I have always had a sense of destiny about my life. I always had great expectations and dreams about who I was, what kind of person I would become and what kind of accomplishments I would fulfill in my life. I never had any ambitions to become a doctor or a lawyer or any other type of publicly acceptable profession. I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I was always performing and entertaining for my family and anyone and everyone anywhere and anytime. There was a special joy and satisfaction in my life to make people laugh and smile. The world was my stage and I just knew that eventually I would be discovered and begin a life long career as an actor and entertainer. I always felt different and at times when I was younger I had thoughts that I must have been swapped at birth by space aliens or adopted because I did not feel like I was normal or fit in. I knew I had a talent and desire for performing and I defined that as wanting to be an actor. There was nothing extraordinary about my life or myself. I was very naive and gullible and other than dreaming about being an actor I was not very ambitious or specific about how to achieve my goals.
As I grew older I started to write poetry and song lyrics and short stories. This was all part of the dream too. It just came naturally to me almost effortlessly but I did not take it seriously enough to think it was anything more than just a hobby. Little did I know that years later these poems and lyrics would help flesh out my book and my life story to provide insight into what I was thinking, feeling, wishing and dreaming about at the time. I thoroughly enjoyed being a child and cherished all the freedom that included, with no obligations or responsibilities. I truly believed that I was a child of God and had no doubts that the Mormon religion I was raised in was the one and only true religion. But my perfect little utopia of a life would slowly begin unraveling and the walls of my sheltered world soon cave in on me.
The first signs I had that life was not going to be so kind to me was when I began being teased at school for being skinny. Then as I grew older I began to realize that the “different” feeling I had about myself was because I was a homosexual. Then my family life began to disintegrate by my parents separating on several occasions and then finally divorcing. When my sister became ill with leukemia and eventually died I think I lost all hope that any of my dreams would ever come true and came to realize that the perfect little life I had hid behind was over.
When I was about 13 years old I began writing poetry and song lyrics. This was how I was able to voice my feelings and concerns about my family, my sexuality and my honest reactions to the cold hard facts of life. When I was 16 years old I decided to write my autobiography. Even though I had been through a lot in my short life there was not anything extraordinary about my life to tell or share in a book but I felt compelled to write my memories and experiences down on paper anyway. I still had this sense of destiny and purpose and knew that I had to tell my story no matter how trivial or mundane it might be. I have attempted to write my autobiography on several occasions but have never completed any of these various incarnations to my satisfaction. One of my first autobiographies was called, “My own story.” Then there was “Brian in Neon “and” Creating Life.” The final version which you are reading now is called, “A Wing, a Prayer and a Promise.” The entirety of A Wing, A Prayer and A Promise was written over the span of 20 years or so. My opininions, memories and thoughts would change drastically as time went by but My Own Story is a time capsule of 16 year old Brian Morton and how I perceived and reflected on my life at the time.
I would like to share with you my first attempt at an autobiography called, “My Own Story.” As time goes by memories and feelings change and I think it was ultimately important for me to document my feelings and memories at different stages of my life. For whatever reasons I had a deep down desire to tell my own story even when there was not much of a story to tell yet. As time went by my story slowly began to piece together, and with every story, this is the beginning…
MY OWN STORY
I was born on August 12, 1960. A Leo. It’s important to know that because many ironic things have affected me based on specific dates. I was born in Upland, California at San Antonio Hospital. My parents were Mormons (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). My mother became a member in her early teens and as she got older she began smoking cigarettes and eventually became pregnant. The father was a kid named Jack Kelly. He denied being the father and the baby girl ended up being adopted. Jack Kelly was a very attractive man (I worked for him for several months when I was 15 in a machine shop) and my mother was equally attractive. I’m sure I have a very beautiful half sister out there somewhere.
I found out about my mother’s illegitimate baby one day when I was sneaking around in the garage looking through cardboard boxes. I was 11 years old at the time. In one of the boxes I found a letter that said, “Don’t open until I am dead, love Mother”. My curiosity took over me and I opened it and began to read it. What she said was basically that she loved us and it was time we children knew the truth about how she gave her baby daughter up for adoption when she was a teenager.
I was in a state of shock as I read this letter. We were the perfect American/Mormon family up until then or so I thought and now this information seemed to change everything. My whole world was shattered, well my world of illusions that is. I immediately went down the street to my school and started to cry uncontrollably. Then I began to run laps around the grass field were I played at recesses and lunch. I ran around the field two or three times hoping that I would trigger a heart attack and I would drop dead. I wanted to die. I couldn’t face my friends and I definitely couldn’t face my family. Around the third or fourth lap I fell down exhausted. When I came to my senses I realized I had gotten it all out of my system. I just kept it my little secret and pretended everything was back to normal.
