A Tale of Two Trailers
Greg calls me from two hours away. He is so happy I can almost hear him dancing on the other end of the line. For two years he’s been looking to buy a used, pull behind trailer so he and our son don’t freeze on their hunting trips. He also talks about how great it will be to just take off with the trailer and drive down the Pacific Highway, pulling off and sleeping on the beach. He’s hit the jackpot. An eighteen foot trailer, bought seven years ago by an old man who decided he couldn’t hook it up himself, so he parked it in his garage, and there it sat. "The toilet has never been used! The bed has never been slept in! It’s brand new!" As soon as he pulls up with the trailer I rush out to take a look. Aside from having "Fun Finder" emblazoned on the side, it looks great. I open the door and take the high step in. As soon as I see the inside, my knees go weak. It is all I can do not to throw up. I’m dizzy. I stay in as long as I can, smile, tell Greg it’s great, and then get the hell out of there.
Two hours later I’m still shaking. The memories have come rushing back. Not that they’ve ever gone away, I’ve told the story to every shrink I've ever had. But this is so visceral. I live it all again.
I am an eleven-year-old fifth grader in Mr. Ogan’s 4th-5th grade class, but I am by far the smallest of the bunch. For the last year and a half, I have been living in a small pull behind trailer with my father, mother and brother. We live on 17 acres with my aunt, uncle and toddler cousin. They live in the three room farm house. We live in the trailer while my father and uncle build a shop, and then begin work on our house. My eight-year-old brother Nacho and I sleep head to foot in a narrow bunk about half as wide as the twin bed I used to have to myself. My parents are in the bunk below and regularly wake me up when their sex shakes the trailer. They both sleep nude and my father walks to the bathroom with an erection every morning. I hate this trailer. I used to have a room of my own, where I could hide under my bed with a book, and escape from the world. Here, there is no privacy at all.
One day towards the end of the school year, I am practicing my flute in the trailer. My father comes in and tells me to turn the radio off. I don’t want to, so I tell him my music teacher wants us to practice with distractions so we don’t get thrown during our concert. "That is a lie. Turn it off." It is a lie, but I deny it. I am suffering from a horrible sunburn that I blame on him, and I am angry.
Three days before, Nacho and I pushed our bikes to the top of the gravel road we lived on. It took us about half an hour, and it would take us another twenty minutes to push them back up to our driveway once we got to the bottom. By the time we reach the top of the hill we are dusty, sweaty, and excited to ride all the way down. We get on our bikes and start flying down the hill. Fast. Faster. Scary Fast. We’ve almost reached the bottom of the hill when I get the feeling something is about to go terribly wrong. I slam on my brakes. As I’m slowing down, I watch Nacho spin out. It’s bad. He slides quite a way and his legs and arms are full of gravel. But it is his face I’m looking at. It is covered in blood. Blood is gushing gushing gushing, and I can’t tell where it’s coming from. He’s not crying. Crying only gets you hit harder, so we both learned to shut the fuck up early. I know he’s too hurt to push his bike up to the house, so I struggle with both of them while Nacho whimpers behind me. In just a minute or two a local farmer drives by and pulls over. "Get in the truck and I’ll get you home." I start to lift one of the bikes into his truck. "Leave the bikes, we’ve got to get that boy home now!" "We can’t leave the bikes." I say. "Leave them! He needs help now!" I look the farmer steady in the eyes. I hear my voice trembling even as I fight to hold it steady. "We cannot leave the bikes. There will be serious consequences if we do." The farmer realizes I’m not budging without the bikes. He jumps out, tosses them in the back of the truck and speeds us up the hill.
My father meets us in the driveway. One look at him, and the farmer gives me a look that says, "Ok, I get it." Mike is a scary looking dude. He has a six inch bushy black beard. His wild curly Mexican hair is pulled back in a ponytail that reaches half way down his back and spreads over a foot wide. He has an ever-present unfiltered Camel in his mouth, and a mean look in his eye. He frightens children. All children. My Uncle Bill keeps his girls in line by saying, "If you don’t stop it, I'm going to have Uncle Mike spank you." As soon as the farmer pulls out of view my father turns on us with a fury.
"Where is Nacho’s tooth?!" For the first time I realize the blood is coming from Nacho’s mouth. One of his front teeth has a small chip in it. Maybe 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch. Instead of washing Nacho’s face off, or pulling gravel from his bleeding palms and knees, Mike screams, "Get your asses back down there and don’t come back without that tooth!" I am dying of thirst but know not to ask. We turn around and start back down the hill, Nacho still bleeding, his t-shirt turning almost completely red. I figured we wouldn’t be half way down the hill before my dad would come to his senses and realize there was no way in hell we are going to find a tiny piece of tooth on a gravel road. But no. We search for hours under the hot sun, burning badly. At one point the farmer passes us as he drives back down the hill. We don’t look up. Thirty-two years later, I don’t remember how it ended. My mother or aunt must have found us there on their way home from work. I know Mike didn’t come and get us, and I know there is no way in hell we went back up on our own without that piece of tooth.
