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Take Two Aspirins and Never Call Me

9 Jan

Right out of high school, I decided I wanted to be in the medical field.  Phlebotomy seemed interesting enough even though it meant taking blood from squeamish patients.  I wanted to make a difference, or make money or something in between so I applied for work at one of those emergency clinics.  In all honesty, I had decided even at the tender age of seventeen to lead an interesting life.  Being in the medical profession seemed interesting enough according to the hour dramas playing on television at the time.  I think my parents were just encouraged I might meet a doctor.

So, I became a receptionist at the clinic that entailed smiling politely at patients, demanding their co-pays before treatment, taking their initial vitals and then filing their complicated insurance form that required knowledge of physics and astronomy.  I was also required to wear white nurse pants and any form of colorful smock sure to hide any curve beneath it.  I even had my own stethoscope.

My first day, I marched in, my pants starched enough to encourage chafing and a bright blue smock sure to bring out the blue of my eyes.  I, cold dead hearted, was going to make a difference.  Patients would leave my desk shaking their head in wonder at how pleasant their trip to the doctor had been.  As I brought my first patient, a young girl there with her mother with possible flu back to the first exam room, I was drunk with my own capableness.  At least I was until I stuck a thermometer into her mouth and the girl promptly projectile vomited down the front of my pretty blue smock and white nurse pants.  Her neon orange upchuck dripped down into my new white nurse shoes as I stood in shock fighting the urge to return the favor.

As her mother offered apologies, I fled to the bathroom where one of the nurses threw a pair of scrubs my way that were two sizes too big.  After a quick bath in the sink and wearing the scrubs, my shoes squishing water down the hallway, I remembered an important detail.  I was very squeamish.  In my life, there had been a couple of instances of my sister arriving home bloody, and both times, I fled the scene.  There had been the hamster blood bath that left me breathing into a paper bag with my head between my legs.  I should have probably taken that into consideration when I picked the medical profession.

Never one to quit, I hung in working twelve hour shifts and Sundays for two years.  As a parasitic writer, the interesting lives of those who worked there and visited during times of illness and injury were enough to overcome my flight or fight instincts.  There was a constant stream of patients in distress and moonlighting orthopedic doctors who were working in the clinics to pay for exorbitant malpractice costs.  There were also three full time doctors who worked during the morning hours.  One was old enough to be my great grandfather, one was young enough to be interesting but married, and then there was Wayne Newton.

We called him that because he looked like Wayne’s doppelganger, complete with orange tan and dyed black hair.  Although married, he thought himself somewhat of a ladies man.  His specialty was pap smears and he did more than any other doctor there did.  As required by law, one of us had to stand in the room with him taking notes while he flirted with every vagina spread eagle before him.  Pap smears were the one and only time we were not allowed to interrupt him when his wife called.

Every day became a parade of stitches, colds and pill seekers.  The pill seekers we recognized right away.  They knew exactly what was wrong with them and exactly what prescription would help.  We were trained to take their pulse while they complained of pain.  Fast pulse, meant probable pain, but if it never changed, then they were more than likely faking it.  The pill seekers were sent to the emergency room or simply turned away without their drug of choice.

One day a woman came in seeking Oxycontin.  She said it was the only thing that helped her severe back pain.  While I was taking her temperature one of the doctors wandered in and told me I was needed at the front desk.  I stepped outside to be informed the woman was wanted by the police for passing fake prescriptions.  We had to keep her in the office while waiting for the police.  Suddenly, a routine crackpot became heart racing interesting.  It was decided to do an x-ray and when I informed her of such, she became fidgety and insisted she had many and just simply wanted her prescription to leave.

Fearing I would be the one responsible for her leaving, I did one of the things I had been trained to do in medicine.  I lied.  I nonchalantly informed her if she got the x-ray then the doctor would add refills to the prescription rather than having her come back for more tests.  She acquiesced and within minutes, the police were on site and taking her out in handcuffs.