About one year later my mother rather nonchalantly told my brother, sister and myself about her baby and how she put it up for adoption. I pretended to take the news very well.
My mother and father met about 1958 and soon eloped and got married in Encinoda, Mexico. For awhile they kept it a secret and still lived at home with their parents. Eventually everything came out in the open and they had a legitimate marriage and moved in together. My mother converted my father into the Mormon religion. I never liked or understood the holier than thou attitude of Mormon converts until I eventually strayed away from the church as a teenager and saw first hand the evils of the land and the temptations that seemed so attractive. I would eventually come to know that if you could be saved from sin you could not help but be extremely grateful and this can be perceived as somewhat holier than thou.
I was born a Mormon and had been protected from so many of the temptations and ways of the world. I just took it for granted that god loved me and that someday I would live in heaven with god and everything would always be perfect. I had a lot to learn about the realities of life and the trials and tribulations of those less fortunate than I was. I would soon experience things that would eventually make me humble and respectful of others and their individual life experiences and how it affected them and whether they were able to overcome these experiences and obstacles or whether they were defeated and jaded and consumed with anger and resentment.
My first memories are of my grandmother Morton’s silver Christmas tree, her wallpaper and eating noodles on her front porch. I remember getting my first doll for Christmas when I was about 3 years old, a beenie boy doll. I remember getting in a car accident when I was about 2 years old while sitting in the front seat with my father and grandfather Morton. I broke my nose and had two black eyes. I don’t remember this but my mother said I took an overdose of baby aspirin when I was about one years old and had to have my stomach pumped. I also remember having my blue green tricycle stolen and swallowing a penny.
When I was about four years old my family moved to Huntington Beach, California. We lived in an apartment complex behind an Alpha Beta grocery store. Even though I don’t remember this incident I remember someone telling me that some other children and myself discovered a dead body in a small swamp near our apartment. I remember spraining or breaking my arm when I became entangled in laundry and falling down the stairs. I remember having fun with my cast and I also remember using a fishing pole as a teeter-totter and breaking it in half. I remember getting my first acting part in a church play portraying an elephant. I was very excited about this and recall practicing using my arms to represent an elephant’s trunk. We soon moved to a house that was about two blocks from the beach. I started kindergarten and remember my parents filming me walking to school on my first day.
On my first day of school I was in the wrong class for the first few hours and then when I went to the right class I remember sitting next to a girl named Chimney. She had a long, long piece if snot hanging from her nose and was raising her hand trying to get the attention of the teacher. The snot just kept growing longer and longer until finally the teacher noticed and told her to go to the bathroom. Before the school year was over we moved again about 3 miles away from the beach and just a few houses away from my new school. If I could get stuck in time I would like this to be the time. Life was carefree and fun and I had good friends and loved my family.
I didn’t know what lower middle class was, I didn’t know what hate, and envy or anger was. I was completely innocent and enjoyed every moment of my life. It was the perfect childhood. But soon enough my bed of roses would turn into sour grapes. I was skinny. Very skinny. I also had a very high pitched voice and sounded like a girl when I talked. At school I became a target for teasers. I did not know how to take this teasing and would just cry and that only made me out to be a crybaby. It didn’t take much to make me cry and soon I just seemed to accept the fact that it was my lot in life to be bullied and teased in school.
Because of my extreme innocence and naivete and my extreme faith in god and the Mormon religion I began to use prayer at an early age to communicate my feelings directly to god. I have always believed that this life is a test for greater things to come. I believed that this life on earth was just a small fraction of the eternity of different life experiences on this earth and in the afterlife. I felt privileged to have such a close relationship with god at such an early age. It was only at school that this conflict reared it’s ugly head. At home and at church I was charming, cute, mischievous and quite popular.
You should also know that I have a good sense of humor. That is almost an understatement because I was an all out clown. My comedic hero’s were Jerry Lewis and Carol Burnett. I was always performing and making my family, friends and even strangers’ laugh. I would pull pranks and practical jokes. For instance, getting my brothers pet snake out of the aquarium at night, putting rocks in beds, salt in the sheets and pepper in pillows. Once, when my Aunt Helen came to visit I hid under her car as she was leaving and when she went to unlock her car door I jumped out and scarred her so bad she chased me down the street.
My best friends were my neighbors, Doug and Duv Troup and Don DeCarlo. My brother Mike and my sister Becky were my real best friends. We were always playing games and joining me in my over the top practical jokes. We would pretend to be dead and lie in the gutter waiting for passing cars to react. Ringing a neighbor’s doorbell and then running was a favorite prank. Hide and go seek was also a favorite pastime as well. I was usually the ringleader and mastermind.
