Driving through New Mexico’s blistering hot, beautifully austere desert landscape, I feel it’s the right time to divulge a secret to my father.
Something I’ve never mentioned to anyone.
Something that’s eaten away at me for years.
And this fairly alien landscape seems an appropriate place to do it.
Only I knew the truth: In 1997, two weeks after my thirteenth birthday, I shattered my parents’ hopes and dreams.
At least the crystal-faced Nautica watch I’d badgered them about for almost a year.
“And, it’s orange!” I say, weeks in advance, trying to milk every bit of its appeal for my benefit.
But my orange-tinged entreaties don’t convince my frugal parents.
“Eighty dollars for a watch is ridiculous. If you really want it, start saving your allowance.”
“But that’ll take me forevahhhhhhhh!”
(Eight months to be exact.)
I sulk, cursing the world in all its unfairness.
By the time my birthday comes around, I’ve prepared myself for the usual suspects: turtle-necks, socks, generic shoes.
But then, revealed beneath tacky wrapping paper: a hard, circular case inscribed with “Nautica.”
I must’ve fainted, because I don’t remember my response.
But thereafter, the watch and I are inseparable. After all, it does everything the advertisements say.
Makes me feel in control.
Makes me feel uber posh.
Makes me feel so 1997.
Ultimately, though, its centrality to my life becomes its downfall. I keep it too close.
Two weeks after my probable fainting spell, when my life changed forevahhhhhh, I’m putting in my contacts.
But since (1) Laura has stopped putting in my contacts for me (I was a bit squeamish about the whole contact-in-eye thing for a little while.) and (2) I’ve been Velma-like without glasses or contacts since third grade, I’m not paying attention.
And The Watch pays the price.
It all happens in slow, blurry motion.
My hand grazes an orange blob on the vanity.
The blob disappears from view.
It’s not even crunch or clink.
Because its crystal face even makes its demise sound expensive.
With one contact in, I squint, feeling along the bathroom floor like a blind pirate.
Then I find it.
Turn it over.
A massive chunk is depressed into the face, with shards sprinkled inside.
Maybe it’s just cracked. It’ll probably still work!
(I’m great at channeling optimism at the moment of impact.)
So I push the second knob back in.
But instead of the comforting, mouse-fart quiet tick, tick, tick, I get a tickkshhhtck…shttkkckshikkkct as the second hand grinds a piece of crystal into the orange paint and stops.
But there’s no time to mourn.
Only time to switch into survival mode.
How can I hide something I’ve paraded around every morning, intentionally reaching for my Toaster Strudel across Laura’s plate, for no other reason than to literally rub her nose in it and incite jealousy?
The answer is obvious.
Throw myself down the stairs.
I have to be quick about it.
Thankfully for me, I’ve been making it a habit for the past few months to spend my weekends weeding out the English ivy choking the life from the azaleas in the overgrown flower beds.
So I sneak back to my room, cradling the destroyed watch, no doubt resembling Gollum with his precious.
After changing into my usual gardening garb, I carefully put on the watch. Then tiptoe to the top of the stairs to make an announcement to no one in particular.
“I’m going out front to weed!”
So I wait for the parentals and planets to align to provide me with the best possible moment.
And then it happens.
I hear Mom humming down the hallway to the study, past Dad in the living room. Laura is being a typical reclusive teen, sitting misunderstood in her bedroom down the hall.
So I position myself above the top stair, give a quick glance over my shoulder.
Then throw myself forward, toppling head-over-ass, landing in a crumpled heap on the landing.
And wait some more.
Then, splayed across the landing with my arm hurting slightly, I remember something Mom had confided to me. Years prior, when Laura accidentally broke my ulna, the only thing that’d clued Mom and Dad into the severity of the situation was the octave my screams had reached–“They were different than the usual ones you let loose when you played with Laura.”
So I drag myself a little, crane my neck around a railing post, and moan deeper, louder as I re-position my wrist so that the watch is face-down on the wood floor.
I hear Laura step out of her room and start walking to the landing.
“Did you really just fall down the stairs? Again?”
Thank goodness for precedence. Then I hear footsteps start echoing across the wood floors below.
“Bingo!” I murmur face-down into the stairs’ runner.
“What’s going on up there?! Are you okay?” Mom shouts.
“Yeah, well, I’m okay,” I sigh convincingly, still out of immediate view. “I just fell down the stairs.”
“What?!” Mom starts up.
“I think I’m fine,” I say, slowly standing up, scanning my body methodically for compound fractures.
“Yup, I’m oka–OhNoooooo!”
“My watch is cracked!”
I point down to the shattered device.
Color drains from Mom’s face, and she suddenly looks tired.
“Why in the world were you wearing that to weed?”
“Well, I need to know what time it is while I’m weeding. So I can, you know, know when it’s time to come in.”
“Isn’t that funny?!” I laugh, watching the desert landscape whiz by, thinking back to my ridiculous antics.
I turn back and look at Dad, whose gaze is fixed on something far ahead.
“You know, throwing myself down the stairs?”
But we’re in the desert sharing things!
I mean, I’m pretty sure his reminisces about bar brawls and such in his youth trump the one time I staged an accident.
(Okay, third time. But still.)
But perhaps he’s not upset about the watch.
Maybe he’s just realizing that, like the watch, I’m a little cracked too.
Or wondering what other situations I thought could be answered with such obvious answers.
Answers I believed were clear.