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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, January 28, 2013

Don't You Forget It

MCG with "Sammie"
photo by Bill Fox

         Almost every morning during my early elementary school years, until I cut my hair short, a betrayal of my Mexicanisma, my mom would brush my long hair to get all the tangles out. I'd sit between her legs, and she'd pull the blue brush with the long rat tail through my hair, slowing the brush through the tangles unless I pulled away or winced. If I moved too many times, she'd get frustrated and brush hard or whack me on the head. I learned to sit still and let her braid my hair because I liked having her this close. I thought it must be how kittens felt when their mother's licked them clean with their scratchy tongues. 
         It was hard to sit so still and not wince when she had to work out a big knot, but I knew she worried what people would see if I went to school looking dirty. I knew that worry had something to do with why she yelled at me for not changing out of my school clothes to put on play clothes right when I got home, or when I got holes in my tights, usually from tripping and falling on the playground. My hair in tight braids was my mom's way of making sure I looked neat and cared for and not a dirty Mexican.
         But my straight hair and my braids caused people to assume I was Me-wuk – what a pretty little Indian girl. And I was in Indian club at school. Mom had made sure that my brother and I be in the club. Having grown up in East LA during the Chicano movement, my mom had learned some things. She told me that Mexicans were Indian, Indian and Spanish mixed together, Aztec or Mayan Indian, so we could be in the club too. It sort of made sense to me at the time, and I liked getting out of class make crafts with tiny beads on a small loom, even beaded Christmas ornaments for our tree. But sometimes, even I wasn't sure who I was. Some people assumed I was Me-wuk; others asked, “what are you,” and I'd answer the best I could at that moment.
         One spring afternoon, when I was nine or ten, mom had company – some riff-raff from town, a couple, who came around from time to time to see if she had a joint to smoke. Being the oldest of three, I liked to hang around and listen to the adults talk. I'd wash dishes as quietly as I could so I could eavesdrop on their conversations. I knew my mom didn't really want me “hovering around,” but I also knew not go too far in case my sister woke up from her nap because if mom's friends were still there, I'd have to take care of her. So I had to be there, but I also had to make myself invisible.
         I looked out the window over the sink. The sunlight filtered through the massive oak tree that loomed over our house. The light on the ground looked like shadow lace. The neighbor's rooster was crowing as it began doing every morning at around four and continued throughout the day. The conversation in the living room went from being about someone who got pulled over by the cops in town, to a fight in the bar, to the joint they were smoking. Once I finished the last of the pots and pans, I noticed that it had grown quiet in the front room, so I wiped my hands on my pants and went to investigate. Mom's friends, the guy with long blond hair and a blond beard and the woman in jeans and barefoot and wearing a halter top, even though it wasn't quite warm enough yet, were sitting on the couch not talking just leaning back quietly with heavy eyes. I could hear the water from the toilet, so I knew mom must have just gone to the bathroom.
         “Hey Michelle,” the woman said in one of those voices adults use when they don't have kids of their own and don't know how to talk to kids in a regular voice.  “Look at your hair. It sure is long and dark. What are you Indian?” she asked. It was the question most followed with making a comment about my skin or hair.
         “Yes,” I said, looking up to see my mom. “Indian.”
         I could tell from the look on my mom's face that I said something wrong, but she just sat down and finished her conversation with her friends. Figuring I should try to make myself invisible again, I went back to the kitchen to put some of the precariously piled dishes in the cabinet before they fell over and got me in trouble. I decided then to make sure that my sister was still sleeping and to see whether my mom was mad at me by passing again through the front room and testing her reaction. When I passed by, she didn't react at all which wasn't a bad sign, but it wasn't a good sign either. Once in the middle-room, I held my breath and peered into the crib at my sister. I listened as the conversation in the front room wound down and heard the screen door slam. Not quite two years old, my sister stirred in her sleep, the honey-blond curls around her forehead were damp with baby sweat. At this I decided to go outside and read, but my mom stopped me in the front room. Coming out of the kitchen with a glass of water in one hand, she charged at me and grabbed my arm with her free hand.
          “You’re Mexican. Do you hear me?” she said, looking me hard in the eye. And don’t you ever forget it!” And she squeezed my arm tight to make sure I had really heard her.
         I opened my mouth to speak but all the air used to form words had been sucked out of me. All my senses now humming, I could hear the neighbor's rooster crowing in the distance.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


