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Archive for September, 2019

Reincarnate

Ever since I was able to string words together, I was certain that something was very, very wrong.  People thought I was a child.  I knew, with certain integrity, that I was an adult caught in a child’s body.  While this smacks of a fixed delusion, it could also be compared to a common problem accruing to reincarnation gone awry.  My mother exacerbated this defugalty by taking me to every old lady’s clabber-klatch she attended, including me in any and all palaver, and using me as her confidant and running buddy.

One of my first memories is of visiting an out-of-town church service where I was parked in a baby nursery while the adults departed for the sanctuary.  They put me in a play pen.  Can you believe it?  I was put into a cage with “babies.”  It was the first time I remember being genuinely enraged.  I didn’t cry—just lay there and stewed in my frenzy.  One of the babies was dressed in only a diaper.  I was sure he—or maybe it was a she— might wet the nappie and rub the stink off onto me.  My memory doesn’t extend to being picked up and restored to my rightful place as a person, but it must eventually have happened, because weeks later I can remember the ceiling in my sick-room going all funny.  I began screaming for help.  Adults paid me no attention.  I screamed to absolutely no avail until finally the ceiling collapsed pouring water all over everything, even my bed.  I warned them.  They ignored me, insisting I was just a child.  Serves them right!

I didn’t like to converse with children.  They didn’t understand things.  I remember a restaurant luncheon with my mother and her friend who had a daughter near my age.  It did not go well.  The daughter was intent on deriding my B17’s.  I used them as patriotic decoration fastened onto my braids.  Sure, other girls used ribbons, but my daddy was overseas during the conflict.  I wanted to celebrate his work and telegraph my pride in our country’s war effort.  After I took her blather from her long enough, I turned to her mother.  “Your daughter is a mighty big girl to have such a small mind,” I sniffed, fists on hips, with a nod toward the silly girl.  The mother didn’t choose to respond.  She was busy chattering with my mother about my odd behavior.  Nobody took me seriously.  They just ignored me and jabbered among themselves about how eccentric I was.

As a five-year-old. I worked hard to help my parents feel good about themselves.  One night my dad came home with a grocery bag that rattled suspiciously.  It was surely a puppy brought home to surprise me.  That put me in mind of the baby duck he brought me the Easter I was two.  Daddy sure did love me.  I pretended that I didn’t notice and waited to see what transpired.  The next day was my birthday, and I was careful to evidence proper amazement when presented with a new Cocker Spaniel pup.  I named him Ginger and enjoyed riding with him on Mommy’s bike—him in the basket—me on the back fender, until he and I got too big for Mommy to make it up hills with all three of us.

Daddy and I had a man-to-man understanding.  One particularly contentious flap with Mommy culminated in a creative resolution that reverberates as an almost Akedah event.  Daddy and I were to be shut together in the bathroom so he could do the spanking for that day.  Mommy was tired of administering the hairbrush.  I was prepared for the worst, but Daddy sat on the lidded commode and told me to start crying.  Whaaat?  I protested, but then Daddy began applying the hairbrush to his own flanks, making lots of noise.

“Go on,” he stage whispered.  “Yell!”

So I yelled—loud and long.  We did a great job of mimicking a sound whipping to a naughty fanny.  And Ginger yapped his canine accompaniment, punctuating every blow.  I did love my Daddy!

It was when I started to school that I learned more than letters and numbers.  I was ready for something wonderful.  Mommy had been to Jordan Marsh and brought home five dresses in exactly my size.  She could not have known that before the year was out the boys would be singing, “I see London; I see France; I see Dotty’s underpants!”  This was the beginning of some serious growing.  Never again have I enjoyed five new dresses. The other girls started with dresses way too big so they had room to grow. We all had things to learn.

It was in the classroom that I had to face the enormity of my reincarnation error.  Every day we learned a new number.  I was OK with that, but Miss Chater did her best to string it out forever.  How many ways are there to draw a one?  Two was more interesting, but by the time we got to three I was disappointed in the whole affair.  I drew my three and then rummaged up some crayons to illuminate it. The two loops suggested special areas for coloration.  The color lighted it up and made it something worth feeling some pride over.  But then Miss Chater spied the miscreant!  “What is this?” she barked.  “I told you to write a three, not color it!”  She ripped the paper off my desk and held it up for all to see.  “This is not the way to do what you’re told!”

