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Independence Day, Manley Hot Springs, Alaska Lisa D. Chavez Independence Day, 1975. I was twelve. A Utile more than a month before, my mother had withdrawn me from school early, loaded up our car—a flashy but impractical Cámaro with dual side-pipes—and headed north for Alaska. She brought with her everything she thought essential: daughter; dog; photos ofthe famüy she was leaving behind; a haphazard scattering ofhousehold goods; and two army surplus sleeping bags, purchased especiaUy for the trip. What she was traveUng toward was uncertain but fuU ofpromise—a mysterious box, beguilingly wrapped. What she was leaving behind was certain; perhaps that is why she was so eager to go. A narrow rented house in southern California; a steady, if boring , secretarialjob; a marriage proposal from a man she didn't love. What she was leaving behind were her everyday fears: her route to work throughWatts, a place bUghted and dangerous even then. The muggings in the company parking lot. The fear of being a young woman alone with her chüd in a decaying neighborhood, a derehct factory looming across the street. The fear, perhaps, of succumbing to a loveless marriage for the security it offered. I was too young to reaUy understand my mother's concerns, but I felt her tension. My mother and her women friends wore their fears like perfume, like the lingering scent of smoke from the erupting fires of those violent days. I remember the things my mother's friends talked about: the Manson murders; the serial killer who left body parts scattered on the freeway in trash bags; the man in our own town who küled five people in a movie theater . And the more personal terrors, the ones they aUuded to less directly: fear of the arm sUpping around the neck from behind, fear of the window breaking in the house in the middle of the night. Fear for their chüdren in a place gone crazy. Orjust the fear ofbeing alone. And whüe my world was a child's world, fuU of long imaginative games in the park near our house, or afternoons watching Disney movies at the mall, I also heard my mother 71 72Fourth Genre and her friends talking about getting out, moving to someplace safe. My mother was looking for sanctuary, and for a new start. She picked Alaska, as far north as she could drive. Independence Day, 1975. We've been in Alaska less than a month and are stiU exploring. Now we have driven as far north as the road wül take us, landed here, on the banks oftheTanana River. Manley Hot Springs. A town with no function reaUy except for the raw springs: two pools of hot water bubbling up out ofthe ground. There's a lodge with a few desultory cabins ringing it. A combination gas station/store. That is aU. Down the river a half a dozen mues lies Minto, an Athabascan Indian viUage. Fairbanks, the biggest city in the interior, swoUen to a population of 60,000 by pipeUne construction, lies less than a hundred mues south, far enough away—along these rough gravel roads—to be totaUy insignificant. And I am twelve. Everything new astounds me, and everything is new. My mother parks near the river and goes to find a place to stay. Instantly I am occupied, walking our dog, wetting the toes of my canvas tennis shoes in the süty current, kicking sprays ofgravel into the air. Under my breath a constant stream of conversation. I narrate the scene to myself, add it to the elaborate and constant story I whisper of my adventures in Alaska. Drunk on the stories of Jack London, the poems of Robert Service, I imagine myself a lone adventurer, a sled dog driver, a saloon girl. I do not see what is in front ofme: a shabby smaU town where people stare openly at that frivolous car—bright orange and marked by its out-of-state plates—and the young woman in white, high-heeled sandals and her daughter that have emerged from it. I do not see the men swigging out of a bottle...


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