"Amelie, "Sammie," MCG, and friend Anita
a visit to SF before graduation

         He called himself a skinhead. His head was shaved; he wore jeans, suspenders, and tall doc martin boots. He repulsed me, but I was seventeen and I had only two weeks, just two weeks left in Tuolumne, that tiny, tiny town at the bottom of the valley, that had held me too tight with its big mountain arms.
         It was June and the days were long and hot, longer now that leaving was so near. Mom was out of her head from too much meth and not enough sleep. She was either wiping at her nose and sniffing or screaming, using every version of the F word with a "shit" and a "goddamn it" thrown in for emphasis.
As if in a final act of self-hatred, a final cut from the serrated mountain-shaped knife, I began fucking Creeper, or letting him fuck me. Recovering from a broken neck, he wore a neck brace which gave him a de-helmeted Darth Vadar look, and his head shaved with a razor nearly everyday, still flaked with dandruff that up close made him look like a very old man. Still it happened at night, after the beer and the desperation set in. It happened in the dark.
He said he was a skinhead, and I knew what that meant, but still he hung around people he was supposed to hate, or did hate, or whatever. And that's how I felt, whatever. There was no one else. I could tolerate the revulsion for just two weeks. I had been hated for so long already, none of it felt real anymore, and I was going to leave it all behind. I just had to get through these last fourteen days -- the bitter end of a long sentence, just 336 hours, 20160 minutes, 1209600 seconds of the dusty driveway, the dry star thistles, the go-no-where roads, and the dead feeling inside.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beer Shampoo

Trendy Trophy Girls -- the real Brooke on the right
photo by Carrie Scott

             Our good friend Brooke, prances through the school
                looking really keen; she thinks she’s really cool
                We tend to disagree…
                              ---from the song “Beer Shampoo” by Bitch Fight           