My favorite doctor was a teddy bear of a man who was even more squeamish than I.  He was a resident orthopedic surgeon and had little or no bedside manner.  If anything, he appeared to be frightened of the patients and would have to psyche himself up to enter the rooms.  He was also the one who seemed to get every STD and yeast infection for miles.  He finally stopped working in our office after a week that included a woman with a diaphragm stuck firmly in her vagina, a young girl with herpes and four penile smears to test for Chlamydia.

After a few months, I was still eager to go to work.  One of the reasons was a bi-weekly patient with multiple personality disorder who came in specifically to see one of the doctors.  Married, with children, it was obvious her psychological disorder was not being faked.  Her entire demeanor changed depending on what personality she was that day.  There was the slutty girl who wore tank tops even in winter and who came in for pregnancy and STD tests after a weekend of debauchery.  There was the haughty older woman with a posh British accent who wore silk scarves and suffered from migraines and food allergies.  On occasion, the patient’s husband would bring her in as the little girl who stuck foreign objects up her nose or cut herself with razor blades.

It was all very interesting and tragic, until the day she came in as a personality we had not seen before.  She was bruised and scared, her hair hanging wet around her face.  She called herself another name and claimed she was possessed by the devil.  Upon examination, the doctor realized she had burned herself with cigarettes on her thighs and was psychotic.  She was taken to the mental hospital by ambulance and we did not see her for another six months.  When she returned, she was the little girl and her husband informed us she had been childlike for months now.  The last we heard, she was hospitalized again after being beaten in an alley.

The people I encountered became fodder for my short stories and poetry.  I became desensitized to their plight as I dissected it in my writing.  I enjoyed my work, but not the toll it took on my ability to empathize.  There is a certain detachment needed as you hold down yet another child for stitches or inform a wife her husband was more than likely cheating because she now suffered from herpes.  Sometimes, you saw people on one of their worst days, and you had to let go what happened to them after.

It was not until I was sent to the emergency room to fill in for someone on maternity leave, did it begin to wear on me.  For every patient with a foreign object shoved up their rectum, there was a gunshot or a car accident.  I began to see every day life as something to survive and not to enjoy.  The final straw came when I was eventually sent back to the clinic.  After a string of car accidents and bloody deaths, I was ready for cough, colds, and women who had douched with Lysol.

A friend of my sister had come in with her mother who had the flu for a week.  We took a chest x-ray and once it was developed, even untrained to read x-rays, I could see what the doctor was shaking his head over.  There were tumors on her lungs, cancerous looking tumors.  I turned to see this middle-aged woman who thought she was going to get a prescription for cough syrup, and instead she was facing lung cancer.  We called her attending physician and he refused to interrupt his dinner to come in.  I thought of how heartless it was when he had been treating this woman for years.

I stood outside the room while the moonlighting doctor, trained in setting broken bones, was stumbling over his words as he advised her to go immediately to the emergency room.  She asked time and time again if it was pneumonia and finally he said, I see something on your x-rays and I think it needs further testing.  She walked out of the room, all the blood drained from her face and we called her husband to take her to the emergency room.  The next morning, I turned in my two weeks notice.

What I learned is there is a certain detachment required for seeing the worst of what life has to offer.  I have great admiration for doctors and nurses who can treat injury and disease every day and function in their own lives.  I have had surgery, have been to the hospital for injury, have taken my daughter to the hospital, and every time I feel the same emotion.  There are worse things to happen to each of us, and it really is about setting aside the fears and living life to its fullest.

I never dated a doctor during my time there, but I did learn life lessons.  Never douche with Lysol, never stick objects into your rectum that will be the subject of ridicule when you are in the emergency room to have it removed.  Trust me, your x-ray will be on the wall in the break room.  Always wear your seat belt.  Never cut a bagel toward you.  If you have a good vein for giving blood, please tell the technician before she sticks your other arm three times.  Do not dwell on all the bad things that can happen to you, your angst does not prevent them for happening.  Laugh as often as you can, because it’s been said before.  It really is the best medicine.

