Just Before the Bicentennial

Way up in Granada Hills
among all the white people on a little cul-de-sac,
spoiled daughters of spoiled daughters
were not easy to befriend.
Searing evil, not so easy to detect about the rich
when you’re seven.

Deep West Valley girls, they wore a lot of plaid,
short skirts with pleats: brown, yellow and rust
The aesthetic was embarrassing, even at the time.
Our green, shaggy living room rug looked like
smashed blades of fuzzy grass,
and the gaudy print wallpaper in every room of the house
gave my mother migraines.

I was forced to join the Campfire Girls
right before Mom went into the mental hospital
On that very day, I got my teeth knocked out
playing a violent game of patty cake.
I ran home, fell, skinned my knees on the hot pavement.
It dirtied my blue and white uniform.

But Mom was in no mood, or condition, to deal with my bloody mess.
It left my 10 year-old brother squirting a bottle of Bactine on my knees.
The news of Mom leaving slowly set into my 7 year-old skull
while my mouth filled with the taste of salty tears and blood.

In the months she was gone, a young man came to take care of us
My dad found him somewhere in the garment district of Downtown LA
Paid to drink beer on our couch
and passed out during episodes of The Price is Right,
we quickly learned how to ditch school
and hide in our kitchen pantry-turned-clubhouse.

When Mom came back,
she baked cookies and cakes.
Those ECT treatments turned her into some kind of
creepy June Cleaver

I still have photographs of those terrible, chocolate-iced seat cushions
in the foreground –
giant sunflower wallpaper backgrounds
and tweed-woven window shades of brown, yellow, orange.

It was 1976, the same year Mom often slept
in her baby blue nightgown on the yellow couch
during those peaceful spells of prescription slumbers.

Just Before the Bicentennial