It’s strange to think how selective memory can be: I remember details leading up to, during, and following this event, but I cannot remember what my punishment was from the courts. I must have been let off the hook legally, but rest assured parental punishment was indeed plotted, planned, and executed.
After the story’s conclusion, you’ll find a list of details that are true events and what was added for the resolution of the story’s sake.
Dirty Deeds Done on Spoon Lane–– Part Two
Mom’s philosophy is that if you’re not early, you’re late. It’s 9:15 a.m. and we pile into the ‘65 Belair and make the five-minute drive into town. She says nothing, thankfully. My stomach bubbles like a volcano of baking soda and vinegar.
The makeshift courtroom, in the Cottonwood Library, scant of furniture and dimly lit, is empty but for us two silent souls. Teary-eyed teenagers with stern-faced and weary parents shuffle in two by two. The air, stale, still, and thick with tension suffocates. Judge McCabe swaggers in and slides into position. The “all rise” does not come, but we stand anyway. I am surprised that I am first on the docket. I can’t detect his mood.
“How do you plead?” he asks.
I say I am guilty. Every muscle is shaking as I speak.
Mom stuns the room with a request that I be sent to Juvenile Hall. I want to burst with laughter at the thought ––me decked out in pin-striped prison garb. But I tamp the urge down deep. I think the request is ridiculous. The looks on the faces of everyone in the room echo my sentiments. No one breathes. The judge stares deep into my mother’s eyes and questions her.
“Does she meet her curfew? Does she do her chores? Does she get good grades?” he asks. He looks annoyed.
Mom answers yes to all three.
“Lady, you don’t have a problem,” he announces, “Request denied,” as he whacks the gavel onto the wooden table and calls for the next law-breaker.
The already stale, dull air fills with the sound of air escaping our lungs. Everything is blurry. I smile at the vindication, and we file out and into the car.
Mom is fuming as she informs me David Wilkerson (a religious leader) will hold a meeting in Redding next week and we are going. I say I’d have rather gone to juvie. She adds that maybe I’ll learn to appreciate her. I say I don’t know why she thinks her own daughter is so bad, when clearly, even a complete stranger can see differently. This escalates her anger to a level never seen in all my 16 years. She drives me to the school and I am grateful to escape. Exiting the vehicle, I wonder how I’ll survive the summer months at home, this being the last week of classes. I consider summer school.
It is dusk as I sit at my cheap, particle-board desk, writing my essay on World War ll for American History. A melancholy ballad about the Edmund Fitzgeraldplays on KRDG, the local pop-rock radio station. Mom and Dad discuss the events of the day rather loudly in their bedroom. The phone rings and they quiet. I think I am in a déjà vu. Mom says into the phone she thinks that a great idea, thank you and she will make the arrangements. I hear the click of the receiver. They whisper. I strain to figure out why. Mom and Dad say they are sorry to each other. I imagine them hugging and sicken at the thought they might be kissing.
Dad opens the door of my room without knocking. He tells me his sister, Aunt Carol, who lives in Marcola, Oregon, is sending me a bus ticket and I’m to spend the summer with her. I don’t know who is happier to hear the news: Mom or me. I ask if he thinks that is a good idea since the Oregon family is much more liberal than we Cottonwood straight-laced conservatives.
He answers, “Yes, I know, but this is what your Mom wants. She’s adamant about that David Wilkerson meeting, so you’re not leaving until that’s over.”
He stretches his arms out in a big bear hug, a rare event, and whispers he only wants the best for me. As he leaves, he tells me Mom loves me. I say she has a funny way of showing it.
“Janet, she’s my wife and your mother. You know she comes first with me but that doesn’t mean we agree on everything. I may not agree with her on this latest episode, but we stand together, and I support her regardless,” Dad says with a wistful tone and a sad look in his green eyes.
I close the door, turn up the radio, and do a happy jig to the current tune, Paul McCartney and Wing’s upbeat song, “Band on the Run.”
