ARIZONA CHRONICLES – PARTS 11, 12 AND FINI

31 May

My mother tightly coiled, always walking the fine line between despair and tension, began to unravel just before the holidays.  She began locking herself for long periods of time in the bathroom and I would stand in the hallway watching my sister push pictures beneath the slit of the door trying to cheer her up.  The part of me that used to care about whether or not she would open the door with a crooked smile and still sniffing tears had departed.  My compassion for my mother was replaced by anger.  I felt left alone to raise myself and my sister and angry with my father for not yelling at her to stop what she was doing.

When I left the house in the cool morning to go to school, I would no longer look back at my sister standing in the doorway, her fingers pressed against the glass as if beckoning me to take her with me.  I would tell her she was too little, but I also felt if she were home, nothing bad would happen to my mother that day.  When I was home, I refused to come out of my room unless it was dinnertime or my father insisted I come out and play.  I would count down the hours he was at home on the weekend, watching my mother pretend to be something other than what we saw during the days he was at work.  I roiled with anger and rampaged against whatever was happening in my house.

Then one day I arrived home to my fake grandmother making dinner and announcing my mother was in the hospital.  My father arrived later and told us it was an infected tooth.  She would be in the hospital for a little while.  It was as if someone had flung open the windows and fresh air was blowing through the curtains.  To this day, I am not sure what actually happened to my mother.  She was in the hospital for a week, we saw her exactly once, she burst into tears, and we were bustled from the room.

My father stumbled with being both mother and father.  He was unsure how to wash clothes and whites were suddenly tinged pink.  He cooked frozen pizzas for dinner, still slightly frozen in the center, but we ate happily anyway.  We built elaborate cities on the carpet with Popsicle sticks and went to bed leaving it there.  My mother would have balked at the idea.  I began insisting my sister take baths that consisted of more than splashing her face and laying out her pajamas for her nightly.  I cooked scrambled eggs for breakfast and burnt bacon and thought for the first time in a long time, there was nothing to worry about.

It snowed the morning my mother came home.  I remember standing in the door, watching the golf ball size flakes fall and blanket the morose brown ground we had refused to call a lawn.  In Kentucky, we were use to lush green grass sprinkled with dandelions and smelling sweet of earth.  I longed for the alfalfa fields next to our trailer when we first moved to Arizona.  I would run through them in my bare feet, the soft leaves tickling my ankles, lie down on a soft blanket of green, and watch the clouds.  Our yard at the house was nothing more than rocks and clumps of weeds.

My sister and I stood at the door calling for more snow.  When we first moved to the mountains, our first winter in Arizona, there had been enough snow for a snowman.  We had higher aspirations this time.  I thought an igloo was surely easy to build and we had a sled just waiting to be used for something other than dragging large rocks home from the dried up creek.  We stood watching the snowfall in our pajamas until my fake grandmother came in.  Dad muttered something about going to get our mother, and suddenly the snowfall lost its luster.

She arrived, looking thinner, but exactly the same.  She hugged us, told us how much she missed us and then went straight to bed.  My father doted on her, making her hot soup and bringing her the newspaper to read.  It is when I realized she was his other child.  The favorite one.  The one he had to tend to because she needed the most attention.  Instead of feeling jealousy, I felt saddened and resolute I would never need or want anyone to take care of me.

She was still too shaky for Thanksgiving dinner that year and we had it at my fake grandmother’s house.  My grandfather had been injured falling off a logging truck and there was talk of them returning to Kentucky.  Micah and I ate our dinners in lawn chairs beneath the carport.  It was freezing outside and there was still snow.  We watched Russ building a large bon fire in an empty drum, tossing in whatever sticks and paper he could find until it roared above his head.  Micah said he knew they would be leaving Arizona.  I told him I would be sorry to see him go, but glad to see Russ leave.  As we exchanged knowing glances, Russ threw two empty aerosol cans onto his fire and there was a sudden explosion.  The can tipped over and fire shot toward the carport.  When the smoke cleared, Russ stood there with singed hair and eyebrows, yet still smiling.  I could not wait for him to leave.

They moved away just before Christmas.  There were hugs and tears and at some point during the goodbye dinner, I hit Russ above the eye with a matchbox car.  All of the pictures we had in our photo album are of me smiling from ear to ear and Russ scowling with his eye swollen and turning purple.  It was my last goodbye gift to someone who would go on to cause damage in other people’s lives.  Micah and I cried, our shared experiences bonding us, yet things would never be the same.  We promised to write, but never did.  Out of sight, so they say.

