During our family vacation to Utah, we stopped by an ancient lava bed. The road meandered through a dense conifer forest. The parking area was surrounded by pine trees which reached up to a blue sky. A short walk down a trail and suddenly the forest was replaced by miles of shattered volcanic igneous rock, the uniformity of the grey stone broken only by the green and red lichen growing thereon. A sign had some interesting facts, which I read as sister ran back and forth along the edge of the enormous pile of rock.
Almost every day, Father would take me to school on the back of his motorcycle. I wore the same helmet I used when riding off road. The ride was enjoyable to me, as Father was an excellent motorcyclist, and rode through the hills at an exhilarating speed. One day, just a block from school, I saw a woman walking up the concrete paved hill. She was wearing an impossibly short skirt and dark sunglasses. I thought she looked so cool.
In the pediatrician’s office, there were two arcade cabinets, which were free to us kids. Asteroids was my favorite. I looked forward to playing it every time I was in the waiting room. One day, the office was running behind and so no one came out to call my name and interrupt my game. An hour and a half later, I still had not lost even one life, and the score was a number so large I didn’t know whether it even had a name or not. I knew then, that if left unperturbed, I could earn any score I wished on that game. It was only a matter of opportunity, of time.
The trail head was the most boring thing I had seen at Zion Canyon. Sister spun in circles as we walked a wide, blacktop paved, straight-as-an-arrow trail, which led us toward the massive promontory overlooking the canyon below. Despite the obvious change in altitude required to reach even the lower ridge, the path had little incline. I wasn’t entirely convinced were were on the correct trail, but eventually it met the base of the cliff and with a marked increase in inclination, began a series of switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles. The day’s boredom was officially over. Looking back down the wiggles, it occurred to me that one could jump from the edge of one switchback and entirely miss the one directly below. In only a few minutes of walking, we had reached a dizzying height. Eventually, the paved path emptied out onto a moderate sized landing of red sandstone. “We made it to the top” I declared as sister squealed in delight, throwing her hands out as she ran a wide circle around my legs. The landing was wide enough that several groups of hikers could rest easily, but narrow enough that unless I looked down at my feet, blue sky filled my entire field of vision. The feeling of exposure made me uneasy. I sat down so that the sky below couldn’t suck me off the ledge and to the canyon floor some thousand feet straight down. Father walked confidently out onto the landing. Looking around he said “No, we still have to cross the ridge. That’s the top, over there.” He pointed across a razor narrow ridge, at a block of rock which was indeed clearly the summit. My stomach sank as I imagined walking across that ridge, narrow as a sidewalk, vertical as building, jagged as a tooth. As nervous as I was, Sister took off down the path at a near run. Mother yelled at her to hold Father’s hand, and the two of them started across the broken blocks of rock which served as the trail. Mother would remain on the landing with Brother, so I had to decide quickly if I would go to the summit, or stay behind. I swallowed back my fear, and set out with much trepidation. There was a guide chain I could hold onto, but my sweating palms didn’t give much assurance that I could actually keep my grip, should it be needed. To both my left and right, I could see the ground below,as distant as the view from an airplane window. Despite my fear, I forged onward. After several feet, the chain guide ended abruptly at a notch in the rock, where I had to choose whether I would take a wide step across, or sit down, step in, and climb up the other side. I crouched down and in a feeble voice called out “…dad?” “What?” Father called back. “I need help.” He turned and faced me for a moment, “Just step across, it’s easy.” I looked again at the notch and had to admit “I’m scared.” even as Sister pulled on Father’s hand in her excitement to continue. “Well, either come now or go back and wait with your mom.” he told me. Carefully, I turned around and made my way back to the landing. I sat on a rock next to Mother as she held Brother in her arms. I looked down at the canyon floor, feeling rather dejected that my sister who had yet to start school was already brave enough to tread where only angels land.
