Jul 22, 2020 • 8M

1987 (13)

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Cyan Banister
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With my sister gone and all of my parent’s attention going to my baby brother, I was by myself a lot. In the summer of 1986, I became friends with two Navajo sisters, Summer and Cindy, who lived in my compound. Up until this point, my only close Navajo friend was Anabelle from Kindergarten in Chinle. The sisters lived in a vast dwelling compared to my barrack. It was one of those double-wide prefab units with three large bedrooms. Luckily, my friend’s rooms were towards the dirt road I rode my bike on, and they didn’t have a fence around their yard, so I could sneak over there and talk to them through their windows if they were grounded or couldn’t come out to play. I’d climb up on the device used to haul trailers and where you keep the propane. If their mom walked in, I'd duck down. We loved riding our bikes together and playing with Barbie dolls. I have the distinct memory of this being the last year of my childhood, where my imagination was vivid enough to bring my Barbie to life. When I was playing with her, I would become so immersed in the experience that she seemed pretty darn real. So real that sometimes I was even taken back by it when I came out of my make-believe world and shocked into this one. Until this point, I wasn’t aware that I was even having these experiences. Still, I remember putting down a Barbie after vividly seeing her going about her day and fixing her hair and having to take in the concept of living in both worlds.

Towards the end of 1987, the ability to visualize like that way was forever lost. However,  something incredibly bizarre replaced it. I don’t know how to describe it, other than my body would freeze up, my face would become expressionless, and I would have a daydream, but this would happen hundreds of times per day. I could no longer map a make-believe world onto an object, but I could be hijacked by one. My cognitive abilities took a massive shift because I started becoming more of a visual thinker and learner. My mother noticed this shift and took me to see the doctor, and they were convinced I was having petit mal seizures, which are micro-seizures. The doctors put me on a bed and exposed me to flashes of light while they observed me, and the results were inconclusive. When these moments happened, I was physically aware of where my real body was, but my mind was somewhere else. Often, I was meeting with a friend and working through something with them, or I’d be on what I and the tv show Westworld like to call a “loop.” Looping is a repeating visual daydream where I replay an interaction over and over and over until I can stop thinking of every possible outcome that could have happened. Some might call this an OCD thing, I don’t know, but if I ever needed to figure something out, I would create every pattern my mind could imagine and then have a conclusion in the end. Sometimes these “hijackings” as I call them now drove me bonkers. My mother said that I had done it since I was a baby, but that it was progressively getting worse as I was getting older.

If you are wondering, yes, I still do this today. Today I often go to a park and hang out with friends at a picnic table, and that table has been a regular part of some of these experiences for over 20 years. I conjure up people who sit with me, and my mind creates constructs of how I perceive these people and its an exercise of what would “so and so” do. I can’t know what they would say or do, but in this make-believe world, we work it out. Unfortunately, I have no rational way of controlling this. It would be super cool if I could.

As you can also imagine, this sometimes made school challenging. If things weren’t engaging enough, I would thoroughly check out and go to my imaginary world. When I was younger, I could put myself there at will and control the environment and leave it whenever I wanted, but now I’ve lost control, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get it back. One of my greatest wishes is to get that control back, and one of my greatest fears is getting hijacked forever.

When I drive, I put on music, I grip the steering wheel, and I remain engaged with my experience so that I never drift off. I’ve never had an incident in my life that involved my daydreaming, and everyone says that I’m a safe driver. I suspect this is because of my focus on staying completely present. Sure, I have moments like everyone elsewhere; I don’t remember getting from point A to B because I was deep in thought, but I am never unsafe. I still don’t understand how human minds can do that, but we can.

At school, I made two other Navajo friends. Davy and Velma. Davy was so awesome. She and I liked to wrestle and roll around on the floor together. Davy was really into physical contact and was my only friend in my early life who was like that. She would sit on me and try to make me fart, and then we’d fall over laughing if she ever succeeded. Velma, a state spelling bee champion, was in my gifted program. She was the sweetest person and wore these incredibly cute glasses, so she looked like she was part of some 60s investigative crime-solving unit. I adored them both, but I only got to see them at school, and they were bussed off somewhere in-between. I wasn’t ever allowed to visit.

Davy wasn’t deeply connected to her family’s traditions, and instead favored pop culture. When Davy wasn’t trying to make me fart, she loved to talk about Bon Jovi. Velma came to school sometimes in traditional Navajo clothing, and she was the first person to open up to me about how she lived her life. She was also the first person who was curious about mine. We’d sit down after lunch, and Velma would sweetly tell me about the ceremonies her family did. She told me how far many of the children had to travel to get to school and how so many of them didn’t have running water or electricity.

At school, they permitted me to wear Navajo dresses whenever there was a school ceremony, so I would come with my moccasins, skirt, velvet shirt, and turquoise jewelry that my grandfather made. My hair was pulled back into a bun, and I happily learned how to sing traditional rain songs. For some kids, this warmed them up to me, as I appreciated the gesture and bringing me inside the fold, but for others, this made them angrier. Some kids told me that I rounded up their ancestors and forced them to go to school and washed their mouths out with soap if they ever spoke in Navajo.

My grandmother told me to remind them that I’m part Cherokee and that should work to quiet them down, but it confused the matter more because we hadn’t studied that region or tribe yet in school, so they didn’t even believe they existed. It also didn’t help that my mother was just as pale as I am. My mom also has red hair and freckles. My sister, on the other hand, could almost pass when she was tanned. She had super dark thick hair as my grandmother did, and she’d get incredibly dark during the summer. My brother, who is half-Persian, was the whitest of all of us. He has blond hair and blue eyes. The whole melanin thing was baffling, and I could never make sense of it. Everyone I talked to had something different to say, and none of it was logical.

Around Christmas time, a delivery arrived in our classroom. Trash bag after trash bag was brought into the room, and inside the bags were toys, shoes, jackets, pants, socks, and books. The bags were placed on every desk, except for mine, Erica’s and Helen’s. I looked around the room and kept my head down, and I knew better than to say anything. Helen didn’t keep her mouth shut, though.

“Why don’t I have any presents?”

Some of the kids looked sad for her, but other kids started laughing and taunting all three of us. We didn’t have presents because we were white. If I could take a shower and become something else, I would have done it. At least at home, with my family, I didn’t face constant ridicule and felt moments of safety. It helped that some of the kids were starting to warm up to me at school, but I still had so far to go before I’d ever fit in, and I had to face the fact that it might not ever happen.