peace and quiet.  I realize that was too much to ask for.

By the time we arrived, I had strep throat and a double ear infection.  As I was passed from relative to relative, I felt as if every bone in my body was bruised.  I slumped on the couch as my papa tried to feed me McDonald’s cheeseburgers.  We had not had McDonalds in two years and I could not even taste it.  By the end of the first night, I could not swallow and was spitting into a bowl.  Not what I had in mind for my first visit back home.

The worst part was we were only in town a few days since the drive had taken us so long.  It was a blur of fried foods, loud voices and pleas for us to not go back.  My mother cried, but she had begun to believe Arizona was her home now.  She loved her house, her friends and her tennis.  Still sick, I did not care about anything but getting home to my bed.  That, and flying on a plane for the first time.

As we said goodbye to our family at the airport, I trembled as we boarded the plane, confined in our small seats.  I was still ill and probably feverish at this point.  Yet, as I looked out that window as the earth fell away and we were in the clouds, heading back to our new home, I felt infinitely better.  Everything was an adventure I discovered.  That hunger began in me.  I wanted to do more.  I wanted to do everything.  I wanted everything.

I like to think of Arizona as the place I found my sense of wonder for life outside myself and where my mother lost her ever loving mind.  Despite finally having the house of her dreams, the husband who loved her and the children who were for the most part were well behaved, my mother became even more miserable.  For the first time, she was working as a maid at a local hotel while I was at school and my sister stayed with my fake grandmother.  If possible, she became more depressed and withdrawn from us when she was home.  Her behavior concerned the family so much, my grandmothers showed up on our doorstep one day to save her.

Having her mother and mother in law under the same roof did not ease my mother’s nerves.  If anything, she became more high strung and volatile.  My grandmother, never one to be shy on her opinion, chastised my mother for allowing us to go native.  We were dirt covered tanned tomboys claiming lizards as pets and immersing ourselves in nature.  We were determined to be savages and my grandmothers begged my mother to return home to civilization.  It didn’t help you could hear the coyotes howling in the dark of night and dirt devils were becoming a daily event.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the grandmothers left and we were left behind.  Mother became what can only be called unhinged.  There were a lot of slamming doors, locking herself in the bathroom and rampages over spills.  We learned to avoid her at all costs.  My father, in his infinite wisdom, had a perfect solution.  He would begin taking her out to the bars for date night.

There were three bars and no grocery stores in our small town.   Priorities were determined.  So, every Saturday night, my dad put on his cowboy boots and ostentatious silver belt buckle and mom pinned her hair back and they went to the Silver Spur.  As excited as we were to have our parents out of the house, we were subjected to a steady stream of baby sitters that got progressively worse.

There was the one who boiled two cartons of eggs and made the largest bowl of egg salad I’ve ever seen.  The entire house smelled of eggs and cigarettes and her Shalimar perfume.  I begged my parents to never let her step foot in the house again.  Then there were the young teen girls who snuck boys in the backdoor and made out on our sofa.  The worst was an older woman who was saddled not only with my sister and me, but Micah and Russ.

Russ in all his deviancy could be entertaining with the babysitters.  He was determined to either make them cry or leave.  He felt he was too old to be under supervision.  The babysitter that evening was sweet and determined we would have a good time playing monopoly or watching television.  Instead, Russ began a standoff in the bedroom that lasted for hours and resulted in our parents being called home early and the door being taken off the hinges.  Micah and I camped in the hallway and begrudgingly admired Russ for an amusing evening.

Going to the bar meant my parents made new friends.  One couple in particular was as far removed from the locals as possible.  The wife wore heavy make up and low cut blouses, unheard of in our small town.  The husband was witty, charming and cared whether he had dirt beneath his fingernails.  There house was on the outskirts of town, a rambling two story jammed with paintings and art.  There was always music playing and weekend barbecues to attend.  They served raw oysters on the half shell and I found it decadent beyond belief.  I wanted to be adopted into this family.

Every weekend I spent on a barstool in the kitchen painting bird houses or stenciling mirrors with my friend’s mother I had taken as my own.  While all the children were off riding bikes, I was listening to Etta James and Billie Holiday with the father.   I felt as if I belonged to these people and hated to go home.  How could you not love a mother who shaved chocolate onto big dollops of whipped cream in your hot chocolate?

