Looking back on the past couple years of my life, I would have never guessed I’d end up where I am now. I would have never imagined the experiences and struggles I had faced in such a short amount of time would have ever been possible. I came from a great family, was one of the minority of people left on earth who still had their Mother and Father married to each other, loving siblings, a good education, raised with good values and discipline, but everyone knows there’s no guarantee that you’ll walk the ‘straight and narrow’ just because you were taught to.
Here I am, sitting upright in this flat flimsy hospital bed with nothing but depressing white walls and ugly curtains covering the window with the view of the street, thinking about the last 2 years of my life and wondering how the hell I ended up here. None of that mattered though. Lying warm, chubby and perfectly beautiful in my arms was my son, only a few hours old.
I had heard stories of how the second a Mother sees their child for the first time, it was like a lightning bolt to the heart and you were forever changed. I always thought it was a load of crap, if I’m being honest, but I guess you just can’t know that until you’re in the exact spot that I am. I was absolutely floored, the second I looked at his face, because I didn’t expect it to be true. It couldn’t be more true. I had never experienced or thought it was possible to love another human being as much as I loved this baby boy in my arms. I could not get enough of him. I wanted to hold him, love him and kiss him for the rest of my life and never, ever let go. Looking down at him in my arms, watching his chest rise and fall with his steady, warm breathing, his perfect plump red lips and thick velvety black hair, my heart suddenly ached more than ever imaginable. I knew what was coming next and nothing in the world could prepare me for what was ahead of me.
It was supposed to be a fun summer filled with sunny swimming days, sleeping on the roof of my house, night games, movies and warm nights. Instead, I found myself leaving my friends in Utah and being shipped off to Nebraska to spend the summer with my Aunt and cousins. On an Air Force Base no less. Believe me when I say; I wasn’t planning on having a fun time there. I barely knew these people aside from my mother assuring me that they shared our DNA. I recall meeting them once, when I was approximately 5 years old at the one family reunion that took place in 1990. I’m not a shy girl, but there was just something about the thought of spending an entire two months with a family I didn’t know that I wasn’t totally thrilled about. My Aunt Elly was my Mom’s youngest sister who was married to Bill. Bill was in the Air Force and I was nervous that he’d be a stereotypical Drill Sergeant. I had three cousins: Trent – age 17, who I had just recently been in contact with via snail mail because he was as much a trouble maker as I was; Timothy, who I’m told was about 5 years younger than Trent, then Lilly who was 10. To be honest I was more concerned about the fact that they didn’t know me. I was the trouble maker, which is why my parents decided I should spend a summer away from my friends who were such “bad influences” on me.
Here I was, somewhere in the middle of Wyoming, stuck in the car for the remaining 6 hour drive until we reached my home-sweet-home for the next two months. My mom in the driver’s seat, dad in the passengers’ seat and older sister by 3 years; Elizabeth – a.k.a: Liz, next to me in the back, happily listening to her headphones and humming while doodling on her arm with magic marker that I hoped stained her skin. Why she was here, I had no idea. We despised each other. Then again, who didn’t despise me? I was the black sheep of the family, the screw up, the child in the shadows and that’s where I preferred to be. She, on the other hand, was Miss Over-Achiever: Catcher for the local girls’ softball team, leader of the “Winter & Color Guard” in her High School and Queen of the Drama Club. That was her; “Drama Queen”. Deep down, in the cellar of my heart, where no one was allowed but me, I had to admit that I admired her. Part of me even wished I could be like her. From her thick, pretty brown hair, big popping brown eyes framed by thick, dark, long eyelashes to her small waste and perfect Marilyn Monroe hips. She got her looks from my Mom. If you looked at a picture of my Mom when she was younger, it was like looking at a photo of Liz. She was pretty, spontaneous, outgoing, loved by all and mostly, she loved herself. Sometimes I thought she loved herself too much, a term I would use was “stuck-up”, but I only used that term because I didn’t want to admit that I wished I could be like her. I was so opposite of her in almost all aspects. Here I sat next to her in the back seat, mentally scrutinizing the differences between us two. I hated my straight, white-blonde hair, which matched my eyelash color. My blue eyes I got from my Dad, but even he grew out of the blonde hair as a child. He grew into a sandy, strawberry-blonde color that I prayed I would get some day. Regardless of how often my mom would tell me I wasn’t fat, I was pretty sure that she said that just to make me feel better about myself. I knew that my size 10 jeans said otherwise. I didn’t even like looking in the mirror to get ready in the morning, but I had to, I just pretended I couldn’t see my face.
