Background Step Three

OK, Alaska. My mother moved my brother and I north with no more than the old black trunk filled with flimsy Californian weeds that would shelter us less from the weather than from the shame that had kept my seven year old self silent for a year. Something had happened. Mom said she had come home from work to Rockaway Court, Mission Beach and found her children tied to the bed—and a babysitter with no explanation. I swim in abuse of which I have no memory. To her enduring loyalty, that young single mother of two, brought the Samoyed, Misha, my dog to a land in which she was to thrive.

My first memory of the Midnight Sun is watching the river spill over and down wild rocks just outside Dick Dulack’s complete wall-sized window. A far cry from San Diego beaches indeed. Staring alternately at fire dancing amongst the logs and the dappled wilderness beyond the window, I then began to believe in life reanimated. Here were ferns and fauna layered amongst berries and trees in a cascading explosion of green. His bar was called The Birdhouse, somewhere between Anchorage and Girdwood. I played in the sawdust there amidst the wooden barstools and read the fluttering graffiti tacked onto the available space left, mostly in the stalls. It was the early seventies, and Vietnam was the rage.

What I remember of my Aunt Linda’s house was miserable: My brother and I were singled out for powdered milk, exiled to the basement, and Linda exuded a general disgust for our being born. Cousins were a plus in that we could hunt toads and skate on iced roads, but I thank the universe my mother soon scored a job at a ski resort in Alyeska. So we trekked the sixty plus miles across the tundra to live in a hidden town of hippies. And I began to speak again.

My heroes were the Northern Lights, moose, wolves, stars, our toboggan, and my fearless brother, the child/father of snowboarding. He was indeed, an entrepreneur. This child would point his one ski down on the top of the hill, defying mountainous moguls and sail through snowy passes. I imagine him equivocating with reality. Ha. He saw Santa once. Mom woke us up sometime after midnight (her shift), and in the expectant air of Christmas Eve, Bonnie led us to the window to see Santa’s sleigh replete with reindeer. I don’t know what my brother prayed that night, but I prayed the dream was real. For years afterwards, my brother validated the existence of Santa, saying: “Well have you seen him? I have.”

The air in Alaska rarifies, maybe it’s the glaciers melting. Dunno. We lived in the Alyeska Hotel for a while. I slept in a feather bed and swam in a covered hotel pool, whereupon on the way back to the room, I found it hilarious that my frozen hair would snap completely in two. Mom worked as a waitress. We had the run of the hallways and could terrorize the neighbors with our psychotic kittens, or sit dutifully in the apartment as our absent mother listed our minute by minute schedule. She actually set aside fifteen minutes for “lollygagging.” There was the schedule for me.

I think I was truly happy and safe. Even when sloughing through the midnight drifts of nightmarish, waist-high snow on the way to the bus stop, I knew the world to be benevolent. I once “missed” the bus on one midnight morning, and rather than meet the wrath of my mother, I chose to walk to a then cancelled school day during a blizzard. Mommy found me on the road with frozen tears on my face. I’ll never forget the Hogswartsian welcome as dozens of classmates cheered and jeered from hotel windows as I was escorted back to safety.

What to say of Alaska? I chased rainbows so magical, the Aurora Borealis has yet to leave my dreams. I remember cutting down a Charlie Brown tree my mother graciously let me nurture and watch die, ornaments intact, in my room—because I was independent. I remember her helping to operate on Snoopy, who needed much more cotton in his neck to sit upright on the bed. I remember my brother running up to the loft unexpectedly saying, “They’re humping,” and for the actual first time thinking about sex. I remember walking home in snow lined lanes to the A-frame my mother had rented to find a horse—yes a horse—tethered to the side of the house. Mistakenly, I thought: Shit, all those Walter Farley books had paid off, and here was my dream. I petted and played with the snow beast until Mom came home, and I was informed that it wasn’t what I had thought. That became a pattern.

In the innocence of Girdwood my brother was tied naked to a tree while I played unknowingly with his captors. I didn’t know why it was not OK to sit in a sauna with strangers. Our school consisted of three rooms in a big house. And you know? I was the kid that stuck her tongue to the flagpole. How could my friends be monsters? One day at recess, during ice-skating, an eight year old Morris knocked me off my feet. It didn’t hurt, but the rest of the class gathered around and I felt attention. I wasn’t hurt, but I cried and got more attention. Lesson one in manipulation. No one liked Morris that day.

I ate moose meat baked in the earth—basically lived in the head that would one day annihilate the rest of me. Alaska had seals, glaciers, bunny slopes, moguls, stories exploding like cherry bombs (Do they even make those anymore?)

Alaska, under the Northern Star. We would assemble huge snowballs on the highway to stop cars only to pummel them with mini-snowballs. Then run. God love the Dawkins’: seven kids with no running water or electricity, but could we play spoons by candlelight well after midnight. There were few rules back then. My mother had a boyfriend, David Hanson (Hansen, maybe?), he was supposedly the answer to our dilemma, what a joke. I’m sure he came to Jesus, but that was not the case in Alaska, Idaho or Washington as we followed him blindly to yet another failed job. There was an evening when he was going to put my mother’s head into a wall. I stood up, and I will do it again for women trapped. It’s not fair. A little kid stood up to a bully and called him out on abuse. It was beyond my capabilities, but I will never be sorry for that.

A special note to Erica, the Alaska stories have in them so much. It is a magical, cold land that I now wish to inhabit no more. Mining for gold was awesome. There was no one like my mother, ever. She took us to a place uninhabited by specters. The only place I could understand.

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