Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Of Parks and Trailers

Confined Desertscape, 2010

I wore glasses to my first real job interview, non-prescription glasses. They fit the character I was creating. I found myself quite cunning. She was from old money. Very smart, but not at all pretentious. Driven, but never aggressive. Poised and sophisticated by day and slightly rebellious after hours. My model of the perfect young professional female. Some of it was true, most of it wasn’t, not yet, but it would be. It’s amazing how focused I was on branding and marketing before truly understanding either concept. I was very determined, but my character was only a shell. Truth is more complex, layered, murky, especially when it is seen through the lens of memory. Once in a while we retrieve a slice that is crystal clear and undeniably accurate. A mix of the two is most likely.

My parents never hovered. There were rules, but personal space was rarely an issue for me. It was mine for the taking, perhaps too much so at times. When we moved to Arizona and my father became a single parent, he played the role of the strict authoritarian. Do as I say, not as I do, articulated through the mouth of a grin, was one of his favorite lines. He talked a good game, but like most parents, once I was out of sight, he rarely knew what I was up to.

I was transacting my own business at about 12 years old. I babysat a little girl named Jillene. Although I quickly learned she was a 4 year old terror, I liked the independence of it all, and chose to soldier on. Her parents sold pot and lived in the trailer across from ours. I was always a little nervous about who might stop by when they weren’t home, but I liked them. They were nice people and they always had Doritos.

Katy and Tony lived beside Jillene’s family. They liked to laugh and told the types of jokes children were not meant to hear. They drank a lot of wine and on occasion my father and his far too young girlfriend hung out with them. I’ve never seen my father drunk, so I’m not sure what they had in common. It must have been the jokes.

The park was a place that pretty much fit the stereotype. Poorly landscaped lots, large aluminum boxes posing as homes, parents acting inappropriately, and kids hanging out by the public pool, at night, not swimming. My sister and I were strictly forbidden from hanging out, anywhere. This had always been the rule.

It’s difficult to describe what Dad seemed to believe during our trailer park period. I don’t think he understood that we were too young to choose our own influences. He always saw the best in us and believed we were capable of great things, including immunity to our own environment. We were constantly reminded that we weren’t like the rest of these, I believe his exact words were, goddamned punks. We were not to step anywhere near the flickering lights of that pool after dark, but I’d always stare curiously from the back seat of our car when we’d drive past at night. To me, they seemed to be the lucky ones.

Dad tore out the shiny new manufacturer’s countertops in our kitchen and installed quality butcher block. He built a well-crafted wooden fence around our lot and landscaped Southwestern style with fine gravel and a cactus or two. He made dinner every night.

I had a crush on a boy with long wavy dirty blonde hair that had been highlighted by the hot Arizona sun. I admired him from afar. He was one of the lucky ones who hung out late by the pool. I guess his parents didn’t mind. He wore faded jeans, untucked shirts, and had beautiful green eyes. I found him dangerous, in a good way. I never knew his name.

The Mexican population ruled the roost in our neighborhood. There was no talk of protecting the kind good-hearted immigrants. No. They would have cringed. These people were proud, territorial, and the only people requiring protection were those they didn’t like. I tried to fit in quietly and play by their rules. It seemed the safest path.

I can still hear the metal vacuum cleaner pipes beating against our doors and the aluminum siding of our trailer after the one time I wasn’t so quiet and decided to stand up for my little sister. They never made it inside. Perhaps it wasn’t their goal. Maybe they just wanted to scare us. I recall little more of the situation. I’m not even sure why I was originally protecting my sister. I have no idea what happened the next day or the day after. Could their anger have just fizzled out? I wish there was more to tell, but there isn’t. It’s just the echo of those pipes connecting with the aluminum that has stayed with me.

I don’t know where Dad was that day, but I know I didn’t tell him what happened, not until years later. I was too afraid of what his response might fuel.

It wasn’t all bad. A girl named Gloria lived next door and we became good friends. We saw each other daily. I realize now that her mother’s to-die-for watermelon juice must have been my introduction to aguas frescas.

And then there was Martha. Martha was a big tough Mexican girl with long black hair who attended my Junior High School. She was a powerful force. For some strange reason she liked me and became my protector. I was friends with Martha, so hands off. She taught me how to wear mascara and look tough by wearing untucked flannel shirts, over my pretty peach and pink tee-shirts, cardigan style.


