our dusty bungalo

My Life of Noisy Desperation

Excerpt from Autobiographical Novel
© 2007 Zoe Zuniga

The Crash

When we got back to Berkeley from Asia, mom decided we should move to New Mexico. “We have never lived there, and I hear it’s beautiful.” She told me. Our friend Kathy Barrett had family there that we could stay with while we looked for a place to live.

It was 1971. I had just turned 11. I walked home from the hippy free-school in the nice part of town to our two-room bungalow in Albuquerque. The neighborhood went from tree-lined with green grass and flowers to dusty tumbleweeds and abandoned lots by the time I got to my part of town. A giant billboard cast a shadow over the little building in the afternoon sun. I waded through the sand thinking about the play we were rehearsing at 12 Gates Community School. My mom had found the hippy free school in an old Victorian mansion a couple of miles from home. It was better than public school, especially since I had been out of school for the last year traveling in Asia on a puppet tour with mom.

 I had a pretty good part in the school play as Mrs. Dracula. It was really fun to be working on a project with the five other pre-teens.  We were all between 11 and 13; all the other students were just annoying little kids.

Our teacher, Ed was a playwright and had put the script together from watching us play Dracula in the basement. He was a pretty good writer, which surprised me. He looked like such a fat, jolly, Santa Clause and I had always pictured writers as being thin and sad.

illustration by Zoe Zuniga

As I reached our bungalow, I absently reached for the door handle kicking sand from the stoop so it wouldn’t get into the little two-room house. The door seemed to open by itself. I walked into the front room, mom’s room. It had nothing in it except a mattress and blankets on the floor and a line of books against the far wall and a little shelf of her the few things she had unpacked. Mom sat up in bed with a Sheepish grin, hugging the sheet to her plump body. “Hi cookie!” she said a too brightly.

“Hi, mom.” I gently tugged the door handle to see who was behind it. Our friend from school, the carpenter, grinned down at me. I looked up and down his naked, white form noting the now-limp penis and the hairy toes. “Oh, hi, Curt,” I said in a bored tone.

“See. I told you she would be just fine about it.” He gave my head pat and dived under the covers into the general vicinity of my mom’s crotch.

My Life of Noisy Desperation

Mom squirmed and giggled nervously. “Stop that Curt! Rachel, get me my wallet, and I’ll give you some money for a candy bar.”

Curt’s head popped up. “Oh, don’t make her leave. Where will she go?”

“She’ll be fine. She’ll find something to do.” My mom gestured impatiently, waving her hand up and down for the wallet.

“Of course, I’ll be fine.” I handed my mother the bulky wallet, a ladies-style-wallet with too many zippers and snaps and pockets. All of a sudden I noticed how bright red and too-shiny it was and how worn around the folds.

“Boy, you sure are cool-headed.” Mom praised, handing a whole dollar to me. “Here! Now don’t come back for at least an hour. Go to the park or something.”

“Oh mommy, you are so silly.” I rolled my eyes and snatched the bill. Curt dived under again, and they both giggled. I was getting to the age when mom had started to be the kind of person I would not want anyone to know was my mom. Everything she did seemed so embarrassing.

I bought an extra-large Baby Ruth bar at the corner store a block away and sat on the dry stump that was right under the window of my mom’s room. It was bright and sunny outside, but there was some shade under the window, so it was not too hot; It was fall, so it was only around 65 degrees in the shade.

My Life of Noisy Desperation

 I didn’t feel like going anywhere. My two best friends were away so I could not go visiting anyway. I was trying not to think about Curt’s two blond boys and his wife. Or at least she seemed sort of like his wife. She was a little red-headed — a frightened squirrel-like-person.

I was peeling the candy wrapper when I heard a groan from inside, from the window right above me. I stopped for a moment. Listening, but the sound stopped. I got the wrapper halfway off and took a bite. An agonizing moan stopped me in mid-chew. My mom sounded as if she were being tortured. What the hell was he doing to her? I made as if to put down the candy bar and get up, but the sound died down again.

I sat watching the traffic zoom along the dusty street. The drivers acted like pilots on a landing runway. This corner was where the freeway emptied out. The stoplight on our corner was a real annoyance to these frenzied motorists.

It was a good candy bar, creamy from being in the sun with the added contrast of the hard, crunchy nuts. I had just finished the whole thing when the moaning started again. This time it didn’t stop; it grew louder. My god! He’s beating her or something. If he doesn’t stop, I am going to go in there and hit him with something! I sat, shoulders hunched forward trying not to move, listening to the unbearable sound of my mother’s gasps and cries and moans. I tensed myself to get up and do something. I told myself I would sneak into the kitchen and get the frying pan and….

There was a loud grinding sound from the street as metal hit metal. I swung around in time to see one car go sideways and slide across the intersection with another car’s nose buried in its side. They were not going very fast, and they came to a stop pretty quick. Glass and oil were already spilling onto the street.

“Geeze, what the hell happened?” Curt’s nude upper half was in the window as he parted the curtain. He looked down and saw me and laughed, scratching his hairless chest. “Joanne, Come look at this.”

My mother’s disheveled head peeped out to look at the accident and then down at me. “Rachel! What are you doing right here? I thought I told you to go play for a while.”

Curt Laughed again. “She has been sitting right here under the window.  How long have you been there anyway?”

“Oh, don’t know.” I shrugged, real cool as if it did not matter at all.

My Life of Noisy Desperation