We would build tree forts and one day I went to a vacant field with my foster sister Carol Begay and some of her friends. In one of the trees we noticed a beehive. Someone decided to take a big stick and shove it in the beehive. Before we knew it we were all being chased by a swarm of angry bees. I ran home screaming hysterically and when I got home my mother took my sweater and shirt off and found 5 bee stings and 5 dead bees.
When I was in the third grade my grandmother Morton moved into an apartment about a mile away from us. Every opportunity I had I would arrange to spend the night at grandma’s house. One time I did something wrong and my punishment was no TV for the night. This was severely traumatic for me because The Wizard of Oz was on TV that night. With some tricky negotiations I was able to convince my parents that Grandma Morton needed me to help her with something at her house and this enabled me to watch The Wizard of Oz that night.
My grandmother Morton and I developed a special relationship and I spent as much time at her house as possible. She would always make me pumpkin pie and we would watch Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk and the roller derby together. I was a very entertaining child and as far as I was concerned the world was my stage. I would act up and embarrass my mother in public every chance I could. I would act like I was blind or crippled and pretend to speak foreign languages. One time in a supermarket I was acting like I was severely disabled and my mother repeatedly told me to stop it until finally she smacked me on the side of the head. A woman saw this and started to scold my mother that she should never hit someone in my condition.
My neighborhood was a typical southern California track house neighborhood with about 300 houses with the same floor plan. We were about three miles from the beach and 50 miles from the mountains. Vacant fields full of open lots, weeds and rows of tall trees surrounded our neighborhood. We would build tree forts and swings and would use our imaginations to create our own fun. If we weren’t at the beach we were playing in our yards or out in the fields.
My house had a huge tree in the front yard with a tree fort in it that I spent a lot of time in. I would spend the night in the tree fort sleeping in a sleeping bag, looking at the stars and praying spiders wouldn’t eat me in my sleep. One day on my way to school I found an adult nudie magazine and hid it under the carpet in the tree fort. My brother and one of his friends found it and the thing I remember most about the magazine was a cartoon about a naked woman who has her hands tied and she is put on the top of a triangle shaped object by two strong barbarians. She was screaming and in the last frame of the cartoon she had a huge smile on her face after she was forced to sit on the point of the triangle object. I was too young to understand why she was smiling but I was still able to see the humor in it. I did understand that I enjoyed the cartoons and articles more than the naked pictures of women though.
My next encounter with pornography was when a neighbor boy showed me a pen that had a peep show when you looked into it. It had about 10 different scenes that included 3 ways and oral sex. Most of the boys I hung out with in the neighborhood were preoccupied with sex and we experimented on several occasions but knew if we got caught we would be in a lot of trouble. One day I was “experimenting with one of the neighbor boys in my bedroom…we had been under the covers and pulled our pants down and we were touching each other and then my mother walked in. She was with a friend of hers named Juanita and they stood in the doorway for a long time interrogating me about what we were doing. This put a stop to the experimenting but also made me realize I knew I was attracted to boys and not girls.
Even though I knew at an early age I was attracted to boys I still had a crush on a neighbor girl named, Jayne Larson. She lived in the house behind us and we went to school and church together. I remember I would walk under telephone poles that were supposed to be lucky and make wishes and say, “Jayne loves Brian.” This went on for years until one day Jayne had a boy girl party and I wasn’t invited. Several years earlier she had a girl’s only party and I managed to get myself invited. This time I spied on her boy/girl party through the fence in my back yard and watched as they played spin the bottle. My brother and sister noticed I was peeking and made noises and started saying things and the people at the party heard and chased us away.
When I was eight years old I was baptized into the Mormon Church. I was very receptive to the teachings of my religion and wanted to share the message of God with the world. My grandmother and grandfather Lance were Mormons but had become inactive and smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. I had used this as a reason for not wanting to visit with them and thought if I could get them active in the church again that we could be closer. I asked my Grandfather Lance if he wanted to baptize me. The only way he would be able to baptize me was to quite smoking and drinking. The Word of Wisdom is the decree in the Mormon religion that specifies that in order to be a member in good standing you can’t smoke or drink alcohol among other things.
I don’t think he really gave up smoking and drinking for a lengthy period of time but he said he did and that was good enough to allow him to bless me before my father baptized me. When I look back on it now I realize this was the beginning of a special relationship with my grandfather that would continue even after his death.
I was born in Upland, California and many of my relatives lived in the same area. This was about 50 miles from Huntington Beach and we would visit every few months and in the summer my brother, sister and myself would spend several weeks with my grandparents and my Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom. Even though I loved my relatives I did not like visiting and staying with them because they all were smokers. I had become brainwashed by my Mormon teachings and honestly felt that my relatives were sinners because they smoked. I now regret that this was my attitude but at the time I shared my fathers’ view that my relatives were not good examples or influences for us to be around.
