When Doc finally stumbled out of the camper, the sun was already high in the sky. I could tell by the menacing look on his face that he was in a foul mood. As soon as he set his eyes on me, I felt the fury coming.
He grabbed me by the arm and threatened to beat the stuffing out of me if I told our “secret.” I thought back to my favorite doll, one that I had rescued from the dumpster. I remembered how terrible she looked with her stuffing hanging out. I knew my grandmother sewed the doll’s insides back together with a needle and thread and part of an old, stained sheet, but I wasn’t sure if I could be sewed back together again if my stuffings were beaten out of me.
I hugged the door handle of the car on the long, hot, dusty trip home without ever speaking a word. I focused my eyes on the tumbleweeds blowing around the sandy desert floor and bouncing over rocks. With each passing mile, I grew to hate tumbleweeds with every speck of my being. I remembered back to the time I was running across a field during a sandstorm when a tumbleweed bush plastered its prickly bristles against me, sticking me, hurting me. Glaring out from the car window, I put my fierce hatred on them.
For the entire ride home to California I steadfastly refused his constant offerings of ice cream and wouldn’t respond to any conversation. Looking back, that was quite a feat of rebellion for a seven-year-old.
Never the same after that trip, I felt that I could trust no one. I felt as dirty on the inside as the neighbors could see I was on the outside. I didn’t care much about running fast anymore, nor for the sweet pea hugs inside my mouth. Even my beloved brother’s beautiful smile had little meaning or satisfaction now. I felt dirty—dirty outside, dirty inside, dirty, dirty, dirty. I felt suffocated beneath all of the dirt. I desperately wanted to sleep. Just sleep.
Beneath the sanctuary of the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph statues, I whispered my ordeal to grandmother. With eyes of terror, she listened to my tale, hanging her head in sadness. The only thing she ever said was, “Oh, sweet Jesus. Oh, sweet Jesus.” Sprinkling holy water over me again and again didn’t make me feel clean the way I felt when she washed my tattered dolls. In fact, inexplicably, it added another layer to my feelings of dirt. Grandma just wasn’t able to say what I needed to hear—that it wasn’t my fault. I assume Grandma told my mother, because I never had to see Doc again. The incident was apparently forgotten by everyone but me.