With that, whatever family we had in Arizona was now gone.  There were friends, those my mother had yet to alienate, but we were ostensibly alone.  Christmas was a morose day of half heartedly opening presents and arguing between my parents.  There was a seismic shift in the plates of our lives, and I did not have a clue what it was.  My mother was torn between wanting to return to Kentucky and wanting to stay in Arizona where she felt truly at home.  I just wanted to get away.

Just after the holidays, my mother was in the hospital again.  She would be hospitalized several times as I grew up.  I often joked she had every organ remove you could spare to lose.  I will be honest and say I am not sure what it was that time in Arizona.  I am not sure my father even bothered with an excuse.  She was just simply in the hospital and then she was home again.  This pattern would play out through out our lives.

It was just before New Years, after mom was home and in bed again, the snow fell overnight.  A deep plush carpet of white covering our yard and our street.  I trudged out into it just as the sun rose and everywhere I looked there was just white.  I threw myself down in it, despite the cold and my thin coat, and made a series of snow angels.  I built a snowman with rocks for eyes and a mouth.  I threw snowballs at my bedroom window until my sister peeked out and then half dressed, joined me in the snow.  We laughed and played even as the sun grew hotter and our snowman began to melt.  This was what we had been waiting for, and it was perfect.  It made me believe if you waited long enough, those perfect moments would come; you just had to be patient.

I developed a mercurial nature at a very early age.  I learned to internalize and keep the essence of me hidden away.  Call it survival skills or genetics, but I became withdrawn from people and refused to believe I needed anyone else.  Instead, I became a listener.  An observer of the world around me.

Nothing fascinated me more than the adults orbiting around our life in Arizona.  There were gin rummy nights soaked in sloe gin and loud conversation coming from a room filled with the thick fog of smoke.  I would sit on a chair in the living room, close enough to hear every word, yet nonchalant enough to look as if I cared about the game of Monopoly being played by the kids.  I hovered between both worlds and lost all interest in whatever childhood I had left.

My immature crushes on Dylan and Daniel were a thing of distant memory.  I had a new object of affection and as I sat perched on the arm of the couch, I wondered why I had wasted time on mere boys.  He was every cliché of a cowboy that had ever been written.  Wearing road weary blue jeans, black cowboy boots and a silver and turquoise belt buckle the size of a dinner plate, he walked into our house one night and I fell in love.  I stood there mutely staring at him as he was introduced around and reluctantly left the room so the adults could do whatever they did that made them cackle with laughter and talk loudly at each other.

The entire night I stared at his face.  He was tanned, probably younger than he looked and sporting a neat mustache beneath a mangled nose.  He was in town for the rodeo and one of the women of the group had brought him home.  He sat in his chair and she stood at his side, his arm casually around her waist.  I shivered at the thought of his hairy arm on my skin.  He was as ugly as he was beautiful, but I guess that was most of the attraction.

I became eager to fetch beers and refill the chip bowl, as the night grew longer and the crowd rowdier.  He pinched my cheek, calling me cute as a button and plopped a sweat stained cowboy hat on my head.  I had resisted the urge to run my fingers through his dark curly hair and stumbled over whatever thought came to my head.  I did not have a clue the power of lust yet, but I was awash in the hormones of puberty that were yet to develop.

It was close to midnight when my mother insisted I go to bed.  That apparently was the witching hour when the adults could no longer tolerate children’s presence and the more outrageous things would happen once we were ensconced in our bedroom.  I cajoled, pleaded, but to no avail.  As I made my way out of the kitchen, fighting back the tears that threatened to embarrass me, Merle had grabbed my hands, putting them on his slender hips and declared he would bunny hop me to my room.

There it was, this grown man, hopping down the hallway to my room, laughing as I giggled and then stopping at the door of my room.  I wanted him to kiss my cheek, to feel the tickle of his mustache on against my skin, but instead he tousled my hair.  He declared me a cutie, and then he was gone.  I was both mortified and elated at being called cute.

Later that night, I snuck out of my room to tiptoe to the bathroom and peek down the hall at the adults.  Merle sat in one of our kitchen chairs, his girl of choice on his lap and he was kissing the slender slope of her neck.  She laughed and squirmed, her drink sloshing from her glass onto the table.  Her mascara was running down her cheeks and she was undoubtedly drunker than anyone else at the table was, but still he wanted her.  I was cute, but was she what men wanted?

I saw Merle again at the rodeo that ended the Fourth of July celebration.  This holiday was a big deal in our small town.  It meant a parade of floats, men on horses and a shoot out in the town square.  There would be smoke, blanks being shot and men falling covered in fake blood and then carried to the parking lot of the Silver Spur in wood coffins.  Sunburned, covered in sweat and cranky, we would then drive to the fairgrounds where we would sit on the hood of our truck and watch the cowboys try to stay on the horses.