I can’t say where it started though, because I remember being a very happy, loving child. A Momma’s girl, if I had to choose. Up until about 12 years old, she still sang me to sleep almost every night and I didn’t care that it was juvenile. I loved that time I had with her when she paid attention to only me and I felt loved. Being the youngest of 5, I often felt like I wasn’t getting as much attention as they did. Whoever said the youngest child is the spoiled one was completely wrong. To be fair, my parents were impressively equal with myself and my siblings and none of us were “spoiled”, but maybe that was because my parents didn’t have the money to “spoil” us. When it came to loving us though, they were very fair and loving.
My Dad owned the local repair shop where we all helped with scheduling service-calls, taking orders for parts and stocking the shop with various parts for vacuums, stoves, washers, dryers, microwaves, sometimes even car parts. You could say my Dad was a “Fix it all” type of guy and my older brother was his side kick. My Mom worked hard with her day job at a local fast food restaurant and went to College about half an hour North at night, pursuing her Registered Nursing Degree and didn’t really enjoy that the downside to my Dad’s well-known repair business was that people in town thought it was ok to drop off unwanted or broken appliances and leave them on the side of our house, or the end of our driveway, flowing into what used to be the back yard. It long ago converted from a side-yard, to a junk-yard.
They were great parents and I loved them, but recently I felt like they couldn’t stand me. I admit that I often felt guilty for the tears I caused my Mother. She was the most caring, selfless person I knew and I was hurting her with all the trouble I’d been getting into the past couple years. I don’t know what she’d do without my Dad, because she didn’t have the strength to discipline the way he did. I knew he loved me, but he didn’t put up with disrespect or irresponsible decisions, particularly coming home after curfew, often stoned, back-talking my Mom. My disrespect to my Mother often earned me a slap on the mouth from my Dad.
Somewhere between the age of 12 and now at 14, I had begun to hate myself. I was 12 years old when I tried my first cigarette which soon after followed with my first beer. At 13 I’d had my first real boyfriend who just liked that I had big boobs that I’d let him grab and I was too stupid to say “no”. Luckily I hadn’t gone much further than 3rd base with him.
I met Matthew shortly after, who I almost immediately fell in love with. Aside from the fact that he introduced me to weed and was my main reason for sneaking out at night, he was the first boy to ever actually look at my face and tell me he loved me. He would tell me I was pretty and no matter how often he said it, I felt like hiding in a corner. It didn’t matter if people told me I was pretty, I really didn’t believe that I was. I was 14 when I lost my virginity to him, which eventually lead to the reasons why I was stuck in the middle of Wyoming, heading to Nebraska to pretend like nothing happened in my hometown of Santaquin, Utah. Population: 4,834. Matthew was part of the 414 that made up the Hispanic population of Santaquin. I loved his mocha smooth skin and wavy black hair. He had the most beautiful face and always smelled like “Tempest” cologne, which he wore because he knew I loved it. I loved him, whether or not people believed 14 year olds could be “in love”. I hated when my parents would say I was too young to understand what real love was, but they didn’t know how I felt toward him. I could see myself spending the rest of my life with him. I was never the normal teenager anyway. I was always able to see the possibilities of the future and think logically. My emotional thinking came from my Mother, no doubt. My Dad on the other hand was a “This-is-the-way-it-is-and-you-need-to-deal-with-it” type of guy. That’s what caused most of the tension between us, because I hated how intelligent he was. Always thinking with logic, not emotion. Again, something I admired, but at this age I had somehow made the decision to be as opposite as I possibly could from my parents. This is what they call “rebelling”, right? I wasn’t rebelling, at least I didn’t think so, it was just that no one understood me. No one understood how it felt to be the outcast in my perfect family.
