Thursday, April 9, 2009
When we first moved to New Mexico, we found shelter with my grandparents. They lived in La Cienega, a small suburb near the edge of Santa Fe county. It was the house I spent almost every christmas at and that my mother grew up in. Everyone always told me that my grandfather built that house, and I always assumed he did it with his bare hands. It was a two story adobe building, with a red flagstone patio that radiated heat, a brick floor kitchen, and a green garden with a huge wooden bear statue surrounded by basil, mint and marigolds. On the same property was my grandparents practice, they were both therapists and below the practice was a cement block with my baby feet softly imprinted at the base. Just beyond the house was a field that wound along a creek bed which would run freely in the summer and turn to mud in the winter.
I was too young to gauge the dramatic change in space, or atmosphere, after we moved. We found a small two bedroom apartment in Rancho Viejo complex, off of Sawmill Rd. in Santa Fe. I continued to spend much time with my grandparents on the mesa. Before my parents got divorced, they fought incessantly. We had dinners, candlelight meals with Nana and Nonno, Dean, Cynthia, family friends, and my father would talk the most. Everyone laughed at his jokes, he was the charmer. Sometimes he would pick up napkins and blow on them and make knives appear, I would fall out of my seat laughing while my grandparents did not look impressed. I always noticed their politeness, their barely sincere smiles. It wasn't until I was 12 that I would learn about the times my father locked my mother outside of the house in the snow after she had gotten out of the shower, with nothing but a towel, about his drug issues, about his passion for manipulation. It wasn't until later I would face my own demons with the man that smiled and laughed and got everyone on his side, no matter what.
It was after we moved that I had my first panic attack. It was past my bedtime and I had been allowed to stay awake for the finale of Old Yeller. I sat on the golden shag carpet and watched our small thrifted television in terror as the dog was shot and killed. An unfamiliar sadness washed over me, our dim lighting buzzed in my eyes, I had never felt so scared, or so aware of death in my entire life. Hot tears streamed out of my eyes while I failed to make a sound, failed to breathe. I suddenly clenched my throat, realizing the air cascading through me had ceased, and suddenly forgot how to breathe all together. My chest was tight as I fell to the ground in utter anxiety. At seven years old, all I could think about was that first recognition of death that I had just experienced and felt from Old Yeller. I thought that I was going to die myself. My pulse rose higher and I struggled to scream out for my parents. I cried to take me to the hospital, that I was dying. My mother was trying to explain to me that I couldn't go to the hospital, that we couldn't afford the hospital, she carried me to bed where she gently talked me through my breathing, gave me water and rescue remedy. After I had calmed down, I called my grandmother who asked me questions about what I was feeling, what triggered the attack, all I could say was "Im afraid Daddy is going to disappear".
This was before the divorce, my grandparents decision to sell the house and move out of New Mexico, my mother's depression and chain smoking between men, breakfast for dinner nights, free brown bag sandwiches instead of the lunch line at school. My panic attacks continued for years to come.
My father was nowhere to be seen that night.