Monday, October 31, 2011

Hobbs, Part II

I don’t remember leaving the store. Later that day, I sat on my bed, grieving the loss of my first best friend. The phone rang. After a minute, my mother came into my room.

“Christi’s OK,” she said. “She just got a little bruised up.”

“She’s not dead?” I asked.

My mother looked startled.

“No, she’s not dead. What gave you that idea?”

“She closed her eyes. She looked dead.”

My mother spent several more minutes convincing me that Christi was not dead. I finally believed her.

There is a blissful ignorance that defines the preschool years. I was 3 and 4 when we lived in Hobbs, and my life consisted of playing in our wonderful four-bedroom house, playing with friends at church, playing with the neighborhood kids and playing with our dog, Snoopy. Snoopy and I spent long afternoons in the backyard. I was an imaginative child and he accompanied me on my imaginary adventures. Snoopy often played the role of a young prince who was being chased by an evil witch who wanted his crown. I had been charged with his protection, which I took seriously. We would run through the yard to escape the witch’s terrifying grasp and jump into the storage shed just in time as she whizzed by on her broom. Thanks to my valiant efforts, the witch never caught up with Prince Snoopy, and the crown was preserved.

My brother Brian was gone to school all day, and, on the days that no friends or neighbors came over, Snoopy was my closest friend. I felt such a connection with him that I didn’t think twice about lapping up some water out of his dish on the back porch on a hot summer’s day. After taking a long drink from his water dish one day, I looked up to see my mother’s horrified face through the kitchen window. She brought me in, made me gargle with my dad’s Scope mouthwash, filled a glass jar with water and showed me where she put it in the refrigerator. When I get thirsty, she said, I was to come in and get a drink from the jar and not from Snoopy’s dish. I agreed to her demands, but I still didn’t understand what the big deal was.

One day, something happened that, at least for a moment, shattered my childhood delusion that I was always protected from everything. I was walking alone down the sidewalk on our street to a friend’s house. Suddenly, a car screeched from around the corner and sped past me before its two right tires hopped up on the sidewalk about ten feet ahead of me. The car kept speeding, half of it still on the sidewalk, until it dropped back down off the curb. A police cruiser, sirens blaring, raced past me in pursuit of the car. I probably didn’t realize then that I could have died had the car jumped the curb ten feet sooner. But I did feel rattled. I walked home and sat alone and quiet in my room the rest of the afternoon. I never told my parents what happened.

Every summer, we made the 14-hour drive from Hobbs to Houston and Beaumont, Texas, where my grandparents lived. The contrast between small, flat and arid Hobbs and large, bustling and humid Houston was almost overwhelming to me. I loved the endless masses of freeways that snaked their way through the city. I loved the zoo and museums and Toys R Us, which Brian and I thought was the closest to heaven we would get in our lifetime. And I loved the frigid blast of my grandparents’ air-conditioned house after a day of shopping in Houston’s 98-percent humidity. Beaumont, where my other grandparents lived, was also an exciting escape from our southeast New Mexico norm. It was, in my mind, simply a smaller version of Houston.

The summer I was four, we were sitting down to dinner at my Houston grandparents’ house when I began to feel quite ill. We had been to the Houston Museum of Natural Science that day, and I had seen a picture of a bloody battle scene that had grossed me out a little. I did not want to eat, and the more my parents tried to push food on me, the worse I felt. I went to bed early and I remember being awakened in the middle of the night, having my robe wrapped around me, and being put into the backseat of the car. My parents drove me to a hospital, where I was diagnosed with a severe case of pneumonitis. The doctor described the illness as something between bronchitis and pneumonia, and inching closer to pneumonia by the minute. He instructed my parents to get me back to New Mexico’s arid climate immediately. We returned to my grandparents’ house, where I fell asleep and dreamed I was flying across the sky like a bird. I awoke in my bed in our Hobbs house. My parents had driven the 14 hours straight through and delirium had kept me asleep—or at least unaware of my surroundings--the entire trip.

The arid Hobbs air cleared my lungs and I was back to good health within a few weeks. It was good to get my energy back and resume my favorite activities, which still included watching the Brady Bunch. I longed for a two-story house like theirs and a stylish station wagon like the one Mrs. Brady drove. I wanted blond pigtails, an endearing lisp, and a cute name like “Cindy.” That family, I thought, had the perfect life.

I now know that my own real life was as perfect as it could have been at that point. I had a stable family and, while we weren’t wealthy, all my needs were provided for. I had a best friend and a dog, and the innocent youth that protected me from knowing too much about the real world. But the happy Hobbs years were coming to an end. My father had, once again, grown unhappy in his work situation. A church in Roswell, New Mexico, needed a youth minister. So we packed, I said goodbye to Christi, and we drove another moving truck to another small New Mexico town.


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