There had been talk the rodeo would be canceled that year.  There had been a tragic death at the last one.  A horse had bucked and fallen on top of its rider, puncturing several organs and killing him two days later.  Although it was by its very nature a brutal sport, the death hung heavy over the festivities.  It was decided to have the rodeo anyway, and just after the National Anthem, there was a tribute to the fallen cowboy.  I remember watching the cowboys, lined along the fence, wiping tears from their eyes and hiding beneath the brims of their hats.

As I sat on the hood, frying in the open sun and wishing I were anywhere but there, Merle walked up to my father.  They shook hands and then he turned to me, a beatific smile on his face and gave me a wink.  In my burgeoning adult like mind, winking back was the thing to do.  So I did.  He threw back his head, roaring with laughter and squeezed my shoulder.  He told my father then, something that has resonated with me my entire life, she is going to be a handful.

I was a handful, but not in the way he probably meant.  I grew up to make horrible decisions when it came to the matters of the cold dead heart I had tucked away.  Somewhere along the way, I lost all sense of myself and a belief I could be loved for who I really was.  I was a handful because I was impossible to know or pin down.  I was loved, but whom did they really love?

As the sun set and everyone was leaving the rodeo, Merle walked to the back of the truck where I sat with my sister drinking a coca cola and fighting off heat exhaustion.  He leaned in and kissed my cheek, his mustache tickling my cheek.  It was not a kiss of someone making an inappropriate gesture to an underage girl.  It was meant to reassure.  I knew it even then.

“You’ll be okay, kiddo.”  He said his voice soft and gentle like his kiss had been.

I’m not sure what he saw or thought he saw, but I knew his words were meant to convey a message of hope.  Looking back, I think he meant hang on until you really are an adult.  You will see all of this means so little.  You will have your own child, your own life and someday you’ll stop searching for who you are.  You will just find her, and you’ll be okay until you do.

Merle left town.  Springerville went back to normal after the Fourth of July fireworks faded from the sky.  There would be more card parties in the house, more drinks and laughter, but it had lost its luster.  I chose to bury my nose in a book rather than eaves drop on conversations I could not yet understand.

School was out soon and one morning I woke up to find my mother crying at the kitchen table.  I heard their words, but it was as if they were speaking from miles away.  Just snippets of information penetrated my denial.  The sawmill was closing.  No work for my father.  It was time to sell the house and move back to Kentucky.

The field adjoining our road began to look like an intricate ant farm lay on its side.  Dug into the earth was a complicated maze of tunnels for the houses that would be built upon them.  I began spending my days walking the paths, hidden in the earth with only the sun overhead.  There were so many changes from when we first moved in and I was not happy with any of them.

I climbed up on the side, my feet dangling down and stared at the red Sold on the realtor sign in our front yard.  It was leaning to the side from the one afternoon I walked up to it and kicked it over.  Fearing my mother’s wrath, I then picked it up and tried to right it.  The sign was a mocking reminder that some things cannot be undone.  Selling our house and moving back to Kentucky was one of them.

In the evenings, I would sit in the spare bedroom with my sister playing Barbies and looking longingly at the disassembled cardboard castle now perched against the wall.  Of all the rooms packed and ready for the move, our playroom was the saddest.  We no longer had cardboard walls to hide us from the real world as my sister and I pretended we belonged to a royal family.  She was so young, I think she was anxiously awaiting the day they would arrive to take us to our real home.

She was too young to understand we were leaving to never return.  Instead, she treated our move as if it was another road trip with diner scrambled eggs and dirty gas station bathrooms.  I envied her ability to laugh and be happy despite the inevitable.  Even then, I knew in my gut, instead of life improving, it would become harder.

The weeks leading to our move, my mother was angrier than ever before.  This was something my father could not fix, and I think she hated him for it.  He had a family to support and he felt he could do better in Kentucky.  I would also like to think her volatility came into play.  Although she viewed Arizona as her new home, she had never assimilated and was anything but happy.  Maybe he thought moving back to her family would fix her.  To this day, we have never discussed what happened in Arizona to her.

The morning we moved, the truck came and burly men packed our whole life into it.  I clung to my basketball, hoping for a last minute reprieve, but when my mother pried it from my hands and threw it in with our furniture, it was over.  I would no longer wander through the mountains near our home or slide down a hill of volcanic rocks.  I would never again taste the sweet nectar of the Indian paintbrush flower or listen to the coyotes howl at night.  I was saying goodbye to the fragrant alfalfa fields and a night sky full of diamonds.  There were bad things to remember, but there were also a lifetime of moments that would change the adult I might have been.

