Categories
on the mind

Highway 305, Revisited

The thing about growing up in a rural area is that, sometimes, your “hometown” is smack dab in the middle of getting from here to there. I went to elementary school and had all of my childhood friends in one small town, Suquamish; our mailing address and my county’s middle and high schools were in another small town, Poulsbo.

And, connecting the two, is a long, curving, rolling, two-lane blacktop lined with towering evergreen trees and rated at 55 m.p.h.

Until I traveled around other rural areas in the U.S., I didn’t appreciate how rare it is to have two small towns so close together — there are about six miles between them — that are essentially worlds apart. 

Suquamish is the heart of the Port Madison Indian Reservation and features the majority of the tribe’s infrastructure — it’s where Seattle’s namesake, Chief Sealth, is buried, where the tribal museum and community buildings are, and where most of the Tribe lives.

During my childhood, it was also largely undeveloped; while the Tribe had leased land to non-indigenous developers to build houses they sold to non-indigenous families such as mine, the majority of the land was heavily forested and wild. Brown bears still hunted the forests around where I grew up, and legends of their exploits were told around nervous summer campfires, every pop and crackle inspiring jumps and starts. 

The Tribe held annual festivals during which the rich scent of smoked salmon permeated the air for miles around; you could hear drumming and singing and dancing deep into the night. For years, the Tribe had operated a boom-and-bust fiscal cycle centered around the sales of fireworks for Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve; leading up to these holidays, the region felt like a warzone, with the continuous, heavy cracks and booms of barely legal fireworks vibrating from dusk until dawn and clouds of sulfurous smoke meandering through the trees. 

The streets of Suquamish were somewhat organized in a grid-like pattern leading to the sea, but most of its population lived deep within the forests where they had formed large compounds of cottages and mobile homes, collected together to house their extended family. When we moved there in the late 1970s, the only white people who lived in the two towns that comprised the reservation — Suquamish and Indianola — were essentially hippies who had moved to these somewhat remote environs in an attempt to get back to the land. Accordingly, my elementary school was primarily comprised of the kids from the Tribe plus a handful of white hippie kids who hustled hard to fit in. The Tribe had signed a treaty in 1855 that resulted in them giving up much of their land in the area, relegating them to the reservation’s borders and, more than a hundred years later, it wasn’t something that they were particularly happy about. They expressed their distrust of white folks on the regular.

Poulsbo, in contrast, was known as Little Norway; in fact, when King Harald of Norway visited the United States in 1995, he made a special visit to Poulsbo in recognition of its historical links to Scandinavia in general, and Norway in particular. It hams up its Norwegian roots with a downtown main street designed to look like what a bunch of Americans who have never been to Norway think a Norwegian small-town main street looks like — so, lots of white trim and pointed roofs. It used to have a small movie theater, curiously called The Alamo, which was so broke that, for several years before it closed, it simply played Snow White and the Seven Dwarves on repeat. 

Poulsbo is a tourist town — a trap, really — that fills up each summer with lookie-loos purchasing all manner of trinkets and trash. I spent hot summer afternoons and cold winter nights slinging fish and chips from a local chipper all throughout high school; during the summer, the line for the fish and chip restaurant went out the door and down the main street, easily a hundred people deep. The smell of grease and tartar sauce seemed to be baked into the concrete.

When the tides went out, the mudflats in Liberty Bay were a noxious blend of danger and excitement: You could lose your shoes trying to run across them, the stinking mud enveloping your foot and sucking your soles away. Under the tiny boardwalk was a treasure hunter’s paradise, provided that “treasure” meant old bottle caps, empty Bics, and pennies.

This small, scenic town is surrounded by farmland, populated by the descendants of the Scandinavian immigrants that arrived here in the late 1800s, making the area feel quaint and safe and provincial. Everybody is white, and everybody stays away from the reservation.