My oldest sister Lyla was ten years older than me and already had two kids and had moved out a good seven years ago when my nephew Calvin was born. My brother Gabriel was just a year ½ younger than Lyla, followed by Rebekah who was only a year and four months younger than Gabriel. I used to picture that and be amazed that my Mother hadn’t gone insane from having three children that close in age. Liz was about 3 ½ years younger than Rebekah and I was 3 ½ years younger than Liz. Believe it or not, my parents even wanted more children. Living on the East Coast, my parents had a ridiculously enormous family to have never been divorced and remarried or something like that. No, we were all full siblings and no, my parents weren’t even Mormons. Not at the time. They joined the church shortly after randomly landing in Utah when I was very young and when I was about 12 years old, I decided I didn’t want to be part of the religion. That was the biggest difference between me and the rest of my family. I think my parents thought it was just a stage and that I was rebelling against the church just to spite them. No matter how different we all were, I loved my family very much and would do anything for them, I just wouldn’t admit it out loud.
Wyoming was such a boring place, at least from the backseat view of my mom’s Perriwinkle colored Geo Prism. I had no idea where we were, but that there was nothing but sage brush and barbed wire fences as far as I could see in front of and behind us. This wasn’t the first time we’d traveled through Wyoming, but the last time I don’t remember it being this sullen. My mom always sped when there wasn’t much around to gauge her speed off of. Telling her she was speeding didn’t do much good either, so I learned to just let her be. Sometimes I wondered if she felt relaxed driving fast, my dad often lovingly snapping at her for not paying attention to her speed or things around her. She was a free spirit. She was flighty, maybe even a bit ditsy and eccentric and I absolutely loved that about her. It made me feel slightly less alone. I was the same way, but I convinced myself it was just stupidity on my part. Looking at her made me feel like at least I was like someone else, even if just in a small way. I often wished I could have seen her back in the 60’s with her “Peace & Love” T-shirts and crazy skirts and sunglasses. She must have been the perfect hippy. That was her to the “T”. Peace and Love. That’s why she was so easily distraught when things weren’t happy. That’s why I made her cry. She wanted everyone to love each other as much as she loved everyone. She loved animals of every kind, even bugs. She made me believe that everything on this Earth had a purpose; a life. I took her very seriously when I was little. I would get upset if I saw someone kill a spider, or kick a flower. Everything that was alive on this Earth had a right to live. When I was probably five or six years old, she told me I could be whatever I wanted to be in life. I took her seriously at that time and she allowed me to truly believe that if I wanted it badly enough, I could become a Panda Bear.
Such carefree days. Where I was right then; in the back seat of my Mom’s crazy Perriwinkle-mobile, I couldn’t figure out what had happened to me. I couldn’t figure out where that carefree spirit went. I had to decide if I was going to make an attempt to turn this summer into a make-shift rehabilitation opportunity and try to make my mom cry less, or dig my heels in and insist on being miserable until I was allowed home to my friends, my windowless bedroom in the back corner of the house and my futon mattress on the floor. While contemplating my chances of survival if I hurled myself out of the car and hide myself in the sage brush on the side of the road, I decided to throw my head back and close my eyes to ignore Liz’s upbeat, bubbly dancing in the seat next to me.
I felt safer with my eyes closed. I could think of whatever I wanted to and not be judged. I could even pretend I was back at home sitting in my best friend Alise’s bedroom where I preferred to spend my time. She and I didn’t even have a whole lot in common, but we were connected at the hip. She was my one friend that didn’t judge me for the things I did, even though she didn’t participate in most of the activities I chose to be part of, such as getting high or messing around with guys. Everyone knew she was good. Sure, she smoked cigarettes, but around our town, who didn’t? I was always impressed with her ability to “Just Say No” when drugs were offered, even if everyone around her was doing it. She never went past 2nd base with a guy either and I wished I could have the strength she did. Boys were my weakness. It wasn’t any secret either. I was oddly protective over her because of this. She was unique, unlike anyone else in our group of random friends, which mostly consisted of whoever was getting high at that moment. I didn’t consider many of them “friends”, just conveniences because I rarely had to pay for drugs. I would get upset when people would try to offer her any or if a guy rubbed up on her too much. Everyone knew I’d be willing to lay their ass flat on the ground if they got out of line with her. I never fully understood why I was intimidating to people, but I also learned to just take advantage of that and let them be intimidated. I was safer that way.
