This story was published in an online journal called "Penwomanship," now defunct. I retain rights to it.
I used to think that I could fly.
When I was young, my cousins and I played on Grandma’s farm in Oregon. After the harvest when they burned the hay fields, Mike, Mark, and I would spend our afternoons chasing wind devils. Those tiny spirals of wind, like mini-tornados, became visible when they carried the ash. We caught our share of wind devils, but we never assumed that our failure to fly was because flight was impossible. Though our toes never left the earth, we chased those grayish funnels with the enthusiasm of dogs chasing squirrels, certain that sooner or later we would time our landing right, and we’d be up, up and away.
In those days I also believed that an invisible owl lived in the head-sized knothole in the old oak that stood in front of the barn. I used to talk to that old owl and there were times when I felt sure I’d heard him answer.
When I was really small, I believed that everything buried in the earth returned to heaven, so my sister and I wrote letters to God and buried them behind the garage. When we were unable to find them later we were pleased that God had gotten our messages.
In high school, my beliefs were somewhat less optimistic. I believed that married people secretly hated each other, and that nothing good was ever going to come of my life. In those days I lived with my mother and her fourth husband, and I’d seen enough to know that our kind of people didn’t win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse, and we didn’t go to Disneyland.
When my high school counselor told me what classes would prepare me for college, I took them. I may have been a cynical girl, but I was still an obedient one. I took two years of typing and three years of Spanish before it occurred to me that I could go to beauty school instead of college. After that, I filled my elective periods with ceramics class and A.V. I liked throwing pots and developing black and white film, so I took both of those classes a second time. I didn’t have any plans to become an artist- those kinds of dreams were for The Lucky People, not for the likes of me. I simply enjoyed taking the classes.
My future- when I imagined it- would be stunted by a drunkard husband or several sullen children who talked back to me and refused to make their beds. I would probably work at the Safeway store or J.C. Penney, and if I was lucky enough I’d have a dog.
One year after high school, I was on my way to having just that kind of a life. I was working at a Chevron station in Washington State, and trying to figure out how to get away from the young man I was dating- the young man who punched me in the gut and called me a slut, and who had recently given me my first black eye.
When I applied for the job at the Chevron station I’d heard that they hired a lot of college students. At my interview, I made sure to tell the owner that I was thinking of attending Western Washington University in the fall. When he called me back he said that while he’d really enjoyed our interview, he was looking for a full time cashier. I quickly told him that I’d decided to work for a year so I could become a Washington resident before starting my education. After that year passed, the station owner took me for a walk around the lot.
“Kathy and I, we think of you like a daughter.” He said, calmly filling his pipe. “We’re both concerned because you’re not going to school.”
He told me if money was the problem, that they would lend me money that I could pay back, interest free, after graduation.
Nobody had ever spoken to me like that. The next week I registered for classes, and filled out my financial aid paperwork.
When I graduated, I went to Disneyworld.