         In around fourth grade, there was a girl who came to Summerville Elementary school who got a lot of attention. Her name was a Brooke, a pretty unusual name at the time. We heard of Brooke Shields yet. In Tuolumne, the name still meant something from nature, a small stream, something that even ran in some of our backyards but not a name for a girl. 
        Summerville’s Brooke was an adorable girl with sandy blonde hair that sometimes curled into perfect little ringlets. I hated her right away. Her clothes were always crisp, her tights never snagged, and her Mary Janes never had scuffs on them. She also thought she was really great because she had reportedly appeared in an episode of Little House on the Prairie, which was occasionally filmed nearby on Baker Ranch. She talked about it all the time -- like she was already a big shot actress.
I was in Little House on the Prairie. I had a small part, but I’m probably going to be in more episodes. That’s what their called, episodes.
I imagined her riding through town in the eight-door, black station wagon used by Michael Landon and company. I had seen it drive through, and I had even seen Michael Landon and his big hair inside.
 “There was a set built on Baker’s Ranch. One side of the building didn’t have any walls. That’s how they do the filming.”
The Little House on the Prairie book series was only my favorite book series of all time. I read all of the one-hundred and fifty plus page to three-hundred plus page books in one-day sittings on our saggy green couch in front of the wood stove on rainy days in the winter. Little Laura and Mary had a wood stove too. They played with a pig’s bladder filled with air, played with it like a balloon after Pa slaughtered their pig. They also ran around in the snow in dresses and bloomers, and they were afraid of Indians. I had seen The Little House on the Prairie show at a friend’s house a couple of times, but we didn’t have a TV, so it was easy to pretend that I didn’t care about the show or that Brooke appeared in it, or that she was a star.
A lot of other girls did care, however, and they orbited around Brooke like planets. I watched from afar. It was annoying how difficult it was to ignore her, to not admire all her new clothes, or not notice the cute freckles on her nose.
When I wasn’t alone on the playground, captivated by Brooke, the embodiment of everything I didn’t have, I was playing with Noel Lark, Jill Crocker, and Emma Tilson. Amelie lopez and I had not yet become good friends, so I made do with some girls in my class who made me feel less bad about myself than Brooke. Noel and I were in band together with her dad Mr. Lark, both on our way to becoming band geeks. Jill was a pretty blonde girl who played clarinet and who lived in ponderosa hills, Tuolumne’s more upscale neighborhood, which boasted a community pool, but was in Tuolumne, nevertheless. Jill's parents were nice working class professionals, her mom an overweight nurse, who had passed the chubby gene down to Jill, who still had a bit of baby fat, which actually made her cuter. Emma Tillson was the awkward looking one of the bunch with what some would describe as a horse face. Her mom, sometimes, ran in the same circles as my mom, which meant they were hippie types, dabbling in unsavory extracurricular pot smoking and the occasional psychedelic drug – a secret which both Emma and I guarded with our lives, for our reputations depended on it though my mom’s reputation around town for being wild and loud escaped just about no one. My role in our clique added an edginess and mystique not possible for a group of girls, which included the daughters of the school’s vice principal and a nurse. Although we never said it aloud, we fancied ourselves a bit different from the other girls, and we regarded prissy girls like Brooke, and girls who were younger, and therefore not as cool, as pointless and trivial.
          One thing that we thought made us different from the others was our preoccupation with Charlie’s Angels. We ran around the playground, pretending to be the Angels, saving each other from dangerous men, aka gross boys on the playground, wielding our forefingers and thumbs like guns and posing provocatively with our legs spread, and in our imaginations, our long hair blowing back behind us. The giant tractor tires climbing structure and tunnel served as our private investigator’s office where we spoke to Charlie by phone. While playing Charlie’s Angels, however, Noel, Jill, Emma, and I probably spent less time running around the playground and more time arguing about who was going to play the part of which angel. Since there were four of us, instead of three, our version of Charlie’s Angels included Jill Munroe, Farrah Fawcett’s character, and Shelley Hack’s character, Tiffany Welles, who replaced Sabrina Duncan in season four of the show. Noel and Jill played the blondes; Noel, being the dominant girl in the group always got to be Farrah Fawcett’s character, Jill Munroe, and our Jill who was too sweet to argue, but blonde, always played Shelley Hack’s character, Tiffany Welles.  Emma and I were left to fight over which brunette to play. I always wanted to be Jaclyn Smith’s character and usually got my way because I was better at arguing my case, or maybe just louder. I secretly thought Jaclyn Smith was the prettiest woman on the show, in spite of not being blonde. Emma wanted to be Jaclyn Smith’s character too, and whenever she got to the tires before me I’d be stuck playing Sabrina Duncan, the pointy-faced, short, dark-haired, angel played by Kate Jackson.
