I'll grow up someday... (9)
And I won't trip or spill my coffee.
My life changed drastically in 3rd grade. I was in Mr. Duke’s class, and he sat me in a corner with a curly-haired boy named Ian. Our desks faced one another so we could see each other’s faces every day, which was something I wasn’t all that excited about. Ian’s skin, also pale, made the decision extremely odd in my mind. I wasn’t sure why the teacher would segregate us from the rest of the class who had different colored skin than we did.
Three times a week, I would leave my class and go to the “gifted” trailer with Mrs. Haney for half a day. She was my favorite teacher that I ever had, mostly because she let us do things nobody else really would, and she was like a real-life Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. Our class, filled with mixed-age kids from the 3rd through 5th grade, was vibrant and full of wonder.
At the beginning of the year, she put a giant map of the world on top of the chalkboard. She told us the board was useless to us because that year, we were going to sail around the world, stopping in faraway lands. We’d learn how to build our own clipper ships, what we’d eat, and every detail about who we’d meet along the way. We started by making tiny ships that we placed on the map. We were leaving from San Diego on a year-long journey. Every day we’d roll some dice and figure out how far we could go. If we were at sea, we had to learn about seal life, and if we landed at a port, we had to learn about whatever went on there.
I was at sea for a while, so I learned how to make molasses cookies, dried meats, and biscuits that could all be kept on my ship for long periods. Several of my shipmates became ill, and I had to figure out what they needed to get better again. My imagination ran wild, and it was my favorite time of the week.
Returning to our primary classrooms was pretty shocking. We’d come back after lunch to other kids staring at us. It always made me feel deeply uncomfortable because the kids we left in the classroom were doing things that I considered boring by comparison. I wanted them to also sail around the world with us. Instead, they were memorizing things. I tried hard not to talk about what we did in Mrs. Haney’s, but sometimes Mr. Duke would put us on the spot and ask about our experiences.
A friend of mine likes to tell me that I grew up in an alternate timeline in the 80s, and he’s not exactly wrong. You see, we didn’t get cable television for quite some time on the reservation, and the shows we did get over the air were minimal. Somehow, for some reason, we had a syndicated WGN network out of Chicago and a CBS station. My favorite shows were WKRP in Cincinnati, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and Gilligan’s Island. All of the shows I watched in Garland weren’t available. I tried to tell my friends about them, but they didn’t know what I was talking about.
The music we listened to was a local station out of Gallup, NM, that was in part English and Navajo. The music played wasn’t contemporary, so we were always behind on current trends. While everyone was heading down the path of new wave music, we were listening to lots of rock and metal.
We had one movie theater that played the same movie for a month for $1. Sometimes, more than a month. My sister and I would head out to the unpaved dirt road outside of our compound and sometimes hitchhike into Window Rock to see a movie. It wasn’t uncommon to see kids out there sticking their thumbs out, and someone with a truck would pull over, and you’d hop in the back for several miles and then hop out at your destination.
By the movie theater, there were two grocery stores, a hair salon, some banks, a few fast-food restaurants, and a motel. Window Rock is the capital of the Navajo Reservation, and as such, they were one of the few places with this many buildings. There were also some touristy places where people heading through in search of a connection with native culture would stop and buy turquoise and silver goods from locals.
I’d lived in Texas, and I saw part of the country when I went from the reservation to Oklahoma during the summers, but I still had a very warped view of the world outside of the Navajo reservation.
Once while were living in Garland, my mother took us to downtown Dallas, and I saw skyscrapers for the very first time. In Dallas, for some reason, they like to cover everything with mirrors. We were on some sort of crazy cloverleaf freeway system, and these buildings rose into the sky, shining with all of their brightness, and they were so massive and so impossible to understand when I was six years old. I recently went back to Dallas, and I went to the place where I saw the building from the freeway, and all of the memories of being in my mother’s car came back.
There wasn’t anything at all like that on the reservation. The only two-story building I saw was the motel. Nothing had stairs, and there wasn’t such a thing as a porch. So, I thought that “adulting” and success had a multi-story structure. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up at the time, I couldn’t tell you, but I would say to you that I wanted a house with multiple stories and stairs. Out front, I’d have a “stoop,” and my friends and family would come over, and the most critical conversations in our lives would happen there. People on the street would walk by and tip their hats to us.
Somehow, I also got the idea that being a grown-assed woman meant that you’d head to New York City and go to some corner store and grab a cup of coffee and a newspaper. You’d wear a skirt suit and have high heels; then, without tripping or spilling a drop of your lidless coffee, you’d walk down 5th Avenue while reading your paper. You’d weave in and out of pedestrians with ease and cross streets without waiting for them to turn green. You’d just know when to go.
I was determined to be a city girl. I didn’t know what it would take to get there, but I knew that someday I would.
My mother had only one rule about television. We weren’t allowed to watch Mr. Rogers because she claimed he was a pervert. She’d always tell us, “Something is wrong with that man. If you ever run into a man who asks you what shoes and jacket he should wear and then asks you if you’ll be his neighbor, you run away. Run far, far away."
The irony is that she wanted us to watch Bill Cosby because he was a good role model. Well, we all know how Rogers and Cosby both turned out in the end.