I envied Alise for her looks; sometimes I referred to her as a pixie: small, petite and pretty face with a button nose. She had beautiful eyes that made her look like an actress and we often talked about her desire to become one. I knew she would make it if she got out of town. She lived with her Dad who was raising her and her three siblings on his own. When I met Alise in 6th grade, I didn’t know where her Mom was or why she didn’t live with them. It was a long time before I ever asked, too. They didn’t like to talk about her. If I hadn’t known they were all full siblings, I would have thought the other three didn’t have a Mother at all. I never heard them speak of her. Then again, I assumed that was partially because their Dad didn’t like to speak of her. Her dad was a school teacher at the Jr. High a few towns over and he was fairly strict, but of course I thought he was amazing compared to my parents. My parents wanted to know what I was doing at all times and had to know who I was with and where I was going. Blah, blah, blah. Alise’s Dad, however, just wanted her home at a certain time and didn’t seem to ask much more than that. Coincidentally, that’s the main reason why we preferred to stay at her house in her bedroom downstairs that he never came down to. I think he was more content upstairs watching his baseball or wrestling games and never came down to her room to check on us. We often had friends crawl through her window and we’d sit around and smoke cigarettes just sitting on her floor. I always felt happy being around her, but of course my parents insisted she was a bad influence. Everyone was a bad influence. They didn’t mind her coming to our house, but they always made it difficult for me when I’d go to hers.
I missed Alise already and the more I thought of her, the more I realized that I was getting further away from her with every second that we continued on this never-ending Wyoming road. I felt as if I was being shipped to Military School and I’d never be able to see her or Matthew again. I didn’t want to open my eyes, because I knew as soon as I did, my day dream of being with my friends would end and I’d have to see the miles of sage brush and barbed wire fences again. What a desolate place. I always complained about Utah, particularly the hick-town of Santaquin my parents chose to settle in years ago, but being stuck in this car feeling a million miles from civilization, I suddenly missed Santaquin, hicks and all. At least there were mountains to surround me there so I didn’t feel so exposed. The emptiness here made me feel even more lonely.
I was officially pretending I was asleep to avoid any possible conversation with my parents or God forbid – Liz. My parents seemed like they were in their own bubble, casually talking about their last drive through Wyoming and the last speeding ticket my Mom received for going 95 miles per hour in a 75 zone. Liz was still singing and humming along with whatever she was listening to on her headphones. Even her annoying singing was perfectly on-key. She was just always perfect. Sometimes I wonder what she’d be like without a voice box.
Just as I was contemplating what Liz would be like if she couldn’t speak, I felt the car halt to a stop. Sometimes my Mom hit the brakes the same way she hit the gas – floored it. My eyes popped open and realized we’d stopped at a gas station. I immediately got out wanting to stretch my legs and get some air. I hadn’t smoked a cigarette since last night and was feeling tense. Alise told me it would probably be better for me to try to quit this summer, rather than having to figure out a way to get my hands on cigarettes in a place where I didn’t know anyone. Not everyone was willing to buy a 14 year old a pack of cigarettes. Secretly, I’d stashed a few packs in the bottom of my duffle bag, but unless I rationed them, they wouldn’t last a week. I knew they’d go stale within a week or two if I saved them, but I didn’t care. If things got bad enough, I’d smoke them without complaint. My mom had stocked a bag of tootsie-roll pops, Life-Savers and gum and tried to convince me that they would help my cravings. She desperately wanted me to quit smoking. She had even paid $150+ for Nicorette patches earlier this year during school. I’d come to the conclusion that quitting smoking was going to be impossible when in the back of my mind I had absolutely no desire to quit. I wanted to make my mom happy, but at the same time, smoking made me feel better for the 4-5 minutes it took to smoke, even knowing I was slowly killing myself. Maybe that’s why I did it.