Anyway, Emma would point out, My hair looks more like Jaclyn Smith’s than your hair does,
If by ‘looks like’ she meant frizzy and way lighter in color and not feathered and not shiny, dark, and brown, ok.
And you and Kate Jackson have the same birthday,” she'd continue. “Why wouldn't you play the one with the same birthday as you,” she's say smiling wide all satisfied with herself for making such a convincing argument, and Noel and Jill would nod in agreement.
I couldn't help but thinking that Emma looked even more like a horse when she smiled that way.
After seeing the show a few times at a friend's house, I realized that Sabrina Duncan was smart and took charge, so it wasn’t so bad playing her after all. It’s just that at nine years old we all wanted to play the prettiest characters, not necessarily the smartest. So sometimes after all our wrangling, just when we had each of our parts and our scenario worked out, the bell would ring, leaving us stuck to play which ever part we had worked out at the next recess.
When we weren’t playing Charlie’s Angels, Noel, Jill, Emma and I would hang out around the spinning bars where Brooke spent most of her time. Each of us tried pretending that Brooke didn't exist. It felt good having a bit of power, the power to ignore someone, to make her feel small because we were tired of her acting like she was so hot, like she was already famous or something. Besides looking cute and acting, Brooke had the ability to spin several revolutions in a row on the low spinning bars. Noel, Jill, and Emma did a lot of spinning too. I couldn't do it at all. While I watched on, each would hook one knee around the low bar and get going as fast she could, turning as many revolutions as possible. On a good day, Jill and Emma could do three or four revolutions. Noel, who was great at just about everything she did, was a very good spinner -- she could do about four or five revolutions in a row, her hair flying. Brooke, however, could do even more, though I wasn’t counting. And it seemed like whenever she saw us at the bars, she’d float on over with her planets all around her and wait her turn for a spot on one of the two bars. Even though there were four places for kids to spin, and I didn’t usually take up one of those spaces. When I’d see her coming, I’d lean against the bar and make her wait. Occasionally, she’d float over unnoticed and would find a spot on the bar, and in a dress with shorts underneath for modesty sake, hook her leg over, and start spinning, the skin of her hands on the bar making little squeaks, her hair a sandy blond blur. It was hard for Noel, Jill, Emma, and I not to stop and watch. Eventually, we wised up and simply left the bars once we saw her coming, or we’d make her wait for her turn, then leave just as she was about to get on.
Brooke didn’t last long in Tuolumne, she moved, winding up in Sonora, which boasted its own police department, courthouse, jail, newspaper, and more grocery stores than bars. Sonora being Tuolumne County's capstone city, like Brooke, was a much more sophisticated place than Tuolumne and a much easier to stay clean. I wasn’t surprised to find out that Brooke and her family had moved to Sonora. What did surprise me was how Brooke returned to my life later, still wanting my approval and the approval of my group of friends.
At sixteen, Amelie, Sammie, who was a year older, and I were running around in our punk rock contingent that had grown to a sizable number of about eight solid with a few peripheries, and four of us had formed an all-girl punk band. I played drums, Amelie played guitar, Sammie sang, and with each new song we wrote, we’d teach Chris canella, Sammie’s friend from Sonora high, the bass lines. While I was still friendly with Noel, Jill, and Emma, I had left our Charlie’s angels days far behind, and I had become a minority among minorities – a Mexican-American, punk rock girl, though I had cool punk rock friends and a band.
One clove-smoking weekend at Sammie’s in Columbia, where she lived with her mom and super skinny younger brother, before we stopped going to high school dances, and before our band started playing parties, Sammie was complaining about some snooty girls at Sonora High – she called them the “beige girls” because they all only wore khaki and white – crisp white tops, khaki jumpers and white Topsiders, or crisp white tops and khaki pencil skirts with Keds. We were sitting on a step outside just off her bedroom, which for some reason had a door, it's own entrance, when I realized who she was talking about.
“One is named, Brooke!” Sammie said, taking a drag from her clove cigarette. “Can you believe that name, Brooke?” Sammie said, exhaling hard and squinting to keep the smoke from going in her eyes.
“Brook!” I said, nearly choking and not from the smoke. “Brooke Banyon?  Are you kidding me?”
         “Yeah, do you know her,” Sammie asked.
Yeah, I know her alright. She went to Summerville. After you moved to Columbia.”
What was she like?”
Totally stuck up.” I jabbed my clove into the cement step to put it out because I was feeling light-headed already. “She strutted around the school with her nose in the air thinking she was hot shit because she was in one episode of Little House on the Prairie.”

