I KNOW THERE WAS A MAGICIAN. And I know what he looked like, because I've seen the old photos so many times.
Even if there weren't any pictures from that day, the pictures that fill Mom's old scrapbooks, I think I'd still remember parts of it - just maybe not the little things, like the cake that was decorated to look like a soccer field. Or the funky multi-colored plaid pants I was wearing that day, the perfect color pattern to complement my baby blue T-shirt. I do remember that shirt though; it had John Travolta's big head
on it and Up your nose with a rubber hose across the front. It was from an old TV show - can't remember the name right now. I'm sure it was probably an old hand-me-down from somewhere, like most of my clothes were. The old photos were taken at my tenth birthday party. Well, technically it was my ninth birthday party, but I was turning ten years old - whatever.
It's strange how we have all these memories, the sentimental snapshots of times we hold dear to our hearts - days and events that stand out in our flashbacks and daydreams. Have you ever noticed how, when you think about that event, the moment that comes to mind is the same one you've seen so many times in the old family album? You envision yourself blowing out the candles - but who ever really remembers blowing out the candles? Is it the photograph we're actually remembering? Sure, we might have other memories of that moment too - the real memories I mean - but the older I get, the more those just seem to get shoved right into the old cerebral blender with the snapshot-memories.
Right now, even without seeing the pictures, I'd probably still remember that we had that party in my grandparents' backyard. And I know I'd remember how excited I was with the cool glider I got from a kid named Big John (because of his abnormally big head). I'd remember when the Styrofoam glider promptly snapped in half on the trunk of old Mr. Morton's plum tree during its maiden voyage from the front yard that day. And I think, or at least I'm pretty sure, that I'd still remember the trick that the magician did with the milk. It was the one where he rolled a sheet of newspaper into a funnel and poured a glass of milk into it, and then unrolled the funnel to reveal that the newspaper was somehow completely dry. I still don't know how he did that trick.
learned how to create some of the Navaho artwork - things like jewelry and dream-catchers and decorative clothing - and then sold them, along with some of her rock paintings, to the people that visited the Canyon. Being as young and attractive and fun-loving as they were, Mom and Nancy would sometimes make the hike down to the campgrounds - a few kilometers from the village - to hang out with the flirtatious campers that had passed through the village on the way down the trail. There was no alcohol allowed on the Reservation, but Mom said that practically everyone who came into the campgrounds back then was carrying pot, mushrooms, acid, and various other goodies in their backpacks.
Apparently that's where my nutty seed got harvested, down in those sacred Navaho campgrounds, deep in the middle of
middle of the Grand Canyon. Mom was pretty sure that it happened in a tent, with some old guy named Holden. He was old enough to be her dad - like Pops' age, she said. Gross. She said he was a writer from New York, and kind of "cuckoo," just like me. I'd probably like him, she told me, if he hasn't croaked yet. It was either him or a younger guy named Chris - from Charlotte, I think - she wasn't really sure. She said the time with Chris was later that same week on a big round rock, near the bottom of some secluded waterfall, the roaring sound of the rushing water echoing through the canyon. I always preferred the waterfall option myself - it sounds a little more romantic than the tent one with the old nutty-cuckoo guy. But Mom always said my looks seem to favor the older bastard a lot more than the younger. Holden. The name even sounds old.
She assured me, many times, that she didn't make a habit of having sex with a lot of men; she and Nancy were just young and wild and enjoyed meeting people from other places. But that one particular week was to be their last week in the Canyon, so they got a little more wild than usual. Nancy was going back to start the spring semester at Georgia State, and Mom planned to go check out a little artsy town she had heard about called Sedona, just south of Flagstaff. Apparently only Nancy picked the guys who brought condoms.
So I was born in Sedona, Arizona. It seems like a nice enough place to be born - small town surrounded by jagged, red-rock mountains, almost cartoonish in the photos. Like you might see the coyote standing at the peak with a plunger device, waiting to detonate a box of Acme explosives on the roadrunner down below. It's as if some dude on mushrooms built the set for his own amusement. Mom had a picture in her album of a clear, cool-looking stream, with a big water hole she swam in with me when I was a baby.
We only stayed there for about six months though, in Sedona. Mom had been living with a sculptor of some sort. He was pretty good she said. Another old dude. She told me once, when I found a photo of the two of them sitting in a rocking chair together, Mom on his lap laughing and smoking a cigarette, that aside from me he was her only true love. One day in Sedona Mom walked in and found her true love (him, not me) naked, in the bathtub, with his model. His male model.
Heartbroken, nearly penniless, and somewhat depressed, Mom returned to Georgia, seeking whatever solace she could find in the humdrum familiarity of her hometown. She moved in with her folks for a year - Granny and Pops - and then Nancy and her new husband took us in. They had a little unit that was attached to their garage, a little studio. That's where I mostly grew up, off and on.
