Taos New Mexico 1975, a cool night in late October… this memory comes back to me over and over again; it’s colder than I imagined it would be as I spring off Maria’s back porch and head into the beckoning darkness of the mesa behind her house. I can hear her father screaming in a drunken rage somewhere in the brightly lit kitchen, the curtains casting furtive shadows behind us. “Quickly,” I murmur hoping he hasn’t realized we have fled the house. I can see the lights of my home in the distance it seems so close but must be a few miles off.
The moon is up and spills a ghostly glow among the silvery sagebrush as we run too afraid to look back, too afraid to stop. I don’t know what caused the rage, but even a ten year old understands the threat of a drunk with a knife. My lungs are on fire and I can hear her softly crying behind me trying to keep up the sandy soil tugs at our shoes. I am filled with a deep sadness I don’t quite understand but I feel the hot tears on my face even as the night air pushes them away. I don’t know what to do, I just know I need to get to my house, my mother, the safety of those lights glistening just out of reach.
My face explodes in pain and I am on my back as the sky opens above me. For a moment all I can think is how beautiful it all seems as the stars seem to swallow me up. I take a deep breath as the salty-coppery taste of blood fills my mouth. I just lay there feeling the cold sand beneath me, smelling the pungent sagebrush in the night air; I can feel my heart pounding as I try to understand what has happened. The barbed wire had been strung years ago and the fence posts have long since given into time and weather, but a few remain upright and a single strand hangs on. It is enough though to bring me up short on this dark night and tear a fearsome gash in my upper lip. Fear, adrenaline, and maybe the bravado of youth force me back up into a run.
I left Taos shortly after that and have no idea what ever became of Maria or her family, but I carry the scar of that midnight run to this day, a reminder of a different time, a different life, and a night sky that caught my breath if just for a moment.