I Have A Story


Jaime Alexis Stathis

Jaime Alexis is a writer and massage therapist living in Missoula, Montana. She graduated with a B.A. in Writing and Rhetoric from William Smith College in 1996, and in 2010 she attended classes in the M.F.A program at the University of Montana. It turns out she prefers to suffer alone rather than in a group, and she resumed writing at the kitchen table with the dog as her sounding board. She is currently working on both a novel and a memoir. This is her first publication.

I am having one of those forced vacations with my stepmother, where we meet in a neutral location, do something special—like a long weekend at a spa or a cooking school—and then we go home, with hope that our relationship will be strengthened. We have faith in the potential of memories to relive, but mostly I will focus on one or two underhanded remarks and will have a hard time getting past those, so the trip will be a waste, except that we’ll have something to talk about when I call the house. “Wasn’t that great? Have you tried to make the tiramisu yet?”

I arrived in Santa Fe on time, but Sue’s plane was delayed in New York due to thunderstorms, so I ended up with a bonus day to myself. I rented a car and decided to do something worthwhile with my time; I took a drive to check out some Massage Therapy schools in the area. I need a new career. I visited the New Mexico School of Natural Therapeutics in Albuquerque, the Taos School of Massage, and stopped in briefly at the New Mexico College of Natural Healing in Silver City, though Silver City isn’t really my kind of town.

I’m in a hurry to get back to Santa Fe to pick up Sue from the airport so we can check in to La Posada, a posh resort in Santa Fe, where will have three days of pampering. We will have spa treatments called Dancing Wind, Rolling Thunder, and Flowing Water. We will eat posole, pan dulce, and anything soaked in tequila. We will browse several of Santa Fe’s two hundred art galleries and pretend to be interested in the art, but mostly we will look to get some early Christmas shopping done, and of course, get a little something for ourselves. We won’t go home empty handed.

There is truth to this story, but it is not a true story.

This is the story I plan to tell the border patrol at the checkpoint which I expect to be just past Truth or Consequences, New Mexico as I head North on I-25. I won’t know if the checkpoint will be in place until I crest the hill, but I must prepare my story. I won’t know if they’ll have set up the orange emergency cones and barriers, diverting all traffic into the mandatory, if-you-don’t-already-fear-god-you’ll-fear-him-now, checkpoint. I won’t know until I get there, but I am prepared.

I have a story.

I don’t know what the menacing man—armed and in uniform—will ask me, or if he will ask me anything. I hope for the nod and the wave that directs me to keep going, indicating that they aren’t checking white cars, or that I am the fifth car in line, or that—based on whatever their logic is that day—I’m allowed to proceed unquestioned. No questions asked, no story to tell. It is random, and I only hope to get through, but if I don’t: I have a story.

Their methods for detecting drugs and aliens are not scientific; they are arbitrary and biased. This business is risky, and I must act in a carefully calculated way. I can’t fit the drug trafficking profile—which is easy, because I don’t—but I can’t exactly be myself either. The cash on delivery $10,000 brick that will be presented to me at a remote compound is my motivator for this risk and madness, but it must be the farthest thing from my mind. I have to stick to my story; there is no room for wavering. I can’t think about the money I’ve already spent in advance of this payout. I can’t think about the money I’m going to spend on imported dungarees, hour-long pedicures, and weekends in Vegas. I can’t think about how I’ll be able to go to a friend’s wedding without hardship and how I’ll buy the couple several items off of their registry. I can’t think about visiting my mother and taking her out to a dinner she deserves and treating her to a piece of jewelry from the MoMA gift shop. I can’t think about anything but the story I’ve created, the story—in all of its fact and fiction—is my reality, the reality that will keep me safe.

I’ve already cleared the car of receipts from hotels, gas stations, restaurants, and stores where I bought fresh CDs and clean underpants because there isn’t room to pack much of either when the idea is to make a two-week expedition look like a day trip. I don’t smoke as I wait my turn to pull up to the armed guards, and I triple check my most recent cigarette pack for cellophane evidence of another state, of a border crossed. They can’t know I’ve been in Arizona, that isn’t part of my story.

