Her face is a map of the world

This is a story about that time I reached peak coolness. A trip to the beach, an international train ride, rowdy college kids, room service and late nights talking about music. A hurricane even.

I was four.

That’s me in front with the silver bathing suit. Look at that face of mine. It should tell you everything.

At four, I was still an only child. My parents were entirely too enamored of me and I was doted upon oh so very much. I really was their pride and joy. I was fun. I could hang with grown ups. My parents could take me to fancy restaurants late into the night because I knew how to behave in public. They would dress me up in pretty dresses and patent leather shoes. I would order Alaskan King crab legs and Shirley Temples and extra cherries. Always extra cherries.

At four, I was charismatic and well-spoken. My aunt Kaliz was in college at the University of Arizona at the time and she would socialize in Nogales on the weekends when she wasn’t dancing at Black Angus in Tucson (ask any 80’s era Tucson person about Black Angus or Bobby McGee’s and they will die in a revery of Bacchanalian nostalgia). I’d watch her get ready for the night. She wore hard contacts and I’d stare as she put them in while looking in my parents’ bathroom mirror. She’d take me out with her and I became the mascot of the hip and happening college crowd. And then we’d come home and I’d get to sleep on the fold out couch with her. That fold out couch was always a sign of special times for me.

That’s me at Kaliz at the San Diego zoo.

I know I’m four on this trip because my sister Andrea had yet to be born and my mother was pregnant on that trip. I wanna say this was fall 1983.

It started in Nogales, Sonora. There used to be a passenger train that went overnight from Nogales to Mazatlan, Sinaloa. I was so excited. I wanted to explore every inch of that train with my grubby little fingers. My mom probably did not want to deal with that. Fortunately for my parents, I was a cute kid and the next compartment was occupied by college kids. I soon became their mascot as well.

I grew up on the water.

My dad learned to water ski and fell in love with it. He taught my mom to ski slolom on the waters off San Carlos, Sonora. They would end up teaching an entire generation of Nogales kids how to ski at Patagonia lake. They were kind of groovy.

And I was their adorable progeny.

I was also a giant of a child.

I was a toddler in this picture and my mom couldn’t even hold me on her lap.

The boat in the pictures was the Pure Joy.

My dad got to use the boat whenever he wanted. It was a cool deal, actually. He’s seen an ad in a boating magazine (my dad loved boating and car magazines). A bunch of American dentists had bought a boat and docked it in San Carlos and they needed someone to just check on it from time to time. So we did. Over and over again.

I loved that boat. I knew how to swim from the time I was two. My parents would have me dive off the boat into the water to amuse the other guests.

When it came to the water, I was fearless. We would later learn that the waters in which I regularly swam, and which were populated by dolphin and seals, were also winter homes to birthing great white sharks. So basically I was chum.

So, back to the trip. There I was in Mazatlan with chill Mexican parents who could go off and enjoy themselves because they’d brought a maid to look after me (she’s on the far right in the picture). I remember her as being kind of a nightmare. Once she locked my cousin Kelly and me in my room so her boyfriend could come over. If I were 19, though, I’d probably do the same.

I met two girls in the pool. I don’t remember their names but they were around my age, Puerto Rican and from Los Angeles. My parents and their parents got along so everything was copacetic. We’d sit at the pool or the beach, swim, drink coconut water out of giant green coconuts and eat seafood dinners at night.

I think there were kids events. I remember a piñata (which I probably massacred, I was a hulk of a beast). And a toilet paper mummy contest. I remember my mom coaching me at this. Because as good as I was with adults, I sucked with kids. I didn’t know how to play with others. I didn’t want to toilet paper a kid. I probably wanted a virgin Piña Colada with extra cherries. I really, really enjoyed solitude, and as an only child, I was indulged in that as well.

There was one night where the parents went out without us kids. We got pizza from room service and had a slumber party. These kids wanted to jump on the bed and I wanted to have deep discussions. I remember clear as day asking the girls about their favorite movies and music. For my money, E.T. and Annie could not be beat. And my favorite song was “Never Gonna Let You Go” by Sergio Mendes. I sang the song to them to trigger their memories. They stared at me from on top of the beds for a second and then returned to jumping and throwing pillows.

Not much has changed in 36 years.

The night before coming home, we went to eat at Señor Frogs, which was actually cool back then. We took an elongated golf cart home. It was windy as the storefront rolled in. The tide had breached the coastline and the waves had reached the malecón, a crescent-shaped promenade where most of the nightlife was focused. Many years later, Chapo Guzman would be arrrsted by the Mexican military here, but would later “escape from prison through an underground tunnel” if we are to believe authorities. But the scuttle-but (let’s keep the boat theme) was that he walked out the front door.

Back on the train and home the next day. But one little thing before that. We said goodbye to the Puerto Rican family. One of the girls had popped her inflatable tube and was crying inconsolably. I still had mine and my parents told me to give it to her. They’d never made me share anything before, let alone give something away.

For context, look at this picture of me on Christmas morning, playing with my electronic keyboard.

This picture tells me three things off the bat. One: I was spoiled rotten.

Two: that’s my mom’s ski in the back.