When we would spend time with my grandparents my brother, sister and myself would eat french toast like it was going out of style. We would easily go through a loaf of bread. Besides the smoking I was also bothered by the smog. My grandparents lived in Pomona and the smog would cause my lungs to become irritated and it would hurt to breathe. After a few days I would get used to the smog and the smoking and even though I had some issues with the smog and the smoking I really did love and enjoy my grandparents and relatives.
The first time my parents separated my brother, sister and myself went with my mother to live with my Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom. They lived in my hometown of Upland in a house on Euclid Ave. Euclid Ave was a beautiful street that was lined with trees on both sides of the street and went on for miles leading up to the mountains. During the Christmas season it was especially beautiful with lights and nativity scenes. Anyway, at the time for some weird reason deep down I despised this place. It was a reminder that if my parents got divorced this is where I would end up living.
After a few weeks my parents got back together and I saw this as a chance for us to become closer. We would take weekend trips and Sunday drives to museums, parks, beaches and other entertaining destinations. My mother was upset about the fact that we did not have a lot of money. My father usually had two jobs and worked hard to support his family. I was aware that we could not afford to buy things and just thought everyone had beans three or four times a week. We weren’t really poor but we were just barely making ends meet from week to week.
One of my father’s jobs was at VONS grocery store in the deli department. He was known as the balloon man and always had balloons that he would blow up and give to children. Through his deli department connections he was able to get part time work with other deli related companies. My mother eventually got a job as a nurse’s aide at a local convalescent home to help make ends meet.
My father had a very good sense of humor and was always telling /funny jokes and had a way about him that was always entertaining. I took after him and tried to emulate him but I was no match for him. Besides my father my favorite performers were Jerry Lewis, Jack Lemmon, Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Dick Van Dyke and Carol Burnett. Carol Burnett was my favorite and I would sneak out of bed on Saturday nights to watch her television show. My mother had always expressed a desire to be an actress but never knew how to go about pursuing it. My father and I appeared in a church play once playing a hillbilly father and son. I also had the lead in a church Christmas show as a mouse. I did not memorize my lines and halfway through the show I snuck offstage and went crazy looking for a copy of the script. I took it for granted that I was born to be an actor and the words would just magically come to me on stage. I learned a very good lesson that night that it takes a lot of hard work and effort before you ever step on the stage or it just won’t work.
I auditioned for schools play The Pied Piper of Hamlin. During auditions I watched a kid named William Archulleta audition for the part of the handicapped boy and he almost made me cry. Two years earlier in the third grade he was captain of a soccer game and didn’t pick me to be on his team and as usual I was the last one to get picked for a team. For some reason I focused my anger on William and later that day I wrote a nasty note and stuck it in his desk. When he found it he told the teacher and she demanded to know who wrote it. It didn’t take long before I broke down and slowly raised my hand. The note had a picture of a woman with large breasts, a tiny waist and huge hips with a caption that said, “William Archuletta is a woman.” My mother was working as a hall monitor at the school and it was quite embarrassing. I apologized to William and everything was forgotten.
Anyway, instead of getting the part of the crippled boy I was cast as one of the three mayors of the town of Hamlin. The script said that all three mayors were fat but my drama teacher felt awkward about stuffing me with so many pillows because of how skinny I was so we went with skinny. With two fat mayors and one skinny one it turned out to be quite effective and funny.
In the fifth grade I had a teacher named Mr. Johnson and he allowed me and some other students to perform short skits after lunch. They were mostly improves and most of them were just sad but a few of them were very funny. I was performing two or three skits a week and most of them were thought up during lunch and many of them right on the spot. Some of our skits were so successful that we would tour the other classes to perform them.
One of the skits was inspired by an evening I spent with my best friend at the time, Curtis Hayes. Curtis wore glasses and played the trumpet. We were both Mormons. His mother was divorced and I was confused about what that really meant because I was somewhat sheltered from the world outside of my family and church. Well, this one night I spent the night at Curtis’ house and we were playing in a storm drain and got dirty so his mother told us to take a bath. I had never taken a bath with another boy before and we were both embarrassed. His mother said there was nothing wrong about it and that we should just get in the water, wash off and then get out.
We filled the tub with bubbles and then turned the lights off, got undressed and went in the tub. Curtis was just a good friend and there was nothing sexual about it but the comedian in me saw all the slapstick and humorous elements of taking a bath in the dark and used this incident as material for my comedy sketch. The next morning I grabbed one of my fellow acting mates and we took it from there and had a hit on our hands.