To satisfy the reader’s curiosity, I have listed below the details as I remember them.
These details are true:
My Aunt Pat really was my bus driver at times, although I’m not sure if she was on this particular day.
I have 56 first cousins, 46 or so on my father’s side.
My father made me dig in the mud.
I lived in a yellow house at the end of Spoon Lane, and our area was referred to by utility companies as the Bermuda Triangle.
The courtroom exchange between my mother and judge.
The conversations between mother and me.
My Aunt Carol rescued me from a summer of misery.
My favorite song at that time was “Band on the Run.”
I really was required to suffer through a David Wilkerson meeting
My mother really did love me, but she had a funny way of showing it. (I probably made it difficult for her.)
These details are not true:
Anyone who knows my father and the older generation of the Spoon family will know that they never say or do that!
Happy guessing. Hint: it’s in the third to last paragraph.
I can’t even. Think. I’ve never this stumped before. Writing prompts are not improving the flow of creative energy through the synapses of this brain. So, I decided to post this essay that won second place in my university writing contest in two parts.
Dirty Deeds Done on Spoon Lane
Anderson Union High School bus #94 squeals to a stop and the yellow double doors swing open. The bus driver, Aunt Pat, wishes me good luck as I drag and stall my exit. I dread the half-mile walk home, more so today than any other in my 16 years. I glance at her over my right shoulder and tears begin to sprout from the corner of my blue eyes. I wipe them away.
“You got to go, Janet,” she says, “Get it over with.”
I step out onto the dirt. Five mailboxes line the road; all are labelled SPOON. I grab envelopes from the box reading Tim Spoon. I deliver their mail (it’s on my way home) and go inside for a chat with my cousins and enjoy an ice-cold Coke––staving off the inevitable.
The telephone rings––Mom wants me home.
I have spent my entire life in the tiny town of Cottonwood, California. I say I am from Cottonwood. In truth, I’m not sure. I have a Cottonwood address, Anderson phone number, attended Cottonwood elementary schools and now am at Anderson High School––a Bermuda Triangle. I am in a sea of cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents. No action escapes notice––ever. I am safe from reproach only with my cousins––my cohorts in crime––33 of my 56 first cousins live in Cottonwood proper.
I trek toward home, kicking small rocks from the dirt and gravel with the toe of my black and white Converse tennis shoe. I approach a muddy, slushy pond, divided in two by the road. I grab the contraband from the right front jeans pocket and toss it among the cheerful daffodils, planted years before by my grandmother. I think of her as I stare at the flowers, belying my mood.
Half-way home the surge of a diesel motor snaps me into reality––it’s my Dad. I slump my shoulders and slow my walk to a crawl. He waves, and I am grateful he doesn’t stop for me––that’s his way––no special treatment just because I happen to be his daughter.
I trudge heavy feet up the porch of the yellow house at the end of Spoon Lane. The sliding doors open; Mom’s face is the color of gray ash as she tells me she had an interesting phone call from Mr. Litaker, the school’s principal. I say I know and look around for Dad. His chair is empty, and I know he is still outside. I stomp to my room, slam the door and throw myself down on the squeaky springs of my bed.
Within moments, Dad roars, “Janet Lee, get out here. Now.”
I think how I know I’m in trouble when both names are called. I explain to both parents what happened, holding nothing back. Daddy wants to know what I did with the rest of it. I tell him they are in the pond. Sharp pangs stab at my intestines but it is my elbow he grabs and marches me in silence to the scene of one of my crimes. I dig in the mud. By now a cold spring rain is drizzling then increases in intensity. I wonder if God is weeping over my sins.
“Dad, I’m telling the truth. I threw them in there, but I can’t find them. Please, can we go? I’m freezing,” as I extend muddy hands before him.
I wash the muck from my hands, relishing the water’s warmth. I wash the tears stains, change into pajamas––pink with large, white polka dots––and crawl under bedding. Mom and Dad are arguing in their room, next door. Mom says I ought to be flogged. Dad says just take her driver’s license and keys for the next month. Their bedroom phone rings––twice, before Mom says a weak, timid hello.
