Sometime between taking off on the plane and the time I took this picture I had been cured of my fear of heights and fear of flying. I had never really been afraid of either one- only the falling still concerned me.
Spy Hunter was one of the best video games ever. I never owned it– it owned me and my milk money. Quarters that were supposed to be used to buy a carton of milk at lunch time never made it out of the Short Stop gas station I would race to each morning. The little bell on the door would announce my arrival and the smell of the pizza pockets in the glass case would test my loyalty to Spy Hunter. I could save three days of milk money and be able to buy a pizza pocket if I really wanted to. A few times a year I’d have a dollar but it was too unpredictable to count on so I just made up my mind that I only liked the smell of pizza pockets not the taste. This allowed me to suck in all the greasy pizza pocket aroma I wanted without feeling like I should have saved my money for the pizza pocket. If I happened to glance at someone who did buy a pizza pocket and sat down at the little deli table near Spy Hunter, I would quickly break the gaze and remind myself that even though the cheesy strands that stretched unbelievable lengths before bending to gravity looked just like the cheese on real pizza, it was scalding hot from being trapped in the toasty dough pocket.
The summer before I had $1.25 that I was going to use to get into the city pool. They wouldn’t let us in because we didn’t have bathing suits, only cut off shorts. As we walked back to the trailer park, I could see the spirits of my sister, neighborhood best friend and two of my little brothers were low. I collected their pool money from them and told them we could still have fun at the gas station and even had enough to get three pizza pockets and split them. I wolfed my half down so fast I scalded my whole mouth with the hot pizza sauce and cheese. It wasn’t like the sauce and cheese from pizza, it was better. I took a drink from the root beer we were sharing and it burned even more. I made myself forget the cheese and sauce were from heaven during the rest of the year. When my sister or brother would look at the glass case I would remind them of the bad burns I had for a week and they would nod. They remembered we hated pizza pockets on that particular day.
I usually got a dollar when my grandma from California visited. She always had dollars and would give each of us one after she gave us our hugs and commented on how much we had grown. As soon as we got the dollar she would start in on how we better listen to my mom and not fight with each other. We didn’t have a phone at our house but my mom would save her quarters and call my grandma from the payphone outside the grocery store. Sometimes we would go to town just to use the phone. If my mom was really tired she would park in front of the phone booth but wait in the car with my sister and brothers. I would take the change and run into the phone booth and pick up the heavy and important feeling phone. I’d start dropping the change into the slot and after each coin disappeared I’d poke my finger at the little trap door where some of the coins might return. Once the coins had been accepted I would begin dialing the number I had memorized. You always had to dial a 1 first because it was to a different state. Then the area code. All my mom’s family lived in the 208 area code. It was always sunny and beautiful in 208. It had to be– that’s where oranges, grapes and lemons grew. It was sunny enough to wear shorts the whole year around unless you actually lived in 208. If you lived in 208, you would think it was too cold for shorts in December and probably even wear a jacket when I thought it was warm enough for shorts. I had to pretend I was cold one winter when we went after my cousin told me it was weird I thought it was hot. One of her friends asked me if we were poor and that’s why I didn’t wear a jacket in the morning even though it was really cold. She said her mom told her she should be nice to poor people and not make fun of them. I told her she was dumb and we were not poor. We had plenty of jackets but only wore them if it was snowing.
No one in 208 had ever heard of Spy Hunter or pizza pockets. They didn’t go to gas stations, they had little trucks parked along the sidewalk that sold laundry soap, chips, snow cones and real tacos. We told them not to feel bad that they lived somewhere without cool video games to spend their milk money on the way to school. We told them how pizza pockets were even better than real pizza because the cheese stayed extra hot– the crust was like a little bread oven that kept everything steamy. My littlest brother started crying. We all tried to get him to shut up– my mom could hear him cry down the street even if there were a million other little cry babies around. I made the 208 girl with the winter jacket on give my brother her chips to quiet him down convincing her that if my mom came out there, she would set off a chain of mom’s interrupting a scheduled game of shark and freeze tag. It would be her loss. Our mom would go back inside once she saw my brother was happy but her mom looked especially grouchy and she might not get to play the game and this was no ordinary shark freeze tag game…..I would be showing them how to use the secret oil slick trick to avoid being tagged. She gave him her soda too.
After my parents divorced, we moved to a bigger town and had a phone in our house. My grandma would call right to the house and I don’t remember ever knowing her phone number by heart again. My mom would keep a little notebook with all the phone numbers in there. We would have long distance when we first connected the phone but after a month or two we would get it disconnected from talking to much to the 208 and not paying the phone bill. My mom would just call from a friends house or my grandma would call in to the house if we still had a working line– you could have a working line to get incoming calls but no long distance calls out. My brothers were all in school now, even the little one. He never played Spy Hunter but loved to play Nintendo. Him and the rest of the former cry babies were so good at Mario Brothers they knew how to cheat the game.
They would trap a turtle and kick the shell repeatedly against a pipe in the game and it would give them extra points and lives. I never knew if the people who made the game meant for people to be able to do that or not. It didn’t seem right to cheat the game. I tried to play Mario Brothers but didn’t like the controller. I was used to the controllers being fixed to this massive box I would lean against. They would make fun of how I moved the controllers like I was driving a car– they held the controllers a special way and mostly just used their fingers to move the tiny buttons in all different directions at the same time. When I got to the place where you could cheat, I would hand the controller over to one of my brothers so they could rack up points for me. It wouldn’t matter, I never lasted long. These games seemed like they could go on forever. There wasn’t any season to take a break from them like Spy Hunter free summers. The day we didn’t make it into the swimming pool was the only summer day I played the game. I only got milk money during school time. It was no fun watching someone else play the game and eat pizza pockets so I stayed out of the Short Stop during summer.