I spent a lot of time with Curtis for about two years during the fifth and sixth grade. Curtis spent the night at my house once and that night we all went to the drive in theater in Fountain Valley to see The Planet of the Apes. All evening Curtis was getting so much attention from my family I began to get jealous. As revenge I told my family that during intermission Curtis and I would go get some refreshments. We were barefoot and sharp rocks and gravel covered the ground. Even though my feet were hurting I pretended it didn’t and Curtis’ feet hurt more than mine but I insisted that we continue despite the pain. He wanted to go back to the car and put our shoes on but I refused. After this incident I realized what a jerk I was being and before long we were back to normal. Curtis ended up moving to Alta Loma, which was close to where my mother’s family lived in Upland and I went to visit one summer but soon enough we, lost contact with each other.
Then the opportunity of a lifetime happened. A talent agent had discovered my sister Becky. I don’t know how this happened but it freaked me out because I was the actor, not my sister. I felt like, sure Becky is cute but I was the one with all the talent. The talent agent agreed to interview both of us. The talent agent came to our house and started showing us pictures of other child actors she had discovered including Maureen McCormick from The Brady Bunch. I could see my name up in lights. Sign me up on the dotted line. Before the talent agent arrived my parents did some research and were told that if the talent agent asked for any money up front it was a scam. As soon as the talent agent mentioned money my father promptly escorted her out of the house in seconds flat. I was devastated and felt like my whole life was ruined.
Soon after this incident I found out that there was auditions at the local community theater for The Three Little Pigs. I thought it would be funny to have a skinny pig that would say, “I’ve been sick.” I talked Curtis into coming with me to the audition and we would ride our bikes there. Beach Blvd is a major street that ran right by my neighborhood and as we began or journey we had to cross Beach blvd. Curtis was the first one to use the crosswalk to ride his bike across the street. I waited until traffic was clear and started to ride my bike across the street. Before I knew it a Volkswagen bug that did not stop hit me. My bike and myself were tossed into the air and smashed into the windshield. As the driver put on his brakes I was thrown from the car and rolled down the street about 30 to 50 feet before coming to a stop. Curtis immediately rode his bike as fast as he could back to my house to get my mother. My poor mother.
As I lay in the middle of Beach Blvd I kept telling the people gathered around me to call my Bishop from my church. I was sure I was going to die. I was in the hospital for about a week and suffered a skull concussion and whiplash. I spent a couple of weeks at home recuperating before returning to school.
During the sixth grade I was put into a special English class for kids who scored high on an aptitude test. We read books by Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare and other classic authors. My neighbor Jayne Larson was also in this class and I still had a crush on her but there was nothing sexual about it at all. One day during the Christmas season I went home for lunch. I lived about 5 houses away from school so this was not uncommon. It was the last day before Christmas vacation. I walked in the side door and entered the house through the kitchen. I was on a mission. After lunch we were going to be able to play music and I was going to get some albums and 45’s to bring back to school. When I walked into the living room, there was my mother sitting next to the Christmas tree smoking a cigarette. Mormons don’t smoke. My mother doesn’t smoke…dear God…what is happening? Before I could comprehend this shocking sight my mother blurted out that she was going to get a divorce from my father. I was in such a state of shock I didn’t know what was worse, the divorce or my mother smoking.
Back at school I danced up a storm. I was a good dancer and I used the opportunity to dance as a way of ignoring the fact that I was devastated and still in shock. I was acting like nothing was wrong. Later on when I was in my English class I was reading a book privately in a corner of the room. Suddenly I started crying uncontrollably. I just kept crying and crying and could not stop. A fellow student noticed me crying and informed my teacher, Mrs. Pullman. She had a long talk with me but everything she said went in on ear and out the other. My brother, Mike, my sister, Becky, my mother and myself spent some time living with my Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom in Upland but eventually my parents reconciled.
Through our church we became a foster family. Carol Begay was Navajo and lived with us during the school year and in the summer she would return to her home in Page, Arizona. I remember when we picked Carol up for the first time at the bus station. On the way home we drove by the beach. Carol had never seen the ocean and her reaction was wonderful and priceless. Everything was new and exciting to her. It was a unique experience having her live with us. She brought a warmth and immediately became an important member of our family. There was something mysterious and mystical and very spiritual about her Navajo nationality that would deeply effect and influence my family and myself.
During the summer and Easter vacations we would visit Carol and her family in Page, Arizona. Page was a beautiful place located near northern Arizona close to Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. These trips were the most beautiful and exciting trips of my life. The red sand, volcanic rocks, coyotes and an endless sky with an infinite number of stars. I used to go camping with the Boy Scouts but that always seemed so competitive and cliquey but these trips to Arizona with my family were full of life affirming virtues and felt like a spiritual cleansing.
Carol’s Parents were older and wore traditional Navajo costumes and jewelry. They lived in a traditional Hogan but also had a nice house that her family was building. Carol’s Mother fell in love with my sister Becky, with her long blond braids and freckles. Becky was so full of life and was my best friend and anyone that ever met or knew her fell in love with her and her wonderful spirit. Visiting Carol and her family became a tradition for about four years. On one of our visits we discovered a place called Oak creek Canyon that had natural water slides. The water was very cold but it was a lot of fun.