A knock at my door drives me from my cocoon. My mother’s shrill voice squawks that my arraignment is set for 10:00 the next morning, in Cottonwood. She shakes her index finger and launches a tirade, a litany of my evils. For the umpteenth time, she asks what kind of mother people will think she is for all my bad behavior. I say she should worry more about what I think. Doors slam. I retreat to beneath the handmade quilt Gramma Spoon willed me. I position the goose-down pillow over my ears and close the baby-blues.
I dream my mug shot, on over-sized posters––Wanted––decorate the walls of the Post Office. Morning comes. My brother and sister get dressed for school. Dad left for work in the woods at 3:00 a.m. Mom reminds me I have other places to go. No one asks if I slept well.
Today’s post is a continuation of an essay written as a university assignment. Every detail is true, except for the name change of my then fiancé, known here as Frank.
The Woman in the Wallpaper––Part Two
Months later, while roaming the aisles of Target Stores, I note a young boy of about 14 years stalking me. I am decked out in all my protective, full-body compression garments, that includes a clear facial mask. (This is medically required that I wear these twenty-three hours a day. The purpose is to help compress the scars from raising, and to reduce bumps and ridges.)
It isn’t a sophisticated style of stalking but spawned by curiosity. I am bone-weary of these encounters. I turn the corner and hide behind the end-cap of bottles of Arrowhead water. I hear the smush-smush of tennis shoes approaching. I jump out and yell BOO. The gloriousness of his terror pervaded, faded, then a squawk, the voice of shame in my ear like a parrot belting out mimicry. Yet I laugh as the boy runs his 100-yard dash. I wonder at my maturity.
Burns scars are external––I can’t hide them– yet they leave a different kind of scar. I see it in the eyes of others. I detect it in the eyes of misogynists especially, who think a woman’s only purpose in life is to provide beauty and slave to their every need. I see it in the soul’s window of other women: a thankful gleam for their retained beauty and a twinkle of superiority. Other times, it is pity that reflects back to me.
They proffer a shiny-gold, gift-wrapped box tied with a pretty pink bow: take this gift and accept the shame enclosed. They say things like “People can tell you used to be a beautiful woman” and “If I were you, I wouldn’t go out in public, I’d be a recluse.”
I accept the gift of shame at my appearance. It is a mill-stone weighted necklace causing my head to hang. I think this talisman will protect me, but I deceive myself. I attempt to return it and rid myself of the weight. We play the you take it––no, you take it–– game.
* * * *
I sit across from Jim at his gray, metal desk, a desk piled with paper; coffee-stained and tinged with pale yellow. Jim, my trainer, is teaching me to box like a butterfly and sting like a bee. He drones on about something––I am multitasking, listening with one ear (my good one) while composing a text message on my gold, iPhone 5. Then he gains my full attention.
“You know, my father-in-law is a burn survivor. I remind him when he is down that this is only something that happened to him. It is not who he is: it doesn’t define him as a person.”
I stare back into the dark, brown eyes, a brown so dark they are nearly black. Images come of an encounter the day before when a fellow burn survivor reproved me for hiding my left hand behind my back. I look down at the now-still fingers of my right hand and think about the mismatched set I now own. The sight of my “lucky fin” fills me with shame.
Yet I sit silent. I don’t tell Jim my mother said God had done this to me because I wasn’t going to church and was living in sin with Frank. I don’t mention how our blue eyes locked––I had my mother’s eyes–– how my own blues eyes were filled with venomous fury at her accusation, nor of my fiery retort.
The internal dialogue runs through my mind like a Dow Jones’ ticker tape: “No, Mom, he didn’t. I’m his child. Would you do this to your child –– would you do this to me?”
But I sit silent remembering the slammed doors, gravel spewing, how I varoomed my black Dodge Ram away.
