Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Sad Strange Tale of the Girl with Red Hair - pt. 1

I honestly can't remember her name.

In New Mexico, at the Ranch, there were three Phases to the program. In Phase 1, you lived in a group house with all the other newcomers and anyone who had been held or sent back. In Phase 2, you branched out to live in one of the four cabins on the grounds. And Phase 3 was another group house, this time in the center of Taos.

When I was in Phase 2 I started taking classes at The University of New Mexico, Taos Campus. This was a satellite campus to the regular UNM in Albequerque, and it was small. Two buildings, the main building and an 'arts' building, literally out in the middle of the desert surrounded by nothing but the sage. The only place in walking distance was the golf course, where the guys would go to cut class and secretly charge the meals to the ranch owner's tab. We'd get dropped off and get picked in a long white van, and everyone in town knew we were 'the ranch kids,' and would look at us accordingly. The school was mainly for adults coming back to further their education on top of their jobs and so everything was run in a once a week block scheduling. My fall semester I took 4 classes and was in school every Monday from 9am to 9pm with a half hour break between each 2 and a half hour class. I didn't mind - any time spent off the Ranch was worth it, and that was an entire day.

I think she worked for the school, as a receptionist or something like it. I was either 17 or 18 and I think she was a few years older, maybe 21. It may not be fair to say, but it's an observed truth that any girl I met in Taos that age was either pregnant, a mother, or stuck - whether by drugs, circumstance, or lack of means. The people that could leave left, and not many of them could. She was no exception.

I've spent most of the time since I decided to write this loose and sprawling story trying to remember her name, and for the life of me I can't. I could call a friend but maybe it's better this way. Because even though the story is about her, it's really a story about a bunch of other people who did things to or for her. She wasn't nearly as important she probably should have been.

Even when I was there she was the Red Headed Girl to me - I didn't know her as much more than that. I know I didn't find her attractive at all, and that may sound superficial but I remember it being striking because I have a thing for red heads. A huge thing. A girl I'm totally neutral towards will dye her hair red and suddenly she looks really good. And a beautiful girl dyes her hair red - I'm done. But despite all that, I never saw anything in her like that. I remember her having curls, and a plain face with bad acne and tired eyes. But it didn't matter what I thought, I wasn't the one after her.

RJ was a guy at the ranch and he used to say he had a special skill - he could look at a girl and tell how many days it would take to get her in bed. Exactly how much time, energy, and effort it would take, all by watching them for a little while. We sat outside one day and he rattled off numbers as girls walked. But he was always looking for the easy kill - the one he could have tonight, and if not tonight, then tomorrow. It didn't matter if he found them at all attractive, and a lot of times he didn't, which is why that was important at all. It was just about getting some, and that is something I will never understand. So he saw and set his sights on his easy mark, the Red Haired Girl.

She had a boyfriend, a big guy - not obese, not muscular, just a big guy who was slightly balding and probably in his early thirties. He seemed like a nice guy, took a computer class with one of the guys, just another townie. But as RJ started to hang out with the girl, just being nice, giving her a little attention, this guy got jealous.

And that's when he hit her. And he hit her pretty bad.

Now for all his good and all his very many bad, RJ had a genuine hate for anyone who would hit a girl. So when he took action, I honestly believe he would have done so whether he was trying to nail this girl or not. But the fact is he was. With his suggestion, they broke up, and RJ made clear in no uncertain terms that if this guy was ever seen bothering this girl again there would be some serious shit going down.

Then RJ and her started having sex. And I have no doubt that this bastard was crazy before, having already hit his girlfriend, and apparently several times before, but now he lost whatever he had. Following her, calling her all the time, threats and pleading, and finally showing up at her mother's house one night threatening her and to burn the house to the ground.

And then he turned his attention to us.

He tried running RJ over in the parking lot one day. I don't mean as a joke or a threat, I mean attempted murder. I watched it happen. He came veering out of nowhere, coming straight at him. RJ jumped the the sidewalk at the last second. He followed RJ around town sometimes, but couldn't get to him because he was on the Ranch except for school. You'd think maybe someone would have called the cops, and they did after the fire threat, but otherwise no. That's just not how Ranch Kids did things.

I remember one day ten of us or so were sitting outside eating lunch, and he came walking over with some guy at his side for backup. I thought for sure something was about to go down right there. And we didn't all like each other very much most of the time, but at that moment Ranch was Ranch, and the ten of us stood up in unison behind RJ. Because this guy was a fucking girlfriend beater; and even to the gang members, drug dealers, and teenage hoodlums assembled there are just some things you just don't do.
And then there was me, none of the above, still standing. I don't know why. I don't fight, and especially not over a turf war.
But he hit a girl. He beat her. And nothing in the world to me is worse than domestic or sexual abuse. Nothing at all. And in that split second, even if only for a moment, we were a group. Whether I wanted to be a part of that group or not, just then I was.
For some of them it may have just been gang loyalty. It was a different culture there. Whatever the reason, it was ten to two. And a lot of these guys weren't nearly as tough as they'd like to think they were. But some of them were, and RJ was one of them.
And you don't want to take on ten Ranch Kids, believe you me.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Extraordinary-

Let me know when you publish. Such a surreal experience-

Ashley H.

Ross G. said...

Even a pack of strays will stick up for each other. I love it. I don't think I had heard many stories from your New Mexico days, and it sounds wackier than I had imagined.

You keep writing, I'll keep reading.

Daniel said...

that's a pretty remarkable story.

Damo said...

I especially appreciate the "there are some things even gang members don't do" part in regards to domestic abuse. Not exactly true, but not exactly NOT true either, eh?