Then I Was The Only One

By the time my older siblings were gone, the sister closest to me in age was in middle school. At this point the responsibility for getting me up and ready for school fell on her. I realize now that this was no easy task. I hated mornings then (I still do). I also hated school. It wasn’t the prospect of learning that bothered me, it was the social part. I made friends with the other outliers, but I was teased mercilessly for having a “white” mom. Everyday, my stomach would tie itself into nervous knots the closer I got to my school.

At home, one of the biggest challenges must have been that the bedroom was cold in the mornings. The school months were always the coldest in northern New Mexico. It could start snowing by October, with freezing temperatures and continued snow through late spring. We had no central heat, just wood stoves downstairs, and one wood stove upstairs. Even if there had been a fire the night before, it would have died out. My sister would turn on the bedroom light in the early morning, trying to get me out of bed. But it was cold outside of the blankets, so I would continue to lie there staring alternately at the blue ceiling, the pink wall and the floral papered wall. Minutes would tick by, and she’d try again. More times than not, she would surrender to getting my clothes for me and helping me dress. Because I didn’t want to leave the warmth of the bed, I would be dressed within it. Downstairs in the bathroom, she’d brush my hair. Styling it to my specifications. It was more than a girl six years older than me needed to do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she resented me for it. I think now that we played strange roles within our family, whether they suited us or not. I was the baby with all of the things that implied, but she had been the baby for many years before me. Her role then became that of a “good girl”. Helpful, obedient and studious, always excelling in school.

I was in the fifth grade when she graduated from high school. By then, I had to be a little more responsible for myself. The following autumn, we drove six hours to drop her off at the college of her choice. She was the first of my siblings to leave home as a college student. As a child, I never stopped to process. If I’d understood more, perhaps I would have made bigger deal of it. I couldn’t have known as I stood assessing her dorm room how drastically things would change. I was the last of my parents’ children, the only one still at home.

I returned to the Taos schools as a sixth grader. It started out fine. But I began to notice that my teacher seemed like a bully. I didn’t like how there were kids he’d corner, push up against walls and give a firm “talking to”. I didn’t like how these kids would be singled out in class and made fun of.I was not one of those children at first.  I eventually provoked an already volatile teacher to the point where he tried to physically remove me from my desk. The result was a black and blue bruise along the length of my ribs. It faded to nasty shades of green and brown, but took months to go away completely. I finished out my sixth grade year in a different classroom, with a different teacher.

I remember my mother’s reservations about what would be my 7th grade year. It would be a different school within the school system. One which she’d had problems with some of my other siblings. Her attention turned north to Colorado. That’s ultimately what she decided: I would attend school in a new town, a new state.