So this is a long assed post. It’s mainly because I want to give you a little taste of the memoir I’m writing. Actually, it’s the entire reason. Also, I’m writing this on Saturday night and I’ve had some
a shit ton of wine. “I’ve had some a shit ton of wine” took me like 2145,236 times to type. Fuck.
So read it. Enjoy it. Tell me what you think.
I’m gonna go watch It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on Netflix now. You are the weakest link, good bye!!
Seriously. A shit ton.
Your best friend, Alice, is the epitome of everything you should be but aren’t. She is thin and reminds you of a bird, a beautiful bird, not the kind your mother warns you not to touch so you don’t infect your entire family with bird-like hepatitis (which in your nine-year-old mind is associated with a spontaneous eruption of feathered limbs), but the kind that soars above your head, just out of reach. She walks gracefully, your Alice, tall not slouched as if her spine is pulled straight on a string by God himself. She smiles. All the time. You wonder about that smiling, how it comes so easily to Alice. How stretching her face that way all hours of the day doesn’t yank at her wits as it does her skin. How showing her teeth isn’t a threat.
“Smile more. Like Alice,” your mother says so you do. It’s free dress day, no uniform so your smile is the cherry on top of your Sundae clothes, a mesh of colors that are entirely wrong for you but entirely right for Blossom so you wear them anyway. Alice is dressed the same way, complete with the floppy jean hat pinned with its technicolor sunflower, but she looks like an actual flower whereas you are its unsmiling, weedlike counterpart.
You walk behind her into the fluorescent bulb of your fourth grade class. Light spills everywhere: on the desks, the metal chalk trays, the sheen of posters mummified in laminated plastic. You inhale the scent and it shivers you, reminds you of your mother who’s teaching a few classrooms away.
“Teacher’s pet,” Adam Soldano says as he nudges against you and walks to his cubby. Alice laughs and in your heart of hearts you know it’s the “at” kind. Not the “with.”
You put your back pack away, your lunch that features a handwritten note from your mother and a delightfully sticky fruit snack stretched to a ridiculous length. You hang your leather jacket up because it’s December in Arkansas and the earth is twirling in a light breath of cold. When you glance up you see Caitlyn Krol staring at you. She’s always staring.
“All right, all right,” your teacher says as you and the rest of your class drag to your seats. She stops there and stares at her desk for a moment, her hand that’s attached to its faux wood grained top. Her name is Mrs. Albertson and she’s a precautionary tale you won’t take the time to read. You’ll think she says her words funny (an accent maybe?), and is a nuisance when she’s relieved her lower half from her chair as if she’s painfully severing a limb from her body. But the other details circulating through her shaky fingers and spidering like the blood vessels at the edges of her nostrils won’t hold your nine-year-old attention.
She’s married, she has kids, she works, she’s your teacher. That’s all you need to know about that.
“Mrs. Albertson? Is it recess yet?” Tracy Dixon says. The other kids laugh but you don’t because in kindergarten Tracy told on you for coloring outside of the lines. The hate you have for her has crystallized into a scenario where the Pink Power Ranger puts an end to Tracy once and for all, so even when you notice Alice offering a head tilt and a chuckle, you bite hard at the insides of your mouth.
“That’s enough Tracy. Can anyone tell us where we left off?” Your teacher places her hand against her head like Johnny Carson does as the fortune teller, white envelope placed at his temple. Except Mrs. Albertson can barely tell the present let alone the future so she relies on someone in class to do it for her.
Nobody answers. Everyone pretends to be silent, mute, stupid, and you try, hard, but your tongue’s already peeped its pointed head out of your mouth.
“We were learning our multiplication tables.“ The groan followed by another “teacher’s pet” flood around your desk. The small eraser launched at the back of your head, that’s new.
“Thank you,” Mrs. Albertson says and mumbles something about at least someone knowing what’s going on around here. You can feel them all behind you like their collective hate has woven a blanket and wrapped you tight. You dare yourself to glance at Alice and her eyes roll seemingly with the same volition coursing through your heart.
The rest of the day is dedicated to numbers and you don’t mind them so much at this point. In fact, they’re like little seeds you plant into the ground and with your pencil, you tend to the mathematical equations sprouting along your paper. They grow, vines looping, numbers procreating, dividing, eliminated from the scorched earth with the nub of your eraser. One day they’ll let you write with pens and then the damage will be permanent.
Lunch comes, and with it that devious dance of placing yourself at Alice’s right hand side. Gina will try to cut through like a butter knife, dully shearing you off of Alice like a pesky wart, but you give the effort needed to shoulder her slight seventy pounds out of the way. You rummage through your lunch and even though the fruit snack is calling your name, you eat your sandwich first because your mother’s note is shaming you from the inside of your plastic New Kids on the Block lunch box. You smack its open mouth closed with your hand.
“So who’s coming next weekend?” Alice asks although she already knows the answer. Everyone will be coming to Alice’s tenth birthday party, even Caitlyn who sulks near the end of the table in her puffy powder blue jacket. Recess was two hours ago but she still has it on and takes the form of a disgruntled cocoon.
“I am!” Gina says before you can swallow your sandwich, and Alice turns to her, gives her a smile. Gina is pretty and it bothers you the way all other pretty girls do but you can’t really put your finger on why. It’s a mosquito bite traveling your body before your fingers can stab at it. It’s the nebulous thought that if girls like Gina and Alice are pretty, then what are you?
“Is she coming?” Jessica Nowicki asks just loud enough for Caitlyn to glance in your direction. Everyone giggles, even you who has morphed into the vocal equivalent of swallowing a nail.