I walked to Daniel’s house.  We stood on his porch, our hands in our jean pockets and said our goodbyes.  His mother wiped tears from her eyes and gave me a hug that hurt my heart.  I promised to write Daniel and send postcards, but I never did.  Instead, I walked away from him, pausing only long enough to look back and give him a little wave.  My last memory of him is his dark eyes looking into mine as he raised his hand to return my wave.  Then he turned to go back inside.

My friends in the neighborhood told me awkward goodbyes.  I took one more peek at my babysitter’s room of Playgirl penises and Robbie gave me his favorite GI Joe to remember him by.  I lied and told him we would be back in a year.  This is just temporary, I reassured him.  A sweet lie, I thought.  I knew I would never see any of them again.  I never did find the GI Joe in any of the boxes.  I am certain it was thrown out at some point.

We flew back to Kentucky.  I swallowed the painful lump in my throat as the plane skimmed over a sea of white clouds.  There were hours of sitting in my seat, resisting the urge to scream and pretending to be excited to arrive in Kentucky.  Instead of being happy as I was swept into the arms of my aunts and uncles who cried happy tears we were home, I was lost and would remain lost for a long time.  For months, I carried a baggie of black rocks we had chiseled out of a mountainside when we first arrived.  They were that touchstone to what I left behind.

We moved in with my grandparents where we stayed for months until we rented a small house.  We would move several times, one house after another, never a home.  This nomadic wanderlust carried over to my adult life.  I have moved more times than I would like to count and never felt I belonged anywhere.  I had left my home.  It was not just a place; it was a state of mind.

My sister and I as adults talk about Arizona as if it were a shared dreamed.  She remembers less, but likes to hear the stories of our adventures there.  We prefer to file away the painful moments, the reality of what our family really went through.  We sit together and look through the pictures, capturing only a fraction of the moments etched on our brains.

I can close my eyes and see the tall sunflowers that grew beside our trailer.  I can put out my hand and feel myself petting my beloved dog Peppy who had come home to say goodbye.  He is still there, buried in the earth, beneath the sun he loved to lay in.  I can stand outside and inhale and it’s there.  That indefinable scent of the mountains, of the fresh water streams and of the heat in the soil.  I can throw my head back and taste the snowflakes on my tongue or the taste of freshwater from the springs we would swim in.  I can hear the wind blowing through the pine trees.  I am forever grateful even at a young age, I understood enough to take it all in, to hold it close because I would need it again.

There is no happy ending.  My mother did not move back to Kentucky and become happier.  My parents remained married, they weathered the storms of her depressions, and resigned themselves to the life they have chosen.  Just recently, she is once again a victim of her own life.  I watch my father, my heart breaking, sad that moving back did not fix all that was wrong with her.

As soon as I was old enough, I moved out on my own.  I worked hard and then I moved away.  I took my daughter on my journey just as my parents had taken me on theirs.  We lived in New York and she saw her first Broadway play.  We lived in Pennsylvania and went white water rafting and rock climbing.  We lived in Massachusetts and every weekend ventured out to the historic sites and the aquarium.  We lived in Rhode Island and she splashed in the cold water of the ocean and made a sand castle.  I’ve made sure her life, if not secured by belonging somewhere, was filled with memories to sustain the life she would want to build for herself.

Like my parents, I have returned to Kentucky, except this time I did not feel I was leaving anything of me behind.  I am still on that journey to find that home again.  I wish I could say it is wherever my daughter is, that would be the beautiful prosaic thing to claim.  My daughter is my life, but something else is a home for me.

I know I will find it again.  It is not out of reach.  I was offered an opportunity to move out West for work sometime in the future.  I felt a surge of something I wish I could describe.  One day I will stop moving around.  One day I will stop yearning.  One day, I will stand beneath that big sky and smile and be thankful for the journey that brought me there.  I know one day I am going to end up exactly where I am supposed to be.

This time, I will bring my daughter along and we will talk about the places we have lived and the life we have led.  Then one day, she will leave on her own journey.  There is something I‘ll make sure of, something I never had.  She may wander to find herself, but she will know I will have a home waiting for her.  Always waiting for her to find her way back.

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24 Responses to “ARIZONA CHRONICLES – PARTS 11, 12 AND FINI”

  1. jmgoyder May 31, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    I haven’t read all of this yet because the first bit got to me so powerfully and I just wanted to tell you – you see I have become (lately) this teary dysunctional mother to my son and tonight (after I took my husband back to the nursing home), my son and I had this huge row and so I am gonna make tomorrow a better day for him and me and wrench myself out of this awful crap.
    Apart from that – wow – your story is so powerful and thank you!

