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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 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.

ARIZONA CHRONICLES PART DEUX

17 Jun

So, in hindsight, I feel as if child protective services should have at least looked into this whole trek across country.  First of all, we did not even sit in a car with seatbelts.  We bounced around haphazardly on our bed of blankets and hung out the windows like savages across three thousand miles.  It is a true miracle the wreck did not do more damage than demolishing the back of the car and my mother’s already frayed nerves.  This accident was also the first time I ever heard the word Valium, the magical pill that made my mother seem nicer.  Of course, the effects were not long enough lasting.

We were a few days in a hotel in Texarkana that smelled of diesel and fried chicken.  It meant sharing a room with my mother who at varying points was either too hot or too cold.  It was also the first time in a long time we ate normal food.  I say normal because my mother could make delicious fried chicken and about nothing else.  She was infamous for her thrown together casseroles and her guilty attempts at feeding her family vegetables by serving overcooked brussels sprouts we could sip through straws.  She claims it was because we were poor, but I do believe marauding wild dogs ate better food.  When it was announced we were hitting the road again, I remember being disappointed my mother would once again be in the vicinity of a stove.

There were stories of the desert, yet I was still surprised when we were indeed in the desert.  My first memory of Arizona is a Native American adobe ruin and immediately touching a cactus.  The first hour in our new home state was spent picking needles out of my hand with tweezers and my mother commenting how hot it was.  There is not a breeze to be found in the desert in July we discovered.  There is a photo of me, wearing blue jeans and a blue shirt, my blonde hair bleached white and smiling in front of the ruin.  I had yet to receive the warnings.

Okay, so my parents wait until we are driving along a tiny dirty road climbing Salt River Canyon with my mother crying we were going to plunge to our deaths with one pothole, to inform us that EVERYTHING will kill us in our new home.  We should have been given a power point presentation at the least.  The list was endless and frightening.  I half listened, as I was certain my father after days in the car with my mother would drive us right over that edge.  I remember the list being something like this:

1.    Do not pick up rocks.  There will be rattlesnakes sleeping beneath them and one bite and YOU WILL DIE.

2.    Do not walk barefoot outside.  There will be scorpions that will sting you and YOU WILL DIE.

3.    Do not stand beneath trees.  Many of the pines are old and they will fall on you and YOU WILL DIE.

4.    Do not eat any berries.  Who knows what is poisonous and if you eat one YOU WILL DIE.

5.    Do not stay out in the midday sun.  You will suffer from heatstroke and YOU WILL DIE.

6.    There will be sudden dust storms.  Take shelter or the wind will pick up sharp objects that will decapitate you and YOU WILL DIE.

7.    Watch out for red anthills.  They will swarm you and sting you and YOU WILL DIE.

8.    Never play with fire or a magnifying glass.  You will set the entire state on fire and YOU WILL DIE.

9.    Never wander off whilst in the woods because cougars and bears will see you as lunch and YOU WILL DIE.

10.    Never interrupt mother when she is having her midday nap or YOU WILL DIE.

So as the car stopped in front of a trailer, one of about ten in a small park located in the middle of the desert, I huddled with my sister and feared stepping foot onto the sand.  This was Coolidge, Arizona with its barrel cacti and yucca trees and for what seemed like for the worst we were living here now.  If my parents were trying to scare us straight, it worked.