10th grade Earthquakes & Broken Homes

Thank God I had Biology and drama class my Sophomore year. I got chosen for a speaking part as The Countess in You Can’t Take it with you and I loved the skulls and bell jars in Mr. Kettle’s class.

Unlike Earth Science in 9th grade where Mr. Ratzen bored us to tears, Biology class piqued my natural interest in science. Mr. Kettle was tough and funny and challenged us to learn scientific nomenclature like Ursus horribilis. On day one he stood on a wobbly table we all were sure would fall and revealed the class rules, the most important being “never ever ever ever TAWLK in clasth!” with his endearing lisp. I remember many Saturday’s at the public library drawing pictures of Paramecthiumsth and other bizarre creatures for extra credit.

The fall was always the best time of the year with cheering and parades, traveling with the football team to away games, the smell of burning leaves and mint and the crisp October air and the honey-sweet Cottonwood Snow. Kris and I had gone separate ways because of different schedules and interests and I was tethered to my demons more than ever.

Avoiding food was easy. Everyone’s schedules were crazy. I was up at 530 each morning for the first shower; 2 adults and 3 teens shared one bathroom. I enjoyed my black coffee while getting ready in the mornings in my room post shower. Funny, I don’t remember how I got to school. Maybe on my motorcycle or in the Celica Dad got when he traded in the Ford LTD.  At school, I didn’t have lunch period at the same time as my mates. The buzzing in my head took hold and I skipped lunch and sat outside alone crying usually. I just couldn’t stop.  I once asked a trusted adult “Do you ever feel like just running into the side of a mountain and ending it all?” The response was “No. That would be silly.” 

 I came close to doing that one night after drama rehearsal. Someone had ordered pizza. I didn’t partake. Martin Marshall, one of the fellow actors, said “oh, are you afraid you’re FAT?!” And everyone laughed. I wanted to disappear. I drove home alone. It was dark and I pushed the gas to the floor heading straight towards the hill below the cemetery. At the last second, I slammed the brakes and spun the car. What was WRONG with me?!

One October morning, I  was in our basement typing a biology report and felt dizzy. I looked up and saw the walls moving like a snake. I looked behind me and saw the stairs moving left and right like a funhouse. I realised it was an earthquake. Gripping the railings of the stairs, I lugged my body upstairs and saw lights swinging. I nneeded to get out of the house but science took priority and I went to see what the earthquake was doing to my waterbed. Slosh slosh slosh! Excellent. At school, some lockers were now 2 feet off the ground; we had school anyway. That night was opening night of our play and part of the set fell down with an aftershock. In the front row sat my first drama critic. She was old, probably 40. A thin, glassed woman who had probably seen a Broadway play and tore into this 14 year old for not knowing a Russian accent. “Affected by too many Folger’s coffee commercials” she wrote.

Winter came and I remember being alone at lunch still, so cold.

Dinners were odd. I would sneak my food into my napkin and throw it away later. It was as if there was a sacred bubble around my not-eating. I would do anything not to break that seal and lose control. I weighed myself constantly and could never break 125lbs at 5’7″ until later in life when I survived E Coli in Peru. Tall Meant Big to me. I didn’t understand that I was gaunt. When I looked in the mirror I saw FAT, unlovable, undateable. We barely knew about anorexia nervosa and bulimia then. It was years before I saw a story about it on Oprah. It was just dieting in my mind and I never did get the hang of sticking my finger down my throat, avoidance was easier.

My house became more strained. Dad lived in another room for a while then moved out. I was one of The Broken Kids who should wear more eyeliner.

I continued to run through winter and spring and practiced for Varsity Cheer tryouts. I needed to be better for next year-at least do the Russian splits to make the squad. I practiced for hours every day after school.

One Spring night the phone rang. Dad asked “Is She there?” “No. I’m here by myself.” as I nodded for Mom to leave. “Ok. I’ll be there in 20 to pick up my guns.” he said. When Dad came in the front door, he seemed off. I asked “Dad are you ok?” “No. Not really darlin'” and he hugged me tight. And we were both lost and scared and unsure. God held us in His hands for those silent minutes. “You’re not going to do anything with those guns, right, Dad?” “Well, it does make ya think about things don’t it?” “Promise, Dad.” “I promise.”

To earn money that summer,  I applied All Over Town (3 places) for a job. The steak place had “lifers” working there but the other was willing to pay me $2.25/hr in cash until I turned 16 mid summer. I was so excited that I got the job that I raced home. I heard sniffing and low voices in the basement. It was Mom and Dad sitting on the sofa. I walked down the stairs feeling ridiculous in my suit and heels, calling out as if in a horror movie “Moooom?… Daaad?” They had been crying and talking a long while. We’ve decided it would be best for us to divorce.”

They announced it again at dinner that night. I wasn’t hungry anyway. I sat as a lump, my siblings shrieked and one flew out the door. Dogs barked. Neighbors looked out their windows. We were The Broken Family.

The next day were Varsity tryouts in front of the entire school and I felt I had nailed my routine. Though by now, I knew I wouldn’t be at this school next year. It took forever for the school office to tell us who had made the team. They asked just Kris and I into the office. Principal Costa scratched his head “I don’t know how to say this, but there is a 1 vote difference between you. I’ve never seen this before. Kris, you won by 1 vote.” “Congratulations.” I said and shook her hand as if we had never known each other. And we walked into the hallway. Some kids came by, patted me on the back and said “Congratulations!”  And I said “I didn’t make it.” I couldn’t tell anyone that it didn’t really matter anyway.

In May, the skulls in Mr. Kettle’s class were lined up in a half-circle for the biology final. I knew each one; especially ursus horribilis.

That summer I worked at Roe Ann Drive Inn as a carhop. It was a 1950’s drive-in with burgers, shakes, fries and ice cream and for most girls, a rite of passage because summer jobs for teen girls were limited. We certainly couldn’t work in the fruit orchards. “Ain’t nobody out there to protect ya from the men workers there. Good money, but no.” said the foreman when I tried to apply. I worked at Roe Ann’s until close most days and chewed orange gum to keep from eating. Tips were rare. People didn’t know better. We had some regulars like the woman in a station wagon who ordered a steak basket with a Giant Diet Coke with an Alligator (a slice of pickle). There were the little league kids who would show up at 5 minutes to 11pm and want ice creams from the just-cleaned machine.

At home, I started dividing up pans, dishes and things and put them into the free boxes I could get from store’s alleyways. Busying myself with packing helped me ignore what was coming. I noticed that I was becoming shakier and my heart raced. Probably just nerves.

The day before my 16th birthday, we were All Divorced. 

Later that summer, I met my future stepmom and I loved her immediately. She had a gentle laugh and big squishy hugs. I couldn’t help feeling that I was betraying my own mom. My heart was so conflicted.

On an early sticky August morning,  I said goodbye to my twin as I moved North with my mom. Half of me died that day even though we would visit at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We would sob and hug each time we saw each other. We were ripped in two.

Soon, I would be Anonymous at a new school. And that was just fine with me.


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