[1985 (Chapter 2?)] A high school teacher—in 1985—called me “Aimless,” in the midst of my AP Economics class, and hit an emotional target that I’ve been dodging ever since. “Aimless”—a play on Amy—made him titter gleefully at his own cleverness, and cemented in my mind the suspicion I’d always had that other people knew more about me than I did.
At Aptos High, young for my grade and in all Advanced Placement courses, I knew I looked good on paper. But “paper” didn’t follow me around my new high school, cheerleading me through my insecurities. And looking good on paper certainly couldn’t argue with the fact that my new moniker, “Aimless”—created by a bespectacled man in position of authority at my new school–was an authentic riff on my name—clever, even–and perhaps an accurate psychological assessment for someone who—in her final year of high school—was sitting amongst beautiful, confident overachievers in a state of complete emotional isolation.
I didn’t belong there, in this my third high school in as many years. And I knew it. Because I didn’t belong anywhere. And I was missing the veil of adolescent bravado that could rail against accepting my teacher’s assessment of me.
Aimless? Yep. That’s me.
Good one, Mr. Rosen.
Somehow, our journey had landed us in Santa Cruz. Which was the final leg on our journey as an intact family.
Powered by my mom’s inner homelessness, our family of five spent our entire life propelling through people and towns and addresses and neighbors and loyalties, in the hopes that she could somehow outrun her childhood demons. Dad, too, was wounded, by a mother who beat him for imagined slights and locked him out of the house for reasons that either made no sense or she chose not to share. The last time he arrived home was to a locked door she wouldn’t open, all of his belongings already packed and in bags on her porch, in what was perhaps a merciful end to a relationship with someone with such a maternal instinct.
Once out of their childhood homes, my parents busied themselves with putting as much time, space, and random, new people between themselves and the experiences they were trying to escape, and we roamed Northern California together looking for that ever-elusive feeling of family. They had two accidental kids (my brother and sister, “surprises”; I was an accident from her first marriage), drank some booze, smoked some pot, and moved seven times. For me that was five elementary schools, three high schools, and an entire lifetime worth of “Goodbyes” crammed into 15 years.
We had our longest run of stability in Oakdale, CA, the town we lived in just before our move to Santa Cruz.
Mom had moved us back to California’s central valley because she was in a “forgive and forget” phase with her nearby family. She found a fixer-upper on over an acre of land, and the horse-lover in her had high hopes. So high, in fact, that she moved us to Oakdale, CA—“The Cowboy Capital of the World”—even though cowboys and their bravado-schtick made her twitch; the first time I heard the word “dumbfuck” was out of her mouth when we were driving behind a cowboy hat-wearing guy who’d purposely left his tailgate down so we could see the doe-eyes of his recently-killed deer. As viewed from our Saab, the situation was nearly a stroke-inducing event for Mom, leading to a rant that made it clear to us kids that all cowboys were egotistical, saddle-humping deviants. Ten years later, she’d go on to marry one. But that’s another story.
For 7 years, we did our best to integrate into our community, joined 4-H and Little League; Mom coached soccer, and we made friends with the neighbors. We got invited to barn dances, where the beer would flow, and the hosts hired live bands with fiddle players.
And I wasn’t a horse person, or a bravado person, but got with the program–excelling at my rural farm school, Valley Home Elementary–until my freshman year at Oakdale High School, when I attracted the attention of the scariest form of hatred I’d ever seen—Mickie Diaz. She threatened me daily with violence—often by phone after I’d gotten home—and none of my childhood friends would even risk talking to me anymore. So—sophomore year, 1983–I willingly transferred to the high school in the next town, and by Fall of ’84, I’d managed to shed the bullying PTSD and started to go out of my comfort zone. Tried out for cheerleader—which my mother hated—and traveled to football and basketball games. And made good friends, and danced, and drank liquor bought by their older brothers. And was nominated to the Honors Writing Society.
Then, in March of my junior year—7 years in Oakdale, 1985—my parents told us we were moving.
In retrospect, it’s not that I felt that living in Oakdale was right for me, or that my true essence was completely encapsulated by my cheerleading and my friends and the high school in the next town. But I had worked so hard at belonging, and emotional commitments had been made in defiance of precedence. And it felt triumphant. And just wasn’t convinced that saying goodbye this time would be worth it, and that it would be better in the new town, at the new school. But none of that mattered.
So, by the end of April, we’d moved to Aptos, and by Fall I was sitting in the AP Economics class. Starting over. And accepting the wisdom of a new nickname, since—agreed, Mr. Rosen—it actually is pretty hard to have a sense of direction and purpose when you have no idea where you might be living the following year.