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Words have incredible gravity
I was born in May 1977, two days before the premiere of Star Wars, to two hippie art student parents who attended the University of Arizona.
My mother had one other child, my sister Heather from a previous marriage who was five years old. My sister’s father mysteriously left after she was born and their relationship dissolved. The marriage was at my Grandfather’s insistence. The same for my father. If my mother wanted to live with a man, she had to marry him if she wanted my Grandfather’s help.
At some point in their lives, my parents liked each other and supposedly they planned on having me. For some reason, the word “planned” was one of the kindest things my mother ever told me in my life. When things were rough or going poorly, I always held on to that word. I was planned, so everything was ok. At some point in my life - I was wanted. Both of my parents have wildly different stories now about what went wrong during their relationship. The truth would unveil itself over time and slowly unravel, but when I was younger, I was naive and didn’t know.
I just knew I was planned. If I have to search for my earliest optimistic thinking, this would be it. When things were bad, this was my safety blanket. Not that there’s anything wrong with being unplanned, but I was glad they told me otherwise.
My earliest memories start in Chinle, Arizona - a small town on the ridge of a canyon. The photo below is of Spider Rock. It is an iconic stone structure in Canyon De Chelly, which is very important to the Navajo people (Dineh). Their story of the world’s creation revolves around a Spider Woman who lives on top of that rock. She gave the gift of weaving to the world and young weavers, before they start their first loom collect spiderwebs early in the morning on the palms of their hands ever so gently as to not disrupt the structure of the spider’s weaving, which was thought to be handed down by Spider Woman herself. If you are wondering if there is a Spider Man, well, yes there is. Spider Woman was also kind of like Santa Claus in a way too. She kept track of naughty children and if you were too naughty, she would kidnap you and wrap her spider silk around you then boil you and eat you at the top of Spider Rock. Ok, only a little like Santa.
My mother, sister and I lived in a trailer close to my Grandparents. So close that I could wander over and see them whenever I wanted. Life during this period was incredibly happy. Being four years old, all I had to worry about was being eaten by Spider Woman and getting into Grandma’s candy bowl, and Grandma’s candy bowl was always filled with homemade goodness.
My Grandparents didn’t live in a trailer, but instead a three bedroom army barrack that was provided by the local government to teachers. My grandparents slept apart and the third bedroom was home to my mysterious uncle - Larry. I had one connection to my father at the time, our dog Cleo. We spent many weekends hiking down the canyon where we’d explore the creek, find fossils and shards of pottery. (For those concerned about preservation of pottery, I don’t, nor does my family have any of these shards. We left them there.)
My mother would tell me stories of being a little girl herself there and the Spanish historical treasures she’d find in the canyon. She told me about climbing ladders in the 1950s that were left by the Anasazi and that she slept some nights in the ruins. I believed all of this, but now looking back, knowing my Grandfather, I doubt he would have let her spend the night outside alone.
With the absence of my father around, my Grandfather was my father figure. He was a looming and large presence in our lives. He was a stoic man who worked hard all day as a math teacher at Chinle high school and came home to lounge in his chair, read his paper and watch the evening news.
Grandpa kept rifles in nearly every corner of his home and was paranoid about every person who knocked on the door, often answering the door with a gun at the ready. While my grandfather wasn’t teaching, he was a farmer. He kept farm land in Oklahoma that others tended to in exchange for keeping part of the crops and growing their own. He was a sharecropper when he was younger and he saved up money to help put himself through school, which is where he met my Grandmother.
My Grandmother grew up in a large family where she had to work as a young child, but she was one of the few in her family that was able to finish school and go on to college. My Grandmother taught home economics to high school students and one of my favorite memories was wandering over after school to her classroom to eat everything the kids made at school that was leftover. She had multiple ovens in her classroom and there was always something amazing getting baked. My Grandmother would light up when I came in and I was addicted to that joy in her eyes when she saw me.
She was the only person in my life that happened with. Sometimes, I was super lucky and I was able to spend the night at their place because my mother was on a date or had to work late. I slept in my Grandmother’s bed and I remember sleeping so well and she’d complain about me kicking her all night long, but I’d remember smelling her hair and feeling her warmth in the bed. Her bed was surrounded by trunks of costume jewelry and sewing supplies. The barracks were incredibly small and had very little space, so she took up every square inch intelligently.
In Chinle, I lived a mostly joyful childhood. Many of my memories are incredibly positive from this period of time in my life. The worst things that really happened were getting the tar beaten out of us with a paddle when my mother was angry an upset with us. Our punishments were always immediate and severely painful, so we always knew she meant business when she told us not to do something.
It is hard to have a funny or fond memory of being beaten, but I actually have one. My sister and I loved to take pieces of boxes and slide down a sandy hill behind our house on our butts. When you live in a place like we did, you have to keep yourselves busy with your imagination. The opportunities were as big as your mind allowed them to be, which in my case, was vast. There was absolutely nothing going on, so you had to make your own fun.
