At 15 years old, I was isolated on my grandpa’s mountain. So far out that we had 1.5 television channels and no telephone service nor 220 volts to run a clothes dryer. There wasn’t much to do but explore the woods and the river and get ahead on my Algebra II homework. I had friends but didn’t get to see them except during school hours. My mother didn’t like them because they were into drugs.
I went to school on the Indian reservation. In this school, there were more drug dealers than there were potential customers. I think the main thing that saved me from drugs was that by the time I would have even considered doing drugs, most of my friends were already trying to quit doing drugs. My friends also considered me “the responsible one” whom they could one day call to bail them out of jail. For the sake of not wasting that one hypothetical phone call, they discouraged me from jumping into the mess they were in, even while they were lighting up.
My sister was eager for a better life so she moved out the moment she turned 18, even before graduation. My mother and stepfather made money by fighting forest fires and they were gone for weeks at a time. My brother and I were expected to go to school despite the great distance and lack of transportation. It was recommended that we hitch-hike to the bus stop but we usually ended up walking the 4 mile route instead during dawn and dusk. It was frustrating to successfully make it to school and then meet my friends excitement, “Hey, let’s all ditch class today!”
When my mother told me she got a new job in Utah, I saw it as a chance to act out. I stopped doing all of my schoolwork but nobody seemed to notice except the teachers. And when they would say things in front of the class like, “Emmett! You haven’t turned in an assignment all week. I ALREADY have you marked down to a B!” It was usually met with laughter from my fellow pupils, “Can I have a B, too?”
Until we moved, I spent most of the school day in the library playing “Oregon Trail” on the computer. Uh oh, Tornado Bob has Typhoid Fever! Oh well, let’s go hunting.
Needless to say, my lackluster life was pretty lifeless.
My parents expressed concern about moving into Mormon country. I had never heard of Mormons. Not even the famed Tabernacle Choir. I asked, “What’s wrong with Mormons?” My stepfather told me, “People just think of them as… you know… goody two shoes.” That was the nice description. People my age seemed to focus on the “multiple wives” aspect of the religion. So Mormons were into orgies? Each to his own, I guess. And it was a total mindblower that Mormons were the ones behind all of those commercials brought to you by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (You can just call them LDS). I wasn’t worried about it.
During a cold and wet January, we loaded up a U-Haul truck to find out what so many people were running from when they were told to, “Go West, Young Man!” My parents were driving a Toyota truck and it seemed like I spent most of my time riding with grandpa in the U-Haul. Yep… riding with grandpa. In a U-Haul. 45 miles per hour. Maximum speed. Across Nevada. Waiting for grandpa to start a conversation was like waiting for the next ice age. Anytime now, a glacier will be sliding through this valley. Anytime now. Any… time… n’zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
How long was I asleep? Ugh, it’s still Nevada. Is there a glacier in the valley? Nope. Just grandpa behind the stearing wheel, like a petrified log. And then we drove through Utah. And over the corner of Wyoming to a place called Flaming Gorge.