In the early 1980s, the Tribe built a convenience store and gas station along Highway 305, called The Longhouse, introducing a new outpost of civilization for us. All of the kids that populated the Laura Loop, Candy Loop, and Sandy Hook housing developments would make regular treks to spend our smatterings of small change on penny candy and sodas.

From my house, there were two ways to get to The Longhouse, both requiring some form of bravery: Through the woods, tiptoeing along the back fences of one of our neighbors in order to skirt their Evil Dobermann Pinschers, or along the highway, dodging all manner of motor vehicles careening down the road at a minimum of 60 m.p.h., only the faded white line separating us from certain death — not that we actually noticed it.

When it was rainy and musty, we often opted for Highway 305, the slick pavement proffering up the rich scents of gasoline and dirt and ozone, as there’s nothing quite as chilling as the feel of cool raindrops falling from treetops and down the back of your neck. On sunnier days, traipsing through the forest and dodging guard dogs seemed more appropriate; slices of sunshine carving shadows out between the trees and the patches of drying moss releasing a fragrantly lush, almost floral scent.

Regardless of the route, upon arrival at The Longhouse, we spent what seemed like hours selecting the tiny sugary gems our pennies could afford. Jolly Ranchers were my favorite, the sweet-and-sour green apple flavor inspiring mouthwatering treks back home. We’d select our treasures and then convene at the single picnic bench placed to the right of the gas pumps; as it was under a tree it, too, was covered in patches of verdant moss, lending an organic softness to the otherwise flat, hard bench. We’d trade candies, dares, and tall tales, until it was almost too dark to go home; eventually, we’d break ranks and trudge home along Highway 305 in our separate directions, the speeding headlights the only illumination along the way.

Aside from the tribal buildings, our elementary school, a church, and a row of businesses along the waterfront, Suquamish didn’t have much going on. As a result, Poulsbo was considered “town” to everyone; it is where the large grocery store was and it had a couple of restaurants. It is technically where Highway 305 terminates, becoming, instead, Highway 3 and continuing deep into the peninsula. As one of the main commercial corridors between Seattle and the western peninsulas, Highway 305 is populated by semis filled with everything from logs to petroleum, speeding down its musty two lanes in a mad dash for the next pitstop. It is a place of transit, and no one stops to think about whether or not where they are is where they should be; they’re coming from somewhere and need to get somewhere else, and Highway 305 is simply the conduit.

But not for us; for us, it is home. For us, we watch the headlights speeding by and ponder where they’re going, where they’ve been, and if we’ll ever meet them. Beneath muscular trees, we watch the world pass by.

There is a specific scent, an earthy dampness, that I associate with Highway 305; it is cloying and takes up residence deep in the back of my throat. The asphalt edges of the highway are muddied and coated with a thick blanket of pine needles and leaves that, when saturated by the rain, trap entire worlds beneath them. This scent, this pleasant, dirty, musty, minerality, is trapped, too, and wafts up only when it’s released by the gentle nosing of a shoe.

Categories
on the mind

Pricing Structures

I think it’s important for all of us to recognize, especially those who want to hold MLK up as the kinder, gentler revolutionary, that the civil rights movement that gained momentum in the 60s did not slow down because equality was achieved.

It slowed down because the majority of its leaders were either assassinated or incarcerated.

And I can only imagine that, as a result, a deep communal sense of grief and cynicism took root, requiring generations to overcome, rebuild, and rediscover a strength of voice. Thankfully, that’s what we’re experiencing today.

We need to remember that one of the key tools of the movement in the 60s was lawbreaking; some of those laws may seem archaic to us now, but those that broke them at the time were considered violent and to be feared. It was on the basis of this civil disobedience that the “law and order” platitudes were developed, and which have resulted in the current predicament that we are in — well, one of them, anyway — specifically, our militarized police forces and the significant criminalization of our community.

For too long, we have allowed the lives of certain people to function as collateral damage, yet when property or capitalist enterprises function as that same collateral damage, we draw the line. Am I pissed that several small businesses were collateral damage during the current protests? Sure. I’ve almost solely worked in small businesses, and so I understand the financial dynamic at work there.

