“We are nothing more than the sum of our memories and experiences.”
Memories are tricky games. They can be creative and sticky in nature. Tainted with the framework of personal perspective, they are unstable in our continuous state of change. Just as an embryo grows in a mother’s womb, so does the seed of a memory. Planted and tended to by our mercurial minds, we force feed them soup spoons of opinions and judgments. A memory, deep and detailed in definition, has the capacity to convince us of what is real, of what is indisputably true, or more, of that which never happened. We go on to recount these moments as sacred; we pass them down through generations calling them history, adapting them where necessary. And when convenient, we claim them as our own.
Perhaps the truest essence of all tales finds itself in the power of words, in our ability to recall, interpret and muddle our recollection when putting the pieces together, when creating a story. Not a true story, not his or her story, not the real story or the fake story, not even a short story or a creative story, just a story. I suppose this one is mine.
I was born in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it desert town in southeastern California whose namesake is based on a terrible joke that goes like this: several settlers were in the midst of a rush to find gold in the hills of California. One came up over the top of a short standing mesa and said, “oh yuck, a valley,” and just like that, a town was born: Yucca Valley. Population: some odd 20,000 hippie burnouts and artists spread out over 62 square miles, half of them on government subsidies. Home sweet home.
My household wasn’t what U.S. Americans tend to refer to as traditional. My mother was the breadwinner. She worked more than 40 hours a week at a local grocery. Punching in purchases, she offered pretty smiles at no extra cost. She is a simple woman, easy to please with a contagious laugh that, if you didn’t know her, might sound forced when in fact, it is spontaneous and without filter.
My father, on the other hand, stayed at home and played a bad version of Susie homemaker. I emphasize the word “bad” because a house husband he was not. Rarely did he have dinner prepared upon her arrival, never had he done the laundry, and to this day, he claims that she left him because he failed to take out the trash.
When my parents finally divorced, 15 years into their downward sliding escapade, this criticism of undone daily duties perhaps encompassed some truth. Snuggled deep into the metaphorical meaning of what trash truly is and how one must “take it out” from time to time, I do believe that it led the way to her limits and shed light upon her unfulfillment. That and his addiction to methamphetamine.
Each day my mother arrived from work looking exhausted and burnt around the edges and each day she resounded the same question, “What have you been doing all day?” Not in the kind of curious tone one might use if they were truly interested in the activities the day held, but rather with a tone of dumbfounded disbelief and contempt, resenting the fact that all the household duties had most certainly been left for her doing.
So what did we do all day? We mostly had wars; who could eat the most sliced hot-dog cylinders? Who could do it the fastest? Who could erect the largest and most extravagant castle out of their hot dog cylinders before doing so? Who could produce the best looking hot-dog men and women, pinching and painting them with the red, white and yellow colors of the condiments? We fought to see who could ingest the largest amount of raisins, and then battled to see who could create the most fantastic sculpture with the empty boxes. We raced to see who would use the bathroom first or who had a better aim with the BB gun. And when we weren’t competing, we played music, magically transforming our dining room into a recording studio. On those days we were always accompanied by a gang of long haired, leather wearing, loud talkers who swam in cases of cheap beer. My father’s friends; all of whom I referred to as Uncle, none of which I shared a bloodline.
This image is a beautiful memory, though I am unsure whether I have romanticized it with the passing of the years or if it happened as such. Surely there were just as many tears as smiles in those days, but I struggle to recall them.
“You know I can’t tell you that,” he said with a slightly drunken half serious look in his eyes. “I ain’t givin you names cuz I know you’re gonna write that shit and that is against the code. You know the code! Take it to the grave man.”
“Ok Dad, I understand the code,” I negotiated, “but I need to put two and two together. I have all these memories based on clouded suspect and suspicion. I need to understand.” I was practically begging.
“Nope,” he said stubbornly, standing his ground. “I ain’t gonna do it. The only thing I can tell you is that I never rode with a cut and I never had a crew but I was in with all of them. They just called me when they needed something taken care of.”
“What kind of something,” I pried.
“You ain’t gonna convince me.”
“Oh come on!” I moaned. I won’t write it, I promise.” Damn, he knew me too well. I was going to write it. I never could lie to him. “If I do I’ll change the names and places,” I attempted.
“Look, I just did stuff,” finally giving in.
I smiled to myself. I am truly relentless, I thought.
“Like what kind of stuff,” I pressed.
“Goddamn you are relentless,” declaring the very thought I had just shared with myself.
“Just stuff, you know, like when someone owed money, or was steppin outta line, they’d call me and I’d go in with a couple others, mostly just to scare’em, maybe rough’em up a bit, you know? It paid pretty good and I was always friends with’em all so I did it. They called me the sleeper.”
“The sweeper?” I confirmed. As the night darkened so did his ability to pronounce the letter “s.”
“Ha, yeah, whatever you say fact checker,” he chuckled, throwing back the newly opened can of Budlight.
“Who did you go with?” I inquired, hoping his limits for secrecy were loosing along with his ability for English phonetics. “Was it uncle Joe, uncle Steve? Did uncle Corky die or is he in prison?”
“I done told you all I’m gonna share. I ain’t given names so you’re just gonna have to make that part up like the rest of them stories you write all the time.”