“Of course, she’s invited,” Alice says. You all quiet, wait for the punch line. “Who else would we have to make fun of?” She whispers it into her ham and cheese roll up, and again the table goes numb with the vibration of laughter. You look at Caitlyn, the knotted vines in your belly telling you not to. She takes the back of her small, stone white hand and strokes it against her face.
The bell rings and you’re cattle called out to second recess. There’s a new game Tracy Dixon invents where everyone’s supposed to line up, backs against brick wall, to receive a slamming from the rubber kick ball. It doesn’t hurt in the leather jacket you begged your mother to buy when you saw the one hanging in Alice’s closet. But she’s wearing her navy winter peacoat now and so is Gina. The leather coat is old news.
Tracy nominates herself as first thrower. You’re out as soon as the ball leaves her hands.
Everyone else is still in the game and it makes you nervous to loiter around like the weepy eyed milk cows on your Papaw’s farm. You looked one in the face once on the back of your cousin’s four wheeler and witnessed the very essence of unfeeling. Your envied that cow.
“Out already?” your mother asks as you walk in her direction. She’s overseeing time out, a place you’ve only had to make friends with once back in the second grade when Adam Saldano’s “teacher’s pet” was still fresh enough to strike a nerve. Apparently, threatening to scrape his glasses against the black top was “not an appropriate way to act.”
“It’s a stupid game.”
“Language,” your mother says, nodding at a fresh spot on the wooden bench placed under the oak tree. It’s occupied by a snotty nosed kindergartner and a third grader that keeps blubbering “my turn.”
“Why so down Charlie Brown?” she asks. You look at the silver whistle hanging from around her neck, the handbell she holds and will thrust in the air when recess is over. You pray she doesn’t ask you to smile.
“Nothing, it’s just. Do I have to go tonight?”
“We’ve already been over this. Yes, you have to go. We already planned it two weeks ago and you were excited.”
“I know but it’s Friday and Alice-”
“I know Alice is your best friend, but you need to get to know other friends. It would be like eating the same flavor of ice cream every day. It would be borderline barbaric.”
“That actually sounds wonderful.” Your mother smiles at you and you can feel your lip genuinely lift. When your mom smiles, it’s the best thing in the world.
“Now go play and enjoy it while it lasts.” She lifts the sleeve of her jacket with a gloved hand and casts a glance at her Mickey Mouse watch. “Seven minutes.”
“All right,” you say and bid farewell in your head to Snotty and Blubber.
Eventually, your mother disturbs the air with her handbell and everyone scrambles to line up. You quickly place yourself behind Alice but it’s already too late. She’s standing next to Gina, Gina’s hand a smug fit in Alice’s. Your throat burns, the back of your eyes. It’s the cold you think, but it’s not the cold. It’s the way trying always tastes like failure.
You can feel Caitlyn standing next to you, looking at you. You don’t give her an inch.
There’s a blast of warmth as you enter the building and the decisive squeak of sneakers pestering linoleum. You follow the swinging linked arms of Alice and Gina and have to stop yourself from breaking through them just to feel the act of letting go.
“Have fun?” Mrs. Albertson asks all of you in that way where it sounds like she’s hoping the answer is “no.” She’s spent lunch in the classroom and you watch her right hand attempt three times to screw the lid onto her thermos.
The rest of the day unfolds into English then Science that’s cut short with a movie on the life cycle of plants. The plants curl open their leaves, reveal the soft core within their petals. The yellowish green tint of the screen echoes onto Mrs. Albertson’s face in the dark. Her eyes are closed.
At three, the bell rings and it’s a sound that delightfully quakes through your bowels. It’s over.
“You know, it’s okay you can’t make it. Gina said she can spend the night,” Alice says as you put on your sorry leather coat and grab for your back pack. It’s a green Jansport just like the one Alice briefly opens to drop in a folded note with the words “BFF 4 EVIR” on it that Gina has scribbled in her loopy, misspelled handwriting.
“Oh,” you say. For a single moment the tears threaten to choke you and wipe out your fourth grade existence, but you come to terms with the heart splitting fact that this is something Alice is hoping for. “That’s great,” you say and shrug.
“Good. Have fun with the loser,” Alice says with an eye roll. You wonder what she would do if one ever broke loose.
You trudge behind the rest of the kids through the hallway, careful to avoid Caitlyn who keeps eyeing you, and stop by your mother’s classroom near the front double doors.
“Heading out?” she asks and you nod. You take in the scent of crayons and glue and envy the naive youth of kindergarteners. They don’t know what they’re in for.
She retrieves your packed overnight bag from the side of her desk and gives it to you with one of her warning looks.
“Be nice tonight. And you know it never hurts to-”
“Smile,” you say because hearing her say it will kill you.
“Good. I love you,” she says. You take in a gulp of her perfume, Cher’s perfume that sits in a bottle on your mother’s dresser. “Uninhibited,” your mother had said when she caught you watching her spray it behind her ear. The word lacked meaning.
“Ready?” Caitlyn asks you in the foyer as you push open the double doors and break into the sharp stab of a winter afternoon. You avoid Gina saying goodbye to her mother at her car. You avoid Gina shuffling in behind Alice into her mother’s Explorer. You relish the attempt of avoiding only to find you fail miserably.
“As I’ll ever be,” you say to no one. Catilyn smirks at the joke. You can’t fault her for that.
You scurry in behind her to get into the back of her mother’s station wagon and place your hand against the slick ice of window as Mrs. Krol creeps the car out of the school parking lot. You blot out the sun that refuses death even on a bitter Arkansas day.
You blot out the sneer on Alice’s face.