Dani California ((NOT YET FINISHED))

"Are we there yet" was never a question on Dani's mind. All she knew was the open country roads, the cheap drive-through meals, and the smells of cigarette smoke and alcohol. The road changes her, and not for the better. But going on nothing but adrenaline and the advice of an old wannabe rock star, Dani gets the chance to prove that your upbringing doesn't always have to foreshadow your future.

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1. The Road

I had never seen anything more beautiful than a mountain sunset. The particles of dust pirouetted through the last beams of the day's lights as if on stage, and the sun dipped behind the mountains and rested until the next dawn. During those evenings on the open road, I would relax my head on the glass-less window frame of the old Ford pickup and listen to the sounds of the crickets and the night. Staring up at the stars, I wondered. I wondered if the flowers knew when the sun was about to rise in the dawn and became happy to feel it's warmth, or if the grass swayed to the music of the evening the way I sometimes did, or if the things on the roadsides wondered about me the way I wondered about them. 

Mama and I had been traveling on the open roads for years, going on and on with no apparent destination. I still remember the day, when I was six years old, that Mama plopped me down into my car seat. Her black and beaten eyes were rimmed with tears and she was clearly afraid as she slammed the truck doors shut and sped out into the world and away from Papa. Papa had always abused Mama, and the smells of alcohol and cigarette smoke were the only ones I had ever known. Mama had always smoked, too, but it got worse on the road. I still remember how, after Papa had hit her, Mama would steal a pack or two of his cigarettes (or sometimes even one of his expensive cigars) and lie down out on the front porch to smoke. The smell would waft in through the kitchen and up the stairs to my bed and I knew that she was okay. But as time went on Papa hit Mama harder, and Mama became too weak to fend him off. One time, Papa hit Mama so hard that she fell to the ground at once, crumpled up in a corner like a dying animal. Papa was satisfied, and he whirled off in a drunken stupor. I ran to Mama, as I always did, and she whispered to me, "Penny, my dear Penny Lane. I'll be okay. Go get some of your toys and things, Penny Lane. I'm going to keep us safe, my love." 

I did as she said, of course. I would do anything for my Mama. That night was the beginning of our timeless and seemingly endless adventure on the open road. There was no destination in sight, only a long stretch of road like hungry fingers reaching into forever. Mama would sing her songs to me day and night, songs like my namesake Penny Lane, or other works of the Beatles, or some lyric Mama herself had made up. Her voice was beautiful, and it worked as both my lullaby and my wake-up call. More than that, it calmed me. The louder Mama sang the less I worried about where we were going, even though I constantly fantasized about it. I imagined that we were headed to some place of mystery, with beautiful rolling hills and kind people and good food (much better than the fake-meat nuggets and strange-tasting burgers at all the drive through restaurants). I imagined that we were going to a place where I could just be Penny Lane Jonson and Mama could just be Mama and we would be safe.

On the road it seemed we were never safe. Papa chased after us, claiming that we were runaways who had stolen from him and sending the police on our tails. The only thing I had ever seen Mama steal was a pair of mittens from a corner shop during one of those freezing winters when we were broke. I cried when I realized Mama had not payed, but she whispered to me again, saying "Penny Lane, darling, it's alright. The kind people who the mittens belong to wouldn't want your hands to freeze. It's alright, Penny." And I took the mittens and stopped crying and hugged Mama like I used to when she cried herself to sleep. But Mama didn't cry herself to sleep that night. She ran her long fingers through my soft black hair and sang to me, forcing a smile to her lips for my sake.

But Mama wasn't able to protect me from the truth forever. About three years after we had set off on our great journey, she began to smoke again. It was far worse than the habit had ever been back home. She started out smoking one cigarette a day - then two, then one pack, then two packs. She would smoke instead of sing, and I would cough instead of hum along. Mama drank, too, and while she was drunk she would wander off into strange bars with strange men and come back early the next morning to find me angry and crying. And one night I was so sick of it, so sick of what Mama had become, that I changed. That was the first time I ever stole anything, especially money from the change compartment of the old Ford. I used it to buy myself my first record at some cheap old-style store, Dani California by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The more I listened to it on Mama's old record player, the more I fell in love with the song's rebellious, mysterious, and strong Dani California. And I decided that that was who I wanted to be, so I gave up the gentle name my mother had given me to become Dani California Jonson. 

The morning after my transformation, I began smoking and drinking just like my parents had. It wasn't that I wanted to be like them, but I felt this need to quench some loud thirst to be in control. Sometimes I would suddenly need to be numb, and I would drink a beer or smoke a cigarette to get there. When Mama traded in her cigarettes for joints of pot, I did the same. We wouldn't talk all day or all night, sometimes going for weeks at a time without speaking a word to one another. Mama still worked odd jobs in the little towns we stopped through, but the jobs became shorter and shorter lived. We spoke only to ask one another for a joint or a beer, our conversations usually consisting of Mama asking if I had anything extra and me answering that the booze was all mine and she couldn't have any of my smokes. 

I got into fights, too. I would come home almost every night bloody and beaten, but with a few stolen food or clothes. Mama would just look at me and take what she wanted, and then she would go on driving and I would go on smoking. We still had no destination, and the road just seemed to get longer and longer, with more turns and twists as we drove on. All I could think was that there was no place that we could be just Penny Lane and just Mama, because my Mama wasn't like she had been and I wasn't Penny Lane. I was Dani California, and I was a rebel without a cause. I didn't know where we were going on that long and endless road, good or bad, but I knew that it was far from where we were coming.

 

 

 

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