But I am infinitely MORE pissed that Breonna Taylor is dead.

She was rendered as collateral damage, a gee-gosh mistake at the hands of a militarized police force. She cannot recover. She cannot rebuild. She cannot pivot and adapt and change to meet the needs of the community around her. She cannot ask for help.

Yet, for a nation with purported Christian underpinnings, we are disturbingly quick to allow the transgression of one of that religion’s most sacred tenets — thou shall not kill — as the simple cost of doing business.

Breonna is just one example of the millions of nonwhite people who have paid the ultimate price of our obsession with property, and there are no holidays for them. There is no reverence for those we have sacrificed in this way to maintain our standard of living.

The majority of them are lost to us, their names and thoughts and feelings and dreams and hopes and loves deleted from existence without record.

So it’s all the more important that we know and say the names of those that we sacrifice today. We must recognize that they have paid a severe price for us to live as we do.

And if we’re not okay with that, and I sincerely hope that we aren’t, then we need to begin the terrifying and painful work of transforming who we are as a community.

Categories
on the mind

OED

It was originally titled A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles; Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by The Philological Society when work first began on it in the late 1850s. Small volumes began to be published in the mid-1880s, beginning with the letters A & B, with a new volume released every few years. It was between volumes C and D & E that it began to be unofficially referred to as the Oxford English Dictionary, continuing until it was released in 1928 in a collected 10-volume format for the first time. But it wasn’t until 1933 that the name was changed officially on the 13-volume collection, and was printed on all of the supplements that were released over the subsequent years until the second, 20-volume edition was published in 1989. This is all according to Wikipedia because, growing up in my house, we simply referred to it as “The OED.”

In the mid-1980s, my mother went back to school part-time to get her college degree, eventually graduating with double bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish Literature in 1990. As a gift, my father gave her what is known as the Compact Edition of the OED, which was originally published in 1971 and updated several times as new supplements were released. It achieved its 2-volume status by shrinking down the type so that four of the original pages can fit on a single, wafer-thin page; accordingly, you need a magnifying glass in order to read it. The navy blue volumes are embossed with gold print, encased in a surrounding set box, also in navy, that features a drawer on top. Within the drawer is a tiny white box in which the magnifying glass is stored, adding another layer to the formality and importance of the volumes. 

Up until The OED appeared in our lives, I didn’t consider words to be particularly special. I was — and still am — a voracious reader, and built my vocabulary by looking up new words in an old Webster’s dictionary we had up until then. But when The OED arrived, everything changed. You see, not only did I learn the definition of a word, I learned its entire etymology, its linguistic history, its origin; I learned how complicated and somewhat heretical the English language is, how its complexities are what give it such richness, but also how it flows and moves and changes in relationship with those that use it. It wasn’t a static, finite thing; it was evolving, growing, and capable of great influence. It inspired me to become more creative with how I paired words together, to experiment with imagery and ideas, to conjure brand new words to fill in the gaps of my experience.

My younger brother, Mr. Tale, and I would pore over The OED with a hungry passion. The OED’s residency in our home began smack dab in the middle of what we now quite fondly refer to as The Years of Us: 1988 – 1994, when he and I were basically alone by ourselves in a great big house in the middle of the woods. Our older brothers were in their teens, had jobs and cars and girlfriends, and our parents were gone in Seattle from early in the morning until late at night, at school or work or both. Consequently, Mr. Tale and I spent hours upon hours by ourselves, playing games, torturing each other psychologically (as siblings do), watching reruns of old television on one of the few channels we got on the reservation, and — most importantly — reading. We come by our love of reading honestly as our mother is a prodigious reader: Her bookshelves ranged from Bradbury to Morrison to Cervantes to Shakespeare to Christie, and back again. When we tired of watching old episodes of M*A*S*H, it was to one of the ten bookcases around our house that we retreated, picking up a new book and diving in — armed, eventually, with The OED. It was our guidebook and roadmap, the magnifying glass giving it an air of secrecy, as if it contained a treasure map — and I suppose, ultimately, that it did.