I dragged my feet and walked to the edge of the gravel to the road, shoving a stick of gum in my mouth on the way. I-80 was completely empty whichever direction you looked and I swear I saw a tumble weed bounce across the road a ways down. I doubted this was even considered a town. It was probably officially the “middle of nowhere”, in between city or county lines. Other than a beat-up red Ford truck parked near the side of the station, ours was the only vehicle within miles. This gas station was about the size of our garage back home, with chipped metal bars covering the windows. They reminded me of the old bank windows in western films. Or maybe that was the saloons. I couldn’t remember. The awning over the whole length of the roof looked like it had been built in the 1920’s and not mended since then either. I wondered if the small prickly looking bushes that surrounded the gravel had a name, or if they were just an in between species of weed and bush. I started wondering if Wyoming always looked this dehydrated, or if it was just the 90 degree June weather that caused it.
“Destiny, do you want a drink?” I jumped as I heard my Mom call from the other side of the car, just putting the gas pump back in its cradle. She must have been in a good mood, or maybe the closer we got to our destination, the guiltier she was feeling for dumping me off in the middle of nowhere. She rarely bought things from gas stations because she always disliked how over priced things were. “You can buy that in the grocery store for at least $0.50 cheaper!” she’d always say, so we never asked for anything. I knew we had water bottles in the cooler in the back of the car too, so I didn’t understand why she was offering to spend money when it wasn’t necessary, but caffeine sounded really good to me right now, which was something my Mother never packed.
“Yeah, cherry coke …please.” She really didn’t like us drinking sugary caffeinated drinks, but she pulled a five dollar bill out of her purse and held it out for me to take. I took the money just as she said “ask Liz if she wants anything” with a ‘please don’t start anything with her’ look in her face. I was really hoping I’d be able to survive this entire trip without us having to speak to each other, but I didn’t want to upset my Mom or start an argument that I didn’t have the energy to finish.
Liz had already jumped out of the car and headed into the gas station before I’d even walked out to the road. My guess is she had to pee. I noticed her walking from the back of the gas station and realized that this station, the size of our garage, didn’t even have indoor bathrooms. She had a large piece of what looked like two-by-four in her left hand and swinging loosely on the end was the bathroom key. It reminded me of the classic “Hall Pass” that we’d have to carry around in Elementary School, proving that we had permission to be out of class. It was usually a large piece of something ridiculous with the words “HALL PASS” written on it somewhere. I remember seeing a cartoon once where a boy had one of those huge old fashioned space heaters as a hall pass and had to drag it through the hallway.
“Do you wanna drink?” I yelled toward her as I lifted the $5 bill for her to see.
“Yeah. Maybe V-8. Actually I’ll just come in with you, I have to return the key.” She lifted up the big chunk of wood with the word “WEMANS” on it. Only in the middle of no where would they spell “Women’s” incorrectly and not have the desire, or the knowledge, to correct it. I started to wonder why everyone was being so nice to me. Maybe they were just all be happy to be rid of me and were rubbing it in.
I had hoped for some relief from the heat when I stepped into the small station, but none was to be found. I could hear multiple fans running in corners of the small area, but all they seemed to be doing was pushing the hot air in circles, like a lava tornado. The man behind the counter was probably old enough to be at home in a grave and I wondered why the hell he’d choose to sit on that stool day after day and not just stay at home and watch Jeopardy or something. I tried to hide my smirk when I took in the sight of him. Messy white hair and beard to match that probably hadn’t been cut or trimmed in years. A red faded and stained t-shirt underneath the most classic hill-billy overalls. I couldn’t see his feet, but I imaged beat up cowboy boots. He looked our direction and nodded, then returned to his magazine that had a picture of a large Buck. Figures.
After paying for our drinks, we headed back to the car where our parents were seated and ready to go. We sat into the back and noticed my Mom peeking in the rear view mirror, no doubt to make sure we were putting our seatbelts on. Seconds later, gas pedal slammed to the floor and gravel spraying behind us, we were back on I-80 with miles of nothingness all around. In approximately 4 ½ hours, according to my Dad’s amazing navigational skills, we would be reaching our destination of Bellevue, Nebraska and my new Home-Sweet-Home.