Little girl me
wore yellow rubber
gloves Dad bought at
Safeway along with Sun
I would knee-stand
on the vinyl and metal
chair in front of the sink
in front of the small trailer
window looking out on the
ducks and geese and rabbits
in their cages
A kerosene lamp was lit
as the sun went down and the
night would come alive with sounds
Almost every night Dad had me do
the dishes while he would read
to me from the Holy Bible
They were nights I enjoyed
Never had I seen a place so clean. Never had I smelled a room so fragrant. Never had I felt the fine silk of a sari or seen such vivid hues of sunshine yellow, pea green or sea glass blue. Never had I felt so safe that I could ponder the names of the colors of a stranger’s dress. Never had I felt so safe that I could turn my back to a man. The temple filled me with Never Have I’s.
In the temple, there is only good. The bad is sniffed out and done away with–gently shuffled out the heavy wooden doors and directed down the street toward the alleys of Berkeley and UC, the temple doors shut again, closing off the world and the many things my kid self worried about: number one, strange men, number two, thirst and hunger, number three, mad things like crack cocaine-using hitchhikers and chronic cigarette-butters and alien-worshipers and space ships themselves and semi trucks a honkin’.
Every room in the temple is protected by Krishna or Ganesha or Rhada or Chaitanya or Prabhupada. More than just a painting or deity looking over us, I could actually feel the presence of the Gods, the air rich with spirit. My father and I both moved about the temple so light on our feet we might as well have been ghosts or angels, I remember thinking. Then again, you’d be surprised at the airy-ness that shoeless feet and hardwood floors create. It was always a struggle to let the ego go at the door. It was an unspoken rule that you do, unspoken that you leave your judgements with your shoes and let your bare, or socked, feet humbly guide you into the room that would show you the inside of your soul. Never before had I looked into myself like that. Never again has my being been so still and humble.
I’ve heard things. Bad things about the place, about the community. But my testimony of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) is positive. My testimony is–I’ve seen evil, but in the temple? Never had I.
On either side of the front door to the inky, smelly, dilapidated mansion were two hedge plants, taller than a very tall man and as wide as our pick-up. Now, hedge smells a certain way. Hedge smells a helk of a lot better than old folk, chewing tobacco and black coffee in oily mugs. I still lean in and smell a hedge whenever I get the chance, whenever I pass one by. I used to walk out of that smelly house and immediately bury my nose in the hedge.
For me hedge smells like freedom. The way a car radio sounds like freedom. The way my own personal set of apartment keys feels like freedom. The way an attractive man looks like freedom, foolishly. The way a cigarette tastes like freedom. I’d edit the illusions but they are my truths. These are the things in which I have identified freedom. Recognizing their traps and tricks, I have let at least one go. But I shall never let go of the rest.
As soon as the bitter note of hedge would meet my little girl nose I knew I was free. Free until dark. When I had to go back inside.
At first, shell-shocked, I would go as far from the mansion as I could. For a while my little bare legs would take me up creek to a bridge where I’d sit and watch the iridescent water saunter on by me. Hunter Creek. My dad was the first to show me Hunter Creek, of course. My dad showed me enough trails enough times that I knew how get to my Grandpa John’s house on Fizer Road, about two miles away–both by street and by trail. I also knew how to get to the elementary school and to the mouth of the Klamath River. I could probably get to the Mini-Mart too. I knew the best blackberry patches and where to find a mud bog so thick it could pass for quicksand. I told a couple boys in my first-grade class about the quicksand but they didn’t believe me. Boys were always challenging me. They thought I lied about things. The boys would stare at me for a good long while before excluding me from their games of kickball and football and other boy sports. I was always stuck between the boys and the girls but more drawn to the boy games and the boy talk. The playground attendant would tell me ‘you can’t play football ’cause you’ll scrape up your bare knees even worse. Come over here and play with the girls.’ Later I would stop wearing dresses and only wear jeans and stir-ups. As means to play with the boys.
