While I was born in Oregon, my parents moved down to southern California before I was three. After my brother was born, we moved up to Davis. I went through third grade without too many issues, well aside from the alien abduction that has left the scar on the right side of my forehead. I say it was an alien abduction because I have yet to find a better explanation for how I got from sitting on the side of my bed looking at my night light to lying half in my room and half out of my room with a giant gash in my forehead. While my dad says that I hit my head on the bed post, the lack of blood in the room and the large gap in my memory kind of make me wonder.
Occam’s razor aside, the alien abduction story definitely makes for a better explanation than “I woke up, then fell asleep and then in the middle of sleep walking fell and cut my head on a wooden head board and stumbled out of my room.”
When I was eight, we moved to Winters, where I lived until my dad dragged me up to Oregon in 2001 to keep me away from the man who would become my ex-husband. Winters can definitely be described as a one horse town, to where if you blink when driving past it on the 505 highway, you will miss it. I lived in the safest part of town according to my dad, because no one would be crazy enough to try to rob a house on a block where there had been two homicide suicides in under ten years. During the years that I lived in Winters, I managed to dye the carpet in my bedroom blue with my chemistry set, cut a square hole in my parent’s screen door and tried to blame it on the dogs, and spent probably a good portion of my youth grounded.
But aside from living in Winters, none of that really has anything to do with my story.
About 38 miles from Winters is the town of Vallejo, where at the time of my visit was a park called Marine World Africa USA. Now it’s apparently called Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, but you know what? Fuck Six Flags! Marine World Africa USA will always be more awesome because of all the different animals they had and all the fun science stuff that was available for a nerd like me to experience. Screw the rides, I want science!
I was ten years old when the incident occurred, and I remember that not only did they have a new addition to the shark exhibit, but since Jurassic Park had recently come out in the theaters, they had a whole new dinosaur and pre-history exhibit in the park. I was so excited by the dinosaur exhibit that I spent a good several hours pouring over every part of it and playing with the interactive exhibits within the larger exhibit. For a ten year old kid who loved to learn and loved science, it was the best time of my life.
Using the map that they gave me when I got into the park, I decided to wander to the different places to watch the various animal demonstrations and shows. I set up specific times to meet up with my parents to check in, and made sure that my watch was working properly before heading off to have fun. I went and watched the dolphins, and then on to the tigers to watch them play in their exhibit with the trainers, and then over to the butterfly house to get out of the sun for a little while before meeting up with my parents for lunch.
My parents had brought stuff for lunch along with them, but I didn’t want any of it. I can’t even remember what it was, just that I really REALLY wanted a hot dog and a large lemonade. I got told that if I wanted that, I had to spend my own money on it since they had packed a lunch for all of us and they would not spend money on overpriced food. Being ten, and I REALLY wanted that hot dog and lemonade, I went and spent my money on my lunch. Yeah, I know…stupid kid wanting stupid things. Remember that lunch, it will play into this story later. I do have to say though, it was a really good hot dog and lemonade…at least my memory wants to claim it is.
After lunch, we set up another set of check in times and off I went to go and have fun again. Since the shark exhibit, called the Shark Experience, was the closest to where we’d had lunch, I headed over there to enjoy the air conditioned exhibit. The Jaws theme plays on a loop as you walk into the exhibit, with outlines of the different species of sharks on the wall glow in the black lit corridors. To say that the building all of this shark stuff was housed in was big would be an understatement, if I remember correctly it houses a 300,000 gallon tank along with many other things. There was a tunnel that you could walk through so that the sharks swam overhead, and there were floor to ceiling viewing areas where you could just watch all the sharks swimming about. I kept wanting to see that one shark with the saw blade nose swim over head, or one of the giant rays to swim over my head like they showed in the commercials, but they were always off on the far end of the tank for some reason.
I could have spent days in there and still not been bored of the exhibit, but because of the crowds I probably only spent about thirty minutes in there before shuffling on to look at the sharks outside and then on into the gift shop.
