In the summer before the 6th grade, I experienced many transformations. I was moving on from elementary school and into middle school, where I’d have a locker. A locked compartment was something I was incredibly excited about because I perceived it as a little slice of privacy. I didn’t have any privacy at home, because I couldn’t hide anything, but in a locker, I could hide all sorts of things and have a secret life. My mother bought me some shelves to put inside, and I found a bunch of magnets so I could hang up posters of things that excited me. My interests during the summer radically changed. I went from Cabbage Patch kids to skateboarding and officially put what I considered “little” behind me. It was time to “grow up.”
My step-father had a friend who I think was a math teacher, and he wanted to leave for the whole summer but needed someone to look after his dog. The job would pay $1 a day, and I was ecstatic to land it for the summer. There was one catch, though; his dog wasn’t an ordinary dog; she was a wolf—a beautiful, gigantic, silvery-grey-white wolf-dog named Wolfie. Well, wolves don’t like staying inside houses or yards, and instead, like to roam the lands and gather up stray dogs to run in their pack. My job was to go over to the teacher’s barrack and open up the door, then grab a steak from the fridge, microwave it, and then crack an egg on top. The freezer had a bunch of steaks, and the refrigerator was filled with eggs. If I needed more steaks, there was a deep freeze. Wolves don’t show up when you want them to, so you place the prepared steak on a plate in the middle of the kitchen and wait. Sometimes it would take Wolfie hours to show up, and sometimes she’d come right away.
I was told not to touch her or approach her but to stand back and let her sniff around, eat, and do whatever it is she wanted to do. I also couldn’t turn the tv on because that spooked her, so I would have to bring something to read with me. When she came in, sometimes I’d be sitting on the floor in the living room, and she’d stare at me with piercing intelligent eyes. She’d walk near me and then run back towards the door, never quite sure about me, but she was definitely curious. She came close to me that summer probably two times, and it gave me chills. I was small, and she was massive, and it was clear that she could have me for lunch if she wanted to.
When I ran out of things to read, I started looking through everything the man owned. Most of it was boring, but some of it made me wonder about him, and I tried to piece together his life. One day, I decided to nap in his bed, and next to the bed there was a stack of magazines. The magazines at the top were science or travel based, but as I dug down deeper, I discovered something profoundly amazing—Playboy magazines. I picked up a magazine, and when I looked inside, I felt a rush of happiness when looking at the beautiful women. I folded out the centerfolds and gazed at the women with amazement. I remember staring down at my chest, which was still flat and hoping that someday they would grow into breasts as I saw on the pages before me.
Before this, I only had this feeling when I looked at the Sears catalog underwear section. If you are my age, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This was a whole other level as the bras were off. I didn’t have to use my imagination.
I didn’t bother to put anything back where I found it that summer, so I’m positive that the man came back and saw the evidence of my Playboy discovery around his bed, and if he knew, he certainly didn’t tell anyone thankfully.
When I was done with Wolfie, I would head out skateboarding. My friend Tamar got me into it that summer, and she let me borrow her board as I didn’t have one yet. I skated around happily, or I rode my bicycle. This summer is when I also noticed my first cute boy - Cornell. He lived across from Summer and Cindy, and he was so hot. Sadly, he was in high school and didn’t notice me much. I would ride over to see Summer, but really I was hoping to catch sight of him in his yard. Occasionally he’d wave at me and say, “nice bike!” or something small, and I would feel instant butterflies. He, like many Navajo boys, had long, fantastic hair that he tied back into a bun. Cornell loved to wear cowboy shirts, tight jeans, and traditional belt buckles covered in turquoise.
Summer, Cindy, and I started two construction projects this summer. We built a treehouse on a tree that was nearby my place, and then we decided that the summer would not be complete without a swimming pool. We scouted around for a suitable spot to build one and found the perfect place over at the middle school. There was a courtyard with a decorative display of rocks in it, and miraculously, it was next to a garden hose. We had everything we needed there and got to work. We spent weeks building our “pool.” We dug a huge trench and then stacked the rocks up on the sides layered with mud in between. It was probably three feet deep by the time we were done. Just enough so that when it was full of water, we could sit down and cool off in it.