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It’s a Mediocre Life

19 Dec

I wish I was the type who teared up over It’s a Wonderful Life.  I suppose it’s my cold dead heart which prevents me from even enjoying what I find to be a maudlin movie.  Instead, I’m more of A Christmas Story watcher.  I watch Grinch every year (the cartoon, not the Jim Carrey debacle) and I’m sentimental when it comes to memories and traditions with my daughter.  Yet, I cannot watch Jimmy Stewart become grateful for what he does have in his life and take it seriously.

This year we’ve put up our tree, minus some ornaments which are being held hostage by an ex.  Instead of being bitter by it all, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to create new traditions with my daughter.  The problem is we can’t think of a new tradition.  We trimmed the tree as usual, we’re baking cookies today and we did manage to gorge ourselves on Christmas movies (minus It’s a Wonderful Life…yes, I know heresy).  Yet, we cannot think of a new tradition to share to celebrate the new path of our life.

This year, first of many that have gone by, we are going to be with my parents.  If you’ve been following my blog you know I have an entirely complicated relationship with them, especially my mother.  I’m still angry with her and the wreckage she has caused this year and it continues.  Sitting with them while decking the halls will be tense to say the least.  My sister and I have already established our arrival and departure times so we do not have to suffer more than necessary.  It’s sad this year instead of heartfelt homecoming, we are merely enduring the celebration.

I wanted this year to be different for my daughter.  I wanted to be the type of mother who cried over It’s a Wonderful Life and wore atrocious bow covered sweaters with pride.  I wanted to be the soccer mom she’s deserved.  Instead we made a gingerbread ghetto and she made a Christmas octopus manger scene for our mantle.  Yes, I said octopus.  We’ll be baking cookies later while watching Elf and sipping hot chocolate with cinnamon.  We’ll laugh and eat raw cookie dough and I’m sure there will be a beheaded snowman made.  At some point, we’ll argue about something trivial.  It will be our version of a sentimental holiday.

Maybe I don’t like It’s a Wonderful Life because everything comes wrapped up in a bright red bow.  Jimmy watches his life crumble around him, but his loving wife is there to pick up his pieces and his children are nauseatingly precious.  He decides life isn’t worth living, but his guardian angel shows him that even at his worst, he matters in the life of his loved ones.  Apparently the entire town collapses without him.  Rubbish, I say.  He then realizes despite his utter failures, he matters to those who love him and he rushes home to some cliches and a cute ending.

In my opinion he’s a narcissist of the worst order and selfish beyond compare.  I’m glad his epiphany prevented him from devastating his children with a Christmas memory of their father throwing himself off a bridge.  In my opinion, he shouldn’t have needed a guardian angel in the first place.  Life sucks, accept it and keep moving forward.  I don’t need an angel working hard for his wings to remind me I am important in someone’s life, not just for Christmas, but year round.  It’s my duty as a parent to take the lumps and prevail despite them.  It’s a gift I’m putting under the tree for my kid, one that I never received from mine.

So as we bake cookies, maybe our new tradition will be embracing our weirdness.  We’ll watch only the holiday movies we like and not feel bad about the rest.  We’ll make inappropriate cookies and laugh about it.  Maybe we’ll eat pasta as our Christmas meal.  Who cares?  It’s our holiday to celebrate however we see fit.

Oh wait, I didn’t mention Miracle on 34th Street.  Now that movie leaves me sobbing into my snuggie.  There, I’m not so cold dead hearted after all!

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART 12

13 Nov

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.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART TEN

31 Oct

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.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART IX

2 Oct

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.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART OCHO

25 Sep

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.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART SEVEN

31 Jul

There is a fine line between exposing one’s self and showing off an appendix scar.  I think I could be guilty of both as I unbuttoned my jeans and showed everyone the four-inch red incision line on my first day back to school.  There was a certain sense of pride that I had survived not only surgery, but an infection.  Not that I understood the implication of either.  I was the only one in my grade missing an organ, and that made me quasi-famous.

I did not lie, but neither did I correct the wild rumors.  Someone asked me if my guts exploded and I just held up my hand and told them I couldn’t really talk about it.  A girl from another grade said she heard I had died and was brought back to life.  I shrugged mysteriously and moved through the lunch line.  Suddenly there were new faces at my lunch table and they all wanted to know what it felt like to be sliced open.  I didn’t bother mentioning I was asleep.

