By Claire Ibarra
I have been trying to figure out how to tell Irene my story. The problem is a story always has a beginning, middle, and an end. I can’t muster a beginning, and I don’t see an end. All I have is whole lot of jumbled middle.
“Can I offer you something to drink, hon?” I ask Irene now. She stares back at me with a blank expression. “I have Sanka or Raspberry Zinger tea. If you want something cold, I’ve got diet Pepsi.”
“I’ll have the tea,” Irene answers flatly.
I scoot myself over to the kitchenette and place the kettle on the hot plate. From there I can see the empty landscape outside a tiny window. My trailer, sitting at the edge of Death Valley, is my sanctuary. I’m surrounded by the soothing sand dunes and cactus blooming their bright red flowers twice a year. Jack rabbits come around by day and the coyotes howl at night.
It took my kids nearly ten years to find me out here, and I guess that’s why Irene gets standoffish whenever she visits, which is once every couple years.
In the silence between us, I can hear the wind chimes outside. It must be breezy because all the chimes are clanging away like we’re inside a cathedral.
“How have you been, Irene? How are your kids?” I ask to coax her out of the mental cave she’s hiding in.
“Nathan is doing great, in college, studying engineering. Marley is sixteen years old, headstrong and real pretty,” Irene says as her eyes scan my trailer.
I think my place is cozy and nice. I have Indian sand paintings on the wall—paintings of buffalo and desert sunsets. I have an easy chair where I watch television. My kitchen has only one counter, but it’s plenty counter for me.
“Marley sounds just like her momma,” I tell my daughter, but she stares back at me like I’m speaking to her in Tongues. I’ve been known to break out in Tongues from time to time. I do it when the Spirit moves me.
“The last time I saw you, you had just gotten your real estate license. How’s that going?” I ask.
“Not so good since the recession. I have a second job—at Hooters.”
“That’s nice. What’s a Hooters?”
“Never mind, that was a joke. I’m working as a hostess at the Chart House until the market picks up,” she tells me.
“How are your brothers and sisters?” I dare to ask.
Irene doesn’t answer straight away. She drums her fingers on the green Formica table.
The dream catcher hanging from the ceiling fan seems to have her under a spell, as I notice her eyes follow its circular motion.
“Everyone’s fine. Well, Darren got his license suspended. He spent a night in jail for a DUI. But under the circumstances, everyone’s fine.”
Darren is my baby, the youngest of five. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them I have five kids. I guess I don’t seem like the motherly type.
When people ask how I raised so many kids, I tell them with the help of my Savior Jesus. But then again, my kids would argue that I didn’t really raise them.
Irene is the eldest, and she was already attending community college and engaged to Rick when I had my so-called ‘nervous breakdown.’ Darren is the youngest and he was six years old when I walked out of the house one afternoon and never came back.
The way I see it, I didn’t really abandon them. I left them with their father and he is a good man. And I had a vision from God, where he told me they’d all be better than fine. I trusted God’s word, and I never worried about my kids a day in my life.
“Under what circumstances, hon?” I ask Irene.
She looks at me wide-eyed with her mouth open. She shakes her head and huffs.
If she’s referring to my leaving, that was so long ago I can hardly see how it matters now. What’s done is done, and Darren is a grown man.
There’s a loud rattling noise outside, and Irene gets up and looks out the window. She looks out the opaque glass and I know the view is the dirt driveway, and Helen’s silver Airstream across the way. Beyond that there is an expanse of dunes stretching toward the Amargosa Range.
“What was that?” Irene asks me with a concerned expression.
“That rattling? I wouldn’t worry; there are all kinds of noises out here. You get used to it,” I say as I pour hot water into a mug. The raspberry tea turns the water a vibrant pink. Anyway, old Cassidy will chase off most anything. I don’t let the dog out after sunset though, after a coyote chased him down one night and nipped off the tip of his tail.
I guess I shouldn’t tell Irene about the UFOs. That might scare her. They land right here in the Mojave Desert, and I can see them plain as day. I don’t know why others can’t see them, but as the saying goes: Seeing is Believing. I think most people are walking around in a kind of trance, not really seeing things because they’re just too scared by it. Folks are walking around with blinders on, filtering out all the crazy things just sitting right in front of them.
I’ve made a pact with the Greys. We have an understanding. I don’t go to the government and snitch on them, so they leave me alone. That’s why I haven’t been abducted and tested on.
“Are you sure you’re okay living out here all alone?” Irene asks. I’m touched that she’s showing concern.
“I’m not alone, hon. I’ve got friends out here. Helen lives across the way, and she’s my best friend.” Actually, Helen is a lot more to me than that. “Hank comes to check on us once a week. Sometimes he stays for dinner.” Irene should know that a person isn’t ever alone when they have Jesus in their heart.