Apparently, things hadn’t changed all that much – I was just glad it was Sammie who had to now put up with her and not me. My dirt on Brooke fueled Sammie’s ire, but I chocked it up to the fact that Sammie was easily much angrier than I could ever be, though Brooke moving in on my love interest, Toby Denton, fellow marching band geek and a drummer too, gave me a whole new reason to be pissed off at the world and every single privileged blonde in it.
Because there was absolutely nothing punk rock about Tuolumne, no good places to skateboard, no one to see our spray painted graffiti, no cops to hate, and no place to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries, Amelie and I often hung out in Sonora with the other punks. We’d meet Sammie, Cindy, her boyfriend Chris, her brother Toby, and Sam, the Billy Idol look alike who Sammie was still all crushed out on, and a nutty wannabe bi-sexual girl named Lucky who smoked way too much pot, at the Europa. My mom called it the Throw-upa. The Europa was a greasy spoon diner that also served a few Greek dishes and had really good Baklava. Toby and I got to know each other at the Europa, talking all about band and John Phillip Souza marches while sitting side-by-side in a cramped booth at the Europa, our thighs all mashed together, making it difficult for us to look at one another, except through lowered lashes. Before long, everyone could tell we were into each other, and thinking it was so cute, Sammie and Cindy, always made us sit together in the backseat of Amelie’s mom’s Fiat.
I was eager to work up the courage to make a move on Toby because I knew he wasn’t going to make the first move on me being younger and as shy as he was, smiling wide and exposing his braces only when caught off guard and couldn’t help himself, and being invited to a Sonora High dance would give me the chance.
Sammie and Cindy got their male friends who didn't have dates anyway to get us passes and Sammie took Amelie as her date, and Cindy took me as hers.
Arriving a little late, having taken extra care to dress for the occasion, ratting my hair extra high, and applying my black eyeliner extra carefully, I didn’t wear my regular black but instead a frilly white top with layers of vertical ruffles, red leggings, and black granny shoes. I was horrified when I walked into the Sonora High hum and spotted Toby surrounded by the beige girls and talking to Brooke, or her talking to him.
While the punk rock girls never dated trendy guys, only other punk guys, stoners, or working class dudes, the punk rock guys lusted over the most popular trendy girls in school and visa versa. Toby, I thought was an exception to this rule, and mostly he was, but I could tell he had a weakness for any kind of female attention.