Despite all the special places my dad showed me, places he’d gone to “when he was a boy”, I finally found my special place–a rose tree right in front of the mansion. It was a place where me and my best friend and cat, Kitty Rose, could both go. And dummies never saw us there. Hiding in plain sight, she and I, up in The Rose Tree.
The Rose Tree had a trunk about as big a’ round as my dad and branches as thick as necks. The bark was smooth and dusty. Until I met The Rose Tree I thought roses only grew on bushes. I also thought ‘every rose had it’s thorn’ that’s because I heard the song ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’. So when we first started goin’ up there I would be weary, always looking for thorns. But there just weren’t any. Talk about magic.
I’d watch the old folk walk by, Kitty Rose and I perched at the top of The Rose Tree. The villains would mutter to themselves and look out to the fields, the hillside, the barn. They were looking for something, and I always wondered what. I knew it wasn’t me ’cause I didn’t matter til bedtime.
It was a big house but it was ugly. The house had inky-colored energy and smelled like old-people ass and chewing tobacco. True stench is thick. When you breathed you swallowed the stench. I had a bunch of male cousins growing up and my one cousin “John Boy” burped and I said “That smells so bad I can taste it!” He asked me, “Can you taste my farts too?” Boys were so gross. At six I didn’t know anyone who smelt worse than my boy cousins or my great grandparents. Fact I still don’t.
I had a special place. In Requa, I spent most my time outside, which nobody seemed to mind. Just had to be in by dark. Ish. I searched high and low for my special place. I knew my bedroom couldn’t be my special place since it was haunted. The inky-colored energy repelled me from that place. Rumor had it a woman slowly died of cancer in there. It was a bedroom Dad and I shared. We both had our own twin bed like we were brother and sister and we shared an old wooden dresser, other than that there was nothing in there. No toys. No photos. At night I would make my dad face me and watch for ghosts behind me. And I would face him and watch for ghosts behind him. Problem was my dad would fall quickly into slumber, tired from work at the road department. “Dad! Dad!” I would say, frightened white. “You’re not watching!”
There were a couple of rooms in the big, cold, inky, smelly, sad-memory-house that I wouldn’t even go in. One room had paintings of great aunt’s of mine that I didn’t really know. The one who lived on the hill behind us and talked to herself and the one who pulled her hair out piece-by-piece and the one who got away and never looked back. The eyeballs of the women in the paintings would follow me. Already an introvert, I didn’t want to be around anybody–even if they were just faces of paint. Hell, the paintings had more personality than the real women did. They smiled more.
Two other rooms had things in them that belonged to my great grandfather–I can’t even type his name out. Wayne. There. I did it. The room had Wayne’s things–rocks, stalactites, harmonicas, old newspapers, all disgusting things that I didn’t want to be around. Things I liked fine on their own but with his prints on them made me head in another direction. If only I could run in the opposite direction of him when I saw him. But I was raised up not to be rude. To respect your elders.
I didn’t want to be rude.
I didn’t want to be rude.
I tried to make the upstairs bathroom my special place but great grandma Faith had a big problem with that. I think she was worried I might drown in there, in the deep clawfoot tub. Drown like my father did. Before he came back to life. I didn’t realize the root of her concern until now. Tragedy upon tragedy.
I realllllly wanted my special place to be upstairs, because the villains couldn’t climb the stairs. But it was really just too inky up there. Downstairs wasn’t an option. Downstairs was a quiet battleground. Even when Dad came home from work I wasn’t safe cause the villains were that good. They were sneaky and I didn’t want to be rude.
You know those dreams you’ve had in life that you’ll never forget? I’m not talking about waking dreams (for once), I’m talking about sleeping dreams. For example, when I was about four years old I had a dream my dad picked me up in a hot air balloon and took me to Safeway to so we could buy some ABC soup, which was my favorite meal. Not much happened other than that but for some reason I’ve always remembered that particular dream. But why?
