A few days later Burt is seeing me off at the airport, we stop at a café for a last cup of coffee.
“You must be looking forward to seeing your grandmother again.” Burt says.
“No Burt,” I sigh tiredly. “I’m really not.” I am tired. The future hasn’t even happened yet and I am already exhausted by it. I glance at the one way ticket to Maine in my hand. It cost almost exactly the same amount of money I had arrived in San Francisco with.
“Tell ya what Burt, you cash in this ticket and just give me the money and it can all be over with right now. I’ll just be on my merry way and that will be that.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Yeah, I know, ahh well it was worth a shot.”
“I know you’re concerned about seeing your family but I’m sure this will work out just fine. You’ll have a chance to reconnect.”
“The prodigal returns, the fated calf and a big wizzy party? Ahh no Burt, that’s not going to happen. This is going to be horrible, ugly, and painful. Yeah I know you don’t believe that. I should just change my name to Cassandra.”
“You don’t know who she was? Really Burt you do need to do some work on your reading list. Ok one last story before I go.”
“You know the story of the fall of Troy and the Trojan horse.”
“Yeah, everyone knows that bit, about that stupid horse. And Helen of course, the face that launched a thousand ships. Cassandra slips by in the story nearly unseen, barely remembered. Which is too bad really, in a war that started with the breaking of oaths and the theft of a wife and ended with a blasphemous lie (The horse was scared to the God Poseidon who was one of the main Gods of the city. The people of Troy would have seen the big ole’ horse as a tribute to the God of the city and perhaps also a bit of a bribe to the God of the sea for a safe trip home. That people would use a tribute to God as a means of deceit would not have occurred to them. There was a reason Odysseus had such a long and difficult journey home, you don’t spit in the face of a God.) Cassandra alone in all the story kept her oaths and told the truth.
Cassandra was a daughter of the King of Troy and high priestess in the temple of Apollo. Helen is known for her beauty but Cassandra must have been some pretty hot piece of ass herself for she caught Apollo’s eye.
He came to her a wooing, in his best robes, his eyebrows freshly plucked, his hair neatly tied. He offered her a ride in his polished chariot.
‘Come with me and our love will be the colors of the dawn as my chariot rides over the clouds.” He purred.
She wanted to keep their relationship on a professional basis. The heart wants what the heart wants and her heart leaped for a prince of the attacking Greeks.
This didn’t sit well with Apollo. HE was a GOD! To be spurned for a mortal human and one of the attacking Greeks no less and to be so dissed by his own high priestess? (It is a wonder to me how many Gods seem to have this absolute mania for locking up young virgins)
Apollo as you know (I hope) was the God of the sun but also a God of music, poetry,and prophecy.
He cursed her. She would see perfectly the shape of things to come,. To always speak the truth and never to be believed.
Ten long years the war lasted. Imagine poor Cassandra all those long years, walking the wide steps of the palace seeing it as it would be, in flames at her feet. Hugging her father and seeing his blood covering her hands as it one day would.
Is it any wonder all thought her mad?
So she stood on the walls in wild hared grief watching as her brothers lead in the agent of their doom like a pet pony on a rope.
You would think that would be enough to sooth a God’s wounded pride, but there was more. Gods are masters of imaginative cruelty.
She was taken prisoner by the prince of the Greeks that she had spurned a God for.
Some small measure of happiness in the bitterness of war? The prince loved her as she him.
He tried to give balm to her grief torn heart. He held her and promised better days of joy ahead. She would be no honor-less slave, but wife and mother to their children.
His words had the opposite effect adding new tears and fresh horrors.
She tried to warn him
You see he had a wife back home in Greece and she was waiting with her husband’s own ax to give the newly weds greetings.
She had her reasons. Her husband had gone off to war and she was the one to pay the price. Two children she had had, a son and a daughter. The son lost to war and her daughter? Her daughter her husband had made of her bloody handed sacrifice to a God for his victory in war. Which at the time even the Greeks thought a bit outré. Now he comes home with a young war bride and a princess no less.
She saw the years in front of her drawn black with pain. She would be a servant in her own home giving tender care to her husband’s new children with his fresh new bride. Ohh yes she had reason to give herself into the fury’s embrace.