After my parents divorced in the late 1990s, my mother moved the majority of her book collection into a storage unit, which she has had to maintain ever since as she has yet to again live in a house big enough to support all of her tomes. She had kept a small selection of her books with her over the years as she moved from apartment to apartment, but after leaving her second husband and moving into a room in someone else’s house, she had to pare down even more.

One afternoon, she showed up at my small townhouse with several potted plants, a container filled with rocks she had collected during her travels over the years, and The OED. 

“Here, you should keep this for awhile, I don’t have room for it.” She was harried and seemed overwhelmed as she pointed to The OED in the trunk of her 1997 white Honda Civic. I knew that she was emotionally dried up, the collapse of her second marriage taking a particularly costly toll on her. 

“Are you sure?” I didn’t want to give away my enthusiasm and excitement as I knew that, in giving it to me, she was parting with something that was quite meaningful to her.

“Yeah, yeah, I mean, do you want it?” Her voice was a bit weak and it almost seemed like she wanted me to say no, I didn’t want it, that she could keep it. 

“Of course! But, I mean, I’ll just be storing it for you until you have room for it again.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Ten years passed. When packing up my things to move from Seattle to Detroit two years ago, my now-husband griped, “What the hell is this thing?” as he picked up the massive, heavyweight set.

“Oh that? That’s just the entire English language. You know, no big deal,” I laughed, a bit snarkily.

“Ah, yeah, they didn’t teach us that where I come from,” he smiled.

We drove it across eight states and deposited it into a storage unit outside of Detroit because there wasn’t room for it in our small apartment. It stayed cooped up in there for nearly a year, coming out again when we moved into our house last summer. Given its tall size and weight, it lies on its back on the bottom shelf of one of my four bookcases, and I occasionally bring it out to show a word to my own children. When my mother visited for the first time after we’d moved, she noticed it there and proclaimed with glee, “The OED! You still have it!”

“Of course, mom! You know, I’m just storing it for you.”

“Well, I hope you’re using it, too. Books like that need to be used.”

After decades of poking out at the bottom of bookcases, The OED is now well-worn and shows the effects of also being well-loved. The once-austere lines of the case are now bent at the corners, the navy blue paper peeling in places, the ultra-thin pages wrinkled and sometimes stained. It seems to me now, though, to more accurately reflect the language it wishes to capture: Rough-hewn, borrowed, and capable of revealing great beauty.

Incidentally, work began on the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 2000, shortly after it was made available online, and continues until this day; the expected date of completion is 2037. 

Categories
on the mind

Anne

There were two different programs offered at Brenneke School of Massage: A standard, 600-hour course that met the requirements of state licensing, and an extended 1300-hour course that delved more deeply into technique and science, as well as incorporating a weekly externship during the second half of the program. I selected the latter, primarily because I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the human body, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get some real-world experience as a massage therapist under my belt, either.

During the first half of the program, we spent our days exploring kinesiology, anatomy, physiology, and a wide array of different massage techniques, grounded in everything from Swedish to Shiatsu. We had to do 10 hours of practice massages each week, and while I excelled in the theory and understanding of the human body, translating that into my hands was a bit of a challenge. My instructors would tell me that I had potential, but that I was in my head too much, that I needed to figure out a way to ground myself in my body. 

The effects of my apparent groundlessness were showing up in my elbows, wrists, hands, and thumbs as I was far too reliant on arm pressure versus using my bodyweight to support my movements. When I was giving a massage, I couldn’t help but get caught up in visualizing the actual structures in question — the direction of the muscle fibers in the gastrocnemius, how to access pec minor, the best way to sink my fingers into the sternocleidomastoid. I would get so caught up, in fact, that I would sometimes forget that there was a person in the body beneath my fingertips, and my early practice reviews were often peppered with comments of too much or not enough pressure, of not being particularly effective in my work, of a feeling of exploratory aimlessness instead of a flowing, choreographed massage.