I am posting this autobiographical essay in parts because the original essay was written as such. I wrote this in response to a course requirement in the Advanced Composition course at Simpson University.
Every detail, even the seemingly miniscule, is true to the best of my recollection. The exception is the name change of my fiancé––now and forevermore known as Frank.
The Woman in the Wallpaper ––Part One
The vexing sound of the 3:30 a.m. alarm trumpets through the dark morning air. I groan and pull the duck-down comforter around my chin. My fiancé, Frank, jumps up like a jack-in–the–box and heads into the kitchen. I rouse from a groggy fog and aim for the bathroom. My head throbs and I search through the muddled mist as to why when I remember the festivities of the evening involved beer––a lot of beer. I cherish the sweet, therapeutic bouquet of brewing coffee wafting into the room, ‘go-juice’ that promises to counteract the cobwebby fog.
I stand before the mirror in the dimly-lit room of the porcelain god and begin slathering flesh-colored goo over the source of my identity. I stare at the face in the mirror. Everyone says I am gorgeous, but I don’t believe them. I wonder what I would do if anything happened to my face.
“That’s a weird thought,” I mutter to the reflection as I click off the light and head to the promised land of java.
* * * *
The fuel-tanker’s roaring motor is silenced as Frank brings the truck to a stop at the Whiskeytown Visitor Center. He hops from cab to ground, not bothering to use the two stairsteps, and begins to check the tires––tires carrying nearly 8,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel.
We had met as employees of SST Oil, Inc., a wholesale gasoline and diesel company. We discovered we had attended the same high school, but he was two grades behind me. I knew of him, we knew many of the same people, but we ran in different crowds. I was a band-geek and an aspiring journalist, and he was of the cowboy-party crowd. I remembered seeing his picture in the year book because the class that put the book together thought it would be funny to list his name as a brand of beer, a name similar to his.
At SST Oil, Inc., I work as a bookkeeper, billing fuel stations for gallons of diesel, gasoline, and kerosene delivered by our drivers. Frank is one of our drivers.
I hear the thwack of the tire thumper pounding the tires. Frank whacks each tire––all eighteen of them, a legally required and routine safety check. I have a sudden, all-consuming urge to get out––and stay out. But this urge remains mute and mum.
Frank directs the rig back onto the pavement, West onto Highway 299, a highway buzzing with holiday traffic as we head to the Weaverville BP fuel station. Frank’s conversation takes a weird turn: he talks of recent nightmares of crashing the tanker.
“Well, I hope it’s not today.”
* * * *
I fight through a fog of another kind as I am rousing from a medically-induced coma. I am told I have been under for two months. I fade in and out. Morphine-laden dreams.
Awareness slowly ebbs in to stay. Was it real? Was I the headline: WOMAN HAS EMERGENCY TRACHEOTOMY IN TACO BELL? Pain and tears are the bane of my existence, an existence nearly extinguished.
Nurses bossing, machines beeping, and laughter from the night-shift are the sounds that fill my day. The face on the wall glares at me––we face off––one without blemish, mocking. A red luminescent hand swings around 360 degrees, 1, 440 times a day. I wonder if this ‘hand’ gets as tired as I do from the constant vigil.
I can’t speak or move. I lay in bed with the video playing––what happened; when it happened; and why it happened.
A year later the official report reads that a tire blew out. The blown tire caused the truck and trailer to veer into the ditch. Frank fought to guide it back onto the road, but the weight of the fuel shifted, throwing the truck and trailer into chaos. In the process, the trailer split in two, sparking against pavement. We flipped and rolled across the road into a small ravine. Flames engulfed and surrounded us before the truck stopped twisting, turning.
I lay with pain, tears and memories: hearing Frank say that we’ve got to get out; Frank breaking the windshield with the tire thumper; how he scampered up over the dashboard and out the tiny opening of shattered windshield. A far greater pain pierces and splinters like the windshield at the memory that he bolted and left me to fend for myself.
