In my first life, I lived with my mother, and my older brother and sister, Crick and Stella, and with my father when he wasn't on the road. My father was a trucker, or sometimes a mechanic or a picker, a plucker or painter. He called himself a Jack-of-all-trades (Jack was his real name), but sometimes there wasn't any trade in whatever town we were living in, so off he would go in search of a job somewhere else. My mother would start packing, and we'd wait for a phone call from him that would tell us it was time to join him.
He'd always say, "I found us a great place! Wait'll you see it!"
Each time we moved, we had fewer boxes, not more. My mother would say, "Do you really need all those things, Dinnie? They're just things. Leave them."
By the time I was twelve, we'd followed my father from Kentucky to Virginia to North Carolina to Tennessee to Ohio to Indiana to Wisconsin to Oklahoma to Oregon to Texas to California to New Mexico. My things fit in one box. Sometimes we lived in the middle of a noisy city, but most of the time Dad had found us a tilted house on a forgotten road near a forgotten town.
My mother had been a city girl, my father a country boy; and as far as I could tell, my mother spent most of her time trying to forget that she'd been a city girl. Those few times that we lived in the middle of the city, though, she seemed as if she were right at home, in her real home, her permanent home.
She'd get a job in an office or a design studio, instead of a diner. She knew how to use buses and weave in and out of crowds, and she didn't seem to hear the horns and sirens and jackhammers.
Those things drove my father crazy. "I know there's work here," he'd say, "but there's too many bodies and cars everywhere. You're like to get killed just stepping into the road. No place to raise kids."
My mother would be real quiet after he'd said something like this, and pretty soon he'd be off looking for a better place to live, and she'd be packing again. My sister Stella had a theory that Dad was keeping us on the move so my mother's family wouldn't find us. He didn't trust a single one of her brothers or sisters, and he didn't trust her parents, either. He thought they had "airs" and would talk my mother into moving back to New York, where she'd come from. He said they looked down their noses at us.
Once, when I was seven or eight, and we were living in Wisconsin-or no, maybe it was Oklahoma-or it could've been Arkansas (I forgot Arkansas-we lived there for six months, I believe), a thin woman with gray hair pulled back in a tight bun was sitting in our kitchen one day when I came home from school. Before I could shake off my coat, she'd wrapped me in a perfumed hug and called me carissima and her sweet kitten.
"I'm not a kitten," I said, sliding out the side door. Crick was throwing a basketball at an invisible hoop.
"There's a lady in there," I said.
Crick aimed, shot that ball into a graceful high arc, and watched it bounce off the edge of the garage next door. "Crud," he said, "that's no lady. That's your grandma Fiorelli."
There was a big argument that night after I'd gone to bed behind the drapes hung between the kitchen and the side room. My Dad was gone-he'd taken one look at our lady grandma and bolted out the door, never even pausing to say hello. It was Mom and Grandma in the kitchen.
Mom was telling her how resourceful Dad was, and how he could do anything, and what a rich life we had. From the bed next to mine, Stella said, "Mom's a dreamer."
In the kitchen, Grandma said, "Rich? This is a rich life?"
My mother charged on. "Money isn't everything, Ma," she said.
"And why you go and let him name that boy Crick? What kind of name is that? Sounds like he was raised in a barn."
My parents had had an agreement. Dad got to name any boys they had, and Mom got to name the girls. Dad told me he'd named Crick after a clear little crick that ran beside the house they'd lived in at the time. Once, when I used the word crick in a paper for school, the teacher crossed it out and wrote creek above it. She said crick wasn't a real word. I didn't tell Dad that. Or Crick either.Mom named her first girl (my sister) Stella Maria. Then I came along, and she must have been saving up for me, because she named me Domenica Santolina Doone. My name means Sunday-Southern-Wood-River. I was born on a Sunday (which makes me blessed, Mom said), and at the time we lived in the South beside woods and a river. My name is pronounced in the Italian way: Doe-MEN-i-kuh. Domenica Santolina Doone. It's a mouthful, so most people call me Dinnie.
In the kitchen, Grandma Fiorelli was steaming on. "You ought to think of yourself," she said. "You ought to think of those children. They could be in a school like the one your sister works in. Your husband needs a real job-"
"He has a real job-"
"Every six months? Basta!" Grandma said. "Why he can't keep a job for more than six months at a time? What does he do, anyway? Why he didn't go to college so he could get a real job? How are you going to get out of this mess?"
"He's looking for the right opportunity," my mother said. "He could do anything-anything at all. He just needs a break-"
Grandma's voice got louder every time she started up again. She was bellowing like a bull by this time. "A break? E ridicolo! And how he is going to get a break if he doesn't even have a college education? Answer me that!"
"Everybody doesn't need a college education," my mother said.
"When we come to this country, your father and I, we know not a word of English, but you kids got a college education-"
Stella threw a pillow at me. "Don't listen, Dinnie," she said. "Put your head under this and go to sleep."
The pillow didn't drown out Grandma Fiorelli, though. She barreled on. "And what about you?" Grandma said to my mother. "There you are, a perfectly well-trained artist, and I bet you don't even have a paintbrush to your name."
"I paint," my mother said.
"Like what? Walls? Falling down, peeling walls? Basta! You ought to talk to your sister-"
The next morning Grandma Fiorelli was gone, and so was Dad. He'd gone looking for a new place to live. He'd heard of an opportunity, he said.
And so we followed him around, from opportunity to opportunity, and as we went, Crick got into more and more trouble. Crick said it wasn't his fault that every place we went, he met up with people who made him do bad things. According to Crick, some boys in Oklahoma made him throw rocks at the school windows, and some boys in Oregon made him slash a tire, and some boys in Texas made him smoke a joint, and some boys in California made him burn down a barn, and some boys in New Mexico made him steal a car.
Every time we moved, Dad told him, "You can start over."
And with each move, Stella got quieter and quieter. Within a week of our reaching a new town, there'd be boys pounding on the door day and night, wanting to see her. All kinds of boys: tough ones, quiet ones, nerdy ones, cool ones.
In California, when she was sixteen, she came home one Sunday night, after having been gone all weekend with one of her girlfriends, supposedly, and said she'd gotten married.
"No you didn't," Dad said.
"Okay, I didn't," she said, and went on up to bed.
She told me she'd married a Marine, and she showed me a marriage certificate. The Marine was going overseas. Stella started eating and eating and eating. She got rounder and rounder and rounder. When we were in that hill town in New Mexico, she woke me up one night and said, "Get Mom, and get her quick."
Stella was having a baby. Dad was on the road, Crick was in jail, and Stella was having a baby.
And that was the last week of my first life.(Continues...)