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 8:49 am #

      You are dealing with so much stress, and I’m sure when you sit down with your son and discuss it with him and he understands it from your perspective, things will be better. I think my mother’s dysfunction has always been self inflicted. She’s had a charmed life that she has yet to appreciate. So many others go through so much more, and in a way, she’s taught me to appreciate the good I’ve had in my life. It makes me sad she’s never been happy with her lot.

      I hope you mend things with your son and things go better for you.

      Thanks for taking time to read and your lovely comments.

  2. TheOthers1 May 31, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    Great storytelling. It was great to read about this time in your life.

  3. My Journey into Art May 31, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    Although there is a vast period between our ages, your story is parallel to my own childhood. Giving proof that the memory of early days linger with us for a lifetime. ajm

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 9:50 am #

      They do linger don’t they. And not always a bad thing. It can develop us into more compassionate adults.

      • My Journey into Art May 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

        Yes it does…keep writing and maybe visit one of my sites at: echoingimagesfromthesoul.wordpress.com
        ajm

      • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

        Great…I’ll definitely be visiting 🙂

  4. Nowan Zen May 31, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    It takes an incredible amount of strength and resolved to write such memories. It can be very therapeutic as well. You are even more fascinating than I ever conceived.

    It is my hope that you get to smile from your heart today.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      And that lovely comment just made me smile from my heart 🙂 Thank you. And yes, it was therapeutic.

      • Nowan Zen May 31, 2012 at 9:56 am #

        ANYTHING I can do to help or bring a smile is yours.

  5. silentlyheardonce May 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    This was a wonder journey through a part of your life. You had an excellent memory and could express it in the innocence of a child. I hope that you one day do find your home.

  6. Perfecting Motherhood May 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Isn’t interesting how it takes your whole life as an adult to fix what happened in your childhood? For me, the best therapy has been to shut off the past, even the good parts. I don’t want to think about it or go back to it. I only want to live in the present and look forward to the future. I’m sure it felt good for you to write it all down and put it away too. I feel sorry for you and your sister, but also for your dad. When you get married “for better or for worse”, you really don’t think it’s going to be for worse most of the time. A needy or toxic partner can drain it all out of you so fast.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

      That’s true…I have had a lot of compassion for my father. After all, he’s stuck with her. And it has only gotten worse for him.

  7. mkenobi May 31, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    a great text series, congratulations for the writing and thanks for sharing all those moments of your childhood with us.

    • Cold Dead Heart May 31, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      Thanks for enduring the read and your kind and encouraging comments. I forget sometimes how much I love to write. Even if it’s about inane things from the past.

  8. My Tropical Home June 2, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Reading this made my remember my own past. I’m not sure I’m ready to face it again much less write it down. But I am sure that when I do, it will bring more than freedom for me.

    Thanks for this.

    God bless,
    Mary

    • Cold Dead Heart June 4, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      Thanks so much. It was heard and cathardic. I find that writing it down, trying to extract the humor from it, is equivalent to me just letting it go. I hope someday you’re able to do so too.

  9. lifeandothermisadventures June 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    As you can imagine, this entire story hit me in a deep way. Our mothers and fathers are very much alike. Even the details are similar – my sister and I ate our share of Brussel sprouts and liver, too, always served with that same adage about starving children in other countries. My mother cut off my hair, too, because she couldn’t stand my crying about her harsh brushing each night. I can still remember the feeling of the brush. She had those same fears about how anything could kill you and told us that you should always be scared and anxious. I also escaped by finding refuge in the attention of boys and by being outdoors as much as possible, where it felt safer. And when my grandmother visited, it was just like you described – they even threw dishes at one another from across the room! So much of this, in other words, was so visceral for me, that it was very hard to read. In fact, to this day, I still have nightmares in which I am a child in my parents’ home again.

    I understand today that my mom has a mental illness, that she is narcissistic, that my dad goes along with it because he is codependent.

    But thank you for writing this. Even though it’s hard for me to read, it’s good to remember how far we have come.

    • Cold Dead Heart June 4, 2012 at 8:20 am #

      We have come a long way 🙂 I have been surprised by the common experience a lot of us have had. I have accepted my mother for the flawed narcissistic human she is, but it doesn’t mean I have to be around her and the object of her vileness anymore.

      • lifeandothermisadventures June 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

        Yeah, definitely not. I have almost no contact with my own mother. It has been very healing.

  10. The Hook June 5, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing such a powerful piece.

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