Sometimes Helen, Hank and I have dinner together, and it reminds me of the dinner parties I used to have with my husband. We laugh, tell jokes and even put on music and dance when were feeling in the mood…
That’s how things started with Helen. One evening we got carried away with dancing. When Hank left, I walked Helen to her trailer and she invited me in. That was a few years ago, but we like to keep separate trailers. We both like to have our own space.
I wish I could tell Irene my story. I just don’t have a beginning and an end.
I loved my husband, but I just couldn’t give myself to him. I was dried up and dead at the core. But I didn’t know that when we first met. He was my ticket out, my ticket to freedom and a better life. I would have done anything to get out of my house, anything to get away from Uncle Jay.
When Uncle Jay came back from war, he screamed in his sleep at night. He told us we were all going to die from the atomic bomb. My mom would tell him to stop scaring the kids, but he would rant all the more about our skin burning off and our eyes melting into our brains. He drank whiskey straight out of the bottle, and cried sometimes. Even though I didn’t like Uncle Jay, I felt sorry for him.
I preferred his ranting and crying to the bad touching.
I don’t believe war turns men into that kind of monster, things were gonna turn out that way with Uncle Jay regardless.
I guess that is my beginning. Would Irene understand? Would she ever want to hear of such ugly things?
Instead I say, “Would you like more tea?”
“Sure.” Irene takes the last sip and passes me her empty cup. “Janine is pregnant again.”
“This will be her third? Is she still with that fellow, what’s his name…Robert?” I ask as I pour more hot water into the mug and swirl the used tea bag around and around, soaking out it last drop of pinkness.
Janine is my fourth born. She was eight years old when I left. She’s the only one of my kids who refuses to talk to me. But that’s okay; Irene is like a mother to her.
I thought I was content enough with my husband Frank. We didn’t have much money and the house was filled with kids, yet we led a decent life. I was dead at my core because of Uncle Jay, but I was good at faking happiness. Until the day I met Doris.
A friend from church invited me to a poetry reading at some beatnik café in Long Beach. It was a foreign world to me, but when Doris read her magical words I came to life. She was a spiritualist. After her reading, she invited us to a private session at her house. Doris laid her hands on me, and I sobbed for three hours straight.
Doris taught me a lot about being a woman. I learned I hadn’t been born to absorb the rage of a damaged man. I learned I had value.
She would take us women, her followers, on excursions to the beach, sometimes to the middle of the desert. There we would pray on our knees until Jesus himself would appear and console us. Through Doris, he spoke to us about the evils of the world, and he told us to walk away from the temptations of this life.
After nearly a year of these reunions, Doris invited me to move to Arizona. There she planned on running a commune for women. She had the land, but she needed money to build. Of course, I didn’t have any money. She let me go anyway.
Doris had skin as soft as biscuit dough. She always smelled like lavender.
It was good for a while, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that nothing in this life lasts forever. That was a long time ago, and now I’m content living at the edge of the most desolate, barren place on the planet. Death Valley: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.
“Well, it’s getting late. I guess I should head back to the city,” Irene says as she gathers her purse and scarf.
“Is it a long drive home?” I ask my daughter.
“It’ll take a few hours. But it was worth making a stop here on my way.” She gives me an airy hug. She spent the weekend in Las Vegas with some friends. I am lucky my trailer sits en route, or I wouldn’t have seen Irene.
She still hasn’t heard my story.
I figure it doesn’t matter much now. The lump in my breast keeps getting bigger. Last week, milky yellow pus oozed out my nipple, and I can’t lift my right arm above my shoulder. The pain is worse at night. Helen begs me to go to a doctor, but I haven’t been to a doctor since the day I left with Doris.
I believe in the power of prayer. Sometimes I take walks into the dunes with my King James Bible, I fall to my knees, I close my eyes and I pray for a miracle. Often times I feel a warm touch descend, and my breast feels soft and filled with light. I imagine it’s Jesus’ healing hand.
Irene opens the door to the trailer and Cassidy is there to greet her with his wagging stumpy tail. She pats him on the head and walks to her car.
“See you next time, Mom.” She waves good-bye.
I know it will be a couple of years before I see her again. I stand and watch her car drive along the narrow, empty road. I watch until it turns at the bend and disappears.
“Hey, old Cassidy. You wanna go for a walk?” I ask my dog as I look out toward the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I’m thinking about the Greys and how during all these years they’ve kept a respectful distance. I wonder how they live their peculiar lives out here in the desert.
I grab my King James from the easy chair, and I start to walk with Cassidy at my side. It’s late in the afternoon, so I gage the sun and remember to make it back before sundown. The coyotes get aggressive when they’re on the search for a meal.
The air is cool and crisp, and the sky is a clear, dark blue. The sand dunes appear radiant and golden. As I walk toward the valley, I think of David facing Goliath and I figure it’s getting close to my end.
Now I have a beginning and an end to my story, but I suppose I missed my chance to tell Irene.