Mario Brothers lived in our living room. He was always on as long as no one reset the game, used up all the ill gotten turtle shell extra lives or turned the game off. We owned the game and it owned us. Newer systems came out with wireless controllers and new adventures for old characters. New worlds are layered over and connections have little in common with joysticks or controllers- access has nothing and everything to do with being connected today. I am always connected and it’s never just a game. It’s evolved. I can eat pizza pockets anytime now and can even find a table at the Short Stop if I want to. I drove thru the little town the other day when I went to see my dad. I grabbed a handful of napkins and slid into the empty bench at the table. The other seats were taken. I couldn’t say for sure but I think I went to school with one of the guys sitting there– it looked like he was with his son. They all had their heads down, eyes fixed on their phones. Connected and entertained– from games to gaming.
How is it possible for two people to look at the same thing at the same time and when asked to describe what they are seeing, you might think they must be on opposite sides of the world? It happens– judges see it all the time with cases relying on multiple eye witnesses to the same crime.
It happened to me. My sister and I have many shared memories. We are only a year and a few weeks apart and growing up we were always together. She was born with a small birthmark on her neck. It was there since she was born so I didn’t think of it as different. As we got older it took on a puffiness and became increasingly red. It looked like a little strawberry. One day at my great grandmother’s house, we were running around and around the little place. We were nowhere near school age and it’s one of the few clear memories from a time few people can even recall anything. My dear sister swears I pushed her and she fell forward on her stomach, breaking her fall with her little hands. Somehow the little strawberry got pressed against something too hard and burst. The little patch of skin healed and lost it’s color. You can hardly notice it was anything other than perfectly beautiful skin. My sister is perfectly beautiful– she was then and age has only refined her beauty. I remember crying at the blood and thinking she was hurt. I remember running but not the push– the push she would tell anyone about who would listen for years and years. She is beautiful but perhaps this experience exposed her flaw— she was a liar. I needed her to have a flaw. I was toasty brown and freckled. I had just started getting freckles at the time of the great strawberry popping. I would rub my little hands over those dirty spots to try to make them go away. My teeth were coming in with a space in between the front two. I never really noticed it or the spots until people would compare me and the beauty. I liked her strawberry. It was normal to me but the same freckle spotters would call out the “weird thing on her neck”.
People would ask my mom if there had been and eclipse when she was pregnant with the beauty. The gossipy neighbor would tell us the same story about how her mom looked at the moon during an eclipse and her brother was born with a nasty birthmark like the strawberry beauty had. I sat up and thought maybe beauty had a curse like the fairy tales. Maybe she would get spots on her face too. Maybe my mom had looked at the moon during an eclipse when she was pregnant with me too. To this day she swears I pushed her. To this day I swear I didn’t. I liked her having the strawberry curse. The neighbor lady came over a few days later. She asked me if I was still sad. I told her I was. She said don’t worry, even if there is an eclipse you and your sister are safe. Kids only get it if they are still in their mom’s stomach and their mom looks at the moon. I had asked her if she thought the strawberry might grow back on beauty every time I saw her after the fall. I was sad for many days that beauty was weird free.
Push yourself to think in a different way. There is a reason two people can have similar roadblocks in life but different outcomes. Yes, things like money, family, social support and health all come into play—they matter. If a person believes they have no control over their life and what happens, it gives them permission to stop trying. There are lots of people with mountains of information to support a person’s belief that everyone else is to blame. They are the media equivalent of that friend who tells you about everyone who talks about you behind your back because “…you should know.” They never want “..problems with anyone” and make you promise not to say anything or tell anyone who told you. They are not your friends and I hate to break it to you but they aren’t helping you. It’s a game. Step back and think about what your role is in the game. If you are spending a lot of time with people like this, I am guessing you give them a predictable reaction and might be their go to activity when they are bored. They know how to get you mad, make you fight with your husband, plant a seed of doubt, make comments about what someone hinted one of your kids might be doing and how they made it seem like you were a bad mom…… You are as free as you allow yourself to be. Reacting to information may or may not be a choice. Is it a choice when someone can guess how you will react and you prove them right?
As you sift through news headlines, pay attention to what you are reading. Who wrote it? What response does it seem the content creator wanted to get out of you? If you were angry after you read it and couldn’t believe this was true, think about that for a minute. What part about the information made you angry? We entered political campaigning season a long time ago. Many people I know say things like, “I’m not into politics.” It’s scary. Think about how many things that affect you every day are decided by politics. Stop thinking of it as politics. They are decisions someone makes about how things are going to get done. Things like:
· Will your paycheck have state income tax deduction taken out? You might work an identical job for identical pay just a few miles apart from your brother. His state has no state income tax but yours does.
· When is someone going to fix the potholes? You had to replace your tires again and it wasn’t cheap. Weren’t you going to buy school clothes for the kids?
· Why do you have to show your picture ID to buy over the counter prescription? I needed sinus medication and didn’t have my wallet. I work and don’t have time for this.
· Why didn’t they ban fireworks this year? The neighbors kids set the house on fire and it burned our garage. It was July 2nd and I highly doubt they were set off in the spirit of freedom.
· Why did they ban fireworks this year? Isn’t this a free country. It’s how I celebrate my freedom and someone took that away. It’s very un-American.
Over the next coming months—the rest of your life if you want to know the truth, you will see millions of bits and pieces of information. Be free. Don’t be satisfied with the illusion of freedom. I’m not into politics. I hate to disappoint all the experts that were counting on making me feel life was too complicated and I should just let someone explain it to me. Stop trying to distract me with easy bait. I’ve got some questions for you and I am pretty sure they weren’t on your talking points list.