When I was Born

When I was born, the world was still black and white. The White Mountain stood stark and crisp against the gray sky. I used to like to look at boulders huge and delicately mottled and speckled and sometimes very hot.

You could curl your toes over the big rock and dive and gasp into the glacier fed river. Joe Johns hit his head on something hidden and was brought up dead. A thin trace of blood stuck to his forehead and cheek and his skin was very white. In the black and white world the blood showed up black and the pictures the coroner took were very beautiful. I was in love with Joe Johns. We used to roll around in the dust behind the baseball stands. That’s where a saw a written “fuck you” for the first time. I took his death very hard but I could see the art in the photographs and I hung them up in my bedroom. My mother said take those things down and I said fuck you and her face turned black. She hit me so hard that everything turned black and then I threw myself on my back on my bed and kicked her with both feet. She stumbled backward and fell, hitting her head on the chest of drawers and then again on the floor. At first I thought she was dead and such a horror went through me. Then I saw her breathing but I was afraid of brain damage so I called the police. They came and an ambulance took her away. The paramedics stared at me in disgust and the cop dug his fingers deep into my shoulder. They took me away too. The town was very small and they didn’t have a kid’s jail so I went to the adult jail, which wasn’t very much-a little log building with three cells. They put me into a corner cell and left me to contemplate my crimes. I kept hollering out for a lawyer, I demand to see my lawyer, but the jailer didn’t listen. The cell smelled like mildew and vomit and stale pee and my nose began to run with unshed tears. I grieved to Joe Johns, for my mother’s brain damage, and for my sorry state. Finally, the jailer brought me a box of Kleenex and a big soft blanket with a tiger on it. You take your kindness where you can get it. This was the first lesson for my new life.

When I grew up I found that color was invented and seen in the cities and branched out slowly from them. I think Los Angeles was the first city to be in color and people rushed to see it. But in our town we hadn’t even heard of it and didn’t miss it. We knew our world so well that all we needed for place names was The Mountain, The Lake, The River, Downtown, Over the Hill. The small towns Over the Hill hadn’t turned to color either. You could see The Mountain on different sides form each of the three little towns and it hardly seemed like the same mountain. I was afraid I was going to be sent to kid’s jail someplace Over the Hill but for two days I just sat quietly in my cell. My Dad was angry beyond anger. I had been afraid he’d beat me half to death but this was worse He looked at me with ice gray eyes. He hated me and he would always hate me. This was my first experience of hate and it made something in my stomach go flat and I felt like I would never eat again.

I was ten and pretentious. I asked for a copy of Dante’s Inferno. What the fuck is that, the jailer said. It’s sort of like the Bible I said. He gave me a copy of the Bible. Here kid, you need this real bad, I’ve even marked out the Ten Commandments. I read the parts about honoring your mother and father and felt real bad. Then I read the part about loving God with all your hear and I couldn’t figure it out. How could you be made to love someone? Now that’s a tough one and I can grow up and wrestle with God like Jacob and do some theology and still not figure it out. Anyway, back to me in that little jail. A woman came and talked to me or rather tried to get me to talk to her. I had never seen anyone like her and I was tongue-tied. She smelled good, something quiet and crisp and dry and she wore a pin stripe suit with a very white shirt open three buttons at the collar. I know it was three buttons because I counted them. I tried to look down into her shirt. She was the second person I fell in love with. It came to me that she was my lawyer and she was telling me something about going to court and that if I were lucky they’d put me in placement rather than jail. I asked if I could have my pictures of Joe Johns and she said she’d see. I wanted her to stay forever and I wanted her to go so maybe she would hug me. She got up to leave. My heart pounded like a beating and then she extended her hand. I started crying. She looked around her, I knew this wasn’t her forte. My tentative little hand touched her arm and she bent down and gave me an awkward hug. I grabbed around her hard and held on. My face was on the skin of her chest and I could look into the curve of her breast and the frill of her bra. It came to me to give her a hickey; I don’t know what I was thinking. I started sucking and she shoved me away. What the hell are you doing, you little pervert. I had really blown it and I started sobbing for real but it didn’t help. There are so many ways to kill love. She hollered for the jailer and was out of there fast. I had lost her and any chance at getting my Joe Johns pictures.

Another woman came to see me. She had protruding teeth and long, greasy hair. I could tell she was a professional kind person. She smiled gently and wrinkled her eyes together a little and gave me this phony, kind gaze. I think they teach that look in those schools they go to. But she was too tired to really pull it off. She gave me some boring tests and asked me some questions like what does a rolling stone gathers no moss mean?

I said it could mean to keep moving or it could mean stay in one place because moss is pretty and good to the touch.
Many years later I recalled that moment as I lay my hand on my lover’s thatch. Why are you crying? You are like a forest, I said. Whey would that make you cry? One of her charms and also her irritations were these whys and a certain tendency toward superationalism. Love never comes unaccompanied, I replied. I don’t get it. She rolled against me, pinning my hand. Deep in the moss I flared with memory and desire.