Their creativity was never more apparent than at Halloween.  The mother’s love of all things Halloween and her determination to decorate every inch of their house, inspired many parties I threw well into my adulthood.  While I was accustomed to plastic face masks and ill fitting Barbie pajamas as a costume, she would make intricate costumes for her children.

Her son that year went as an African American baby.  He wore a sky high afro wig, black face and a white diaper as a costume.  Racist?  Sure.  But in our small town of Arizona there were no African Americans.  The only minority was the Native Americans who resided in small hovels at the edge of town and on the reservations.  My family was shocked having grown up in a much more diverse area.

The daughter was a beautiful butterfly.  I would sit on the stool and watch the mother dot the gauzy wings with glue then sprinkle with glitter.  I wanted to be a butterfly.  Instead, my mother decided I would be a hobo.  Easy enough costume.  I would look upon those wings the days before Halloween with such envy, wanting to wear them myself and my friend’s mother could tell.

She pulled my mother aside and said there was still time to make a second set of butterfly wings.  My mother, not entirely uncreative, balked at the idea.  Looking back, I think she saw my longing for something else other than the life I was leading.  It was her first indication I would not be like them, nor would I ever be.  I would always want something else and she felt rejected.  We left my friend’s house that day and never returned.  I saw them on Halloween night, the boy in his black face and my friend in her beautiful purple and pink butterfly wings and black leotard.  The mother looked at me in my ill fitting hobo costume and patted my shoulder.  She leaned over and whispered, “Someday you’ll make your own butterfly wings.”

She was right.  Someday I would create and make, despite those who told me I couldn’t.  I missed those weekends spent painting and talking about the perfect color blue.  My mother had cut me off from the lifeline of my creativity, but she had not killed it.  Instead, I would cut beautiful pictures from magazines and save them in a box.  I began writing down the words floating in my imagination and recreating that world I found at someone else’s house.  My butterfly wings were words that carried me far away and she had not even realized it yet.

Happy Halloween.

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14 Responses to “ARIZONA CHRONICLES PARTS 9 & 10”

  1. luckyluwi May 30, 2012 at 7:18 am #

    I look fowward to the chronicles everyday, wondering what happens next. I’m hooked :). Love them.

  2. Open Up Life May 30, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Love the flow and detail of this story. Well written. Thanks for sharing.
    Tammy

  3. jmgoyder May 30, 2012 at 7:58 am #

    Keep it coming!

  4. kiwidutch May 30, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    My New Zealand Grandma’s took the place of your mother’s friend in my life (My parents chose each other and work over time with their kids)

    Gran couldn’t be everything to me either but like your mother’s friend she instilled many things into me like a love of cooking that ended up being seeds that bloomed in my life in much later years.

    I will never be able to thank her enough for that. I only wish I had appreciated what effect she was to have in my life at the time.

    Today I try and be a little bit of my Gran to kids who come through our house… their home situations are often vastly different to the stable and loving one I have built now and it’s a chance to give back, keep an open door and hopefully sew some seeds that will bloom in their lives one day further down the track too.

    Beautifully written, and highly resonant… Thank You!

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      Thanks so much and it’s such a beautiful memory of your grandma. Sometimes people come into our life that we need more than we realize at the time. Thank you for your kind words and reading.

  5. Perfecting Motherhood May 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    With all those strep throats, I want to guess a tonsillectomy is coming up at some point… The second hand smoke probably didn’t help.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      I wish I had my tonsils out! I suffered with those strep throats until I was 18 and moved out of my parent’s house. Amazingly, I’ve not had strep throat since.

      • Perfecting Motherhood May 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

        I don’t think there’s anything amazing about the absence of strep throat since then. With the second hand smoke gone, it probably helped your tonsils heal.

  6. silentlyheardonce May 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    aaaahh! I wish you would tell more about the adventures on the dirt paths. Giving us more of a feel of Arizona. We rode around in a Pinto, orange it was usually 7 of us crammed in. We all sere little thank goodness.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 9:00 am #

      One of my best friends has asked me to fill in some blanks on Arizona. I have every intention of doing that. I really can relive it like it was yesterday. Amazing how those memories stick with me and yet I can’t remember if I took my vitamins this morning 🙂

  7. destructivetesting May 30, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    this is really great. I’ll be reading more.

    Mike

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 8:59 am #

      Thanks so much 🙂 I appreciate your reading and your comments.

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