As we progressed through the year, we began working in the school clinic; my technique was improving in the classroom, but now that we were working with paying customers, I was incredibly nervous. Would I know how to treat their issue? Would I be able to stay focused throughout the massage? Every session was a study in anxiety, and I overcompensated by burying my nose in our pathology textbooks and learning every possible malady for which massage could be a remedy.

When it came time for our first externship, we were provided with a list of different locations and establishments with which the school had a partnership. There was a treatment center for women who were pregnant and struggling with addiction, a surgical wing of a local hospital, a community elder care center, a chiropractor’s office, and a hospice. We were asked to rank our top three choices and we’d learn our assignment the following week; after considering all of the options, I decided to choose the one that terrified me the most: Hospice. While the idea of working with the dying scared me, it seemed preferable to focus on overcoming this fear than addressing the challenge of fully inhabiting my own body.

On the first day of our externship, I learned that only one other member of our cohort (a rather sunny fellow from Sri Lanka) had chosen the hospice assignment; the rest of our compatriots were begrudging and irritated. Some had wanted the “easy” gig of massaging the elderly while they played bingo, while others wanted the “practical” experience of working in a medical setting. Except for our Sri Lankan friend, no one really wanted to be at the hospice at the beginning; we went through the training from the director, got our ID badges, and received our assignments.

“Kat, you’ve got Anne,” our advisor, Jeff, barked at me. “Cancer.” He handed me her file with a stern look and then turned to another student.

As I walked away, I reviewed Anne’s file, which had a large bright pink post-it on it that said simply “DAYS.” After passing colorless room after colorless room, each filled with a variety of beeping machines and the scent of disinfectant, I reached Anne’s. It was mid-way down the hall and, unlike many of the other rooms, her door was shut. I knocked softly and, when I didn’t hear anything, I opened the door slowly and peeked in.

Instantly, “DAYS” meant something to me: Anne was essentially a skeleton, with just days to live. She was lying on her side, the white sheet jutting awkwardly in places that should have been softer. She was heavily medicated, barely lucid, raising her head just a bit off the pillow as I stood at the end of her bed.

“Anne? I’m Kat, the massage therapist.”

“Good ………. back.” She whispered hoarsely, a deep, labored breath in between each word, waving her hand a bit toward the other side of the room. “Do my back.”

Those words had taken almost all of her energy and she sank back into the pillow. I pulled the sheet back to reveal thin, papery skin stretched over angular bones; where were the muscles? What could I massage? My head reeled as I ran through my knowledge of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, pathology–whatever ology I could come up with that would tell me what to do. I was at a loss.

To give myself some time, I squirted the massage oil in my hands and rubbed them together quickly; I thought that, if anything, the warmth would feel good to her. I tentatively touched the small of her back, stroking her vertebra and hip bones. Slowly, slowly. I wasn’t sure I was really doing anything, though, until I heard a deep sigh come from Anne.

At that moment, I was in my hands for the very first time. Suddenly, everything clicked into place and I realized that all of the knowledge, the books, the flashcards, the studying — all the focus that I had put on learning the mechanics of the situation really meant nothing. They were an armor, a barrier, a crutch; an intellectual way of dehumanizing the very humans that I wanted to help heal. And so none of that really mattered — in the end, it was only me, my touch, my presence, my bearing witness to this person’s body. All that mattered was being there.

As I gently massaged her back, neck, and hips, Anne’s breathing turned from somewhat ragged to syncopated, and I felt this deeply intimate connection with her. It was just she and I in that moment, in that room, breathing together in the final days of her life. She didn’t care that I could release her iliopsoas or relax her traps, she just cared that my hands were warm and that I was there, nurturing her, comforting her. A sense of timelessness permeated the moment, it could have been five minutes or five hours, I didn’t notice.

