Written 28 July 2014 when I was age 28.
Circa 1992 my family took a vacation to the American Southwest, an awe-inspiring landscape of geologic majesty. Unfortunately, to behold this majesty, you have to do a lot of driving, which meant countless hours sandwiched between my brothers in the back middle seat of a rental sedan.
I always got the back middle seat, while my brothers enjoyed the windows. Rationally it made sense because I was by far the smallest; my brothers are 5 and 7 years older. However in the ethical calculus of a first grader, me always having the middle seat was a grand injustice. It didn’t seem fair to make someone sit in a particular place in a vehicle because of that person’s physical attributes. Had I known about the civil rights movement, I would have drawn the analogy. But, my elementary school didn’t teach civil rights until 2nd grade or analogies until 3rd.
My parents let us sort out backseat affairs ourselves, and I always sorted into the middle seat. Upon entering the car we would perform a Looney Tunes-like scene of locking doors, unlocking doors, switching seats, and running around the car. Invariably, I would be trapped in the middle by the time the car was rolling.
So I began every car ride fuming, indignant. On this particular day, I was fuming, indignant as we drove through Monument Valley, a Navajo park along the Utah-Arizona border known for colossal sandstone buttes. It’s a vista of red stone, blue sky, and vastness. It’s what you picture when you picture the Southwest because countless iconic Westerns and commercials have been filmed there.
The Monument Valley tour loop is 17 miles and takes 2-3 hours to drive. In my memory, the drive was an immeasurable span of tedium and needless suffering.
Four minutes into the drive I asked, “how many more hours?” being sure to draw out hours with the breadth of my anguish.
My parents ignored me.
Finally, acknowledgement: “What is it?”
“I said, how many more hours?”
“We’ll get there when we get there. Look at the rocks.”
As an adult with an appreciation for and education in geology, I would enjoy Monument Valley. As a child, stuck in the middle, I was rancorous with “are we there yet” delirium. It occurred to me that we would be driving on a dirt road for hours to see some tall rocks, or whatever tall rocks I could barely glimpse from the back, middle seat.
My ideal vacation comprised a swimming pool, mini-golf, and 24/7 popsicle availability. A place, like my grandparents’ condo on Hilton Head Island, SC, where we parked the car and thereafter only used bicycles and boogey boards for transportation. Driving for hours on a dirt road to see giant rock towers was no vacation. It was child abuse.
A Genesis cassette tape was playing.
“I can feel it coming in the air tonight, hold on…”
Even at age seven I had in inkling that being subjected to this kind of music could compromise our sanity. Had I been aware of current events at that time, I would have likened it to the psychological warfare used in the U.S. invasion of Panama.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life, hold on…”
“What is it?”
“I’m really, really bored.” My words seethed through gritted teeth.
“Play one of your road games.”
We tried to play that game where you go through the alphabet and spot something that begins with each letter.
B… B… B…
D… D… D…
We gave up. There’s not a lot of alphabetic variety in shrubby desert.
Phil Collins belted, “Oh I can’t dance, I can’t talk… Only thing about me is the way I walk…” To this day his songs trigger instant car sickness for me, even if I just hear them in Trader Joe's.
Anticipating revolt, my parents resorted to the only effective appeasement: stuffing our faces with snacks. They had one bag of Doritos.
“Okay kids you can only have one Dorito every 10 minutes. Start your timers!”
My mother distributed our first Dorito rations and we diligently set our watches. My brothers ate them immediately, but I decided to make mine last. I slowly licked the neon powder from one side, then the other side. I nibbled a bit and sucked on it. I nibbled a little more. It was repulsive.
My brother objected. “Mom it's disgusting how she's eating her Dorito!”
My other brother agreed. “It’s making me sick! Tell her she can’t eat it like that!”
Mom: “Bridget, eat the Doritos like a civilized person.”
I would have pointed out that regulating and criticizing my food consumption could lead to eating disorders, but I didn’t know about those until the next year, when I watched a Lifetime Original movie with my mom about bulimia.
Me: “That’s not fair!”
Mom: “Eat them like a civilized person or don’t eat them at all.”
I would have pointed that "civilized" is an imperialist, racist concept - that the "civilized world" is destroying the planet and driving most species, including our own, to extinction. But I didn't have my Anthropology PhD yet.
Me: “Fine. I don’t want any.”
I crossed my arms and commenced my first (and only) hunger strike.
Now Phil was singing, “Cos tonight, tonight, tonight– ohhhhhhhh.”
The Dorito tiff and never ending battle over the middle seat may give you a false impression of our sibling dynamics. It was not always my brothers against me. We had shifting alliances based on individual goals. Most of the time my oldest brother and I allied against the middle brother. And most of the time my oldest brother was my buddy, looking after my happiness and well-being.
He had ways to entertain me, one of which was a character known as Mr. Finger. This was his right pointer finger, used as a puppet. Mr. Finger would act out adventures and keep me from doing bratty younger sister things, like licking Doritos.
There was an elaborate backstory to Mr. Finger, the details of which are forgotten. I’m pretty sure his parents died—because orphans were so popular in kids’ stories at the time—and he definitely had a little brother, Mr. Pinky.
Mr. Finger popped up to entertain me.
“Hi Bridget! How are you doing today?”
“Well how about I tell you a story?”
“Well how about we go on an adventure?”
“Tonight, tonight, tonight– ohhhhhh.”
I was not in the mood. I made my pointer finger into a gun and shot Mr. Finger point blank.
A few minutes later I wanted him back.
“No, you shot him. He’s dead.”
I pleaded. “It was an accident! Make him come back!”
“I can’t. He’s dead.”
Days, months, years later, it was the same. Mr. Finger was dead. He never came back. And that is how I learned some actions have irrevocable consequences.
As long as I could write, I've been writing "for fun." First privately in childhood journals and .doc files saved on a dial-up era desktop. Then publicly during my 20s blogging heyday. Here's a sample of my musings, plucked from different ages and posted in a non-linear timeline.