Then there are the recurring dreams–again, when I was just four years old, I’d say from four to six–which was actually a pretty traumatic point in my life–I would have this dream:
I’m in a dark dungeon. I’m lying on my back or my side and there are about five or six little elves running around and climbing all over my body. Above my head is a big roll of lead. Let me explain more: you remember Bubble Tape? They always had Bubble Tape on the rack at the grocery store at the check out stand. It’s like a carpenter’s measuring tape only made out of bubble gum. Yeah. That. So that’s what this big roll of lead is like. The little elves pry my big toddler mouth open, much to my resistance, and insert the end of the roll of lead into my mouth, shoving the lead down my throat. My throat expands and I choke but this goes on for what feels like hours and upon waking faintly taste lead in my mouth, metal in my throat.
I had this dream at least a few times throughout my childhood. I can’t help but notice–now I’m having a dream quite the opposite.
Sometimes it’s just me but sometimes, like last night, I’ll have an audience:
I’m back in Crescent City at a party and a lot of my friends are there–all grown up, having a good time, drinking beer by the river. I’m chatting with one of my male friends when I feel a noodle in my mouth. The flat kind–linguine. I put my index finger up to indicate “just a moment”, a break in the conversation if-you-will and reach into my mouth for the linguine. I grab hold of the linguine and tug. Well, that’s where my dream morphs into this recurring dream I’ve been having: pulling a never-ending mountain of noodles from my throat. The more I tug, the more I pull, the more noodles emerge. And just like in the lead dream–I can hardly breathe. My cousin Cevin and his friends approach and there I am, crouched down by a cedar tree, pulling out and vomiting up noodles, for what seems like forever.
What I appreciate about this new dream is this: it’s quite the opposite of my baby-Terah-lead-dream. Clearly, I’m letting it all out now instead of shoving it all in. For fun, I’ll retrieve my dream dictionary, The Complete Book of Dreams & Dreaming by Pamela Ball and interpret some of the imagery from both of these dreams:
Dwarf (sadly Elf was not available): A dwarf indicates a part of our personality which has not yet been integrated or has been left undeveloped. In a dream a dwarf denotes a part of ourselves which has been left damaged by painful childhood trauma or a lack of emotional nourishment.
Lead: The conventional explanation of lead appearing in a dream is that we have a situation around us which is a burden to us. We are not coping with life perhaps as we should be, and as a result it is leaving us heavy-hearted.
Throat: Dreaming of the throat denotes awareness of our vulnerability and also the need for self-expression.
Vomiting: Vomiting is a symbol of discharge and evil. We may have held on to bad feelings for so long that it has caused our spiritual system some difficulty.
I do believe there are connections between our dreams and our spiritual selves. I do believe that if you have, especially a recurring dream, you should pay attention to it and make changes to your life as needed. For example, if you are a man and you dream about a particular woman most nights, you need to explore your relationship with this woman. Or, if you dream about water, water, water, you should visit a spring or a sea–because your subconscious is begging for you to wet her.
Please, readers, share some of your dreams with me. I would love to use my dream book to provide you a little more insight into your subconscious. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Nighty-night. Sweet dreams.
Up at the house on the Winchuck River one night it was decided I’d be moving with Peggy to Arizona. We’d leave in two weeks. I told my Dad over the phone and he sounded a bit wounded but he assured me it would only be temporary until he and Lisa found a house. I’m not leaving you. You left me. Remember that, Dad I thought but didn’t say.
Peggy and I went down to the DHS office in Crescent City, met with a social worker named Pam, signed a couple papers and it was a done deal. There was no inspecting Peggy’s house, calling references, or privately interviewing me. You just looked at Peggy and knew she was the real deal. There was virtually nothing wrong with her. She was my perfect temporary guardian. She was my perfect permanent guardian but nobody wanted to go there yet. And I mean nobody. Not Peggy nor me. They talked like it would just be for the school year, but Arizona was hundreds if not thousands of miles away and as soon as we headed south I knew, I just knew the miles were coming between me and my old life. And a good part of me was really, really happy about that. The other part tried to remember landmarks for my runaway escape. Ch-yeah, ’cause that had gone so well the first time..
