Deming


At the graduation the handful who were not graduating but attending nonetheless gathered in the handicapped restroom, the first handicapped restroom in the state. Bigger than a standard one person stall, less bustable than a walk-in men’s room. The tallest of them assumed the responsibility of improvising a pipe, which he made with a toilet paper tube and a bit of aluminum foil taken from a chicken parfait, an introductory and ultimately failed offering from Wendy’s, which at that time still had Dave speaking for himself on the commercials, where he played the role of benign protestant mid-western Colonel Sanders, with a dash of the great and powerful Oz thrown in.

The smoke. The tallest. The graduation.  Deming was experiencing a resurgence of sorts, a resurgence surprising for a town that had never had much of a surge in the first place. Deming, New Mexico. A destination in the middle of nowhere, railroad cars filled with iron lungs, one car after another, in the tubercular days of 100 years ago. The sun, the air, the dry hot blue climate sold itself to the bleeding lungs of northeasterners with money and their pale little children, who coughed blood into their handkerchiefs and either died in Deming or did not die in Deming.

The underwear favored by the gently wheezing young ladies at the Deming Women’s Sanitorium was billowy and typically of thin white linen, suitable for the dry hot climate. They would lie, languid and bored, with ribbons in their hair, in their white linen bloomers in the iron lung that would save them and send them back to New York, to Boston, to Connecticut. The ribbons were died in the pretty spring colors of a cooler, wetter climate – periwinkle, saffron, lilac, pale pink peony.

The young ladies lay in their iron lungs thinking of dances, thinking of young men, thinking of meringues.  Some of them are buried in the cemetery in Deming, and they have names like flowers, too. Flowers and gemstones; the young women of the early twentieth century were prone to swooning, dying young, and living to see another day.

One such young woman was raised in the Deming Sanitorium, having been sent there as a seven-year-old. Her name was Daisy – yes, this is true – and her papa had been an entrepreneur, a boastful man prone to self-deception and untimely truthful revelations to shareholders. Daisy’s papa, it is said, was single-handedly responsible for some runs on some banks, helping to trigger the domino effect that revealed certain inconsistencies in banking practices of that last century. In the middle of Daisy’s rest cure, while the mechanical lung pushed and pulled her ambivalent relationship with survival itself, a man with a shovel smashed Daisy’s father’s head in, leaving her an orphan very far away from anyone who knew or cared anything about her. Her mother, having succumbed already some time earlier to the consumption that lay Daisy low, had nothing to offer, and so, Daisy was on her own.

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