Lately, I’ve been noticing the connections. Life is not a journey, nor is it a test. All these lines intersect so ultimately each line is in touch with the other. I looks a little like the strings crime units put up after a crime with allot of gunplay. I know you were thinking of a spider’s web and that’s not a bad guess but the spider’s web is too geometric, too predictable. You like to crochet, a minor art but very beautiful when practiced by you. But we have too many. Your art covers the chair arms, the tops of all the furniture; even the bed has a crochet coverlet. It’s hot. I pull off my shirt and am down to my shorts. I belch and scratch my belly. I get a beer and hold the bottle between my breasts and look out the window at a jungle of palm trees, loquat, banana, magnolia, bottlebrush, and some I don’t have names for. Let’s go to the beach. These are the first words I’ve uttered in three hours. Oh God, honey. It’ll be a zoo. Besides I’ve got this piece to finish. Is she driven by her crochet like Mozart was by composition? I should try to respect this but a part of me wants to rip down every piece she ever made. I feel entangled in her string. It is she who creates the spider’s web. I gulp the last of the beer. I guess I’ll go anyway. She looks at me like I had uttered something totally incomprehensible. I need to get out baby. I haven’t been to the beach in ages. She sighs, I thought we could do something together. I’m putting on a bathing suit. I don’t think I’m suited for crochet. I don’t mean now, I mean later. I’m almost out the door; I need to get out now. The car seat burns the back of my legs and I have to grab a couple tissues to hold the steering wheel. I turn the air on to full blast and am almost immediately rewarded. This is as close to a fight that we’ve had and it wasn’t really a fight but things were done and said.

After a long time, I had my day in court. My beautiful, but lost to me, lawyer sat down beside me. A fat woman judge entered and I was yanked to my feet. When we sat down she whispered to me to keep my mouth shut. Some other cases were heard first. Each case took about a minute. Then my case was called. I felt happy and excited because I was going to testify. I would sit in that chair by the judge and cry at just the right time and show spunk. Adults at that time liked a kid with spunk. They don’t anymore. Now they call it attitude. But my lawyer stood up and said yada, yada, yada, and the judge said yada, yada, yada, and bada boom it was over and I was walking out the courthouse door with a strange woman who had a tag clipped to her pocket. It said Rose Delgadillo Psych Tech ATC Casa Grande Hospital. She stuck out her had and said, I’m Rose Delgadillo. You can call be Rose. I shook her hand but didn’t say anything. In silence we got into a big van that had “Sunshine Club” painted on both sides. Rose Delgadillo drove and drove and didn’t say a word. We drove past The Lake with little white cuts the boats made.

Suddenly Rose spoke; there’s something I always tell the new kids right away to get it over with. I’m gay and proud of it. I’m gay too, I said. She smiled, no kidding? You got a girlfriend? My lawyer was my girlfriend but she dumped me. Rose sighed, tough. You got a girlfriend, Rose. Yup. What do you guys do? I don’t know, hang out, ride bikes, watch TV. If this was lesbian life I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it. I mean sex, what do you do in sex? Oh, the usual. I didn’t know what the usual was so I pretended to know and just said, “Ah.”

More silence. Then Rose said, there’s another thing you should know. Casa Grande is no country club, no playground, no amusement park. It’s the ghetto kid and I’m not so sure you’ll make it. I was already scared and this scared me even more. Hell I’m in for attempted murder, I guess I can handle just about anything. Who’d you try to kill? My Mom. My mom, who I missed so bad the missing was like a big black gap in my side. Rose just said, tough. But get yourself established, don’t try to be nice and don’t get yourself pushed around.

I got into my first fight my very first day when I was put in a room with five other girls. They were all smoking and flapping towels smeared with toothpaste. I was so scared, I could feel my belly muscles shake. Let’s play butts up, one of them said. Hey new girl, you wanna play butts up? What do you use for a ball? Our feet, and they all laughed. No thanks. The biggest one put her face in mine. “You chicken?” I hauled off and hit her. Suddenly the room was full of staff and I was eating rug and someone was holding me down. The new girl, the new girl did it. But I never snitched about the smoking or anything else so I got accepted. It goes to show you that a little well placed violence often works wonders. Of course, the violence against my Mom wasn’t well placed, I know that.

It was hot, even at the beach. I put my towel just beyond the high tide line and went into the ocean. I didn’t go in tiny bit by tiny bit and I didn’t just dive in. I walked steadily until the water was over my head. I went just beyond the breakers and began swimming parallel to the beach. All I could hear or see was ocean. I stopped and watched the backs of the waves as they broke. There was a pretty good surf so I decided to come in a little and body surf. I caught the first wave perfectly and felt that high exhilaration of body joined completely with wave. I misjudged the second wave and got slammed down and tumbled ’til I didn’t know up from down. I finally came up choking and unable to move one arm without extreme pain. I flopped on my towel and let the sun bake my arm.

I remembered the time I broke my hand at Casa Grade when I smashed my hand against a wall. There is a certain pleasure in pain if you’ve got problems, and who doesn’t? If you focus totally on pain, it can be a meditation; a way to experience God, if that’s your leaning. But today I couldn’t quite escape crochet and I could see the end.
The traffic back was a zoo like she said it would be, but its slowness allowed me to drive with one hand. A driver cut in front of me and gave me the finger. Oh, well. I had a slight headache from the sun but its pain was almost drowned out by the pain in my shoulder. I thought about that trapped feeling I had and how it all connected back to when the world was plain and simple, when even blood was only black. Did it all start when Joe Johns was killed or did it start when I hurt my mother? I had a strange feeling that I was catching up to myself and this feeling frightened me.
She met me at the door with a beer, a happy look on her face. I went to a flea market and found these. I know how morbid you are, I thought you’d like them. Out of a manila envelope spilled the coroner’s pictures of Joe Johns. One day I would leave her, but not today. Not today.

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