After a couple days of driving we ended up in Arizona. Peggy recalls what I said when we got there: “Where’s the water? No, seriously, where’s the water?” I found out the water came from faucets and deep underground, not pouring from the mountains like it did back home. We stopped off at an outlet mall outside of Phoenix and Peggy bought me some Levi’s, t-shirts, and a couple of new bras. We drove for another five hours south and finally ended up in what looked like the middle of nowhere. You could look in every direction, north, east, south, west but there was nothing there, just the horizon. We ended up in Sunsites, Arizona. Peggy owned a funny-looking little eggshell-colored house on Geneva Street. Geneva Street had a ton of funny-looking little eggshell-colored houses that Peggy called “stucco”. Stucco was this certain texture the paint had. The houses were boxy and had red-tiled roofs. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice.
School would start in three days. I would be taking the school bus to another town (El-fucking-Frida), where the high school was. Sunsites was initially supposed to be a retirement-only community but they ultimately couldn’t afford to keep the young folk out so it was ninety-percent retirement and ten-percent everything else. There was a ghost town a mile away. The nearest grocery store was thirty miles north. There was no mayor. There was a golf course which was a big deal. Tombstone was over a hill to the west and Mexico was forty minutes south.
You think my snake stories are over? Not just yet:
The mountains in California have rattlers but in Arizona the rattlers are in the mountains and down low and everywhere in between.
At my high school boyfriend Woody’s place we went looking for rattlers just for fun, cause it was like fishing in a stocked pond–they were always there.
And this was sad, but, they always got shot. We didn’t know any different. We didn’t know any environmentalists. Even my dad the Hare Krishna had that rattler under our porch killed; that’s just the way it was with rattlers [to us].
The fattest, longest one we killed just off the gravel driveway under a yucca and that big boy didn’t want to die you could see it in his eyes. But Woody had a younger brother and that’s how he (it wasn’t my idea) justified it. That and we were three towns from a hospital so we didn’t want anyone gettin bit.
We found a rattler in the tool shed and shot him too. Not me. Woody.
One night after dark I was heading over to his place for dinner and I parked my car and skipped up to the porch to ring the doorbell. Along the way I stepped over a long, thick stick and I thought that stick must be something Woody’s little brother picked up in the wash and then the motion light kicked on, I rang the doorbell, looked back at the stick and saw that it had the most intricate diamond-shaped pattern–it was a rattler.
Woody’s mother opened the door, I pointed at it, she screamed and the snake recoiled into the, by this time familiar to me, cow patty position.
Woody’s mother snatched a garden shovel out of thin air I guess and she pinned that giant snake to the gravel beneath it.
Someone handed her a rifle and she handed me the handle of the shovel, said Terah for god’s sake keep that thing pinned down.
She hefted the rifle up to her shoulder–closed one eye and met her target.
Oh I can’t do it she said and handed the rifle to Woody.
Agh I don’t want to do this I squealed and Woody’s mother rolled her eyes and grabbed the shovel keeping the snake pinned as Woody blew through the thing’s body in one clean shot.
I stood to the side shaking.
Five years later my dad and I find ourselves in the Siskiyou wilderness on a mini backpacking trip with a man named Rick who claimed to be our cousin (boy I hoped not) and his girlfriend whom I cannot recall the name of now, our goat Sugar, my first or second or third period, but I still didn’t know what the hell was going on, some beans, saltines, swimsuits and for the couple–a cardboard jar of rolling tobacco, which Sugar later ate, which didn’t end up well for anyone as you can imagine.
We were oh, two miles down the trail and six miles from where we were going. We each have our backpacks and my dad has a sauce pan tied to his. Sugar has a rope leash but its dragging on the ground cause he stays with us anyway.
I’m on my period so I’m not talking just sad just teenage just in between whimsical-childhood and dependent-on-everything-adulthood. There wasn’t too much of an in between for me (childhoodadulthood) but if there was–this was it. I still looked to my father for entertainment. I was at the age just before I would be stealing cigarettes from Rick and whatsherface. I’d tried cigarettes but not enough that I owned them yet. You know what I mean. That smallnarrowstage.