I had always had a special feeling in my heart and respect for Native Americans even before Carol came to live with us. Whenever I watched cowboy and Indian movies I would always root for the Indians. My interest in Native Americans began from reading the Book of Mormon. When I was about ten years old I was talking with a neighbor girl named Alice Smith who was Catholic and she said that Mormons don’t believe in God and that the Mormon Bible was evil. I can honestly say she knew enough about Mormons as I knew about Catholics which was nothing.
The Book of Mormon is an account of a group of people that lived in the holy land and had an exodus to the American Continent. According to the Book of Mormon this group of people became divided and the more stubborn people in this division became the Lamanites and their “punishment” was that their skin was darkened and this is were the Native American Indians came from. The other side of this division was known as the Nephites. Eventually the Lamanites defeated the Nephites and the Lamanites began to spread across both north and south America. Great tribes and nations developed including the Maya’s, the Aztecs, the Hopi, Navajo, Apache and so on. My experiences with Carol, her family and their traditions started my life long quest and journey to research and hopefully solve many of the secrets and mysteries of the world, life and the unknown.
Our first summer trip to visit Carol and her family we drove in a small Datsun. The car was very small but we managed to get five people and all of our luggage in it without many difficulties. On the long drive through the desert there were times when everyone at different times had to use the bathroom. If we stopped every five minutes for a bathroom break it would take forever to complete our journey so my parents would say, “See that mountain? We will stop on the other side.” Sometimes the other side of the mountain seemed to take forever to reach. We eventually got a Van that had a lot more room and was much more comfortable to travel in.
I was not aware of a lot of things going on around me. I wasn’t stupid but I didn’t have a care in the world and between my religious upbringing and my family life I was protected from the world around me and what the reality of life meant. For instance, my father was usually working two jobs and my mother had part time jobs at my school and then later on she worked as a nurse’s aid at a local convalescent home. This was to help make ends meet because we were always just barely making it financially. At the time I didn’t realize how important is was to make enough money in order to support a family and provide even just the bare necessities of life.
Carol had been apart of our family for a couple of years when Shirley Charlie came to live with us. She was also a Navajo but had a very different background than Carol. Shirley was raised in Oakland, California and was living in east Los Angeles before coming to live with us. She did not speak Navajo and was basically raised on the streets of hard knocks. Even though my family was not rich and we had money problems we were far from living in poverty and Shirley had come from a life that I had no idea about and how hard her struggles and troubles had been.
Carol and Shirley were very good at doing chores and keeping the house clean. My brother, sister and myself were three of the laziest and messiest kids I knew. We were so carefree and into our youth and childhood that things like chores and housework were the last things we would think about. Every day in my childhood, years seem to last forever and the future and growing up were things that we never even thought about. Both Carol and Shirley were very influential in my life and I am so glad they became a part of our family.
It was about this time that Corina and Danita Johnson moved in a few houses down the street. Corina and Becky became instant best friends as well as Danita and Shirley. This was the beginning of a new era in all of our lives. I was about 12 years old now and I had my own friends but I would tag along and hang out with Corina, Becky, Danita and Shirley whenever possible. But sometimes I was just a nuisance and a pest and in the way. I was very mischievous and would pull pranks and practical jokes whenever I could get away with it.
My sisters and their new friends would like to be alone and have private girl time and talks. Sometimes I would hide in closets, cabinets or under beds and spy on them. One time Becky, Corina and a friend named, Paula were talking privately in Becky’s room while I was hiding in a closet and Paula said that she saw her father get out of the shower once and that his penis looked like a pickle. For the next few days I would make references to pickles and watch as Becky, Corina and Paula would look at each other and start giggling.
Corina and Danita practically lived at our house, as did most of the neighborhood kids. This was because of my mother. She had a special way about her that allowed her to relate easily with children and made our home a welcome and open place to hang out and have fun. There would be many times when other kids would come over not to hang out with us kids but to see my mother. I had a different opinion about my mother though because even though she was cool to hang out with she was also my mother.
The times were changing and change is always difficult to accept. Carol decided to stay in Page, Arizona full time. There was some tension between Carol and Shirley and Carol could tell there were problems between my parents and her decision to stay in Page was probably for the best.
My mother bought her first car with money she made working at the convalescent home. It was a Thunderbird and was a very cool car to drive in…it had a curves blue back seat. My mother had changed a lot by working and having a life outside of our family must have been liberating for her. She continued to smoke which did not go over well with my father.