  1. I love this post. The elements of fear, toughness, finding your identity and looking for your roots in your childhood, all told beautifully. I know that feeling of wanting to market yourself and project a ceratin image. I used to wear trouser suits with kitten heels for the same reasons. Keep that part of you alive, the little girl who stood up for her sister and held onto those secrets of what she saw around her.

  2. Vanessa, Thank you. Kitten heels show true dedication ; )

    Char, Thank you.

  3. This was a great read, Denise. Really enjoyed it!

  4. such a good read... I was mesmerised and felt like I was there in the trailer park... interesting you wore glasses to your first interview... i liked your take on the woman you worked for... interesting how time changes how we perceive things + people... how what we remember can seem so fractured...

  5. I really enjoyed this intimate post Denise—a glimpse to your childhood experiences narrated beautifully... Thanks!

  6. Wicked good.
    Lovely how you intertwine your words and emotions...I can see it all so vividly.

    -the flannel shirt over the cardigan and so lovely how your father made a house a hme with his touches.

  7. I'm in awe of your writing's what drew me to this space. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your life. It was beautiful.

  8. Love this... so many elements of growing up from girl to woman, elements we can all relate to.

  9. tell me more ~ I love a great story~~

  10. Jessica, That makes me happy.

    Annie, Memory is a funny thing. It's a topic I could discuss forever.

    Magda, Thanks.

    Camilla, So good to see you. Welcome back and thanks for stopping by and reading.

    PaperPinwheel, I'm enjoying writing them, so it seems all is well.

    Rachel, Thank you. There will be more.

    Miriam, I always hope there are at least a few out there who will be able to draw a connection.

    t does wool, Okay, I will. Soon.

  11. As always, I am transported when I read your words... I can see that tough little girl -- and how she's still an indelible part of you. I can feel it all so vividly...

    Beautiful writing, as always. Thank you.

    much love,

  12. you are great - don´t know what else to say...

  13. The pictures you paint with your words are always so vivid and moving. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.

  14. For a moment I thought it was one of your stories.... and it is, but of the self lived kind. Beautifully written as always, I actually scrolled up to see the photos again...when I realise there were no photos...just in my head.

    interesting how what is percived one way as a kid or when young can seem so different when we think of it as grown ups.

    I'm hoping for the chapter after the trailer park... how does it continue. What happened...

  15. Brilliant. I love the way you write and I want to read more...keep going...

    I had a flash of Sandra Cisneros. Do you know her work?

  16. Beautiful snippet of life... so insightful. And, yes, isn't truth viewed hindsight murky, and just plain malleable.

  17. RW, Thank you.

    Maria, Thanks so much.

    WSAKE, That's sweet. : )

    Michele, Thank you. I enjoy it.

    Anne Marie, I think that's what always makes films based on novels feel disappointing. The director's images never match what we've drawn in our minds. More to come...

    Janis, Okay, deal. I'll continue. I've heard of Sandra Cisneros, but haven't read her work. I did a quick search and found her novel, The House on Mango Street. I can clearly see the connection you are drawing. I'm going to add her to my reading list.

    jane, Yes. It's difficult to differentiate between what actually happened and the stories we've either heard or told so many times. And then there are always photographs to consider. A whole new branch of this discussion.

  18. what a fine piece of memoir---you start with a more recent image of self--the cunning character for her interview--and carry us down a road into place from your desert past. so many good stories, your father, the children, all well drawn, finally Martha, and what she taught you--how to look a certain way...circling back to the opening..well done

  19. nancy, What a thoughtful comment. Thank you. It seems there is so much that circles back in life.

  20. Tell me more! I´d love to know what happened next...

  21. Thanks for sharing. I grew up in AZ, too. In the mountains of the Mogollon Rim. It was so easy to picture the trailer parks, rock lawns, and Mexicans- some of whom introduced us to hibiscus flower tea and cucumber juice. Yummy.

  22. I love reading these things about you. I love the detail in your memories.

  23. Debs, Pull up a chair. This might take a while.

    Bethany, I have a lot of mixed emotions about Arizona. They will all be stirred up soon, as usual, when I visit.

    Annje, Thank you.

  24. it's the germ of a novel, i could read it in one night, I know it... so engaging. Denise: I love the kid you were: strong, confident, full of questions, independent, curious, ... i can see how those traits carry on in you today.

  25. This is extraordinary writing, so beautifully lucid and finely balanced in what you include and merely allude to. It has stirred something deep for me as the girl in me recognises the girl in you.

  26. Kate, I like that the girl in you recognizes the girl in me. We change in some ways, but stay the same in many too. Perhaps this is how we've connected via this strange blog world.