Unfortunately, none of my “pink ladies” lived in my neighborhood, so when I got home from school, I was often lonely. My mother met a woman down the street who had a daughter about my age, so she asked her to babysit me from time to time. Her daughter was a real-life Veruca Salt. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, step away from your computer right now and go watch the original Willy Wonka.
This girl had every toy imaginable. If you saw an ad for it during the Saturday cartoons, she had it. Her room was set up like a toy store with actual aisles of toys. Someone, I’m not sure who, maintained it all. When I went over there, I wasn’t allowed to touch anything unless her daughter invited me to touch it. So, I sat around and waited. One day she let me play with some miniature toys. Little plastic things. They were cool and it was fun to get to play. When it was time for me to go home, I had to pack up my things and walk home by myself.
Well, I got about a few feet outside of the door and the girl came running up behind me screaming and she threw me to the ground and started punching my face. I wasn’t a fighter, so I just wailed and curled into a ball. Her mother came out and didn’t offer me assistance, just urged her daughter to stop.
“Give it back! Mom, she stole from me! Give it back!!”
I was genuinely confused.
Her mother looked at me, “Did you steal from her?”
“Prove it, show me!!”
I opened up my now clenched fist to reveal a dime sized baby. Somehow, in my excitement about playing, I forgot to put the baby back. I was shocked to see it, so I threw it at her and ran. I have replayed this moment in my mind repeatedly and I often wonder if I didn’t put it back on purpose or if it genuinely was a mistake. I’ll never know probably, because our memories are incredibly flawed. All I knew was that I hated that girl. It is the first time in my life that I felt that anger and that rage.
My mother wanted me to keep going over there, but I refused. I told her I was fine on my own after school. Anything to not be near her ever again.
It is funny, as I’m writing this I’m starting to think that a lot of my bad memories are associated with creepy baby dolls. This little doll was tiny, but of a creepy nature. It definitely wasn’t cute.
So, that left me to my toy stove and kitchen. I also had a wooden toy box and a dresser that I would have until I was in my teens. On top of that dresser was a carousel of crayons with just about every color. Well, except for Cyan! I never understood that. For some reason, Crayola didn’t make a Cyan crayon. I thought that of all places I’d find my name, it would be there, but… nope. My mother found an off-brand crayon and gave it to me and it had my name on it, so eventually I had all of the colors, but one odd duck of a crayon that didn’t fit in, just like me.
From a very early age, I had strange feelings about not belonging. Its hard to describe, but some of you reading this know what I’m talking about. It is this weird sense that you aren’t where you are supposed to be, or that the body you are in is insignificant. I came up with all sorts of reasons for this, some quite fantastic. I was an alien, clearly. I was on a mission from another planet and I had to figure this one out. This really wasn’t my body and this really wasn’t my family. I just had to pretend it was. Go along with it all.
My mother didn’t help this notion, because she’d make up stories about me as well. She also loved to tell people how “slow” I was to explain my thinness or crazy hair or anything else that was odd about me. “Oh, don’t mind her.. she’s slow”. She also told people that she never knew my father, that I was the child of the UPS man. It was a joke, but sometimes I wondered if it were true. She also told me I was her miracle test tube baby. There were lots of origination stories, but none included my real father. When people talked about him, they talked in hushed tones and they’d often point to me and the room would go quiet.
My sister always got special attention from everyone. She may not see it this way, but I certainly did. My Grandparents were extra kind to her and harsher on me. One day I was lamenting this and I said to my sister, “Why does Grandma love you more than me?” Instead of telling me that wasn’t true, my sister told me that it was because I looked like my Dad.
After this, I stared in the mirror and looked at my face and studied the face of my sister, mother and grandparents. It was true that I didn’t look like them. I had my mother’s eyes and my grandmother’s skin tone, but other than - nothing else. My mother looked a lot like my Grandfather.
We had a hammock in the back yard and one warm day, I saw my sister and mother swinging in it and my sister was crying. I went out and sat next to them and they suddenly stopped talking because I was there. I was really tired of this, so I said, “What are you saying?” They tried to make things up and I kept staring at them. Finally my mother said, “We should tell her.” My sister nodded.
My mother then told me, “Your sister was molested by your father.” I had no idea what that meant. I looked at my sister and she began fully body sobbing. I felt like I was supposed to cry but didn’t know why. I didn’t know what that word meant. Finally I said, “You knew him?” My sister nodded and told me that she did and that he hurt her and that’s why he wasn’t in my life.
