Empty Lot

We got up early and drove over to Fort Bliss to photograph the house I lived in when I was 5 – 6 years old. I was in kindergarten and first grade here. My memories of that time are few, but significant. First, there was an incident when my parents came and took me out of school, unexpectedly, to go “on a little vacation”. We piled into the car and headed up to New Mexico, up a steep, winding road into the mountains. My mother was literally on the floor in the backseat covering her head and sobbing the whole way. I remember feeling very confused and somewhat annoyed that I couldn’t put my feet on the floor. The trip ended when the car spun out and we hit the side of the mountain head-on. I remember everyone being very relieved that we hadn’t skidded in the opposite direction, off the side of the mountain. We turned around and headed back home, vacation over.

Looking back on that, there is only one explanation that fits. My father’s work was in missile command, and he would have been at the information forefront during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Either my mother freaked out and forced my father to take the family to a safe place, or the military sent us up that mountain.

The other memory was going to meet the president at the airport. I remember being on the opposite side of a chain link fence, in the first line of a crowd of people as he walked by, reaching over the fence to shake hands. I remember that charismatic smile as he bent to greet us little ones.

Next, I don’t know how much later – a day? Months? The Mother Superior came into our classroom and whispered something to our teacher. My teacher’s face turned red, and, framed by her habit, the tears streamed down as she told us to “get on our knees and pray; the president’s been shot”.

So today we were admitted on post by a friendly MP, and followed the GPS to the “house”. The entire neighborhood was gone, reduced to the yellow-brown dirt of this desert, phone poles still standing, driveways intact. I lived on a cul-de-sac, and that is still there. Funny that the house is gone, and the happy irony is that my best memory of the house was when the circle would flood during a heavy rain and all the kids would go “swimming” in the street. That was before concerns about kids going down the drainage flows – and I remember the water streaming through those and thank god that it didn’t happen to me or my sister. But those were joyous days – whooping and soaking in the rain and playing so hard I had to gasp for breath.

The curb is still there. I can visualize the water, and there are even sandbags over the drains today. Even though the house is gone, I can clearly remember this place.

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