After being uprooted from my childhood home in the middle my high school senior year to move cross-country, I search for the meaning of love, trying to find my place in this world.
Late summer, 1972
Like a whirling dervish in jeans and a print jersey top, my mom danced around our living room to the song “Arizona” playing over the radio, singing along, swinging her arms, and grinning. I’d never seen her dance before, and she looked ridiculous. While that annoyed me, her joy over packing up our household and moving the over two-thousand miles cross-country to Arizona proved more than I could take. I wanted to throw a sofa pillow at her and scream: Stop it! I don’t want to move! My life is here! My friends are here!
I ran into my room and slammed the door. How could they do this to me?
The talk of leaving cold and dreary Syracuse, New York to live in a warm sunny climate had started over a year ago. It now appeared our family vacation to the west coast last summer was to find the perfect place. Afterwards, my mom had opened up the new issue of Look magazine. The “Ten Best Places in the U.S. to Live” article lay open on the kitchen table. I noticed a star next to one of the places. Two weeks later, my mom announced we were moving to Prescott, Arizona.
Moving? I thought. I won’t go!
My parents didn’t say a word about the move for months, making me believe they wouldn’t follow through. After all, I couldn’t go. I’d be starting my senior year soon. Then, on June first, my mom told me our house had sold.
A twist formed in my stomach. You sold my home! The thought of a stranger taking over my bedroom made me sick. Would they paint over the lovely floral wallpaper my mom and I had picked out? Would the new owners love the fragrant lilacs bushes as much as I did? Would they tend my mom’s rock garden, the one we planted with colorful tulips, violets, and hyacinths? Fourteen years of wonderful memories in this house threatened to drown me. This couldn’t be happening.
The first week of August we again headed west, this time to rent a house in Prescott, and for my dad to finalize his new business plans: Prescott’s first ambulance service. After three long weeks, we returned to Syracuse to pack and be out of our home by the end of September.
I brooded over leaving my friends behind, and that I couldn’t finish my senior year at Nottingham High School. My younger sister, Elaine, didn’t appear to mind. Maybe because she would be just starting high school. My older sister, Cindy, who was attending nursing school in Albany, would be unaffected. But for me, moving now would be the worst thing ever.
“Why can’t I stay behind and finish school?” I asked my mom, thinking maybe I could stay with my friend Sheri, or my other good friend, Gail. Not that I’d checked with them to see if it would be possible.
“Because you are going with us,” she said, firm.
The next day, my mom walked into my bedroom, and deposited several large boxes. “You need to start packing.”
I glared at her and said nothing. I didn’t want to pack, but opened my closet to begin.
Later, she walked in to catch me filling a box with childhood stuffed animals.
“We are not taking old toys,” she said.
I clung to Doggie, his music box broken, whose patches of fur resembled a bad case of mange. Near tears, I demanded an explanation. “Why not?”
“Because I said so.”
I knew that tone. She would not change her mind. I unloaded the box, tears falling as I handled each precious one. Then I had an idea. I waited until no one was around, and hid every single stuffed animal in moving boxes where they would not be noticed until we unpacked. So there!
As days passed, I began to accept my fate. What choice did I have? But I sure didn’t let my parents know that. On the inside, though, I began to wonder. If I lived in a new place, could I turn myself into a new me? The one hiding inside? Exactly how the ‘Arizona me’ would differ from the ‘New York me’, I wasn’t sure. I wished I could be more like my friend, Sheri. She flirted with ease, and had guys falling all over her, including handsome Ray. I always fell for guys who were not only out of my league, but who also didn’t know I existed. Why would they? The current me was nobody special.
Sheri and I would often watch brother’s track races. I adored her cute long-legged and lean track-star brother, with dark shoulder-length hair, a spray of freckles across his nose, and deep blue eyes. We had dated briefly, until I found out he was still seeing his old girlfriend in another town. I returned his class ring after going steady all of one week. Next, I fell for his athletic, sandy-haired, bearded friend, who was also a track star. As usual, though, he had eyes for Sheri. In my junior year I went crazy over the drop-dead gorgeous French exchange student in my English class. I could’ve listened to his sexy accent all day long. No way would I even try to get past the gaggle of ogling girls surrounding him.
Maybe guys would like a new me better.
At lunchtime, as usual, I joined Ray and Sheri. I sat quietly while they talked and laughed, feeling a little awkward. I wished I could talk to Ray alone. However, I could tell Sheri really liked Ray, and didn’t want to get between them. Once in a while Ray would give me a hug, or ask how it was going, but I figured he was just being polite to Sheri’s friend.
Laden down with textbooks and focused on getting to my next class before the bell rang, I turned a corner to see Ray at the other end of the corridor. We both froze and grinned. I set my books down. Drawing our ‘weapons,’ we pointed, and ‘shot’ at each other, as though we were in a corny western movie. Laughter followed, and we went on our way. For a brief moment I thought he might be interested in me romantically. But then I reminded myself: Why would he be? Sheri was far more fun, more slender, and prettier, than fat, boring me. That nasty roll of excess weight around my middle embarrassed me, especially in gymnastics, where we wore leotards. But that didn’t stop me from raiding the fridge after team practice, smothering cookies with Reddiwip—a sugary treat that helped fill the emptiness in my heart.
On an Indian Summer afternoon, shortly before moving day, I sat on the school’s lawn waiting for Sheri. She was late, yet again. She knew this drove me nuts. I kept my eyes lowered so I didn’t have to notice classmates ignoring me, picking through the blades of cool, sweetly scented grass, looking for a four-leaf clover. I often did this, believing they could bring me good luck.
A figure threw a shadow across my search area. I raised my head. Instead of Sheri, I was looking into Ray’s eyes through a veil of his shoulder-length blond hair. “Can I join you?” he asked.
Stomach flutters made their way into my throat, rendering me speechless. Instead of saying, “Oh, please do!”—all I could manage was a smile and a nod.
He sat down, cross-legged, resting his arms on his thighs and his eyes on the ground. I studied the attractive sharp features of his face, his long eyelashes fringed against his cheeks, and the braided leather lace tied around his tanned neck.
“What’re you looking for?” Ray asked, glancing up at me. To my shock and surprise, he reached out and innocently straightened the silver and turquoise necklace I always wore. I could never let anyone else touch it, or me, like that. I coolly tucked my long hair behind one ear.
“A four-leaf clover. I need all the good luck I can get…” Oh God, now he thinks I’m silly, and superstitious.
“Let me help you,” he said. His smile made my heart flip-flop.
Ray lay on his stomach, and began the search. “Found one!”
Grinning, he plucked the clover and placed it in my outstretched palm, touching me ever so slightly, sending tingles up my arm. Delighted, I placed the clover between the pages of a textbook.
Just then, Sheri plopped her books between us and knelt close to Ray, who instantly sat upright, giving her his full attention, turning me invisible. And, with that, my heart sank. It’s just as well, I thought, next week we’ll be packed up and on the road for Arizona.