By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
My mother took me to Mexico with a group of friends when she left Noah. They wanted to see the ruins; it was a spiritual quest. The trip was supposed to last six months, but we lasted just three. I was two, and sick, so she took her remaining twenty-five dollars and bought us a bus ticket back to the States after eight weeks. The story goes that first she woke in the middle of the night just before a brown tarantula stepped onto my white blonde head, I was swept away by a massive undercurrent, and the final straw was a bout with dysentery that wouldn’t leave and almost wiped me out. My eyebrows and eyelashes were infested with lice when we left. Santa Cruz was another town for hippies, still close to the ocean, but warmer than Arcata and away from my father, so that’s where we landed. She signed up for welfare and rented us a room in a house on Market Street, where people like us came and went on a regular basis.
My first memory of a live concert is Patti Smith. My point of view is from my father’s shoulders, looking out over a sea of heads at a thin woman whose green, pointed hat and belted shirt reminded me of Peter Pan. My mother played Horses more than any other record. “Kimberly” was the song that reminded her of being pregnant. She always sang loudly and off key — little sister the sky is falling, I don’t mind, I don’t mind — with so much emotion that it was embarrassing. She loved Motown. The Supremes’ Love Child was my first record. The cover was a photo of Diana, Florence and Mary on the steps of a tenement wearing yellow sweatshirts. Diana’s sweatshirt read Love Childacross the chest in black hand-painted letters. I would listen to that record and The Shangri-La’s on a red, white and blue plastic Mickey Mouse turntable that was set up on my top bunk. I cried at “You Can Never Go Home Anymore,” about a runaway who couldn’t face returning home to her mother’s sadness, and her mother dies alone broken-hearted. And that’s called sad.
Trinidad, California, 1970
At fifteen, my mom had run away from her home in Massachusetts, with a boyfriend who lived in a milk truck. They ended up in Buffalo, which was far away from her parents who at that point were living in a motel room with her two younger sisters. When she got there, she dumped the boyfriend and stayed three and a half years working as a hostess in a department-store cafeteria and part time at a natural-foods bakery.
At this time, Noah is an art student in his second year. He has seen her around, awed by the group she hangs out with; he has watched them walk together in a pack, two or three dogs with them at all times, barefoot, in long capes, wild stringy hair. My mother is the only one in her house who isn’t a fruitarian. Everyone in town knows who they are. My mother has noticed my father; his aquamarine eyes shoot electric glitter beams, and she knows she can hook him. Everything is stars and velvet. She looks like Charlotte Rampling with pre-Raphaelite skin. One evening at dusk, she is snapping peas at the kitchen sink and he walks by, Hey, hey you, she yells, blue eyes, and he stops walking and looks up into her kitchen window. You want some dinner? And he comes in, and he stays. He moves in. My mother has a beagle named Willow and they get a German shepherd puppy and name her Coco. My father spray paints everything in the bathroom silver: the walls, the bathtub, the sink, the ceiling and floor. He wants it to look like Andy Warhol’s factory. It is tacky to the touch. It never dries.
After a year, my father gets busted in the dead of winter for selling pot to locals. His friend Michael brings it out from California and they are making good money. He spends a week in jail. My grandparents find him a lawyer who is able to get him a deal, but he must never set foot in Erie County again, and he must continue going to school. The only place that will accept him is Humboldt State. He flies out with Willow, and my mother hitchhikes across country in the spring with Coco after he is settled. They rent a ranch house just outside of town in Fieldbrook for $85 a month.
In the wedding photos Noah is wearing a white button-down shirt and brown corduroy pants, which are both covered by a brown felt cape, loosely fastened at his neck with a brooch he made himself. My mother has on a thin white Victorian underskirt and blouse, wedgie sandals with socks, and a green Guatemalan shawl. Both have hair down to their waists, and each has a bouquet of gladiolas and wildflowers. There are only about ten people present; dogs and children run in and out of the frame. On a picnic table there is homemade carob cake with nasturtiums on top and plastic jugs of mysterious juice. The ocean is gray below the cliffs of Trinidad, northwest of Arcata. Large rocks dot its shoreline and there are redwoods as far as the eye can see. An old rusted-out brown Chevy in the distance. And I always thought this is what it should be like.
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