"We're gonna travel the world together, just you and me, kid." That was the promise Mom made to me more times than I can possibly count. But she meant it; every once in a while she would bring a book home from the library - where she always said she got paid to daydream - that described some exciting and exotic place that we could explore together. We had fun talking about the things we'd see from the top of Mt. Fuji, or the monkeys we'd swing with through the trees after hiking deep into the Amazon rainforest.
One time she drew a picture on my lunch bag of me, with big burly arms, grimacing while I flew on the neck of an evil dragon and held him in a headlock. There were X's in the place of the dragon's eyes. Above the drawing she wrote WORLD'S GREATEST DRAGON SLAYER OF ALL TIME. I remember I bragged to the other kids at lunch that pretty soon I wouldn't be around anymore - maybe even next year - because Mom and I were going to be traveling the world, looking for adventures and mysteries and mischief and mayhem. It would be our full-time jobs; there'd be no time for school even.
"Ah man, that's so cool," they all said with envy. "You're so lucky!"
"Yep," I said. "I know."
My mom died when she was only twenty-nine years old. A large tumor had quickly and quietly crept up on her brain stem, and smothered it completely. At work, between the Reference bookshelves of the Rockdale Library, she fell into a coma, and never regained consciousness. Two days later she was gone.
Just three months before she died, Mom married Gabriel, a guy she met in the massage therapy classes she was taking down at the recreation center. She said she thought maybe it showed that a man had a nurturing side to him, taking those massage classes. They had only dated six weeks or so when they got hitched.
"Do you love him?" I asked her.
"I think that I could grow to love him very much," she said.
I've often wondered if Mom had a feeling - or maybe she already knew for sure - that the end was near. If so, she never told me. I wonder if, knowing something would happen, she married Gabriel out of desperation, only because she was just looking out for my future. I've never blamed her for that, despite the subsequent circumstances. I know she loved me more than anything. She only did what she thought was right. She did the best she could in such a short time.
I sometimes wish I could remember the name of that magician, the redheaded one at my tenth birthday party. Ninth, whatever. Now that I'm older, I'd like to see him do that trick with the newspaper again, so I could try to figure out what the hell happened to the damn milk. And if I could go back in time, if I could somehow step right into those celluloid memories of that day, I'd ask that mystical redheaded magician if he could please bring my mom back.
And then, together, we could fight the dragons.
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But I wonder if one day, maybe in my sleep, all those little fragmented details will be automatically dumped from the recycle bin of my antiquated personal storage files, and I'll be left with nothing but an edited copy of that old family album, collecting cobwebs in the dank attic-space of my head and confusing me with a blur of memories that seem real but are actually only celluloid-inspired replications of the originals.
Trippy. A Kodak cocktail, you might call it.
Mom was somewhat of a gypsy at heart. When she was barely eighteen, she left home in Conyers, Georgia to find herself - and to see what else the world had to offer for her young, fiery heart. In high school she was a good student, finishing her senior year a
semester early with good grades. But to her parents' dismay, she never had any intentions on going to college. Three passions consumed her: art, travel, and adventure. For six months she worked two jobs - daytime at the Rockdale County Library and evenings serving tables at the crappy country-buffet - just to save enough money to take off in the summer. Take off from the doldrums. Maybe just for the summer, maybe forever - she didn't really have any Big Plan, so to speak.
At home, and sometimes at work in the library, she would practice doing what she really wanted to do for a living. If the choice was hers, which at eighteen it was, she would have spent the rest of her working life just drawing. Drawing anything - still-life, landscape, profiles, anything. She was a damn good artist too, seriously. You could give her a pencil and a piece of scratch paper and she'd sketch just about anything you asked her to, without even really dwelling on it. I remember, in elementary school, my lunch bags would always have cool pictures on the front. She'd be making my PBJ, and I'd hear her yell from the kitchen, "Quick, we're running late - what's the subject today?" And from the bathroom I'd go, "Uh err um An elephant! An elephant riding a skateboard!" And that'd be what I saw on my brown bag at lunchtime. Man, I sure wish I would have saved some of those bags.
Mom's best friend from high school, a girl named Nancy, wanted to be an American History teacher. She'd been accepted to Georgia State, but decided to postpone it one year. Nancy was half Navaho, and she felt that it was important to get to know her heritage before she went on to college. How her Navaho ancestors ended up in Georgia I have no idea, but that's not really pertinent here. What happened was that the day after their graduation ceremony, the two girls jumped into Nancy's pickup and headed west, out towards New Mexico and Arizona to explore Navaho Country. I've seen photos - and some great sketches by Mom - of the people they met and stayed with, and the places they explored. It's amazing scenery. I'd love to go check it out some day for myself.
They lived for almost half a year in the Grand Canyon - in a quiet little village that you actually have to hike about three or four hours in the hot desert to reach - and loved every day they spent there. While Nancy learned an invaluable amount about her ancestry, Mom learned an invaluable amount about how to enjoy life. She also