It all made perfect sense to me (5)
My first grade school was walking distance from the house, so as soon as I could handle it on my own, I went there unassisted. Sadly without Cleo. This was now city living, so she had to stay in the yard. She was also getting old in dog years, so she was often confused or agitated. When Cleo and I went for walks I had to have her on a leash. Something that wasn’t at all necessary on the Navajo reservation, but was required in our neighborhood. I didn’t weigh much and she’d drag me along and sometimes I’d fall down and skin my knees. It was incredibly frustrating, because she went from being the dog that obsessively kept me in the yard, to one that ran ahead of me without really knowing where she was going or why. Shortly after our move there, Cleo was put to sleep. Dragging me became biting and she no longer recognized anyone and attacked all of us. Losing her was devastating and I’ve never had that type of bond with an animal ever again. She was truly special.
School was difficult. I had a lot of nervous energy and we were expected to sit at our desks and pay attention. I have no idea what was so serious that we had to have our butts in our seats for so long, but I passed the time by folding paper. I kept a box of tissue in my desk that I’d pull out and staple together until it looked like a flower. I filled the inside of my desk with these flowers and carefully brought them home to my mother. She always said thanks, but I didn’t know what happened to them. Eventually they became more complicated where I brought sticks and started adding stems and leaves. Nobody ever stopped me from doing it, so I did it for a long time. I also started folding paper into creatures. Anything to pass the time and keep myself busy.
My favorite time of the week was “show and tell”, where you brought something from home and told other kids about it. My Grandmother sent me a card that when you opened it, it played a tune. I thought this was so incredibly magical and everyone else had to experience that magic too. I brought it in and was so excited. I got up in front of the class and opened it and everyone gasped. It got the exact reaction I was hoping for. People saw the magic in it just like I did. Well, that was until it decided it wasn’t going to stop playing tunes no matter what you did. My teacher placed it out in the hallway and by the time we got out of school, it was gone. I told my mom about it later, but she didn’t understand why this was a big deal to me. Interestingly, it was a lesson about disappointment and loss. I realized that what was important to me didn’t have the same weight for other people. My problems were not their problems. It also didn’t make the card less magical, that was still true.
My mother really wanted me to have a Cabbage Patch Kid for Christmas. She had heard this was the present of the year and she was determined for me to have one. I had no idea what they were, but she was so excited about it. She placed a pre-order for one from Toys-R-Us and when the time came to get it, we sat in a drive through line in our car for our turn. When we got up to the window, they verified her order and then said, “Do you want a boy or girl? Black or white?”. I was so perplexed by this questioning and I felt guilty about it. What the hell was white and black? Why did I have to make this choice? Shouldn’t it truly be a surprise? My mother looked at me and waited, and then gave up. There was a long line behind us. “Girl, white”. I’m adopting this baby, so I shouldn’t have a choice. But, I took her home and named her Asia.
My childhood up until this point was surrounded by Native Americans. (It was common to say Indians when I was little) I thought I was an Indian too, just one who was pale. Really we were all Indians. At my school in Dallas, I was surprised to find some really dark Indians and I was drawn to them as friends, because the only friends I had up until this point had darker skin as well. It just made sense.
I had a thing for the movie Grease and although I didn’t understand it, I liked the fashion of the Greasers and “Pink Ladies”. I formed a gang and we were called the “Pink Girls”. I talked my mother into a motorcycle style jacket that was pink and we all wore pink from head to toe. I also convinced them all that they were Indians just like me. I was totally serious about all of it. It was serious 6 year old business. We even had candy cigarettes that when you blew through them, sugar came out like smoke.
Nobody told me that my friends were “black”. They also didn’t correct me when I called us Indians. I remember telling my friends, “You are the darkest Indians I’ve ever met.”
It wasn’t until later in life when I figured some of this stuff out that I put the pieces together. I wonder how they remember me? What did they tell their parents? How did they feel about it? I know I was clueless.
In Dallas we had a color tv and I was able to come home and watch Inspector Gadget, GEM, Transformers and He-Man. My favorite thing to do when I got home from school was pull out a bowl, fill it with cereal and chill out watching shows until other people started coming home. My sister went out and played with her friends.
My step-dad would come home after a long day as a cop and expected a fresh meal to be on the table. He couldn’t stand leftovers and he had to work hard, so he didn’t want any ever. To be honest, I couldn’t either, but he took it to another level. My mother hated cooking all of the time, understandably, so the dinner table is where their fights would take place. My mom, to spite him, would make massive meatloafs the size of sheet cakes and put them on the table and scoff at him. This would end up with him leaving the house and sadly we’d eat meatloaf in every way imaginable for a week after. Meatloaf soup? Yes, it is possible.
My mother expected us to finish our plates or we couldn’t be excused from the table. It didn’t matter if it was midnight. If our food wasn’t gone, we’d be stuck there at the table all night if we had to. You can imagine how uncomfortable this could be. When Cleo was around, I would figure out ways to sneak the food in the yard to her, but without her, I was stuck with sticking the food underneath the table up in the support beams near the extension. It was an antique old table and there were lots of nooks and crannies underneath. All I had to remember was to remove it at some point so it wouldn’t attract flies.
Despite the fighting at the table, I never thought anything was wrong. I just thought that was how grownups behaved.
Even though we had a house with three bedrooms, it was small and had one bathroom, which we all had to share. In the mornings this was particularly hard with everyone getting ready for work or school. I often had to go to the bathroom but couldn’t go or would miss my turn. So, I would have to go out in the yard. This was fine for a while until it turned cold.
My favorite thing in the world in my room was a play fridge and stove that my mom and step-father set up for me. I would spend hours in there playing house and baking up pretend cookies. The works. So, one day I had the most brilliant idea. If I was to have a proper house, I needed a toilet. This solved all of my problems. I wouldn’t need to go outside or wait. Also, it wouldn’t be any old toilet. Mine would be special.
I grabbed a Strawberry Shortcake bucket and sat it off to the side of my “kitchen” and I put pillows around it to make it comfortable to sit on. Proud of myself, I used it. What I didn’t figure out was that I should empty it and do so often. I got away with this for about 3 days before my mother smelled a putrid stench coming out of my room.
Keep in mind that I was born blue and I didn’t really speak until I was 5. My mother was convinced I was incredibly slow and this whole toilet bucket didn’t help my cause. My mother freaked out.
I came running into my room to the look of horror on her face.
”Why did you shit in your room?!”
Well, it all made perfect sense to me. If I had pretend everything else, why couldn’t I also have a toilet. It wasn’t hurting anyone and it solved the problem of me taking up any time from anyone else. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the words to explain this to her. She became incredibly worried about me and I had to keep the door of my room open. It was no longer allowed to be closed.
My mother also didn’t keep this to herself. When she complained about life, she would always add, “and now I also have a child who shits in her room….”