Inside the gift shop I saw all sorts of things I wanted, from books, to models, to a wash cloth that if you put it in water it grew from a squashed disk into a usable washcloth. But the thing that caught my attention the most was a pen that when to tilted it, had a shark that swam from one side to the other. Well, he swam backwards if you tilted it one way, and swam forwards when you tilted it the other…so I guess that’s swimming? I remember really wanting that pen, but when I checked my pocket for my money, the memory of lunch came back, and how I had spent my ten dollars on food. I stood there staring at that pen, and decided that I wanted it, and that it would be mine. Looking around, I carefully slipped it into the pocket of my white wind breaker before also slipping that wash cloth disk in as well.
Since no one shouted at me to put it back, I went on my merry little way to the next exhibit.
After spending time watching the seals swimming around, I sat down and watch the sea lion show. I always wanted to be picked when they came out to get someone to come up and meet the sea lions, but they picked some blond boy instead to get kissed by the sea lion. I was glad it spit on him instead. I went along the trail to the next exhibit, and eventually found my way to the front of the park and the main gift shop. Inside I found these little troll doll pencil toppers that were smaller than my thumb, and in my pocket went one of each color. With my new possessions, I went off to watch the killer whale show. I met up with my grandmother and we watched the show together. As we left the stadium, I told her about how I had found some toys in the dirt on my way to the show and showed her the troll dolls.
She looked like she believed it, so I went off to the “kid” area and played on the giant rope ladder that encompassed the entire area. You would climb up and could move across to other areas of the kid zone, or just sit up there and enjoy watching everyone walking and moving around below you. It made me feel really cool because everyone looked so tiny below me when I was up there. I noticed the ball pit that had this really cool air tube where you could put a ball on top of it and watch it hover was almost completely empty, so I climbed over and down to the entrance, took off my shoes and wind breaker, and hopped on in. For some reason, it was like a challenge to me to try to keep that ball hovering for more than a few seconds, and I wanted to try to get to ten seconds this time around without some snot nosed brat swatting the ball away and laughing at me.
I’d managed to get a ball to hover for around 8 seconds, even though it took me half an hour to get to that level of success, when I heard my mom say my name. She didn’t say my full name, or even my first and last name, but the tone she put on my first name told me I was in deep shit. Mind racing, I started trying to figure out what I had done wrong. I hadn’t hit anyone, and I had been on my best behavior the whole time I’d been at Marine World, I had no idea as to why she had the “you’re going to regret being born” tone in her voice. Climbing out of the ball pit, I didn’t even get the chance to slip my shoes back on before she told me to sit down at a nearby picnic table. I could feel my heart racing as I sat down, and I could feel that sensation of fight or flight pushing its way up my spine and the bile rising in my stomach as I looked at my mom.
“I want you to empty out your pockets.” she stated coldly. “Empty them out and put everything in front of me.”
My body went numb. My grandmother had obviously told my mom about the troll dolls, and my mom didn’t believe I had found them. I just knew it. I began to empty out my pockets, pulling out the map of the park, and then the troll dolls. “Anything else?” I pulled out the pen, forgetting about the washcloth. “Where did you get these?”
“I found them.” I lied.
I figured I was already in trouble, so no point in owning up to something if I was just going to get in trouble regardless of what I said. I might as well try to proclaim my innocence in hopes that I was believed. No sooner had the words left my mouth than I knew that she wasn’t buying it.
“We’re going to go to each store you took these from, and you are going to walk up to the clerk and tell him you took them without paying and that you are sorry.” she stated coldly.
I nodded, my brain telling me to just shut up and go along with it. We first went to the shark exhibit gift shop, and I walked up to the clerk, handing him the pen and telling him the line my mother had told me to tell him. He set it on the counter and said that he was glad I returned it and was being honest. It sounded rehearsed, but I didn’t get to check it as my mom dragged me to the next gift shop. I showed my mom where I had taken the troll dolls from, and she stated that she didn’t care and that I couldn’t just put them back and be done with it. She took me to the nearest clerk and had me hold out the dolls while reciting the line, “I took these without paying, and I’m sorry.”