And Anne did only have a few days left to live; she passed away a couple of days later. When I returned the following Friday, eager to see her again, I was given the bittersweet news: Bitter because I would never have the opportunity to share that space with Anne again, but sweet because, in the final moments of her life, Anne had changed mine.

Categories
on the mind on the road

Perspectives

We get up each morning, pull on sandy swimsuits and stained shirts, grab our makeshift toys — comprised largely of old yogurt containers, straws, and plastic fast-food utensils — and run out to the beach. We can’t remember the last time we bathed in something other than the ocean, and that’s just fine.

The beaches are relatively empty; the unseasonably cold 70-degree summer that is far too chilly for the native Californians is downright balmy for we Washingtonians. Last week, we had Disneyland all to ourselves for a few hours: A late afternoon downpour drove the less rusty away, so we ran around the saturated park, splashed in lakes/puddles, and rode The Pirates of the Caribbean at least 7,397 times.

On our way home to Washington, we stopped at this dank little motel in one of my mother’s childhood hometowns, Laguna Beach. An overnight stay has turned into much longer, maybe a month, with my mother rarely coming out of the tiny bedroom at the back. When she does, she is bleary-eyed and somewhat removed from us, as if she’s in a parallel universe, contending with other children, other husbands, other families, and she doesn’t have the ability to be in both places at the same time. Her interactions with my father are strained, her refusals to leave visibly frustrating him.

But for me and my brothers, our new beach life is amazing! These aren’t the rocky, jagged beaches that we’re used to, over which we must always tread gingerly so as to avoid the wrath of a billion barnacles. No, these are soft, sugary beaches, made for running, wrestling, and sculpting sandcastles. My brothers and I spend all day on them, occasionally heeding my father’s calls for us to come and eat whichever fast-food fare he’s procured. Our days are filled with scrapes and surf and sun, and this is our life now. We are beach children.

Until we’re not. One day, we wake up, find that our father has packed up everything, our mother shoos us into the Toyota van, which we’ve nicknamed the MoonBuggy, and we begin the long trek back to chillier, rockier shores.


My mother and I are having one of our extended weekends together; it’s rainy, of course, and she’s come over to Seattle to visit me. We’re holed up in my townhouse, the light filtering from the upstairs loft barely making a dent in the rainshadows, the old electric heater firing up like an incontinent jet engine every now and again. We sip wine as she recounts tales of her rather complicated childhood. 

“So the only house we lived in for more than, oh, six months was this one in Laguna Beach–”

“I love Laguna Beach!” I cut her off with a joyful squeal. “Remember when we were there when I was a kid, and we ended up staying for a whole month?”

“Yes, I remember. But it was only a week, Katherine.”

“Well, whatever. It was such a great summer, with Disneyland and swimming every day, I loved it.”

“Yeah, well … I remember it differently.” She takes a sip of her wine. “You know, that was the summer that I told your father that we might have to divorce.”

My parents have been divorced for decades and had lived somewhat separate lives before that, so the revelation of divorce wasn’t surprising; but her telling me that she had been thinking about it since that summer, so long ago, was.

“Really? All the way back then? Wow.”

“Well, I didn’t know what to do. You know, I was the Relief Society president and I was just really burned out. I couldn’t face going back to Washington, going back to the church. I hated it; it wasn’t me anymore. It was so different in California than here. You know, when I joined the church, it was all hippies and the seventies and so a lot of the Mormon stuff was what hippies were doing — making their own clothes, growing their own food, canning everything, you know, all that back to the Earth stuff. But in Washington, it was just old farmers and they were really conservative so, after several years of it, I couldn’t stand it.”

“So that’s why we stopped going?”

“Kind of. Well, I told your father that I couldn’t go back to it, that if he needed me to be the Good Mormon Wife that I couldn’t do it anymore and maybe we should get divorced. But he agreed that we could go back and that maybe I could do less. He didn’t agree to us not going at all, though.”

“Yeah, because I thought that happened a few years later. But I always thought it was because of the sock thing!”