I was in the sixth grade at Crest View. It was convenient to go to a school that was just a few houses away but Crest View decided to go to a year round school schedule which meant that we would not have three months off for summer vacation. Since summer vacations were such a family bonding time for us my parents decided to transfer us to different schools. I went to Mesa View for a couple of months and then transferred to Dwyer Junior High School which was just a few blocks from the beach and was connected to the school I went to kindergarten at. It was also close to the house I lived at when I was 4 years old.
Dwyer was a great school for me and came at a good time in my life. I started making friends and enjoyed the classes I was taking. I let my hair grow long for the first time and started to have secret crushes on cute guys. Up until this time school was always a burden for me. I was constantly teased and this was a fresh start and for the most part I was having fun. One of my favorite movies is Carrie with Sissy Spacek because I could relate to her experiences of being tormented and teased in school. The biggest difference between Carrie and myself was that I didn’t dream of getting revenge on my tormentors. I believe I am a good person at heart and could never understand how people could derive pleasure out of teasing, tormenting and hurting other people for no good reason. My brother and sisters might disagree with that because I know I made their lives a living hell at times but that was balanced out with my special way of creating my own little heaven on Earth.
My father wasn’t happy about me growing my hair long and I would avoid getting haircuts as much as possible. There were some kids from Crest View that went to Dwyer and several kids from church so I was able to make new friends and have a social life at school for the first time. My best friend was a kid named, Bud Barber. We never socialized outside of school but would take classes together and spent lunch time together.
I enjoyed art classes and English classes the most. Math, Science and Physical Education did not interest me at all. My English Literature class helped inspire me to write poetry, song lyrics and short stories. I finally discovered a release for all my pain, humiliation and confusion over my life and my feelings. I felt so confident about myself that I ran for class treasurer with the help of Jayne Larsen, Sheri Lockhart and Bud Barber.
Soon, my sister Becky transferred to Dwyer. We had the option of taking a bus to school but Becky and I decided to ride our bikes to school instead. I remember that we would put socks on our hands for gloves because it was very cold in the morning sometimes and our little fingers would get frozen from the bike ride in the morning. I also remember riding our bikes in the eerie morning fog. Becky and I had a special relationship and I think both of us were beginning to see that we had our own private lives and thoughts and ideas that we were keeping from each other. We were getting older and trying to make sense out of this crazy world.
Our family was slowly falling apart and I pretended like nothing was going on. My mother had become more self dependent and confident because of her job. My father was working two jobs and spent a lot of his free time at church. Shirley and Danita were hanging out with a “bad” group of friends that were into smoking, drinking, drugs and sex. Becky and Corina built a fort in the back yard called. “Cool Cats” and Mike and I slept in bunk beds and had our tree fort to hide away in.
Mike never really had any friends. He was always just kind of around and seemed to have his own life and interests that didn’t include anyone else. One of my first song lyrics was about my mother wanting to leave my father. I related it to a swallow that leaves its nest every year but comes back to rebuild its nest at the same location every year. On the side of our house we had a swallow nest and every year they would return. Every year when the swallows would migrate back to San Juan Capistrano our swallows would return as well. The swallows usually return on March 18 and that date would eventually have I significant meaning for me that I will explain later on in my story.
I began spending a lot of time at my grandmother Morton’s apartment. She lived closer to Dwyer and I used that as an excuse to spend the night as often as I could. My grandmother worked nearby at a convalescent home and I was alone at her apartment most of the time. I had time alone and freedom to write, watch television and basically do whatever I wanted.
Then it happened. The event that would change our family forever. Becky had been getting sick a lot and after some medical tests we found out she had leukemia. Becky and myself would pretend to be sick to get out of going to school and church from time to time. Unfortunately I was only pretending and Becky had actually been really sick. My father initially thought she was faking being sick so much, but now we all knew that this was serious.
My father was very distraught about Becky and became fanatical and somewhat irrational with his reaction to this tragic news. He turned to God and religion more than ever before. Someone at church told my father that she was cured from cancer by drinking carrot juice so he started having Becky drink carrot juice. When no one was looking she would toss her glass of carrot juice into potted plants. I know my prayers became more personal and heartfelt. I could always confide in God and share my deepest feelings and problems with him. I loved my sister and my family but I could not deny that the happy, idealistic and unrealistic perception I had about my family and my life no longer existed. This was a new reality that we all had to focus on and it was not going to be easy or pleasant.
I always admired my sister. She had spunk; she was tough and a natural born leader with loads of charisma and charm. After the news of her illness I immediately began to regret all the times I teased her and taunted her. One memory that stands out for me about the tension that I had with my sister was one Sunday Becky and I were fighting and arguing so much that we were not ready for church on time. My parents made us finish getting dressed in the car. We continued to fight and argue in the car and by the time we got to church we still had not finished getting dressed. My parents told us to get our shoes on and settle down and to meet them inside. One thing led to another and soon we were in a kicking fight. We were really going at it when someone saw us fighting in the backseat and stopped us.
