Stability in Motion

Like father like daughter, our brains, exploding with activity, found daylight and waking hours distracting, we gained clarity and focus in the confined, simplified darkness of a car speeding through the middle of nowhere.

“Pretty boy grabbed a long chain… aaaa-nd the deputy grabbed a gun. And in the fight that followed. He laid that deputy down.”

I wriggled my toes on the dashboard of my father’s blue two-door Nissan Sentra with vinyl seats. I was seven years old and already we were buddies. My mother drove her red Nissan Sentra with my baby brother, which would later break down by the border between New Mexico and Arizona. With a shock of white blond hair, squinty eyes, and an irrepressible grin, I rode next to my father belting out the words to folk songs, singing along in a Texas twang to the Arlo Guthro and Pete Seeger live concert record my father had recorded to cassette tape. He had lots of tapes and I was pretty familiar with them all, Jackson Browne, Elton John. I knew “Grey Seal,” “Candle in the Wind,” “I am a Patriot,” and “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” but Arlo and Pete’s songs were easier to sing along to. They invited the crowd to join in and even shouted out the words before the verse. Later, after watching Now and Then and falling in love with the soundtrack, I would pour over my parents record collection and play the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, the Jackson 5, Judi Collins, and Joan Baez, but for the moment, I was content to sing along to whatever helped my father stay awake and keep us on the road from Lubbock, Texas to our new home in Tucson, Arizona. When I think of Lubbock, I remember three distinct places. My street with a cotton field at the end, tiny houses, and red dust storms; my best friend Mirah’s street with lots of trees, excellent for climbing; and my school with a big green grassy yard where we would play tag and the boys would show off doing flips. I wasn’t fond of the idea of moving and leaving all my friends and the only home I remembered behind, but I wasn’t one to resist the opportunity to make joyful noise.

“Inch by inch, row by row, gonna make this garden grow.”

I wriggled my toes on dash of the green Subaru looking over at my dad chugging a Mountain Dew to stay awake. My mom and brother were crashed out in the back, but my dad and I were the night owls. Like father like daughter, our brains, exploding with activity, found daylight and waking hours distracting, we gained clarity and focus in the confined, simplified darkness of a car speeding through the middle of nowhere. It was my responsibility to keep him company and help keep us awake. And safe. We were driving cross-country again. This time in the other direction, back to Texas to visit my grandparents. Like every summer, we left the blast furnace heat of Tucson for the sweltering humidity of Austin. My grandparents’ house was always the perfect temperature. Not too cold, not too hot. When we arrived it was always quiet and still. My grandfather was sitting in his posture correction contraption reading, my grandmother writing letters at her desk, and the classical music station was playing throughout the house on their stereo system. My brother and I would head out the back to play.

Nestled into a hill, their house offered varying levels of entertainment. The first level was a sunken brick patio where we could play ping pong or have a picnic; the second had a play-set where I would claim the swing and my brother the sand box; the third a basketball court which ultimately became my brother’s favorite recreational spot, whether it was used to shoot hoops or set up a makeshift soccer game. He was a specialist in setting up makeshift soccer games. He could play soccer indoors using two action figures as adversaries and a tiny ball or outside by himself with anything even remotely resembling a goal. Eventually, as dinnertime drew near, my aunt, uncle and cousin would arrive. I would concede the swing to my cousin and entertain myself by hanging upside down on the rings swinging through the air. At dinner the kids would sit at the kitchen table next to the buffet of food, each of us with a glass of milk and a miniature version of our parents plates. Shuddering through the Jell-O salad, I would advance through the rest of the meal with relish, finally to be rewarded at the end with a big bowl of Blue Bell mint chip ice cream (or maybe Poteet strawberry).

Our week would pass by, much the same way every year. The days punctuated by visits to the science museum or taking a dip in the freezing cold Barton Springs pool, the nights by family dinners, board games, and the adults sitting around the family room talking until we were finally sent off to bed. We’d make the rounds to each person to give them a hug and say good night, postponing the inevitable as long as possible. My brother slept on a tiny fold out cot in my grandparents room, my parents slept in the blue room, my mom’s old room, and I slept in the green room, my aunt’s old room, reading myself to sleep each night with Beetle Bailey, Marmaduke, Charlie Brown, and Dennis the Menace books. The raunchy G.I. humor of Beetle Bailey was a bit over my head for many years. After working my way through all the comics books on my aunt’s bookshelves I began to delve into other fare: Shakespeare comedies, books of fairy tales, The Five Little Peppers, The Wizard of Oz.

