Part 5 Continued from Broken Urban Legends
My oldest cousin was engaged. She had been at college the whole time I was in San Antonio. I don’t remember ever meeting Sally, not even during the summer or holidays.
But now Sally was engaged. The house was crowded, extra family and guests. I don’t think I had ever been to a wedding, but I had vague ideas of what it would be like. There would be cake and lots of people. Sally needed a flower girl, who would she choose?
Early on the day of the wedding, a relative ushered my sisters and I to the church nursery. There were two rooms, as usual my sisters and I were separated.
“You can watch the ceremony on the TV.” The worker turned on the screen. I watched for a few moments, seeing my cousin walk the aisle. I turned away from the screen, ignoring the rest of the service.
“Don’t you want to watch it?” She asked me several times. I really didn’t need to, she kept a running commentary going.
After the ceremony, a relative picked us up. Now we had to sit an hour as the family took pictures. There we sat, on the front row, silently watching a family take wedding photos.
Sitting an hour at church was not a problem. That was what my life consisted of: sitting. For hours. Occasionally allowed to watch a movie. But more than often, I sat for hours, reading the same books.
Third grade was my favorite school year. I was allowed to read chapter books, so I devoured the Magic Tree House series. Learning about the past was fascinating. For the first time I heard of the Titanic, Indians, and the American Civil War. I reread each book, longing to live in a different place and time.
Our class took a trip to the IMAX and watched a film on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. There were unexplored lands? And people who spoke different languages? My couch had never seemed smaller, my life less stifling.
My aunt was determined to give me away. At least once a week she told me I was moving away, that I was too terrible to live with her anymore. My uncle worked a late shift, each night my aunt woke me up and we drove to pick him up from the airbase. I wasn’t allowed alone at all, my aunt constantly reminded me that I was untrustworthy.
We visited my cousin and her new home. It was my first trip away from San Antonio, the first taste of traveling family stress. I vividly remember my cousin, Sally saying to me, “Don’t think you can get anything by me, your aunt told me all about your evil plans.”
It was crushing. No one would ever trust me, my aunt constantly warned anyone who liked me that I was a terrible child.
Sally was just as cruel as my aunt, constantly vigilant in keeping me from speaking or playing with my sisters. She teased me relentlessly, making fun of the way I walked, how I spoke, my hair. My aunt had never attacked me like this before, but when she was with Sally, they tag teamed, nitpicking at my every move.
There was no time to ever deal with me. To check that my clothes looked nice, or my teeth brushed. My aunt hated my hair, especially that I could not learn to pull the loose strands into a ponytail. After fussing for months, she took me to a barber shop.
“Cut it all off, just shave it.” My aunt ordered the stylist. The poor stylist was horrified, protesting in a strong Spanish accent.
That’s the first time I remember being completely zoned. I did not want to cry but I hated my aunt. Everyone teased me already, how badly would my life be without any hair?
The woman and my aunt talked, hassling over my aunt’s request. The lady cut it, very short. My hair fell right above my ears. I noticed there was still some on my head, but I did not feel anything. My existence was completely in my aunt’s hands.
Church was exhausting. A charade of praying but empty answers. One Sunday our Pastor spoke on Daniel, asking if any of us were willing to stand alone. The auditorium of children moved forward, flooding the alter. I stayed in my seat. Why would I want to be a Daniel? I could not stand alone, God wasn’t around for me, and to stand alone was painful. Counselors approached me, didn’t I want to go forward. There were eyes on me, questions. My uncle scolded me for my stubbornness. There was an intense sense of relief that I had not committed to being a Daniel.
Another day I did go forward. It was around Christmas, a giant pageant on the Gospel. The perennial question, “Do you want to go to heaven?
I actually wanted to go to heaven. Right then, I was so done with life. As the kids went forward, the counselors passed out Bibles.
It was my first Bible. My aunt accused me of going forward just to get the Bible. I had no idea they were passing them out. She tried to take it from me, but my uncle said it was good for me.
I read the Bible, pouring into the pages. Most of the stories made no sense, but I wanted to know.
At school, I had to do a project on Apache Indians. The stories were mesmerizing, living in tepees, hunting buffalo, mixing paint from berries. My teacher assigned us to make replicas of the Indian tribes we were studying. She gave us the cardboard paper we needed, it was our job to create the Indian village using whatever materials we had at home. I wasn’t sure what materials to use, until I overheard other students talking. Matchstick houses, popsicle stick Indians, cotton ball skies. My mind envisioned the model; I couldn’t wait to create it.
I mentioned the assignment to my aunt. She nodded but didn’t offer any advice. Several times I asked about getting materials, knowing the model was due in March before spring break.
Late January of 2003, my aunt took me to a toy store. “Choose a doll,” my aunt pointed to the racks, “It’s your birthday present.”
There had never been any birthday presents before. We both knew she was doing this because I was going away. I don’t remember if she said those words aloud but the attitude was thick.
But by my birthday, the temporary goodwill had passed. Somehow, I didn’t deserve the twin dolls I had chosen. They remained in my aunt’s room, stuck in their plastic case.
Valentines weekend, we took another trip to my cousin’s. I was mentally prepared for another miserable weekend. There was a couple at my cousin’s house; the lady pulled me aside. Did I want to stay with them at their hotel?
Was my aunt ok with this? I glanced behind me, deliriously happy that she nodded her assent. Of course, I would love to get away for the weekend! Away from relatives, the teasing, and the relentless boredom.
I know there’s loose ends in this update, it just won’t all fit in one chapter! So stay tuned for next Thursday’s edition. If you have any questions, anything slightly confusing, please comment and I’ll try to straighten it out in the next chapter.
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