After a few days, we were to take a break from fishing and do some hiking at Zion National Park, which was about a two hour drive through the mountains. I was taking a nap on the carpeted floor of the van when suddenly there was a loud noise. Father made a sarcastically pained expression, something like “wonderful” or “great” and pulled over to the side of the road. It sounded like the motor had shut off, and we coasted a little way down the hill before Father pulled onto a wider patch of shoulder. I asked him what had happened and he tersely explained that the transmission had just failed. He jumped out of the van, and disappeared underneath as he assessed the situation. Shortly, Father returned, looked over a Utah map, and decided to try to make it to the next town. He put the van into low gear and drove along the side of the road, the van being unable to go any faster than about twenty miles per hour. It felt like hours before Father pulled into the parking lot of a small gas station and repair shop. The rest of us waited in the van as father went in to talk to the attendant. Mother leaned her head against the passenger door frame as Brother and Sister restlessly struggled to look out the windshield. After a few minutes, Father returned, pulled the van in front of the small garage, and got out to have a conversation with Mother. Shortly, they returned and as Mother began packing a bag, Father explained “It’s going to take a few days for the parts to get out here, so we’ll be staying with the mechanic’s family.” I remember that the man and his wife seemed not much older than my own parents, and that they had six children who were mostly older than myself. The two boys who were closest to my age took me down to a swimming hole, and we spent most of the next few afternoons swimming around the muddy pond. I remember swimming with those boys, and little else of that time. After what felt like a vacation within a vacation, the van was repaired and we drove back to our camp site in the mountains. Father was depressed at the amount of money he’d spent on the repairs, and that disappointment hung like a cloud over the rest of the time we spent in Utah that year.
Just about the entire neighborhood had been playing at my house that afternoon, and we must have driven Mother to the edge of madness, because without much fanfare, my great grandmother had me, Sister, and Cousin-L loaded into her baby blue Pinto and on our way up to Alpine. The winding road was enough to make anyone queasy, so we all sat still and kept our eyes on the curving yellow and white lines. Despite my rather severe stomach pains, I had to work especially hard at giving myself motion sickness, but since we had been promised ice cream, we were careful to not take any chances at make ourselves ill. Near the edge of the township proper, there was a bakery and attached ice cream parlor. Sister was interested in the bubble gum variety, just as I had been at first, but I warned her that it wasn’t nearly as good as it sounded. She didn’t trust my judgment, and was consequently disappointed. Cousin-L, as I recall went for a more standard chocolate chip, and I chose a brightly colored orange sherbet. I tried to enjoy my dessert while Cousin-L, despite half her hands being full of ice cream cone, attempted to explain to me the more delicate aspects of cartwheel theory. GG consoled Sister, who was making sounds of dissatisfaction. After our treats were finished, we loaded back into the car and headed home. As we neared the more twisty part of the road, I felt my stomach start to churn. Even though I seemed immune to motion sickness, I was immediately afraid that I had fallen victim to it’s nauseating sway. By the time we were turning off the highway and headed up the street toward home, my mouth was salivating, and I knew that I was in trouble. GG had let Sister out of the back seat, but I was waiting for Cousin-L to release me, and she was still rambling on about cartwheels. My body however, was not waiting any longer. I heaved, and emptied my stomach onto the floor of GG’s car. I felt dizzy and for a moment I felt I might black out entirely. The following moments were a blur, but when I was able, I apologized to my great grandmother and promised her I would clean up the mess. She assured me though, that it had already been taken care of. Inside my home, I laid on the floor, my breathing belabored. When I awoke, I felt better save for the shame that lingered yet.
Playtime with my friends necessitated a growing G.I. Joe collection, and while I won’t deny that I enjoyed the toys, they always seemed kind of drab to me. Almost every one was green, black, or some combination of the two. The rare figures in red, white, or blue were always my favorite. The toys I really wanted to play with were Sister’s ponies in every color of the rainbow, sometimes literally. In her corner of our bedroom, she had a pile of the little ponies, along with some dolls scented like various desserts. The smell was cloying, and she loved to squeeze the dolls all around the house. I made at hating them, because she was pretty annoying about the whole thing, but when everyone was gone and I was home alone, I would sit on her bed and comb the hair on her dolls, and gently inhale the otherwise overpowering perfume. I was careful to always put them back exactly as I’d found them, because I knew that if I were caught playing with dolls, the embarrassment would be mortal. In the mornings, I slowly turned the pages on a book I was ostensibly reading, as Sister watched the My Little Pony cartoon. I learned they had names like Ribbon, Twilight, and Applejack, who was my favorite. Honestly, Sister had all of the cool stuff in the house. I loved it when I was home alone and didn’t have to pretend I hated all that icky girl stuff.