Not knowing what else to do, I marched right up to where Toby stood surrounded by Brooke and the beige girls, with Sammie, Amelie, and Cindy behind me, cut my way through Toby’s adoring crowd, and said, “Hi, Toby.” He looked from me to Brooke, and back, his eyes making their way down to my red leggings and back up. I smiled, and Sammie, never known for her patience, cut in from behind me, and grabbed Toby by the hand and dragged him to the dance floor, where we descended on him like magpies. Chris and Aaron joined us and we danced together for a couple of fast songs, making lewd hand gestures and faces at anyone who stopped to stare. When a drippy 80’s slow song came on, changing the mood entirely, Sammie pushed me toward Toby and left the dance floor with Amelie, leaving Cindy and Chris to slow dance, and Toby and I in an awkward but not terrible position. Knowing this was my chance to make it clear to Brooke and to Toby that he was mine, I moved even closer, looking up and into his face smiling, and when he smiled back, a shiny braces smile, I leaned into him and put my arms around his neck. Trembling a bit, he drew his arms up slowly and put them around my waist, letting one droop down and rest on the rump of my tight, red, dollar-store leggings. About halfway through the song, with Toby’s breath hot in my ear, I spotted Brooke with her beige girls standing at the periphery scanning the dance floor. When she saw me in Toby’s arms, dancing with his hand resting on my rear, I narrowed my eyes and smiled, then nuzzled my nose into his neck, breathing in the smell of his Polo cologne.
Maybe it was because she was still after Toby, or maybe because she still wanted our approval, or a combination of both, Brooke showed up to a party at Sammie’s house, thrown one night a couple of months later when her mom and little brother were out of town. It wasn’t a big party, but our cool friends from Sonora High were all there, and a few others who had heard about it through the grapevine, and who could navigate the bumpy, deeply rutted quarter-mile long dirt road out to the property where Sammie’s small house and another sat amongst a grove of oak trees. Brooke knew we hated her, that she was our nemesis, and that she represented everything we thought was wrong with the world, but she had a friend of hers, one our peripheries, drive her to the party anyway. Having this connection to one of our peripheries was in our eyes a sense of entitlement over our shabby part of town – her pass into our world, and we were pissed off about it. Sammie and I were especially pissed. Sammie couldn’t believe that Brooke, who at school with her friends, looked at Sammie like she was a piece of dirt would think it’s cool to show up her house.  I just knew that Brooke was there to move in on my man. After having tortured me with her beauty and privilege in elementary school, she had returned and posed a threat to my love life, holding up what represented a perfect standard of female beauty up to me like a mirror, in which I saw (and had created) a carnival mirror version of myself reflected back at me.
Sammie and I both knew that Brooke had to go, and I had the perfect way to get rid of her. Because she was a two-faced, approval-seeking, boyfriend-stealing, trendy, and because I was a jealous, insecure, angry, self-hating, punk rock Chicana, I was just the person for the job. I called Sammie to the kitchen, grabbed a beer from the fridge went to the front room, Sammie following behind me. Cracking open the beer on the way, I sidled up along side Brooke and Melissa where they sat on Sammie’s mom’s thrift-store couch. She looked out of place in crisp white and beige amongst the pegged jeans, band t-shirts, black eyeliner, and converse. Standing now between the wall and the arm of the couch, I played nice.
         “Hey Brooke, how did you find out about the party?” I asked, taking a sip of the beer.
         When she looked up to answer, I began dumping the nearly full can of Old Milwaukee onto her head. Squealing, she sat stuck to the couch in shock, allowing me enough time to drain the entire can of beer all over her sandy blonde hair and to drop the can, which bounced off her head and landed somewhere on the floor. Sammie who had posted herself nearby for the show, was howling with laughter along with the rest of the witnesses. When Brooke finally jumped to her feet, she was crying and wiping beer from her face and hair, and in a deliciously satisfying fit of gulps and sobs, she managed to speak. She said that she couldn’t believe how she had been treated after she had come to the party hoping to make friends with us, hoping to bury the hatchet, and after making some kind of lame threat, she stormed out, her ride Melissa, following along behind her.
For months afterward, some huge girl, a friend of Brooke’s, got in my face and threatened to kick my ass any chance she got. However, the memory of the night I humiliated a trendy, the night I humiliated Brooke Banyon, the laughs we got from those who witnessed the beer shampooing, which inspired the song we wrote and performed at parties, which elicited wild chanting during the chorus, had made it all worth it, even if it wasn’t a nice thing to do.

