The thing I don’t like about the movies is that they give the viewer a sense of false hope. What is hope anyway, but the simple delaying of certain future disappointment. The guy gets the girl. The geek finally fits in to the cool crowd. The underdog comes from behind for the win. And the whole time, the audience cheers them on. That doesn’t happen in real life. I should know. I am the underdog. And I assure you my life is nothing like the movies.
Oh, I started out with as much chance as anybody, I suppose. I was born into a perfectly normal family. I don’t have many memories from my childhood. I’m not sure if my memory is faulty or there is just simply nothing really worth remembering. I have flashes here and there – my red coat, catching salamanders from the creek in the backyard, numerous episodes of unreasonable tears that only a painfully shy child could understand. I guess I remember a few stories.
When I was in kindergarten, I went to a private Christian school in Birmingham, Alabama. I remember going to the bathroom with a girl named Renee. She wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom alone. She lived with her grandmother. Perhaps I overheard an adult talking about it, or maybe she knew, but her father was not a part of her life for some reason or another, and there was a fear that he would try one day to steal her away. In retrospect, it seems that sending another child with her to the bathroom was putting the other child at risk more than protecting Renee. I have no idea whatever happened to her. There was also a girl named Diane, or something odd like that. She had beautiful hair that was cut at an angle. It almost looked like a rounded triangle falling down her back. The day I saw her hair was the first time I can remember feeling inferior to someone. It was certainly not the last, however.
I always stood up for myself. That is something that I still find hard to grasp. I have one of the lowest self esteems that you will ever run across, yet I have one of the loudest barks. There were two girls that lived in my neighborhood, Betty and Alice. There were shelves of some sort behind my bed. We would use these open shelves as a home for our Barbie dolls. One of the girls, I think it was Alice, would always follow her demands with something to the effect of her being company so she should get her way, or if she didn’t get her way that she wouldn’t be my friend anymore. I remember the day she wanted to use my Barbie instead of her own and she pulled the “I won’t be your friend anymore” stunt. I can remember standing tall, looking her in the face and saying, “I’ve got plenty of friends. If you want to leave, you know the way out.” She left. I learned then and there that if you bluff, you must stand firm. She and Betty were the only two friends I really had, but watching them leave was easier than not being true to my self. I’ve watched so many people walk out since then that I’ve lost count.
We had a huge basement in our house on Mountain Oaks Lane. In the bottom of my closet were some small holes in the floor. I could lie on my belly and look through the holes and watch my brother playing below me. He would play with his chemistry set, his army men or catch the large camel crickets that seemed to love our basement. I don’t know if he ever knew that I watched him, but I would watch him for hours.
The holes were there because the people that owned the house prior to us had a special needs child. Again, I don’t know how much is true and how much is speculation pieced together by a child from the snippets of conversations of adults that were never meant to be heard, but my recollection is that it was a girl. She was homebound. She had something that made it where her body didn’t grow at the rate that it should. Anyway, they had installed a sink or some sort of equipment in the closet and when it was removed; my little voyeuristic windows were left in the floor. I can remember lying in bed at night thinking about the girl that once lived in my room. I wondered what went through her mind as she lay in confinement, trapped in a body that would never catch up to her mind. I would get lost in my thoughts of her.
There was a covered bridge a street or two over. Our backyard was a mountain drop off filled with boulders and trees and fun. I was a tag along to my brother and his friend Dale. Dale was a bit older than my brother, but he was always so nice to me. He often went to UAB because he had juvenile diabetes. He didn’t seem sick to me. He just seemed like a nice guy who always made me feel a part of everything.
A girl named Shelly lived next door. She had an older sister named Mandy, I think. Mandy never came around much. She was much older, and like nothing I had ever seen. She sat in her room and listened to music and still cried that Elvis had died. Shelly wore black eyeliner and had Bee Gees posters on her wall. I remember thinking her black eyeliner looked trashy before I even knew what trashy was.