This clerk looked between me and my mom, and then took the dolls back. She didn’t say anything, but merely put the dolls behind the counter and watched as my mom pulled me from the store and over to the large dolphin fountain near the entrance of the park. “We’re going to wait here for your dad, brother, and grandparents, and then we are leaving. I hope you are proud of yourself, we are leaving early because of you.” she said.
I didn’t say anything, I just stared into the water and tried to count how much money had been thrown into the water that day. I’d counted somewhere around four dollars by the time the rest of my family made it to the fountain, and the look in my dad’s eyes made me wish I could drown myself in the water. I wanted to just crawl into the fountain and disappear in the water. Without saying a word, we all left the park and headed back to the van. I kept trying to lag behind, not wanting anyone to see the tears forming in my eyes, but every time I did, my parents would demand I hurry up and stop feeling sorry for myself. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”…that is a phrase that still fills me with anger, even to this day. It was what my parents, especially my father, would say any time I started to cry. If I got angry, I was not allowed to express my anger in the ways I knew how, so I would cry to relieve the emotional pressure, which would lead to me being punished and told to stop feeling sorry for myself. It is what led to me being unable to express my emotions properly even to this day, and led to the feelings of shame I feel every time I cry.
When we got to the car, my dad made me take off my windbreaker and turn out the pockets on my shorts. He proceeded to check the windbreaker, and found that there was a hole in one of the pockets and that one troll doll and the wash cloth disk had fallen through it. Pulling them out, he looked at me and coldly told me, “I will never trust you again. Get in the van and buckle up. You’re grounded until I say you’re not.”
I can’t even remember how long I was grounded, or how many times I was checked to make sure I hadn’t stolen anything from other family members after that event. If something showed up in my room that wasn’t mine, it was obvious that I stole it, and I was punished…even if I hadn’t taken it. I knew that on several of the occasions my brother had planted stuff in my room, and on other occasions either the thing had gotten mixed in with my stuff and wound up in my room, or I had legitimately borrowed it by asking permission and being told I could take it into my room.
Fast forward 20 years. I’m up at my parents house visiting with my daughter. While she is cleaning up her toys, I’m telling my dad about finally getting my Masters in theology. Harvey is sitting at the table with us as I tell my father about my thesis on Christianity being a piggy back style religion and talking about the various religions and mythologies it borrowed from to create its story. As I finished up, feeling super proud of myself for my accomplishment and my paper, my dad leaned forward and said, “Don’t lie. You can tell the truth about this stuff, you don’t need to lie.”
I could feel tears welling up and could hear Harvey’s grip on his cup tighten considerably. Why would I lie about a degree I had received? Why would I lie about a thesis I had written? Why wouldn’t he just believe me?
Keeping as calm as I possibly could, I pretended to check a message on my phone and said to Harvey that we had to go. I gave my daughter a hug good bye and headed out the door. Part of me already knew the answer. No matter what I could say, my dad would always tell me to stop lying. I could tell him the sky was blue, and he would say, “Stop lying, the sky is cloudy today.” or something like that. To him, everything I say is a lie, even when I show him definitive proof. Or if I bring him proof of something I have said, he looks at me and asks, “Why did you bring me this? Why didn’t you just tell me about it? I don’t need to read an entire paper on the subject.”
Even today, 20+ years after the incident, he still refuses to trust me. I have to have someone backing me up, or somehow prove to him beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am telling the truth for him to even consider believing me. Oh, and just to let you know, the main person who always told me to stop feeling sorry for myself when I cried, the person who told me that anger was a mind killer but never helped me with a safe way to deal with my anger, the person who wouldn’t let me leave a situation to go and calm down, and then punished me for becoming emotional? My dad. The man who refuses to trust his eldest child, is also the one who caused his eldest child to not understand how to regulate their emotions properly.