Telluride Daily Planet Sunday, September 2, 2012
My father, a ramrod army man, says No to me so many times growing up that at some point each time, I simply stop asking.
I stop asking to be a patrol in elementary school, which is something I want so bad I dream the wood handle is in my hand, the red flag an extension of my arm, and kids crossing safely because of me, their angel.
I stop asking to run track, even though I’ve beaten every boy in elementary school in the 50 yard dash, including Frank Garcia, a boy I don’t like much but who does have an urgent and effortless stride, as if he will just keep on running out the school gate and on to better things.
I stop asking to take art classes, which to me are like bejeweled foreign chapels where people wear smocks and learn about their own interior workings. I want to be like Alan Carasca, a smart kid in seventh grade who can draw anything he thinks of, but mostly hot rods (from any angle), his personal obsession. I want a personal obsession, and I want to be able to illustrate it from the first to the last inky detail.
Dad, who has brought back innumerable paintings from our years abroad, old things in amazing frames, sees art class, however, as an unequivocal waste of valuable academic hours.
And good lord, I don’t even remotely think about asking to wear make up, which seems like requesting I change my name to Marilyn Monroe and making every day my birthday. My sister Joelle, 10 years my senior, has done all of this differently. When the timer goes off at 16, she has the make up bought and ready and has a line of heartthrobs (I can name them all) waiting to knock on her door. She leaves the house in a skirt but changes into her army surplus clothes 10 minutes out. She’s the smart one.
I’m not her, though. I’m the one left at home when the rest of the sibs are gone. I’m the one who brings home the A’s, the one who needs to make something of herself, not indulge things like joy, and fun, and distraction — and, very least of all, the arts.
Certainly I don’t even consider asking to go to the Jimi Hendrix/Janis Joplin/Steve Miller Band concert (July 1970) playing so close to my house (Sick’s Seattle Stadium) we can hear it while grilling steaks on the hibachi. I’m surprised dad even eats those steaks, seared by such degenerate sound waves.
I do go to one rock concert in my youth, a group called War, who preposterously plays at my Catholic girls’ high school because we sell more chocolate bars than anyone in our district. The nuns are in black-and-white shock, but because my dad isn’t at the concert, he doesn’t hear the rockin’ music (“The World is a Ghetto” and other classics) or see the streakers from the nearby boys’ school. An hour of grace!
Back in reality, though, No was the answer to going to the Seattle Center at night — the amusement park I’d been obsessed with since the 1962 World’s Fair. No walking hand in hand with some sweaty-palmed boy, smearing lips together while shoved up against a wall, lights flashing and dinging as extra large plush toys are handed to us as we ring one milk bottle after another. I could only go during the day when nothing — absolutely nothing of interest — could or would happen.
In short, I’m a minister’s daughter except that he’s not a minister and I’m not the exciting kind of minister’s daughter, I’m the other kind.
There is one lucky break, however: my friend Barbara. Barbara’s upstanding parents are as lenient as mine are conservative, and she lives five minutes away. The Barbara Summers are the best of my life because there is a pack of us who gather daily, traipsing around playing kick the can, swimming in the lake, and dancing to a stack of 45s six inches high while groping each other. At Barbara’s. As long as I’m back when the street lamps go on, no questions are asked.
The highlight? One Barbara Summer, I am mind-bogglingly allowed to go with her and two other friends to one of the Puget Sound islands, I can’t remember which. We wear our desert boots and floppy suede hats, looking so 1971, it could be bottled and sold now. And there, during that summer, we do something my father would have never agreed to, not in a million years. We go to a drive-in movie. Where scads of cars are lined up with lovers loving, eating their concession food and watching “Love Story” as if it’s the only story being told in the world.
And in that moment? My heart bursts with healing. And is bursting still.