I replay scene after scene: I think of how I stayed in the midst of bone-penetrating heat, staring at the golden-red flames around me––a moment so surreal––I am starring in a Hollywood film. I replay the panic of knowing I would be burned trying to get to the road; I remember thinking of my grandchildren; thinking that if I was going to die, I would die trying; I recall reciting the mantra– stop, drop and roll– and I remember the rocky ground as I begin crawling army-style up the steep- sided ravine.
The sound of a harsh, double tap at the doorway jolts me back into real time. It’s Nurse Kate. She scolds me for crying. Coming down from morphine accentuates emotions, and I am on the downswing. I say that if you were a burn victim, you’d be crying too.
“You are not a victim. You are a survivor,” she chides.
I’m back after a hiatus full of funk, junk and many deliveries to the local transfer station, formerly referred to as THE DUMP in childhood days.
We mark our days by events. Having surpassed the 19th anniversary of the worst day of my life, I’ve been in a funk, a funk dark and deep enough that writing didn’t seem to bring joy.
In an attempt to prod my way out, I’ve been clawing and pawing through useless junk in my home.
Sorting through things I once valued, I find the hardest part is making decisions: stay or go? Sometimes it’s really tough.
Asking myself two questions helps speed the process and eliminates much hedging: “Has this thing served me?” and if the answer is in the affirmative I ask: “Will this continue to be beneficial to me on a regular basis?”
Murphy’s Law says that the thing I stored for 15 years and never used, will be the exact item I need in two weeks’ time. Such is life.
The new rule is that if I bring something new into my home, something old has to go.
Paralleling this physical activity, I’ve encountered meaningless emotions, thoughts, attitudes, perspectives and memories tied to these things. I am actively exposing the crap to daylight, dusting them off and asking the same two questions above. These things haven’t always served me well. Thus, the rule applies: bringing a new (positive and edifying) thought, emotion, etc., into my soul requires the old must go.
This requires active, purposeful and constant care. I suspect it’s going to take a lifetime. A healthy soul is a happy soul.
I am posting an excerpt from writings I began several months ago. It is a true story, written in the present tense, of life after burns, yet the story in its entirety does tells of the accident, subsequent hospitalization and such. The title 1000 Deaths is a temporary, working title at this point.
I stand proudly before the oven in our newly constructed house. We’ve moved into it three days ago and this is our first home-cooked meal––roast beef with roasted carrots and red potatoes. I secretly gloat at the memory that as a licensed Real Estate agent, I earned a commission for buying my own home.
I open the door for a peek at the goods and I wheeze from the heat-blast, and I’m shaken and tossed. Like a soldier with PTSD, I am standing in the blaze screaming for Frank.* He tells me my hair is smoldering, but it is my hand I notice, melted and deformed.
Someone yells, and I about-face to find off-duty firefighters suiting-up––but they stop, frozen. The fuel tanker explodes, and they shed their gear. They tell me to lie down on the sizzling asphalt.
Once there, they douse me with saline. I am howling, animal-like for more. They say they are out and I plead for water. But they say they can’t because water might cause the burns to become infected. I yell that I don’t care.
I see the treetops burning as I lie on the asphalt, waiting for my seven-winged bird. I’m reassured the Medi-Vac helicopter is on its way and I hope. Black smoke floats higher and higher above the flames.
I see Frank on the ground to my right. He has arms in the air and my stomach churns at the sight of the skin falling from his forearms. Rows of vehicles line the road, watching, waiting for the danger to clear, gawking at the unlucky ones. I turn my face to the left and a camera is inches away. Behind the camera, a woman is crouching and flashes light the air. I yell for her to stop. How dare she?
And I begin to yowl.
The sound of Frank’s footsteps on the hardwood floor and his worried cry catapults me into my world of roast beef, carrots and potatoes.
“What happened?” he demands, “Are you alright?’
It’s nothing dear, wash up, and please, set the table. Dinner is almost ready.” I turn to smile at him then turn away and wipe the tears away with a dish towel.