Eventually, I’d fall asleep amid the avocado green and yellow botanical sheets with the ceiling fan spinning and creaking rhythmically above my head. On our last morning, it was my job to strip the bed, dump the sheets down the laundry chute, and help my grandmother remake the bed anew. She was very particular about the way the coverlet had to be tucked up under the pillows and the accent pillow, embroidered with strawberries, which lived on a chair in the corner all week was replaced in exactly the same position every time — at an angle.

“Oh I’m changing my name to Chrysler, and I’m heading down to Washington, D.C. I will tell some power broker what they did for Iacocca will be perfectly acceptable to meeee!”

I wriggled my toes on the dashboard of the blue Chevrolet minivan. My dad named it Hal. It had doors that opened and closed with a button and, seemingly, a mind of its own. My Texas twang had been erased by six years of Arizona desert dwelling. I had adopted East Coast expressions of my peers, passed down from their New Yorker and New England parents who’d fled the snow. Our conversations waxed political now — and philosophical. Our existential angst and musings about the world would entertain us for hours. Two things were certain 1) that President Bush was a moron, 2) the world was going to hell in a hand basket.

We were driving to my soccer practice in Georgetown, TX from our new home in Temple, 60 miles up I-35 from Austin. I hadn’t taken too kindly to this move either, but life goes on. I made new friends and got a fresh start. The mortifications of middle school were easing and it was almost a blessing to leave the embarrassment of 6th and 7th grade behind. There is nothing that’s not horrifyingly embarrassing about being 12 and 13. You get your period, you get boobs, body hair becomes an issue, and fashion becomes a tool of social categorization. Life with an invisibility cloak would have been great. My cliques of friends were falling apart every year and in my last year in Tucson, I finally landed with two girls that could have been their own Daria show. I’d never heard that level of cynicism expressed by anyone, much less someone my own age. But they accepted me into their tightly knit twosome — to a degree. The girls on my soccer team were so different from the kids in Tucson. They were exuberant, friendly, but no less exacting in matters of fashion. While in the past, others had turned up their noses, they simply corrected. You need to wear your ponytail higher, get these socks, and these clothes and you’re all good. The rules were clear and easy to follow. I course-corrected as best I could. My performance on the field added to a general level of acceptance and all seemed well. It was a rare moment of stability and predictability. I would play on four different soccer teams during the next five years as the proliferation of area clubs began a process of contraction and absorption into one or two mega clubs. But for that moment, I was truly part of a team. On the way home I moved into the back seat where I could turn on a reading light without distracting my father’s driving, our conversations postponed in favor of math homework.

“All my life’s a circle. Sunrise and sundown. The moon rolls through the nighttime, till the daybreak comes around…”

I wriggled my toes on the dashboard of my father’s silver Prius. I was home after just graduating from college. My parents had given me a brand new Nikon DSLR and we were on the hunt for some wildflowers. We rolled through the backcountry on our way back to Temple from Fort Stockton where my father was consulting for the state on public health initiatives. We passed grassy embankments covered in orange and yellow Indian Blankets, until we found the perfect dilapidated barn, barbed wire fence, and wildflower combination. In Llano, we stopped at Cooper’s for chopped BBQ beef sandwiches and I loaded mine with salty and sour dill pickles, the perfect counterpoint to the sweet and smoky meat. I had to get my share of BBQ in quick. I was getting ready to move to California for good to live with my boyfriend and try to make it in Hollywood. Despite my spending much of the last four years in L.A., our conversations had lost none of their vigor. We debated plans to save the world, I spouted out international relations speak with a little Econ 123 thrown in for good measure, when all else failed I resorted to French philosophy and Sartre, which brought my dad back onto comfortable ground with his interpretations of No Exit, the conversation sending adrenaline coursing through our veins as we settled certain critical points about the universe. It was like in old times, as we stimulated our minds with song, philosophy, and caffeine to keep us awake on long dark highways.

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