I sip spring water, and stuff my coffee cup under the seat. It can’t look like I’ve been on the road for weeks, haven’t had enough sleep, and pound crappy gas stations cappuccinos and Redbull nonstop during the eight-hundred mile days. I straighten my ponytail, pinch my cheeks for the illusion of health, and file my nails so my nasty nail biting habit won’t show. The ragged nails and cuticles might make me look nervous. Might make it look like a stranger came to my hotel last night and picked up the key to my rental car though I didn’t see him and he didn’t see me. It might make it look like he took my car to an underground garage somewhere and after wrapping himself in plastic head to toes loaded ten twenty-pound bricks of marijuana into the trunk of my rental car.

It might make a person nervous if when she looked in the parking lot at 6:00am for the rental car registered in her name it wasn’t there, but after she went for a run and took a shower and got dressed for work it was back, evenly parked between the lines. Little bits of magic everywhere in this so-called life.

But I shouldn’t look nervous.

I’m not nervous.

I’m going to have a spa weekend with my stepmother.

It might be a bit stressful and the conversation might be forced. We might argue about the fact that I refuse to use sunscreen; she might wonder why I’m not more patient with my sister or why my father paid for such a useless college degree. She might initiate any number of conversations that I’m not in the mood for, but no, I’m not nervous.

I have a story and I’ll be sticking to it.

The truth is that I my stepmother and I have never and would never take a trip like this. The truth is that I was feeling just a little bit less than confident because I left my razor in the last hotel room and didn’t get to shave this morning. Not my legs. Not my underarms. Not my bikini line. When I was still several years shy of my teens my mother gave me my first bag of pink Daisy razors and Skintimate shave gel and told me to shave every day. She was explicit in the details and let me know that if I wasn’t clean shaven, and didn’t have on nice underwear, and my belt didn’t match my purse didn’t match my shoes then no matter what else, I wasn’t pretty and wasn’t put together. She left out the “if you feel good you look good” sentiment until I got older, but even then I was always convinced she meant if you look good (and other people think so) then you’ll feel good. But right now is not the time to obsess about those details, discrepancies, and indiscretions. There is no room for obsession, no room for error, no room for my mother’s voice.

I don’t get the nod and wave.

I roll down the window and give him my best hometown girl smile and sing-songy hello. I add a bit of twang to my voice and do not play up my practically nonexistent New York accent. I want this field as level as possible and don’t want to give him any indicators that he could catapult his career right now, right here, with me if he could see through my story. As if.

He asks me where I’ve been, and I tell him the story. He asks me where I’m going, and I tell him the story. He empathizes with me about the long weekend with the stepmother, says he’s never been to La Posada, but he has heard that it is real fancy, and he sends me North, toward Canada, though the heat of Mexico is dripping down my back. We stare at each other for a moment and I wonder if he notices that a few hairs have fallen from the back of my ponytail and are soaking wet, and that there is sweat dripping down my neck, along my spine, and right into my fancy, new, single-wear underpants. He doesn’t notice. I think about asking if he can recommend any good places for me to stop for lunch but I think twice. I don’t need to push it, don’t need to become a statistic about the one who almost got away but unnecessarily elongated a conversation and said the one little thing that got her busted. He’s done with me, he has no use for me, and he lets me go. He believes I’m just another rich New Yorker come out west to buy the Navajo jewelry and sit in the healing waters. Mission accomplished. I wish him a good day and he tells me to drive safely.

I have willed my body to sweat where it won’t show, where it won’t give me up. Just like the guy on the floor of the New York Stock exchange who stuffs paper towels under his armpits beneath his suit—where nobody can see—as he gambles with other people’s money. We are different, that guy and me, but we are the same.

I have no way of knowing this, but the next time I go through this checkpoint the guard will ask through a smirk if I don’t have a large family of small Mexicans in the trunk, and I will give him my best hometown giggle and I’ll tell him a story.

This story will also have elements of truth in it, but like the story I told last time, it won’t be a true story.

There is so much they don’t know about me, and there is so much about me that I am trying to find out, but I’m not going to find anything if I don’t stop living this bifurcated life.

I am inauthentic. I am a phony. I am a fraud. I’m exhausted. I’m spent.

I better start telling the truth soon. My life depends on it.

© Jaime Stathis

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