My kindergarten was a short walking distance from my trailer in Chinle, so once I knew the route, I got myself to and from school on my own. I had trouble only once during the winter when I stepped in a deep puddle that was covered with ice and one of my feet fell through. I tried to get my foot out and when I failed, my boot started filling with water and I screamed and wailed. Eventually someone heard me and I was saved. Had my dog Cleo been with me, she would have pulled me out or fetched help.
Life at age 5 was pretty simple, but I was just starting to talk and express myself. My mother taught art at the high school with my grandparents and we lived near all of the other teachers. You really couldn’t get away with anything without someone telling on you. My kindergarten teacher lived right behind us and I think she had some kind of beef with my mother, because she was really unkind to me for seemingly no reason.
I hate to say it, because our grandparents and parents said this - but kids these days have it so easy.
My teacher was named Beth Witt and she liked to hit me on the head and stick me in the corner of the classroom whenever I didn’t behave the way she liked me to. She would put stickers on my right hand every day because I had trouble figuring out my left from right. I found it so humiliating. During nap time, I always got a massive head and stomach ache and couldn’t ever figure out why. She’d yell at me to go to the nurse’s office. Grownups sometimes forget how large they are to children. I remember the nurses looking down at me and saying, “Cyan, are you nauseated?” What five year old knows what that means? I remember panicking at the question and being so afraid to speak. They would let me lay down and sleep in their room on a bed. For some reason, the bed didn’t hurt my head or make my stomach hurt, just the cots in the classroom. Finally one day the nurse asked if I had a stomach ache. “Is that what nauseated means?” I asked. The nurse gave me a “well, duh” response. I learned a new word, but it also didn’t help with the whole speaking thing in general. “Yeah, I’m noz-ee-ated”.
I finally worked up the courage to tell my mother about Beth, my stomach hurting and all of it. She was livid and she stormed out of the house and I heard some screaming outside and then she entered, her face bright red. “You let me know if she ever touches you again.”
She didn’t. My aches and pains went away too.
Instead she mostly ignored me the rest of the year. The only other strong interaction I had with her was on Valentine’s Day when we were supposed to bring in cards for all of our classmates. She gave us a copy printed page of all of our faces and names so we could write them on the cards or tape them on or something. Well, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day, my mother bought me some of those pre-made cards you can buy with cartoon characters on them that have phrases like, “you’re the best!”. I decided to cut them all up and turn them into a collage masterpiece. So, I didn’t have any cards to give. However, I didn’t cut up the envelopes, so I came up with something I thought was damn clever. I cut out people’s faces and stuck them inside the envelopes and wrote their names on the outside. When they opened up the cards, they would see themselves! Genius.
Well, my teacher didn’t find this paper craftiness so clever. She pulled me aside and told me it was creepy and asked what happened to the cards. The kids just opened them and looked confused. That confused look on their faces later in life became a mission of mine. I love that look. I didn’t execute it super well on my first try, but I’ve become a lot better at it with time. I like art that makes people puzzled or makes people think. In this case, my message was, “you don’t need a stinking card, here’s your face.” Only, I was laughing alone.
We didn’t really watch tv. If I wanted to watch it, I would head over to the grandparents and usually they’d let me watch Twilight Zone or something in black and white. We didn’t have cable or color tv until later. So, I spent a lot of my time outside digging holes and ditches. I’d cover them with any sticks or wood I could find, and then put trash bags or tarps over that and wait for it to rain. When it rained, I would run outside and get in. Eventually the water wouldn’t soak into the ground fast enough and it would start trickling in forming a pool that I loved to sit in. Arizona storms are magical, so we’d often have streaks of lightning across the sky and the smell of the water hitting the dirt was like nothing else in this world. That was my happy place. Still is. I dream about heading to Arizona during the rainy months, grabbing a mattress and just laying outside somewhere.
At some point we moved to another trailer closer to the high school. This was great for my mother, but it meant that I couldn’t waddle to school anymore. However, after school, I could get off the bus and head over to Grandma’s classroom for some tasty treats and hang out there until it was time to go home, or if I was lucky, I could talk my sister into digging some holes. Sometimes, I’d have tea parties with mud cakes with my friend Annabelle.
Another fond memory was of me and my mother. She’d take me to the Bashas’ grocery store and place me inside the dumpster in the back. I’d rummage through the trash and throw out anything that looked edible and she’d shriek with happiness when I found something good like a whole cabbage or piece of fruit. We’d take all of this loot home and turn it into soup. She was a brand new teacher and I’m guessing teacher’s salaries don’t start out very high in the beginning. Either that or she was trying to teach me about waste. I don’t know, I just remember it was a lot of fun.
Those few months in that trailer were the happiest in my childhood. I remember being so incredibly free and doing pretty much whatever I wanted, but feeling safe.
My mother started dating and she’d go out at night and leave us with a babysitter. We had a vacuum cleaner she called “Jaws” that if you let go of the handle, it self-propelled its way across the room. I was terrified of the thing. Our babysitter knew this and if we misbehaved, Jaws would come out and chase us.
One of these dates led to a longer term relationship with a police officer. I’m not sure where she met him, but he seemed nice enough. Bob Robertson. Mom was so excited to find someone who was interested in being a father, but we didn’t get to know him much before we all moved together to Dallas, Texas.
I’d never been to a big city before and Dallas was huge and shiny. We settled into a suburb called Garland, where our house looked like every other house, but it was a house! For the first time in my life I had one and I had my own room, something my sister and I didn’t have in Chinle. Before this, we shared a room with a bunk bed. My sister made friends quickly with many neighbors, but I sadly did not. Until I started school, I spent time in the creek trying to catch fish. I also sat in my window and looked out of it at the street. I never grew tired of seeing cars go by or people out walking their dogs.
Bob was really nice to me and he called me his daughter. When he came home from work, he took interest in my day. For the first time in my life, I had a Dad.