I’d come home covered in mud, and my mother would point to the bathroom, and that was the only discussion we ever had about it. She never cared where the mud came from, just that I stayed out of the house during the day so she could do the things she wanted to do.
Finally, the day came to fill up the pool. We filled it to the very edges and then jumped in with our swimsuits on. We had a blast, and that week, our pool became the talk of the neighborhood, and kids from all over the compound came and got in with us. However, like all great things, it was short-lived as my mother, as well, as Summer’s got a phone call from the school. They were incredibly upset with what we had done with the courtyard and demanded we dismantle it and fix it back to its original state.
I can tell you that dismantling something you loved working on is dreadful work. You loathe every minute of it, and you have to fight every urge you have about walking away. It was the first time I had ever experienced this lesson. I didn’t think we did anything wrong, and I felt that what we had built was genius, but the lesson was that it wasn’t our property, and we couldn’t just do whatever we wanted with things we didn’t own. The government owned that property.
Except for the tree-house. For some reason, nobody cared that we took over the tree. I went back recently, and every nail and evidence that there was ever a treehouse there has been removed, but while I lived there, it was allowed to stay up. My grandfather came over from Chinle once to inspect our work and gave us some structural advice around putting up a slide we’d found in a junkyard.
When my mother felt like doing family things, she’d take us out on hikes. We’d finish typically at the Seal’s candy store. As I got older, Charlie (Walter), the highschool chemistry teacher, started acting weird towards me. He would escort me into the store to get my candy, and he played bizarre music. One that really stands out is, “Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” He would sing the song and asked me if I knew the lyrics. I didn’t, and I didn’t care, I just wanted candy, so I played along with the weirdness. He would go to painstaking detail to tell me about the bikini in the song and how she was afraid to wear it out in front of everyone because it was so small and revealing. On one of these visits, he asked me if I wanted a bikini and asked me to come back with him to the storeroom where he pulled down a bin of bikinis. I said “sure” and then asked for my candy. He urged me to try the bikini on to see if it fit, and I told him that I’d do it at home. He didn’t push further.
I went back and told my mother and step-father that Charlie gave me a bikini. They didn’t seem to care. When I look back at this, I find this quite bizarre because my mother was insane when it came to these things. She wouldn’t let us watch Mr. Rogers remember? The guy she swore up and down was a pervert! I never put the bikini on and shoved it in a drawer. I was deeply uncomfortable with not having breasts, and the bikini just made that fact worse.
Every time after that encounter with Charlie, when I went to get candy, he’d ask if I had worn my bikini and if I had any photos of me wearing it. I told him repeatedly that I hadn’t had a chance to swim or be out in one and lamented over my swimming pool that I had to take down and destroy. He offered to buy me an inflatable pool that my friends and I could swim in if we wanted to, but I passed because I was worn out on the whole thing. I also just wanted my candy and didn’t want to keep having conversations like this. They had the best candy assortment, so I couldn’t really replace him with anyone else.
One hike, however, something greater than candy happened. I was following behind the adults, and I was deep in thought and looking off to the sides at the plants and wildlife when I saw something glimmering right by the trail that they had missed. I picked it up, and it was a cassette tape. A few feet later, I found a second one. Both were relatively new looking, and other than the dust outside on the covers looked like they would play when I got them home. I put them in my backpack and kept them secret just in case I wouldn’t be allowed to have them.
When I got home, I put in the first tape I found which was Scorpion. I liked it ok, but then I put in the second tape - The Ramones. My life was forever changed at that point. The music sounded like how I felt on the inside. I bopped around my room and sang the songs at the top of my lungs, and the energy I felt when I listened to the songs was like nothing I had ever experienced. I had found something I deeply resonated with on a trail and that something would define me for many years after. It didn’t have a label yet, but later I would discover that I was punk fucking rock to the marrow in my bones. I now had a Walkman that I didn’t steal and earned with my summer jobs, so I would skate around with it clipped to my shorts and yell,
Beat on the brat
Beat on the brat
Beat on the brat
With a baseball bat
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh oh!!