Here is another section from the “When I Was 4, 1960” section of my current novel.
Way before we got to the Grand Canyon, I was pretty sure my mother was just making stuff up. So by the time she was making exuberant wide gestures while talking about time, and a river, and layers of rock, and millions of years, millions and millions of years — I just felt sad and confused. My neighbor Patsy had already told me about the whole world being made in just seven short days, well six really, cause God took one day off to rest. She had learned this at church, and this story was from God himself. They said so at church, a Presbyterian one, but my other neighbor Carrie was an actual Catholic; and Carrie confirmed this was, without question, the truth.
I felt a little better when my brother and I were allowed to feed some peanuts to the chipmunks that were running around everywhere. I was scared they would bite me, but they didn’t, and their teeny little claws felt creepy and good all at the same time when they crawled into my hand to get the nuts. I had to keep very, very still. I felt like there were my personal friends.
But back in the car, as we drove away from the Grand Canyon, there was a whirl going on inside of me. Kind of like when you make those whirly paintings at carnivals, the ones where you squirt bright, beautiful colors from ketchup bottles, and then the whole thing spins around, and you think it’s going to be so so pretty; but it’s a mess. An ugly, dark mess.
Why would my own mother tell such whoppers?
After the Grand Canyon, I was cranky, and I stayed that way the rest of the return trip, heading east once again on Route 66. Pancakes and hotel swimming pools had lost their allure, and hours upon hours bumping along in the back seat – with nothing supposedly dazzling to look forward to – were pure torture. After the mountains flattened out in the vast, monotonous and scorching prairie, there weren’t even any more roadside attractions to bring us to a precipitous halt. My mother packed away her movie camera one afternoon, and the next day her regular camera, and took to staring silently out the window, turned away from all of us. My father stopped pulling over to rest and smoke a cigarette; instead he lit up seemingly continually, sending endless clouds of choking smoke to add to our back-seat agonies.
My brother and I knew that we would get in big trouble if we fought or argued out loud, so we traversed a couple thousand miles of the United States by perpetuating a stealth war of silent punches, kicks, and the occasional pinch. It was the only entertainment we could muster.
When we got back home, I began to secretly believe that I had been adopted, that I had come from different people entirely than these two grown-ups who ping-ponged between sphinxlike impenetrability and riotous, nonsensical laughter. I started to have bad dreams. In some of them, we were back on our road trip vacation, and they had left me behind at one of the endless places where we had stopped. In others, I was trying as hard as could to run away from something awful, but my legs wouldn’t work. It was as if I was in super slow motion, while the rest of the world – and the awful threat – came closer. And then, I died. For the first time.