Lately, I’ve spent a great deal of time ruminating on how all campfire tales aren’t truly one’s own to tell, especially if you’ve a tender soul like mine.
Because you worry how others involved may feel about you repeating your take on the tale they helped to create. Because sometimes your brain’s job is to protect you from the harsh realities you may have endured, and thus only remembers minutes of one story, seconds of another.
I used to wring out my fingers on how to bring words involving others to paper without hurting people who may feel closer to the material than I do. Is it any wonder why I crave all things fiction? Writing, reading, thinking, doing, playing–it all feels fictitious to me when thought of at a later time. Alas, this blog inhibits some of my previous antics of delving into fiction as opposed to facing issues, and people, head on.
Tonight, another sleepless one with my tot found in bed beside me, I wrote of a few tender times in my youth that are etched in memory, and yet feel as if they belong to someone else entirely.
(Yes, we co-sleep, yes he still gets all the milks and all the tuck-tucks and all the holding I can give for he won’t be this small, he won’t be this solely mine for long.)
Hands grip the lid of the toilet while Momma pulls my long, unwilling mane into braids suited for school. I see rather than feel the heat of her tugs, of her frustrated breaths taken in quick repetition as she warns me to sit still else she’ll whip me with the comb. Tug, tug, tug. These days are thrown overboard with romps from one parent’s house to the other, their relationship falling a part while I’m meant to sit still. Wade through their mess. But I’m no good at it. Not on the toilet while Momma combs or on the bus while Brenda drives.
I got into trouble again.
From standing, hands gripping the seat in front of me on the bus. I just have to see where I’m going, I think and think. Brenda tells me to sit, for my safety. But my tiny body doesn’t react to her words–I’m still figuring out how to keep all of my bones in my taut skin with all of the growing-changing-falling occurring ’round me. Brenda has had enough. She drives down the road, straight in front of my house.
Momma comes out, yelling, “Why’d you drive down our street?” She whips me for all kids to see. I never stood up again. Surely, my momma would tell you a different tale.
Hands grip my backpack tighter as a cacophony of sounds find my right ear (as the left habitually goes deaf). Boys and girls making all the sounds their mouths can muster in preparation for the long day (filled with mostly silent acts: walking to class, teacher talks, walking to art, teacher talks, walking to lunch, chewing softly, walking to library, teacher talks, running a game of Freeze Frame in the gymnasium, teacher talks, walking to class, teacher talks, taking us to the bus).
These lines of roaring mouths are rubber bands, stretching us towards one another while signifying groups.
These lines book-end our days.
Animals, we are.
As we stand near the entrance to Webster School, a girl living close to my house walks up the line. Somehow, she’d broken free of her rubber band. Maybe she had to see the nurse. Maybe she had to phone her momma. Whatever her reason for walking alone, a kid from the crowd shouted, “Pig Face!” Then another shouted, “Ugly!” Then another and another, until that cacophony held her at its core. Yet, her little chin shoved up above their heads and she kept walking.
When she passed me, her eyes met my hands, still gripping the backpack, and then rose to meet my gaze. I stared for only a moment, else I may be pulled from my rubber band line, and forced to experience the nasty things boys and girls say but don’t comprehend. Just like I’d rehearsed, I stood still, failing her all the while. This girl, from the same part of my tiny town, gripping her backpack, hand over hand, enduring the mouths of babes.
I’ll never forget how tough and true she was.
I’ll never forget that I felt as if all of those nasty things had spilled from my mouth. Because I didn’t beat the boys and grab at the girls. That rubber band line, that look she gave, taught me that my silence is truly deafening.
I shall never forgive myself. And thus, I write.
And Webster School, that dark-bricked square of memories, has finally been torn down. I was told you could salvage bricks from its demise. But I can’t look at a brick that once helped in containing me, forcing me to stand, to sit still, to accept things I could not grip with one hand or the other.
Surely, the girl who looks nothing like a pig, who was every bit of good-natured before this day and after, would tell you a different tale.