Having surgery did slow me down.  Since they apparently used super glue to close my incision, I was afraid for months it would suddenly open to expose a gaping hole where my appendix had once been.  I was afraid to go down the slide, ride my bike or climb on the monkey bars.  I begged off jumping off sheds until I was certain I wouldn’t explode on impact.

It was during this hey day as a school celebrity, Dylan began noticing me.  He carried my lunch tray to my table.  He sat across from me and told me lame jokes.  He drug me behind the first grade trailer and asked to see my scar up close.  With a finger he gently touched the still tender wound and smiled at me.  My knees felt weak and I could barely speak, but I remember making an equally lame joke.  He laughed and my heart sang.  I sat in the classroom fantasizing about the beautiful flaxen hair children we would make.  My near death experience had convinced him what he had been missing.

Apparently, near death experiences aren’t nearly as interesting as a new girl in school.  How quickly I fell off my pedestal when the dark haired girl from the Navajo Reservation was suddenly thrust into our classroom.  She wore beaded bracelets and pulled her shiny black hair with leather ponytails.  She told stories of powwows and her traditional beliefs.  My organ pickling in a jar in some hospital was suddenly deemed not as worthy.  I watched as Dylan pulled on her ponytail and whatever daydreams of our life together were gone.  Apparently shiny new objects attracted him.

Dejected, I found solace with Daniel who had visited me in the hospital and brought me lifesavers.  He rode me on his bike and avoided potholes and bumps to keep my remaining organs intact.  He held up barbed wire fences so I could crawl under rather than over.  He stole heavy gold bracelets from his mother and slide them on my arms.  We would sit for hours on the edge of ditches they were building for underground utilities for the new houses being built.  Sometimes we would talk about general things or sometimes we would just sit and say nothing.  I didn’t know it then, but he understood me.

I came home one evening at my curfew of dusk.  It didn’t matter where we were, we just had to be home before dark.  As a kid living in the mountains, you didn’t bother arguing with that logic.  Just as the sun began to set, the howling of the coyotes and wolves began, and you wanted to be inside.  My father was home early from work and I thought this meant he had lost his job.  My stomach seized at the thought of living in something smaller than the tin can we called home.

Instead, he announced he had bought us a house.  Well, actually a plot of land they would be building a house on.  Three bedrooms he said excitedly and we will have two bathrooms.  My mind was on overdrive with the possibilities.  No more sharing a room with my sister!  No more arguing over bathroom time!  No more being trapped in a container so foggy with smoke we could barely see out the windows.

The best news, it was close to where we lived so I could still ride my bike to visit Daniel.  We would have our own yard and the Arizona equivalent of grass which was a dirty yard with sporadic tufts of weeds.  I remember my mother smiling and laughing for the first time in what felt like years.  She was happy to get out of the prison van too.  A brand new house, not in our wildest dreams did we ever think that was possible.  I was already picking out paint colors for my room.

I excitedly told Daniel about the move and he frowned.  I wasn’t going to be that far away, but we could no longer just walk across the street to see each other.  I would have neighbors and would probably be riding bikes with them.  He was angry at me for allowing myself to be moved.  As he stormed away in a huff, I stood there on the dirt road feeling confused.  How could someone be happy and sad at the same time?  My child mind couldn’t wrap itself around that.  Why did something have to be taken away in order to gain something else?

I cried myself to sleep that night, not sure if it was out of joy or sadness.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART SEIS

25 Jul

I remember words and phrases that sounded like “surgery,” “infection,” and “rectal exam.”  I was bent over and violated by a sympathetic doctor who then told my mother my appendix had burst and I was to be admitted.  I stood in line at admitting.  The pain was throbbing in my right side and I did not fully grasp what was to occur.  My mother was crying and all I could care about was the pain ending.

