Friday, September 24, 2010

Barbi Beckett - Cielo Vista

There must have been summers before 1975 but, prior to that, my memories do not always have seasons attached to them. That summer I had just completed kindergarten, by the skin of my teeth, and I moved out of my dad’s house with a brother and my mother first to one apartment, then to another.

The swimming pool at the Villa Sierra was right outside our door. I learned to doggy paddle there and kept myself from drowning. My brother, Ken, was eleven and initiating a lifelong relationship with trouble. I wasn’t privy to details but I could feel a cloud descending around him. It felt heavy and dangerous. There was something about a fort in the desert he’d built with some other boy. There was the stash of candy he always had; in particular, these delicious peanut things with a bumpy red shell from a nearby vending machine he’d learned to tap into for free.

There was Jaws. He was obsessed with Jaws and saw it many times. This apartment complex was not far from a mall with a movie theater and Ken had been caught sneaking in. There were threats of Wisconsin and of sending him to live with his dad. I wanted him to stop doing things that might get him sent to Wisconsin. We later learned our mom had tried to ship him off but his dad took a pass, his hands full with a new family.

The apartment was sponsored by my mother’s third (and fourth) husband, Paul. He worked out of the country and she spent her time watching soap operas and teaching her pet parakeet to say things like “Pauly want a blow job” to entertain her husband when he came around. I wished the parakeet had something to talk about besides Paul’s wiener.

When my mom wasn’t training birds or cashing my silver dollar collection she was out on her own play dates. When she was gone, Ken would show me his vending machine loot or, if I was really lucky, he would fry up some bologna. This was a rare delicacy that I couldn’t get enough of.

One day our older brother Terry came over to visit. Terry lived with my mother’s second husband, the one I would think was my biological father for another six years and then be sworn to secrecy, by my mother, that he was not. I’m not sure why Terry had it in for Ken that day, but he came into my room and locked Ken out. He started making it sound like we were having the time of our lives, laughing and putting Ken’s favorite song on the record player (Elton John’s version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). Ken kept knocking and turning the knob, begging to be let in. It was killing me. I pleaded with Terry to unlock the door but he ignored me. For a while there was silence in the hall and a few minutes later I saw a plate start to slide under the door on the shag carpet. It was a slice of fried bologna. My desperation in that moment to let my brother know I heard him and I loved him would shape our relationship for years to come.

For reasons I don’t even remember being curious about, we moved to the Cielo Vista apartments. I’m not sure how Ken fared there but I became acquainted with his friend, trouble. Wandering around, bored, I found myself at the pool. I wasn’t allowed to swim without an adult so I thought I’d soak in jealousy while watching the other kids cool off in water. It was blindingly hot, which was why my mother didn’t leave the refrigerated apartment. I was standing by the pool with this kid who bugged me. He was fully clothed but. . . I pushed him in. It did not occur to me that I could garner anything but praise for dunking that sniveling boy. This was my first experience of a thing being so obvious in retrospect. I realized it was nuts to believe this would yield positive results when, actually, it was the worst idea I’d ever had. It was more of an impulse than an idea, really, but, the point is, not a single person congratulated me. Instead there was a scurry and a drippy, sputtering boy. I was escorted by some adult to my apartment where my mother was informed of the situation. She dragged me to the kid’s apartment to apologize. She wasn’t so much mad about what I’d done as she was about the inconvenience of having to take me over there.

Another day, I squeezed Featherstein, the kitten, gradually and continuously until he mewed. I felt bad, then I did it again.

Another day, I peed my pants.

One exciting morning was spent preparing for the arrival of my oldest brother, Jimmy, who was coming home for a visit from the Navy. My mom dolled me up, which included confiscating my glasses. (I recently overheard a little girl say to a woman taking her picture, “my mom doesn’t like it when I show my teeth – they’re all messed up”. I felt rage disproportionate to that offense, or maybe not, but I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that there are no pictures of me with my glasses on during the time I lived with my mother.) We waited for Jimmy into the night. He was late and later and not coming. It was my inaugural all-day-waiting. The rest were waitings for my mother, through the years, when she lived in various other places. I never understood how someone could so inaccurately estimate when they would be arriving in a town.

We stayed at the Cielo Vista long enough for me and Ken to start first and sixth grade. We spent a week at the new school before moving back across town to new living assignments without our mom. I returned to my dad’s house with Terry, and Ken went to live with our grandma. He was invited (that may be a strong word) to live with us but he was intimidated by my dad and chose to live with our wonderful but spineless grandmother. An eleven year-old should not be making that kind of decision, which goes without saying. . . in some circles.

Our last summer together was officially over.

And then began the Fall.


  1. I'm not in a position to comment on the merits of your writing style, but I have to say how much I really love reading the content of your pieces.

    This one really touched me, especially when your brother sent the bologna under the door.

    Very well done. Thank you for writing it.

  2. I'm really enjoying the way your story is unfolding through all these different tales, Barbi. I loved this one. Fried bologna -- ah, a treat of my youth as well! Delicious!

  3. Barbi, you're lucky I didn't just drive over to your house when that bologna got slid under that door. You are a magnet and I am steel. This, again, AGAIN, is brilliant. Like Meg, said, your story is coming together so beautifully and I want more of it. I want all of it. World wants all of it. Keep going.

  4. Meg, Tina, same. Thx B. You are awesome. Summer '75 was the year of pool memories for sure.

  5. Whoa. I don't know whether to thank you or run. This piece brought back memories of Cohasset Village in Canoga Park, Ca the summer I was 6. there was a huge pool in the middle of the complex, and that was the place I learned to ride a bike. Also it was where the weird family power dynamic became scarily apparent to me.
    I've decided to thank you. Thanks, Barbi, and I really love reading your stuff.
    Britt Speakman

  6. Barbi, Wow! I love reading your stories and just finished reading all of them in one sitting. I want more. When are you going to write a book? I'll be waiting...

  7. Oh Shit..I adore you and every word that you wring out. This writing you have taken on brings me to my knees. I feel so blessed to absorb the experiences that created you, and to witness and feel you as you offer them up to lay upon the altar. As Tom Spanbauer says in (my all-time favorite novel, "The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon").."'Best stories are the true stories.." You win my heart, Love.