We were always fighting. But we were always playing and laughing too. It was mostly Becky and me or Mike and me. One minute we would be fighting like cats and dogs and then the next minute we were best friends. Becky was a tomboy. She didn’t like wearing dresses or getting her hair done. She was more comfortable riding her bike and climbing in trees. Becky seemed to take the news better than anyone else. When the doctor told her that she had leukemia Becky said she knew what it was from watching a television called, Marcus Welby M.D. She seemed to be a pillar of strength while everyone else around her was freaking out. I once overheard one of my aunts and my grandmother say they always thought that I would be the one to die early because I was so skinny and weak looking.
Becky started chemotherapy and soon she began to lose her hair. Becky had a thick full head of blond, curly hair so it was a hard thing for her and the rest of us to experience. Christmas was always a special time for us and this year was extra special and tragic. Suddenly we had become extremely close and began to cherish every moment we had together like never before. My whole life I felt like and outsider and an observer. I had never been in a position where I had to step out of the shadows and step up to the plate. There were so many times where my throat and jaws hurt from holding in my fears, tears and feelings. I looked the other way and avoided the fact that my parents were no longer in love with each other. Up to this point I had lived in an imaginary fairy tale and was desperately holding on to a dream that did not exist.
Suddenly I was thrust into a reality that I could no longer ignore. I was about to be devoured by the harsh reality of life.
Anyway, it was Christmas time and my family was going to do everything humanly possible to make this Christmas one to remember. The night before Christmas one of the presents that was opened was a tape recorder so we could record ourselves opening presents on Christmas morning. On Christmas morning there was a special present for Becky that was to be the last one she opened. She was going crazy with anticipation and then the moment came to open that final present. It was a Mrs. Beasley doll. This was a doll from the TV show, “Family Affair.” Becky had the doll several years earlier but it was eaten by one of our dogs. She wanted another so bad and now Becky had her Mrs. Beasley doll again.
After we opened presents everyone was busy playing with their new toys and getting dinner prepared. I decided to sneak into the bathroom and use our new tape recorder to record my version of a radio show. I sang like Elvis Presley, did a candy commercial, pretended to be a Deejay and a couple more song parodies. My mother suddenly opened the bathroom door and in a panic asked me what I was doing. She asked me what tape I was using and I told her the one that was already in the tape deck. She grabbed the tape recorder and everyone in the house listened to my mock radio show.
My parents recorded Becky opening up her Christmas present with Mrs. Beasley and I had just recorded over it. Luckily my radio show ended just as Becky opened her present so it wasn’t completely ruined. I didn’t know it was recording my sister and did not record over it on purpose and the fact that my radio show was funny saved me from ruining a precious moment that could never be replaced.
Becky missed a lot of school and even though it is hard to think about, she was in a lot of pain. Being on chemotherapy, getting shots, blood work and bone marrow extractions must have been as hard for her as it was for my parents. Mr. Blackwell was a celebrity fashion critic and was on the radio when one of my aunts called in to ask if he could recommend where to find a decent wig for a little girl that was losing her hair because of chemotherapy. He recommended a place in Beverly Hills. I went with my mother and sister to get a wig and was amazed at how rich and elegant Beverly Hills was. Becky and I both were very impressed.
Becky had a great sense of humor and even with her new wig people would stare at her sometimes. She would respond to their stares by lifting up her wig to shock them. Meanwhile my father was overwhelmed with pain and guilt. It seemed to me like he was punishing himself. He was becoming ultra religious. It was as if he made a pact with God that he would do anything if Becky could be cured. This was causing a lot of tension in our house and my mother and Becky were not responding to it very well. My father was buying carrot juice by the gallon but Becky would rather die than have to drink it. But to please my father Becky would pretend to drink it and dump it into a house plant when he wasn’t looking and then lick her lips like it was good.
Church became our great escape. We had to believe that God could heal my sister and the troubles in our family. My prayers became more intense and desperate. I would pray for my sister to be healed, for my family to be whole and happy and I was continuously praying for God to help me understand my sexuality. I had an extreme faith in God and believed without a doubt that if I was honest, faithful and had a true heart he would do whatever he could do to make things better. I had a blind and unrealistic faith. I believed in every word written in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I believed that every other religion was false and corrupt even though I was not educated and informed about other religions. The more my father reached out to the Mormon faith the more I stood behind him in support. This was only making our situation worse because it was driving my mother and my sister further away. My mother was still smoking and this was against the Mormon philosophy called the word of wisdom. Becky had a new found sense of destiny and wanted to explore and experience life without the chains of Mormonism to tie her down.