We were walking along over a strawberry-blond single-track trail of serpentine soil and I’m admiring the irises because its summer time again and I think I hear the creek and I hope it’s the creek and I’m so bloated and I’m going to secretly wash my crotch and thighs in the creek in a corner under a fallen log or behind a boulder. I’m going to go underwater and open my eyes cause that’s my favorite thing to do and oh I’m going to be clean and fresh.
I see my Dad smack himself in the face. Now granted my dad sometimes did funny things–smacking himself on the face wasn’t exactly one of them. Whack. He did it again.
“Bees!!!” He yells from the front of the line.
I too feel a small flying creature swoosh past my face, my ear, and we all start runnin’.
Run run run down the trail–the goat too.
Run run run until we finally outrun the bees and the two smokers are red in the face and panting.
Just as we stopped however Sugar leapt about a foot into the air on all fours–spooked by something just like a human would be–wide goat eyes and then we heard it: the steady movement of a rattle tail.
Run!!! Someone yells and we all start runnin’ again, Sugar in the lead.
Around a bend or two and we’re sure we’ve outrun the bees and the snake and we stumble into a large opening in the forest and see about four naked hippies sitting around a fire.
Bees, rattlers and now this?
My dad perks up as he naturally does with new people, especially hippies, and he gives them his warm smile which gets us an invite into the hippie circle.
We all sit down to catch our breath and I bleed my period blood onto a makeshift leaf pad in my shorts, having outrun a hundred bees and a rattlesnake but not my womanhood.
I’ve seen long fat ones and I’ve seen little ones.
Me and Jessica Philpott on the absolute hottest day of the summer–it feels like that in my memory anyway–a not-a-cloud-in-the-sky Rock Creek day. A boulders-are-so-hot-you-actually-need-shoes kind of day.
Jessica and me sitting in my dad’s little red Sprint–one of our early, decent cars–listening to Great White or Mike and the Mechanics or Tom Petty. I won’t back down. I stand my ground. Jessica said you should ask your dad if you can spend the night. (Despite my dad being an unconventional parent, he still always, up until my last day with him and Lisa on A street, insisted that I ask permission and that he knows where I am and who I’m with). I sang Okay and leapt out of the passenger’s seat (Jessica was the kind of friend who would get the front seat in my daddy’s car).
To paint a picture–the Sprint was parked in the dirt yard right in front of our cabin nearly in the garden. It wasn’t always parked there, and I don’t know what it was doing there on that day, maybe we’d been unloading seaweed from the trunk and dumping it in the garden like we sometimes did.
Anyways, so I jumped out of the car and with Jessica still in the passenger’s seat ran/skip/hopped onto the front porch which was raised up about four inches from the ground and as soon as my leading foot, my right foot landed I heard a thick rattle. I’d heard enough warnings in my life to know what it was and it was true boy howdy when I looked down right there under the porch was a fat silver rattler.
“Daddd!!” I hollered through the open cabin door, “Rattler!!”
I don’t know if my left foot even made it to the porch cause as soon as I saw that snake it was leading the way right back to that little red Sprint.
Snake! Rattler! I yelled to Jessica. Quick, on top of the car!
Sitting on the hood of the little red Sprint I said “Ohh noo I hope my dad doesn’t come out the front door!”
But my pa was quicker than that. He’d somehow detected sincerity in my voice as I’d hollered despite the many times I’d played jokes and cried wolf.
He leapt out the window of the cabin into the goose coop and hollered to us that he was going to get Fabian’s gun.
Jess and I looked at each other with horror, we hadn’t intended to get anything killed.
My dad returned with Fabian and his gun and more of the neighborhood of course.
My dad didn’t kill things. And if anyone was gonna kill anything with Fabian’s gun it was going to be Fabian. Of course.
The boys–John and Butch were so excited they were jumping up and down. Jess and I remained in our front row seats on the hood of the car.
The boys and men slowly approached the rattler under the porch.
I made a secret plea that the snake had found itself elsewhere.
The loud ramble of its rattler as the boys and men tip-toed near it told me it hadn’t.
Without a countdown or a warning Fabian fired his rifle and got the fat boy on his first shot.
Then he took the ol’ boy home and the William’s ate him for dinner.