Monday, January 7, 2013


MG and White Tiger guitarist after playing a party

My mom was sleeping it off -- coming down hard off some shit, but I had to get her signature on a note that I wrote about why I had been absent from my TRAILS class -- a class that taught responsibility, teamwork, and outback hiking skills, and culminated in a four day hike in Yosemite.
Strong students had been specially recruited for the TRAILS class. Being recruited for the class was not just based on grades or being a straight A student. TRAILS students were expected to demonstrate a particular kind of integrity, and I had been chosen along with: my best friend Amelie Sanchez, Matthew Johnson the straight A, former football player who was nice to everyone and who had spent sophomore year history class staring at me from across the room, athlete and best all around, Gail Morning, a Me-wuk friend and fellow Indian Club member from elementary school, and several others.
“Consider it an honor to be chosen for this class – an honor,”  Ms. Somerwell would repeat often throughout the year, at least once a class period when we first began.
“Mom,” I said quietly, hoping that it wouldn’t take much to wake her.
“Mom,” I said again, but she didn’t even stir.
I leaned in toward the mound of body under the covers and looked for the slightest movement: a muscle twitch, an inhalation, an exhalation. Had I seen something? I wasn’t sure. She was a sound sleeper everyone knew that.
“Mom,” I said, grabbing her where I thought a shoulder might be and giving her a good shake.  “Mom, wake up, I need you to sign this note.”
I had had bad cramps, too bad for school, so I wrote my own note, as I often had to do. I couldn’t bring this note in late either, for TRAILS students were not allowed any unexcused absences the entire semester, and we had all signed a contract in which we agreed to this important stipulation, among others. A late note would be met with suspicion, and any unexcused absences would result in not being permitted to go on the four day, three night hike after spending an entire year learning how to cook on single burner camp stoves, tie special knots, read topographic maps, use compasses, and how to clean bacteria from water using a portable hand pump. With a groan, mom rolled over -- "Mom, sign this note please," I pleaded, sliding a pen into her right hand. Finding the notepaper, she scribbled out ragged version of her signature, grunted, and rolled back to sleep.
Awake and lucid mom’s friends like her for being loud and fun. I didn’t see anything fun about sleeping for more than a day already. She was also known for saying every version of the word “fuck” possible. Fuck, fuck you, fucker, fucking, mother fucker, and when she smoked what she thought was some really good weed, or accidentally whacked her finger with the blunt end of the hatchet while chopping kindling, “Fucking-A!” To her delight, her friends called her “Wild Woman.”
While hanging around in town with friends, people would pass by me and say, “You’re Wild Woman’s daughter, aren’t you? How’s she doing?” or “Is she at the house right now?”  I answered the same each time. People thought I was stuck up.
“I don’t know.”