And three: I don’t know anything that better illustrates the beginning of a lifelong love of dressing up in outrageous costumes just to hang out at home.

I’m sure I gave the girl my inner tube. But the fact that it still stings to this day should show you that I did not enjoy it not one little bit.

Andrea popped out the next April. Here she is below.

I was almost five when she was born. The hospital at that time didn’t let children under eight into the room, but I passed. Have I told you I was a giant?

The day Andrea was born, my parents left for the hospital 60 miles away in Tucson after my mother’s contractions had begun. They woke me up in the bedroom I shared either the maid to say goodbye.

The next day, I woke up as usual, got dressed with the maid’s help (I say “the maid” because I don’t remember her name and she wasn’t a cleaning lady or a babysitter and that is what young girls from rural Mexican towns did to make a little money before getting married. It wasn’t a big deal.) And I got ready time to go preschool.

I didn’t even think about it. Preschool was at my aunt Patsy’s house, just down the hill and across a four lane state highway. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I was four, after all.

But my aunt arrived before I could make it all the way down the hill and she drove me to Tucson to meet my baby sister. She kept laughing at the fact that I was so determined to go to school. I amused her, like a clown.

I remember being amazed by this new creature in my house. I would sneak into my parents’ bedroom and just stare at her in her rocking cradle. I was fascinated but, at the same time, disturbed.

Andrea was not a happy baby. She cried a lot. I never cried. I had all these precocious emotions inside of me that I didn’t know how to express, but I never cried. It was the reason I was such a “good baby.” But good babies are not necessarily happy. I was filled with cortisol at a young age and just internalized a lot of fear. One day, that same year, my mom came home crying hysterically. She’d gone for a jog with Heidi, our Doberman, and come back bawling because Heidi’d been run over by a car on that state highway I told you about.

I watched her, terrified. I needed a grown up in that moment to tell me it was all gonna be ok. But instead I got my mother, who could instantly suck all the oxygen out of a room. I was paralyzed by fear and in need of a hug, but silent to the outside world. This would become my only way of surviving for decades to come. To this day, I rarely cry; not in pain or fear or anguish even. I never learned that it was ok.

Andrea was interesting. She had big eyes that took it all in. But she rarely smiled.

I adapted to the loss of attention, and the subsequent life confined to home. My parents, now saddled with two children, continued to socialize, but I was no longer welcome at their table. I was suddenly a “child” instead of a fun dining companion. It was scary for me. My whole world changed without my consent and I didn’t have the vocabulary to express my emotions. I wouldn’t have it until I became a writer.

Andrea was a determined toddler. And so tough. She was anxious as all get out. One day, my mother, unhappy with her less than Vene ability to conquer every new task, told her she needed to graduate from the baby side of the swimming lessons pool at the Bafferts’ house in Meadow Hills to the big kids’ side with me. Andrea, motivated by fear of disappointing my mother, just walked over with me and started in the deep. It took the Cynthia and Renee, our instructors, a while before they realized that no one had instructed her to do this. And by the time they did, Andrea was already swimming with the big kids.

Margot would come two years later.

She was a happy baby. And she was the typical third child, managed by me and maids and somewhat ignored by parents who were now very complicated.

I don’t know if I loved either of them as children. I didn’t understand empathy until I was much older and filial love wasn’t impressed upon me. I love them now, but we are grown and complicated ourselves.

At four, I could have ruled the world if given a chance. At five, I was scared and suddenly thrown into something I didn’t understand. At seven, I was already staying up nights, unable to sleep, and terrified of a world in which adults did not have all the answers. I had to figure things out for myself that no seven-year old child should ever have to manage.

I have many words now and I have a deep understanding of my feelings. I have this sense memory that never really lessens over time and even thinking about my childhood will take me back to what I felt so very long ago. I’m not sure any parents would have been equipped to help me, let alone my parents. So I don’t fault them. But I know that that there was a very certain switch that went off in me and made me go from fearless to its opposite.

It was the day I found out about Andrea in the first place. I’d sensed for a bit that something was up. My parents had gone to Tucson without me. And when they came home, my dad presented me with my first dictionary. I could already read well at this point. He’d written my name on the front page and then delivered the news that a baby was coming. And that was it. Suddenly an intruder, and all I had to deal with it was a book…filled with words and their descriptions. I’d eventually use those words to heal.

How very prescient, indeed.

Her face is a map of the world
Is a map of the world
You can see she’s a beautiful girl
She’s a beautiful girl

And everything around her is a silver pool of light
The people who surround her feel the benefit of it
It makes you calm
She holds you captivated in her palm

Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me

I feel like walking the world
Like walking the world
You can hear she’s a beautiful girl
She’s a beautiful girl

She fills up every corner like she’s born in black and white
Makes you feel warmer when you’re trying to remember
What you heard
She likes to leave you hanging on her word

Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me

And she’s taller than most
And she’s looking at me
I can see her eyes looking from the page of a magazine
She makes me feel like I could be a tower
A big strong tower
The power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah (suddenly I see)
She got the power to be
The power to give
The power to see, yeah, yeah

Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me, oh, oh, oh, yeah, yeah? (suddenly I see)
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me (suddenly I see)
Suddenly I see (suddenly I see)
Why the hell it means so much to me

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