Nobody hurts my sister. That’s all I knew. For all the differences she and I had, she was my sister and I love her. I didn’t know how he hurt her, but that didn’t matter. Now it made sense why he wasn’t around anymore. My mother was good and just by making him go away. My Grandfather beating him up also suddenly made sense.
Nightmare doll, broken glasses covered in mud and now you can add hammocks to the photo collage of images that come up when I think of my father.
My father for me died for many years that day. Any hope of him returning and all of the fantastical things I thought about him were gone. I couldn’t imagine him as an astronaut anymore. He was now a bad guy and you don’t lift up bad guys. It was time to say goodbye to him. I spent months trying to make sense of it all, and for a long time nobody talked about it again.
I still had Bob, my step-father, who treated me well. He always smiled at me, gave me piggyback rides, and told me I was his princess. He told me I was all he ever dreamed about - the perfect daughter. I grew to love him and accept him.
That summer, like just about all summers, my mother took my sister and I to Oklahoma to be with my grandparents. When they weren’t teaching, they were on their farm in Oklahoma and would make the drive back and forth. I was now 7 years old.
Just like Chinle, there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the farm until I got older. Our farm was in Lenna, Oklahoma. It has a few houses and a church. It doesn’t have a store. On the property was a house that my Grandfather built out of cinderblocks, a wash house and a spare rickety old house not fit to live in filled with antiques and tools. My grandmother would put us to work cleaning the house and my grandfather would take us out on the tractor to go fishing. Sometimes we’d go to the orchards to pick fruit or chop something down and bring it back. My grandfather, with the exception of after dinner, was never still. He kept himself busy at all times. We were expected to do the same. Sometimes we could play on the front patio. They bought me some clay and I would make little tiny fruits and veggies and pretend they were at a market. I also collected turtles from the road and fed them lettuce. There were so many turtles.
Another pastime of mine was seeing how close I could get to a humming bird. I would pull up a seat next to a flowering plant and then slowly inch forward and stay incredibly still. I was able to get them to be right in front of my face, which was thrilling. Somewhere my grandfather took a photo of this, as it was a crowning accomplishment of the summer. I doubt there would be any photographs of us if it weren’t for my Grandfather. For someone so stoic, he really liked to remember things. He especially liked to remember all of the fish we ever caught. There are hundreds of photos of us holding up fish and who knows how many of the fish he caught when we weren’t around. The man loved to fish.
I loved riding the tractor to fish with him. He let me steer and he controlled everything else. I was so tiny and he was so big, but he treated me with respect. He told me I could do anything and be anyone. Someday I’d hunt and drive the tractor just like him. He was one of the few people who “saw” me. He knew I didn’t love playing with nothing but girl things, but that I also loved tools, fishing and heavy equipment and instead of keeping me from these things, he chose to teach me about them.
We would go out on his little boat and bait the fishing lines which sometimes had fish and sometimes had snapping turtles on them. He’d keep the turtles and turn them into ash or coin trays. My grandfather never smoked, so this was always bizarre to me. He’d give them away to smokers.
I slept in what was once my Uncle’s room and my sister slept in mom’s. There was a closet between us that you could walk through, so it was shared. Like at home, I wasn’t allowed to close my door and there was an additional rule at my grandparent’s house, you couldn’t have your hands under the blankets. You had to tuck your blanket under your arms and your arms and hands were to be seen outside of the covers. This was never explained to me. It was just a hard rule.
I had a little tv in my room that was able to pick up a few stations over the air. I would watch Dr. Who and the Twilight Zone on it.
We all ate together every evening and my Grandmother was the best cook in the world. Unlike at my mom’s, nothing went under the table. I ate everything. She cooked traditional southern style food and it was all served in glassware table settings. You were not allowed to eat off the stove like we do today. That was forbidden. Everything had a place and a dish.
Continuing my love for paper crafts, I took up napkin folding and I liked for us to all have fancy napkins on our plates. I made crowns and flowers and my grandmother would just light up when I did this.
My Grandmother was my north star. She was everything that was good in the world. From the outside, she seemed perfect. Her clothes weren’t wrinkled, she could cook anything, she sang while she hung out the clothes to dry. To me, she was like a Disney princess. If she asked you to do something, you just did it. You never wanted to disappoint her and if you did, well, you had Grandpa to deal with and that was never fun.