My mother had just bought us new school clothes and we were wearing what we thought was the most durable of the lot - our Osh Gosh Begosh striped overalls. My mother only shopped for clothes once a year and the clothes were expected to last. This also included shoes. Well, that day going down the hill we wore out our boxes and didn’t notice we also started wearing out the seats of our britches. We heard her call us for dinner and we happily came in still high off sliding down the hill and racing each other. She saw our clothes and turned us around and saw our butts and completely lost it. My mother ran and grabbed her paddle and told us to bend over. She whacked my sister first and she just started laughing. Normally you heard blood curdling screams, but she just laughed and said, “it doesn’t hurt!!!” My mother, frustrated turned to me and started whacking me. It also didn’t hurt, so I started laughing. My mother was so confused that she gave up and started crying. She explained that she’d have to sew our clothes back up and we couldn’t get new ones - that we were stuck with those. We didn’t understand why she was so upset, but were thrilled that we spent so much time on the hill that our butts were too numb to hurt while getting paddled.
At this age, my sister started distancing herself from me some. She wanted to spend time with older kids. I was more of a fall back plan. So, when I didn’t have her to keep me company I was on my own - often with my dog Cleo. Cleo was a Frisbee dog who could jump over 7 foot high fences and because she was a sheep dog, she herded me. When I was smaller, she would grab me by my pants and pull me back into the yard if I tried to wander out. When I was 5, she followed me by my side wherever I went. Often even walking me to school. She was an extraordinary dog and I often thought of her as another sibling and she was a reminder of the mysterious missing puzzle piece in my life - my father.
I often made up stories for where my father was to tell other kids. I would tell them unprompted made up stories about how he was an astronaut on an important space mission and that’s why he couldn’t be with me. The reality was that I had no idea why he wasn’t at home. At this point, I had only met him twice and I received letters from him every now and then that didn’t make sense and gifts at Christmas time.
The two memories I have of my father as a child are incredibly different. The first, my mother dropped my sister and I off at a house he shared with his new wife. I remember there were chickens and kind of like a culdesac that a ring of houses were on. My Dad played a game of hot potato with us using a frisbee. I slept with several other children that I don’t remember who they were. I felt like they were from all over the culdesac, but I’m not sure. One strange memory I have is of his wife giving me a shower. She had massive breasts, like nothing I’d ever seen in my life. They were quite possibly, to me, the biggest breasts in the world. While I showered with her, I was transfixed looking at them. She was very kind to me, but up until that point, I had only showered with my sister and this left a mark. I was thankful when it was over and we both got dressed. I also remember that she made fresh eggs for breakfast from the chickens.
The other memory is much darker. My father stopped by our trailer in Chinle and brought me a doll. The doll was made of hard plastic and had a hole in the mouth for feeding it water or whatever liquids and a hole out the bottom where it drained out. A pee hole of sorts. At first, I was excited about it but later it became a thing of constant stress and nightmares. My father was hanging out with me and taking me for piggy back and shoulder rides when my Grandfather came knocking at the door. He demanded my father put me down and that he step out in the yard.
Our yard was muddy, so maybe it just rained or my mother watered it thinking something would grow.
Who knows, but I do remember clearly my Grandfather fighting my father outside in the yard and mud flying. An image is burned in my mind. My father’s glasses flew off his head and landed in the mud. I honestly don’t know if this memory is correct, but I remember my Grandfather stepping on them and crushing them with my father running off and driving away. He picked up the glasses and stuck them in his pocket. The rest of my childhood life, when I thought about my father, the image of those glasses would reappear, broken, and covered in mud. I would not see him again until I was 18.
I don’t know what happened to the doll. I think someone spared my misery and tossed it out, as I couldn’t stand it. It wouldn’t be until much later in life that I would realize that I process things differently than some people. I see the world in photographs and have a vivid imagination and mind. So trauma like what happened with my father is burned into my mind as a photo. A nightmare doll and broken glasses. As much as I try to rewrite those images, it doesn’t matter, they persist. Luckily, other images were made through life to add on to the chain of imagery that comes up and some are much more positive.
Everything in life had to be perfect, even the worst parts, in order to get me to where I am today. Wishing I could go back and change any of it would net me a different outcome than I have now, which I can’t guarantee I’d be me and I love who I am. So, there’s no point to regret or wanting to change the past. There’s only today and tomorrow, but mostly today. There’s also only so much we have control over, so it’s also pretty useless to try to control things we will never have the ability to control. Like how other people behave or how you wish they’d behave. We can only add influence in the world and hope that people or things move that direction. The less we worry about controlling everything, the better off we are. The only thing we can control is our own internal narrative on how we view the world, which we can rewrite at will. I’m not the first person to come up with this concept and I won’t be the last.
We are nothing but the stories we tell ourselves.