But I knew she was at the house. She was always home, at least physically.
Later, I’d get back to the house to find the same person who asked me questions in town sitting on the couch, my mom in her chair nearby, and a plume of smoke wafting around their heads. Sometimes they’d both be sniffing and wiping their noses, quiet for a moment while I’d pass by and go up the ladder to my room in the attic.
Sometimes, I’d put the needle on the The Clash’s London Calling album that was usually sitting on the turntable and turn up the volume so it shook the floorboards and ceiling over their heads. The distinctive guitar intro pounded its fist in the air.
         I didn’t so much as choose TRAILS as it  chose me. Even after a month or so in the class, I wasn’t sure if I should have taken it as one of my precious elective courses, but being specially invited to take the class gave me recognition for something other than my spiky hair, heavy eyeliner, or my mother’s habits. But I didn’t even like living in a small town in the mountains, and here I had elected to go hiking in Yosemite for three nights and four days with two high school teachers once the school year was over. While applying Deet to ward off mosquitoes and worrying about getting our food in a tall tree, so as not to attract black bears, all my friends would be on their third then fourth night of partying, drinking wine coolers and hanging around down in Crystal Falls or Jamestown. I didn’t know what I was going to miss out on, willing to miss out on, or what I had elected to be a part of.
I only knew that Ms. Somerwell and Mr. Nicholson were my two favorite teachers, who taught two subjects in which I excelled: English and History. Mr. Nicholson was my Honors English teacher. An avid runner and backpacker, Mr. Nicholson wore jeans and t-shirts in the classroom and had an easy way with students. Ms. Somerwell, also an avid backpacker, taught history and English. Even though both Ms. Somerwell and Mr. Nicholson were communist hippie types, she was more formal in her knee lengths skirts and blouses and a bit older. Ms. Somerwell was both brilliant and absent minded, and her teaching style more straightforward and serious than Mr. Nicholson’s, who was inclined to humor. Together, they were a great pair, and in his or her own way, each made sense of learning for their students.  Another class with my two favorite teachers together seemed like a great idea, but was I really interested in learning how to pack light, to tread lightly on the earth, by staying on the man made trails and packing out all my garbage, cook dehydrated lentil soup, or snack on gorp all day long? I actually did care about preserving the land, for I had been in Indian club, and had learned all about the power of mother earth from the tribal elders and from my own mother, but I was also sixteen. I cared more about hanging out with my friends, and boys, and going to punk shows at The Farm in San Francisco whenever I could, and playing music in my own band, Bitchfight. We played parties with a local heavy metal cover band that had a black lead singer but called themselves White Tiger. As perplexed as I was by their name, I forgot all about it whenever I saw their super talented and attractive guitar player, Timothy Hill. I wanted to care about the TRAILS class; I really did. But I was feeling pulled in so many different directions. All the different sides of me not always fitting neatly together leaving me feeling ragged and torn.
I stopped for a second at my mother’s door before stepping over the threshold, expecting her to stir or say goodbye. That didn’t usually happen, but I didn’t want to miss it. She wasn’t going to wake up again until we had been in school for two or three hours already. The house was quiet. I had helped my sister get ready for school and shooed her out the door about thirty minutes previous because she had to be to school before I did, and she had to walk, just like Amonie and I had done, unless it was raining, snowing, or below 50 degrees. On these cold days, mom would get out of bed and put on her bathrobe, pull on her men’s work boots, her mass of black curls flat on one side from the pillow and drive us to school. Once at the school, she never got out of the car, but she would wait in the car, waving until we got safely to the sidewalk.
Most Monday mornings, she’d have been asleep all of Sunday, after being awake since Thursday or so, sewing, listening to music, and sitting around the front room with various greasy-haired dudes, or her gravely-voiced female friends, and an occasional woman with a missing tooth who popped over to cop a little of what mom had around that week. Sometimes on Thursday nights late, I’d have to climb down the ladder from mine and my sister’s shared attic bedroom, and tell mom and her friends to turn down the music, usually Pink Floyd’s, The Wall, and to “shut the hell up” because my sister, brother, and I had to go to school the next day.
For some reason, I decided to wait until after class to give Ms. Somerwell my absence note. In class we had been talking about the importance of the buddy system, especially during the unguided, off trail, cross-country trek that we were required to do in pairs during the hike, the one that went off, in the end, without a hitch because it wasn’t all that long or all that hard after all. The plan was that Mr. Nicholson was to go ahead of the group and wait for the unguided, cross-country pairs to make their way to him, using a map and compass, while Ms. Somerwell waited behind, sending a new pair on their unguided trek every twenty minutes, or so, until we all met up with Mr. Nicholson, at which point Ms. Somerwell would make the trek herself to where we were all indeed waiting for her at the end. We had already learned how to use the snake-bite kit and other first aid techniques specially designed for hikers. And it was impressed upon us how important it was that each of us really learn and practice each technique, for our buddy’s life depended on it. I understood the buddy system.
After class, I waited for the other students to file out of the portable classroom, and handed Ms. Somerwell the note.
“Here’s my absence note,” I said, handing the note to Ms. Somerwell who was standing absent mindedly by her desk, looking as if she couldn’t remember what she was about to do, as she often did.
“Oh, yes, thanks, Michelle,” she said, opening the note and taking a look at
what it said.
I  studied her face, as I usually did when she wasn’t looking at me directly. She described herself as being from the East Coast, and she looked like a couple of my mom’s female friends from the East Coast: brunette, pointy nose, and pale, fragile looking skin around the eyes, sagging a bit around the mouth. She was a small-framed woman, a little plump, and cute with eyes that twinkled or flashed depending on her mood.
She furrowed her brow.

“I had bad cramps,” I said, “I’d much rather be at school.”
“This isn’t your mother’s signature,” she interrupted.
“Yes, umm, she did sign it, but she was like, um, asleep. I had to wake her.”
“This is not your mother’s signature,” she said again, still staring at the piece of lined paper in her hands.
“I wrote the note, and my mom signed it,” I said, trying to sound confident. I was glad that I had waited until after class to hand the note over at all.
“ I didn’t expect this from you, Michelle. Frankly, I’m shocked.”
My mind raced for a better explanation, and I wondered how the buddy system was going to work with an odd number of students on the hike.
“I’ll have to take his up with Mr. Nicholson.”
I wondered what it would be like doing the unguided trek alone.
“I am disappointed,” she said, looking me straight in the eye.
I didn’t say anything. I could feel the blood rushing to my face.
“Really disappointed.”
Suddenly, being able to do the hike felt really important; everything was on the line. I opened my mouth to speak. The bright hollow floors of the portable classroom stretched out in all directions around me.
I was holding my breath now, waiting for Ms. Somerwell to say something more, but she didn’t.