In 1988, when I was 12 and viewed the world through rose-colored, grass-is-always-greener glasses, I finally got permission to move from our going nowhere slowly southern New Mexico town to Las Vegas, where my dad lived. My older sister Kim and I had been making the trek from Artesia to Vegas for three months each summer since I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade, and I couldn’t wait for one, long, luxurious vacation. I couldn’t wait to get out of my life, where my stepdad regularly beat the crap out of my mom, and where I got spankings so bad that I spent most of elementary school covered in bruises from the backs of my knees to my tailbone. I couldn’t wait to be away from my sister, who was mean and strange and always in my space.
The plan was for Kim and I to go to Vegas, where Kim would spend the summer, like usual. At the end of the summer, Kim would return to New Mexico and I would stay in Vegas, my perpetual Disneyland, forever and ever, la la la.
Neither of us anticipated that our mom and stepdad would up-and-move to another town that summer, and that Kim, once again, would be forced to join me for one long sleepover. Nor did we suspect that our dad, amid allegations of child pornography and molestation, would be shamed into moving out within weeks of our arrival, leaving Kim and me to live with Helen, our polyester bellbottom pants-wearing, feathered hair, lunatic stepmother who, throughout the long year we lived with her, constantly reminded us that if it weren’t for her “real” children, she would kill herself from the stress of dealing with Kim and me.
Kim and I didn’t always get along. Okay – we hated each other. This is due in part to the fact that our personalities were always in conflict with one another. Before puberty, I enjoyed climbing trees, hunting for vinegaroons, and dreaming of the day that I’d collect enough scrap wires and diodes and spark plugs and guts of typewriters to make my very own robot! Kim, on the other hand, perfected the whole girl thing at an early age. We didn’t speak the same language, we didn’t like the same things, but we had to carry one another around like a bum appendage. We couldn’t even have a sleepover without having to drag the other along.
“You want to stay at Gwen’s house tonight? Ask Gwen to ask her dad if Kim can go too.”
“But I don’t want Kim to go! Gwen doesn’t play with me when Kim’s there and they gang up and pick on me!”
“Well, if Kim can’t go, you’re not going.”
In Vegas, Kim and I made new friends. We began to individuate, to pursue our own interests in earnest. We were no longer forced to spend every waking second together. I started hanging out with a skate crowd and listening to The Dead Milkmen and The Butthole Surfers. And Kim started doing…something. Whatever it was, it didn’t involve me.
Yet, in some ways a bond formed during that time. We were so lonely. Strangers in a strange land. Detested by our caretaker. The only thing familiar we had was each other.
It was a long, long year that we spent in Vegas before Helen finally managed to heap the responsibility of raising Kim and me back onto our Mom and stepdad, and our bitterness toward one another reached its highest heights.
By the time we were finally shipped off to be with our parents again, they had moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma, where my stepdad was set to start his new career as a mortician. Unfortunately, they hadn’t had a chance to settle in yet and were living (with our dog) in a 20-foot travel trailer in a mobile home park on the outskirts of town.
There we were – four humans and a dog living in a 20-foot space for three months in 102 degree heat, with a humidity index of about 10,000. This affected all of our moods, especially the stepdad, whose penchant for a foul temper and violence was directly proportional to sweat. Kim and I slept side-by-side on what served as the breakfast table and surfed the crest of resentment.
Around this time, I began wearing makeup. I was now 13 and experimenting with “looks.” I found that I couldn’t apply mascara without it gooping up and making my eyelashes stick together. I discovered, genius that I was, that if I took a straight pin and used it to comb my eyelashes, they would eventually separate into luxurious looking locks of eye hair. It was a risky endeavor, proven by the fact that I poked my cornea one time and my eye wept for two days. My parents told me that I was no longer allowed to separate my lashes this way, and since there was no privacy in my 20-foot world, there was no way to sneak off and do it. But I wanted to.
One magnificent day, my parents went off somewhere and left Kim and me alone for the very first time. This was a miracle since the stepdad was so extremely paranoid about us having any contact – even eye contact – with the opposite sex that he never let us out of his sight. As soon as my parents left, I promptly sat down in front of the mirror and pulled out my straight pin.
For some God-unknown reason, Kim decided to rat me out for this, and when our parents got home, I got in big trouble. I probably got spanked, as I did for many things until I was 15. For many, many years, I regarded her telling on me as the most egregious betrayal I’d ever experienced in my life. It was one thing to throw me under the bus to save her own ass; but to do it without provocation was a painful, angering thing. We both lived in the same hell – and had our entire lives – and I felt she had borrowed the pitchfork from the devil himself.
Well, the next day, I had to go to the bathroom.
Allow me to digress here for just a moment to tell you, in case you don’t know, that 20-foot travel trailers are not known for their hi-tech, exemplary plumbing – especially not the ones manufactured in the early 70s. When you flush, there is a small trickle of blue water that washes the bowl for a brief second. This is okay if you’ve urinated or had a light bowel movement. But if you’ve given birth from your ass to the equivalent of a medium-sized rodent, as you may do when your diet is bad (as you would suspect it to be when you have five poor people sharing meals in a 20-foot travel trailer), then it’s very likely that the tiny trickle of blue water will be ineffective.
And it was.
So, there I stood, alone in a three-foot space behind a flimsy plastic accordion door, trying to decide how to tackle the problem. My spirits were low; I was hot; I was temperamental; and I was still really hurt by Kim telling on me. I had been grounded for that. Grounded! In a twenty foot travel trailer! With four people and a dog!
And that’s when I spotted Kim’s toothbrush.
I took that seven-inch long poking stick, wrapped the bristles in a softball-sized wad of toilet paper, and voila! My task was complete.
The next morning, as Kim stood at the sink brushing her teeth, I leaned in the doorway of the bathroom smirking like the Cheshire Cat.
“What?” she asked.
“How’s that toothbrush?” I said.
I’m pretty sure I got my butt spanked for that one.