At one point the pain was so severe, I just remember blacking out and waking up in a gown and having an IV inserted into my hand.  The nurse looked at my mother who was crying hysterically at my side and rolled her eyes.  I smiled at her and she smiled back.  I’ll never forget that kind face and the pat she gave me on my head.  “You’re going to be just fine.”  She said, and I believed her.

Coincidentally, or maybe not if you believe in destiny, the surgeon who would be removing what was left of my appendix was from my hometown.  This dried my mother’s tears.  I thought they had flown someone in especially from Kentucky to cut me open.  For a brief shining moment I felt special.  This was quickly dashed when they gave me a shot of medicine that set my veins on fire and I found myself drifting to peaceful sleep.

My eyes opened to a nurse calling my name and gently shaking me.  My throat hurt and I could taste rubbing alcohol.  I could feel a throb in my side and asked if I had stitches.  I was disappointed they had glued the incision shut instead of cool black sutures I could show off.  She promised there would be a scar, so it wasn’t a total loss.

I was in the hospital for a week due to the infection.  What transpired was an endless string of meals consisting of jello and broth.  To this day, I still cannot stand jello.  The food was just this side of bearable compared to my mother’s dinners, so I didn’t complain.  There were visitors to entertain and gifts to accept.  My sister was not allowed to visit in the hospital, so she was taken to the movies by my father.  I still bring this up as practically child neglect.  How dare he choose to take her to the movies while my life was hanging on by a thread.

Then I was expelled from the hospital in a wheelchair and told I would be out of school for a couple more weeks.  I didn’t like school anyway, so this was just the news I was waiting for.  I was tucked in a bed with magazines and a radio and told to take it easy.  If I had more organs to donate, I would have surely volunteered them.  Even my mother seemed to have softened due to the guilt of almost sending her oldest child to school to die from sepsis.  I would take away from this experience a hard lesson.  The special treatment didn’t last long.  Queen for the day was a fleeting crown.

Within a week my mother was crawling out of her skin having to tend to her sick child and my little sister who did not understand I needed to rest.  Instead, she wanted to hear stories and touch my scar and share popsicles with me.  I think this was an important time for our bonding.  We became close and I feared she would inherit my incredible bursting appendix.  I became a little mother to her, and she was happy to have me around.  My mother, on the other hand, was ready to have her life back that included watching the Price is Right in peace.

I was ready to run and play myself.  I missed my friends and was anxious to be out of the house and in the fresh air.  I’m sure this extended period of togetherness forever altered my relationship with my mother.  She was already on the edge and to have a child have emergency surgery then be underfoot for almost a month must have been a lot to take.  I think maybe she resented me for the imposition on her already tenuous hold on her sanity.  It didn’t get any better after that.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART 5

15 Jul

So, I could overcome the heat, dust storms and fatality around every corner because I was in love with two boys at the tender age of eight.  They were like photograph negatives of each other.  Dylan all blonde and light skinned, Daniel with his dark hair and dark eyes.  They also had very different opinions of me.  Dylan completely ignored my every word and attempt to make eye contact and Daniel would steal his mother’s jewelry and hand it to me at the bus stop in the morning.  When I received my first new bike with the purple seat and tassels hanging from the handlebars, it was Daniel who taught me to ride it and would cruise along side of me in case I fell.  When I inevitably fell, it was Daniel who picked me up.

By a mere stroke of chance, we had moved to a trailer not far from where Daniel lived in his.  When I say a trailer, I mean barely a two-room vacation pop up.  My parent’s bedroom was at one end, living room and kitchen at the other, and my sister and I slept on bunk beds in what was a hallway.  The entire trailer was about the size of a hotel room.  Not exactly the paradise we had planned, but there was good news.  We were having a house built in a new subdivision.  This would only be temporary.

What was not temporary was my mother’s new found excitement for Arizona living.  She began taking tennis lessons while we were at school, and started cooking again.  Well, she would make what was supposed to be food.  I don’t remember many dinners, I do believe I have repressed those memories.  There were sly attempts at sneaking us liver disguised as steak.  Thank goodness I had round cheeks I could stuff like a hamster with bites of liver and Brussels sprouts to spit out later when I went out to feed the dog.  She would rail against us wasting food, but her logic about kids in Africa did not hold water with me.  I was sure they were eating better than we were.