So that is what I’m thinking about as I look at my peeling sunburn and lie to my father. Suddenly I am flying, my head smashing into the sink faucet and then falling into the sink. I hear the next few blows before I feel them. Crunch! Smash! I’ve been beaten before but the sunburn makes it unbearable. I look down to see what shoes he’s wearing. I know the bruises his steel toe boots leave on Nacho. They are hideous and huge, and last for months. I had to nurse my cat Fuzzy for weeks after my father drop-kicked him with those boots. I look down in fear. He’s wearing The Boots. Bam! I’m nauseous now. Smack! I see stars, like Bugs Bunny in Looney Tunes. He is screaming now, his eyes bugging out of his head. I’m a Liar. I’m a Loser. My face is sprayed with his spit and sweat. My mouth is filling with blood and two of my permanent teeth are seriously loose. I don’t cry. I will not give him the satisfaction. Besides, I know it will be over soon, because, because, because Uncle Dennis is in the farmhouse. I can hear him. He’s on the second floor typing a term paper. Click Clack. Click Clack as he hunts and pecks at the keys. I know if I can hear the typewriter, Dennis must hear his tiny niece getting slammed into walls and counters and floors and tables. The trailer is rocking so hard now I’m afraid it will tip over. Click Clack. Click Clack. Dennis. Dennis. My favorite grown up in the Whole Wide World. He never talks down to me. He introduced me to Hitchcock movies. We stay up late talking under the stars long after everyone else has gone to sleep. Dennis. Who has cute nicknames for his son. Mike only calls Nacho "Worthless" and "Loser". I let out a blood curdling scream. Now Dennis will have to come. He’ll break down the door any second. That’s what I’m thinking as I black out with my father’s hands around my neck. But when I come to, I still hear it. Click Clack. Click Clack. My Uncle Dennis is not going to save me. I. Am. Crushed.
Now I am very afraid. My father has stated his punishment philosophy many times. "You will never know what’s coming. Punishment, from the Slightest Infraction to the Worst Transgression, can range anywhere from Nothing to Death." I could actually die today in this trailer because I lied about the radio. I leave my body. From above I watch myself fly across the trailer, my tiny frame absorbing blow after blow. As I’m floating there, above it all, I think: "If I live through this, I will have to learn to protect myself because no one here is going to do it." A swift kick to my rib cage snaps be back into my body with a gasp that sounds like it came from a dying animal. I have shit myself. My father stops when he hears someone pulling up the driveway. "Go get the shit cleaned off of you!" My muscles are shaking. Quaking. I vomit but hold it in my mouth because I know I’ll get hit again if I make a mess in the trailer. I pull myself up and start to crawl to the door. A kick in the gut. He sneers, "Get up and walk. Vegas don’t crawl."
I’m in the bathroom of the farm house, trying to take my clothes off without getting shit everywhere, when my mother walks in. "Who did this to you?" And then quickly, "Did he do this because you messed yourself?" "No, I messed myself while he did it." My ears ring for days. There are bumps all over my head and it hurts to lay it on my pillow.
The next morning I am taking a shower with my dad (Yes, there are lots of things wrong with this picture, but that’s another story.), when my mom pops her head in before leaving for her job washing laundry at the hospital. "I’ve set out your clothes for you today Michael." She hasn’t left clothes out for me since I was six. The clothes are much too hot for this weather. A turtleneck and long pants. I immediately understand she is trying to hide my bruises. Defiantly, I throw on a scoop neck t-shirt and shorts, and limp down the driveway to wait for the bus with the the scabbed and bruised Nacho.
Every morning Mr. Ogan gives my best friend Missy and me, along with a boy named Larry Dortmund, advanced work, and sends us to the coat closet for the day while he teaches the rest of the class. On this day, I come up with a dozen excuses to leave the coat closet. I go up to Mr. Ogan’s desk, make sure he can see the hand prints on my neck, and ask him questions I already know the answers to. I silently plead, "Please please please Mr. Ogan, ask me if I’m ok." "Please please please Mr. Ogan, ask me why there are hand prints on my neck and bruises all over the rest of me." Nothing. I try the teacher in the class next door. "Please please please Mrs. Addison...." The music teacher. The lunch lady. The playground monitor. The bus driver. "Please please please. Somebody. Help. Me." Nothing.
I am on my own. Me against the world at eleven years old.
And now, all these years later, I look out at an eighteen foot trailer every night as I cook dinner. I still can’t go in it. Maybe someday. Maybe I’ll sew new curtains and a matching comforter, buy a cute rug, paint the walls, and drive down the Pacific Coast Highway with my husband. Maybe. But I doubt it.
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