I may have been an adult in a child’s body, but mature confidence wasn’t part of the deal.  I was terrified.  Cringing seemed to be the most appropriate response.  I tried to shrink beneath the desk, but Miss Chater wasn’t having any of that.  The next day I rendered a proper four without embellishment, and continued in like manner for the remainder of the school year.  I did a lot of questioning of my motives.  I guess it could have been a problem if everybody began waxing artistic.  Miss Chater would have had to control too much at the same time.  If I cut across the lawn it doesn’t make a difference, but if everybody does it, the lawn would die.  I taught my creative self to ask my caring self that question.  What if everybody did it?

But Miss Chater wasn’t finished with me.  I was a speedy reader.  That earned me a spot in the fast reader’s group.  I would read aloud my paragraph and then continue silently through the story while the others recited their read-alouds.  When my turn came around again, I was into the next chapter and didn’t know where the group was.  This must have been a certified abomination, because Miss Chater proceeded to stage a foot-stomping conniption.  “You can’t do that!” she screamed.  “You have to stay with the group!”  Different Drummer be damned.  For her, there was one pace—the group’s.  She grabbed my arm and dragged me to the back of the room where the very slow readers kept their table.  She pulled up a chair and threw me into it.  “See if you like that!” she croaked.  Of course Mommy was notified that I had been demoted from the fastest-of-the-fast to slowest-of-the-slow.

Things got worse.  At recess a boy approached me and told a ridiculous tale about trains that ran underneath the schoolyard.  We ran around listening under various shrubs for the prevaricated underground trains.  He must have been lying.  Trains don’t run under ground.  Sure, I was new to Massachusetts.  In Texas I was very sure that trains ran above ground on tracks.  You can’t trust anybody!  I asked Mommy, but she didn’t know about tracks and trains.

Newtonville, Mass had more surprises for me.  It snowed.  It kept snowing until it formed huge drifts.  Another trip to Jordan Marsh netted a snowsuit for my small but insistently growing  child body.  As I walked to school one morning, I encountered a big noisy orange monster.  It was huge, and it even blew smelly smoke into the air from out of a pipe.  I didn’t dare go past it.  It was moving the snow into big piles and clearing the way for cars to move down the street like they were normally wont to do.  Fearing that it might scoop me into one of the piles, I considered returning home, but that was impossible.  Mommy would be more than mad.  I turned down a side street and floundered through the drifts to somewhere I hoped was safer.  Memory doesn’t always serve us well.  The next thing I recall was being handed over, wet and cold, to Miss Chater at the schoolhouse door, by a big helpful policeman.  Of course Mommy heard all about my “stunt” and was mad anyway.  I might as well have returned home and faced the music.

I was almost grateful to be safe in the classroom away from gargantuan snow movers, but not for long.  It was time for morning break.  We all gathered around the giant earthenware crock that stored our crackers as they got soggier by the day.  It was so big it got to sit on the floor.  As I waited, eager for a cracker to go with my milk, the weird girl—that’s what everybody called her— crept up to us.  She scared me.  She had thick glasses that made her eyes look funny, and she walked around with her mouth open.  As she came up to the crock she just stood there and wet herself.  The pee ran down her legs onto the floor and around the base of the cracker crock.  We—every one of us—ran back to our seats.  If I tarried anywhere near her, people would think I was like her.  I wasn’t the only one who understood that basic premise.  I had finally learned the benefits of functioning as a self-confirming group.

Lest I assume that insight had transformed me into a groupie, the next year after Mommy bought me a size seven snowsuit, one of the boys brought white shoe polish to school and during recess he poured the whole bottle all over my outfit.  It was a lovely navy and green plaid wool and sported whimsical buttons that were curled up on two sides to look like little Stetsons.  I was proud of the suit but didn’t say so.  He must have read my mind and punished me for my prideful attitude.  The bible says pride goeth before a fall.  Even God was mad at me.  I had to keep my adult status a secret or no telling what might happen.

While in bed with chickenpox, I several times dreamed of being an Indian brave and recalled many intrepid battles with other feathered leather-clad adversaries.  When I recovered, the dreams ceased.  I forgot about the Indian connection until years later a psychic advisor announced that I had had a recent lifetime as an American Indian male.  That made sense.  I was always good at running around and hollering.  When I grew up and finally brought some adult confidence to the mix, it didn’t feel so awkward expressing a warrior brave from within a robust female body.  Finally I had “A Fighting Chance.”  Elizabeth Warren would have been proud!  She got her autobiography published.  I’m praying that mine makes it too.  I hope her Injun tale doesn’t cost her the presidency and that mine doesn’t net me worse than a few jeers and chuckles.

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