She laughed. “No, not just the sock thing.”


There is no cable television on the reservation; there are only six channels: The ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS affiliates and two unaffiliated local channels that play reruns of sitcoms from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. When the weather gets bad, the antenna goes out and so then we have only static.

In our rural community, most of what we learn about American culture comes to us from the television; and in 1986, “culture” means Miami Vice. It had come out a couple of years before and its impact on style has finally reached our little backwater — specifically, the “cool” boys are walking around in shoes with no socks and wearing comically oversized blazers on top of t-shirts.

My two older brothers are no exception, but Mormons aren’t known for their reverence to current fashion — at least, not the Mormons that I grew up with. Every Sunday, my older brothers don their best Don Johnson stylings, saturate their hair with gel, and go to church. Now, they started out with socks on; we know this because they were wearing these getups for a few weeks without issue. Then, one day, there is.

After Sunday School is over, my younger brother and I convene at the MoonBuggy, alone. We begin playing on the grass next to the parking lot, and only after we notice that many of the cars have already left the church do we begin to get a little bit worried. Where are our parents, our brothers? Another few minutes pass and then the four of them come out of the church: My two older brothers have their heads hung low, my mother is looking irritated, my father resigned. They reach the MoonBuggy and, before we can say anything, we’re ordered to get in and we leave. As the youngest members of the family, we’re often not included in Important Things, and neither my parents or older brothers are interested in sharing with us what had happened. So we promptly forget about it.

The next Sunday, there are muffled shouts coming from my parents’ bedroom as we are getting ready for church. I can’t really make out what they’re saying, but since they fight often, I also don’t really care. I instead try to focus on the game of pretend that I’ve fully launched myself into, hoping to shut out the yelling. My parents finally open the door, my father stomping to the other side of the house and shouting something at my older brothers. My younger brother and I are still in the dark as to what’s going on, but again — we don’t really care. We’re just happy that we’re not the ones in trouble for once, and we climb into the MoonBuggy with an air of benevolent self-satisfaction. It feels good to be the Good Ones!

After a ride to church in total silence, we give ourselves over to the order of the day: A two-hour-long testimony meeting, then two hours of Sunday School. Again, my younger brother and I convene at the MoonBuggy alone. But, this time, we don’t have to wait long, because our mother comes storming out of the church, my brothers following sheepishly behind her, our father walking along much more slowly, looking particularly pained.

When they reach the car, my brothers climb in and sit quietly in the back; my younger brother and I are looking around confusedly, asking what’s going on. We’re told to just get into the van and that we were going home. The ride home is again in silence, and now my younger brother and I do really care. When we reach our house, I send my younger brother out on a mission of reconnaissance; he returns with eyes gleaming.

“They weren’t wearing any socks!” He exclaims triumphantly.

“What do you mean? They had socks on this morning I thought.”

“They told them that if they came to church again without socks on, they couldn’t come back. So today they went there and they took their socks off in the bathroom and so they got into trouble. And mom and dad had to talk to the bishop and they told them we couldn’t come back until the boys were wearing socks.”

“So are we going back?”

“I dunno.”


We didn’t go back. It seemed so serious then, but now, in my shaded apartment decades later, we laugh about it.

“So that’s what I always thought, that we stopped going because the boys wouldn’t wear socks! I didn’t know you had been having issues with it for years.”

“Yeah.”

“Why did you even become a Mormon? It’s not like you were born into it, so what happened?”

“I just wanted things to be normal, you know? And my friends who were Mormon seemed to have the most normal lives I had seen. Their parents were around, they ate dinner together every night, they had clean clothes. There wasn’t the kind of chaos that I had at my house, the drinking and the fighting and the abuse.” She laughs to herself a bit. “I guess trying to be normal was my teenage rebellion.”

There isn’t much of a sunset to be seen tonight, but what little light has been able to filter through the clouds has dimmed a bit more. We each take another sip of wine as we stare out the window, caught in our own individual reveries of perspectives past.