5/2/16

Back Pocket Life

Over and over, he circled the cage. Not sitting down for two seconds before he was pacing again. With every pothole our Chevy blazer hit, he fell against the side, swaying and crying.

I felt bad for that puppy.

With my seat belt cutting into my side, I sat sideways to watch him the whole way home from the airport, where he'd been shipped to us from Georgia like a new toy, not the scared animal that he was.

He was going to hate it here.

This Nevada desert was the barren wasteland of puppy and childhood. Where there should have been pine and oak trees, there was nothing but cacti and tumbleweeds. Where there should have been red clay dirt, the wind swept away my freedom with the dust.

I was a prisoner, and this poor puppy had come to join me and my sister.

I didn't know what was so special about this place that my mom had had to drag me and my sister with her kicking and screaming to this god-forsaken desert. Divorce wasn't something my four year old brain could understand. The next time I visited my dad, he'd starting dating a woman, and so I'd just assumed that my parents had traded spouses with another couple.

After a lengthy court battle for custody and testimony from the step-sister I never met about how her father had sexually abused her, we were on an airplane headed away from Georgia, my dad, the only home I'd ever known, for a new life, with what my mom hoped would become our new dad. We were to call him Papa.

How dad survived the ordeal without a nervous breakdown is beyond me.

He was scared. I could hear it in his voice every time he called. "You be a big girl, watch out for Kimberly until you come home."

"When can I come home, daddy?"

"Soon, babe." He lied, "Watch out for Kimberly." He was afraid I wasn't listening.

"Okay."

The corded receiver dwarfed my little sister's blond head as she cradled it like her lifeline, tears streaming down her face as she cried, "Daddy," over and over. Every time he called.

Mom didn't like when dad called and told him not to call so often as it just upset us. Our tears frustrated her and my step-father to no end. Her inability to walk away from me and my sister was the hindrance of their new life together. We were the constant reminder of the past. And this man didn't want kids.

I didn't understand why she didn't just give us back to our dad.

Georgia represented a boring, settled life that neither of them wanted, with pasts neither of them wanted to deal with. Nothing exciting happens in Georgia, why would we want to grow up on a farm, they asked us. With the life they could give us, we would grow up worldly and educated with experience and travel.

But they'd had their hearts set on a Georgia bulldog. And here he was, a representation of the world we came from, so removed from this one. They thought being Southern was something to be proud of. People found our accents endearing, my mom's cooking to die for, and so they bought a dog to add to our charming Southern family.

And charmed the pants off people they did. Dressing us in dresses and parading us around to parties and church, pinching us for talking. Children were meant to be seen not heard became the mantra of my childhood.

Folks would tell my mom and step-father that they had beautiful daughters, a beautiful family, and I'd ground my baby teeth to dust.

Beautiful families didn't scream and yell. Beautiful families didn't hurt each other. Beautiful families didn't look like this.

Like that caged puppy, I did as I was told not out of love or respect but out of fear. Fear that seeped into my bones and twisted my dreams.

People were smiling and the sun was shining in a life far away from here. A life where I had grandparents and a dad who wanted me just as I was with tangled hair, dirt under my fingernails, and conversations with me at the dinner table, was going on somewhere. It was that one, the life I kept in my back pocket that kept me going; not the one I lived.

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