Someone had a yard sale down the hill from us. Me, my brother and Dale wandered down to check it out. There was a wood panel station wagon parked just a bit up from the house. In the backseat was a child, more like a toddler, asleep in the backseat. I don’t know who had the idea, but it was brilliant. We took a snubbed out cigarette butt from the side of the street and slipped it into the kid’s sleeping lips. When his mom got back to the car, there was Junior chilling in dream land in the back seat with a stogie hanging out of his mouth. I bet she never left him unattended after that.
The same people that had the yard sale later had a moving van parked in front of the house. The movers would bring things out and place it on the truck and then return to get more items from the house. When they left, we would jump up on the truck and take small pieces off and put them in the front yard. When the movers came back out, they would find some random piece sitting there. We did this three or four times before they got smart and ruined our fun by leaving someone next to the truck to guard it.
There was a kid named James on the street. His dad worked for the power company. Of this I am sure, because every time anything came up about any topic under the sun, he would know the answer and was sure it was true because his dad worked for the power company. Not a day went by that he didn’t remind us of that fact. In retrospect, I wonder why it never occurred to my brother or I to rebut him with the fact that our dad worked for the power company, too. Later when we were teens, we went to an Auburn football game. We were sitting by ourselves for some reason, and sitting directly behind us was James. We recognized him, somehow, and I remember one of us asked him if his dad still worked for the power company. He did.
I broke my collarbone for the first time while we were living on this little street. My cousin and I were in a little red wagon. We decided to roll it down the hill and ride in it like we had done so many times before. We tumbled over right in front of the house where we had caused so much mischief. That little stunt sent me to the hospital and resulted in a back brace and sling. I remember Dr. Simpson showing me the X-ray of my shoulder. There was a piece of rice from dinner stuck in my throat that was visible in the X-ray. This everyday accident resulted in my self consciousness increasing tenfold. It is also the reason that I am ambidextrous. We were learning cursive at school and I was right handed. I had no other choice than to learn script with my left hand. To my knowledge, that was the only perk of having a broken collar bone.
A woman named Danna lived in our partially finished basement at some point. I have no idea why she lived there. She gave me a ring from Avon and I loved it. I kept it for years and years. She was beautiful. She primped and always looked like a million bucks. She was also very gullible. My brother and I took pickles out of a jar once and told her we picked them from the pickle tree in the backyard. She believed us. They were still cold from the refrigerator. That is when I learned that there is much more to being a woman than looking fabulous. I think that is when I figured out that I needed to concentrate on my mind and stop worrying so much about being ugly if I didn’t want to end up twenty something years old and living in some people’s basement.
We had a hamster that ate a plastic Obi-Wan Kenobi’s head off. We had hermit crabs in an aquarium in my brother’s room. I loved to sleep on the top bunk bed in his room. I always picked off the popcorn stuff from the ceiling and always got chastised for it. I got caught giving the dog, Oliver, the crust from my toast and tried to pretend I was just “petting the dog.” My brother tricked me into eating dog food and a banana pepper. A construction worker taught me the proper way to color using crayons. My brother stuck up for me for the first time. We made prank phone calls in Shelly’s basement. My sister was born.
We moved from Birmingham in the middle of my second grade year. Betty and her brother Calvin threw us a surprise going away party. I sat on the steps and cried like a baby. I don’t know if it was that I was leaving or that I was overwhelmed that someone threw us a party or what it was. Actually, I do know what it was. I didn’t like the attention of the party. I felt awkward and insecure. The surprise part of the party is what bothered me. I really needed time to grasp it. Before the night was over, I went from feeling stupid just because I was me to feeling stupid because I had cried in front of everyone. It was a good thing I was moving. I don’t think I could have faced everyone after that moment of being me.
It was time to recreate myself. It was time for a fresh start. And I needed one. I was in the second grade and I felt like a failure. I was ready to be someone new. I was ready to try again. On to Eufaula.