So, I went to school during the day, staring forlornly at Dylan and during the afternoon, I would ride my bike with Daniel and accept whatever piece of jewelry he had managed to filch from his mother.  Of course, my mom always made me give them back, but it was the thought that counts.  He adored me, and I in turn adored his adoration.  Really the perfect relationship.

During this time, my parents pretty much ignored me.  At night, I would sit with my sister watching a crummy television and thinking of stories to tell.  There was nothing better to me than making my baby sister laugh.  I would climb up on my top bunk, listening to the coyotes outside howling their goodnights and I did feel happy.  I was glad we had moved across the world.

All was well until my curiosity got the better of me.  Daniel was in our backyard and like any boy out in the woods, when he had to go, he just went.  He simply unzipped his pants and let loose in a small ditch.  Now, I was young and curious.  So instead of looking away, I stepped beside him and examined the goods, as any inquisitive young girl would.  I knew boys had different equipment.  I had seen my male cousins when they were babies.

To my mother who was washing dishes and watching from the window, this was apparently a huge deal.  To describe her as a screaming banshee is an understatement.  She snatched me up and drug me by the arm back into the hovel we called home.  There was a belt spanking and I was told what I had done was very nasty.  As I sat carefully on the edge of the bed, there were no tears.  So, I had seen a boy’s penis.  Big deal.  It wasn’t that impressive.

The next day she forbid me to see Daniel.  I told her I wouldn’t, but would just hop on my purple bike and hide it behind his shed while we sat in his room and listened to music on his tape player.  His mother adored me, she would make me homemade tortillas, and fruit punch.  She would occasionally trim the hair my mother butchered so it would grow back normally.  I use to pray she would want a daughter so much she would insist I come stay with her.

I felt sure I could still harbor dual crushes on Dylan and Daniel.  Dylan barely knew I existed anyway.  Well, that is not exactly true.  He did know I existed.  I had become the object of his teasing after I spilled an entire container of black paint on our teacher.  The room was divided.  Half thought I did it on purpose and admired me, and the other half just thought it was hilarious.  Dylan was one of the latter and would laugh every time there was a painting project.  My teacher did not.  I was not allowed to handle paint after that day.

Humiliation burned my cheeks with embarrassment.  Nothing worse than having the object of your affection think you’re a joke.  However, I learned to play along with it and in turn realized I could not at any point take myself too seriously.  In the whole scheme of things, spilling paint was such a small thing and it was actually very funny.  The look of horror on my teacher’s face as black paint splashed her white pants and white shirt was humorous.  Because I did not become upset with his teasing, Dylan actually began paying attention to me.  I was like a boy, he said, I didn’t freak out or cry.  So there it was.  The reason why over the years I would have more male friends than female.  Why I always seemed to have a boyfriend.  I was one of their tribe and they accepted me.

I was thrilled, elated and would sit at recess with Dylan every day listening to his stories of his older brother.  When he told me about “rubbers,” I pretended to know what he was talking about.  The image I had in my mind was not very accurate.  But I didn’t want to show my ignorance.  I also knew enough I could not ask my mother or father.

Everything would have been perfect, except one morning I woke up sicker than I had ever been.  I had eaten my mother’s dinner the night before, and surely that was the culprit.  My mom had a full day of tennis and whatever else she occupied her time with and insisted I had to go to school.  I couldn’t even get off the bathroom floor, let alone walk.  Begrudgingly, she called the nurse who suggested hot tea.  That was an even worse idea and there was suddenly pain.  I remember lying on the cold tile floor of the bathroom and staring at the ceiling light.  If I died, would Dylan always remember me as his first love?  Would Daniel?

There was also the thought of if I died; I hope my mother would be racked with guilt the rest of her life for yelling at me I was going to school.  When my mother returned to the bathroom, she looked worried and not for herself.  Surely, I could get some mileage out of this.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART IV

5 Jul

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

Still recovering from the haircut

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.