And so he came home, his new bride weeping ignored warnings into his ears. He carried her across the threshold. And so ends Cassandra’s tale.
“Well I better be off, wouldn’t want the plane to leave without me.” We shook hands and parted. Poor Burt never did learn how to listen. I feel a little sorry for him but really now sending off a paranoid delusional pyro into the care of a senile 90 year old woman and to expect this to come out with a happy ending? There is a level of willful stupid I have a hard time being all that sympathetic to.
Spring in Maine, dog turd time. All winter long the dogs crap on frozen snow covered ground. In the spring the snow melts and dog turds appear like fragrant mushy rocks uncovered by a receding tide.
Two am. Maine, dog turd time, the cab pulls up in front of a place I once called home.
One day I am sitting in a bar sipping a gin and tonic when I hear a man declare to his companion.
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. That’s the way I was raised.”
“Don’t you agree?” He turns to me to add weight to his argument with my agreement.
“Ohh yes quite so, that’s the way I was raised.” I pause and take a sip from my drink. “Which is of course why I don’t talk to my family.” And everyone in the bar laughed.
I close the door of the cab and it pulls away. I stand for a moment, a tourist taking in the view.
All children have nightmares and I had mine, but in all my childhood I only had one nightmare I woke up screaming from. It wasn’t a dream of chasing monsters nor of falling off a cliff, it was a dream of my home exactly as it was now.
Every line of the house seemed to sag with age and despair. The chimneys on the roof hold together the idea of a chimney with the remaining whole bricks, some of the vinyl siding had pulled away like scabs. I had fought my grandmother tooth and nail over installing that siding.
It was practical she had said it would save money and the house would never have to be painted again. Practical, for my grandmother, it was the word that trumps all other argument. Even so I made the effort. It was the sort of argument I would engage in purely as an exercise in translation. To get my grandmother to hear a word like beauty and not hear the word frivolous was a nearly insurmountable challenge. It was the feel of wood I argued and she actually heard that, the feel of it, wood. There is something warm about wood, alive, it responds to your touch like an old friend. Vinyl siding may look all well and good but it’s cold to the touch, in the heat of summer in the dead of winter it’s cold to the touch. ‘In order to save heat you will sacrifice warmth’. She heard me and agreed and put in the siding.
The roof of the barn was sagging and bowed. The house had been built in the time when even city people used horses to get around, so the house had a barn attached to it, in the manner of a two car garage in these days. I had spent much time playing in the old barn. How many kids have a secret club house that’s two stories tall with a workshop on the second floor complete with electricity running water and discarded old tools?
The lawn is littered with my Uncles artwork. My Uncle was a real artist. He went to college and got the art degree, had done art shows and even had some of his art bought by the Bangor International Air port. He’s work was mainly in found objects and wood. Was he a good artist? I wouldn’t know, hell I still haven’t figured out why the Mona Lisa is given such high regard, it’s just a portrait of a rather plane woman with bad teeth to me.
The important thing was that it was art.
My grandmother had dreamed of going to college. But she was the youngest of twelve children and it was the depression and she was a girl so she got married. She had two sons who each in turn went to college. One to be an artist and the other runs off to be of all things a writer. Clown College would have insulted my grandmother’s dedication to the practical less. At least circus clowns get regular paychecks.
My Uncles art of broken things lay littered about the lawn in the rotting snow of dog turd time, the house bowed with age and sadness. This was the dream I had as a child, the one nightmare I woke screaming from. It is a strange thing, you have a dream as a child and for some reason that dream stays with you in your memory and years later you find yourself walking into the very landscape of that nightmare. The rational mind shakes this off, the world is built of coincidence, but the shadow side of the mind from whence dreams come, ponders questions of fate.
“I don’t want to do this, I really don’t want to do this.” But I do. I pick up my Dr. Seuss suite case and walk the path in front of me.
The house had shrunk considerably. I was a giant Dorothy trying not to bump into any munchkin furniture. I drag my suit case into the living room and settle on the couch to wait.
My grandmother is asleep in what was once my old room, a kitten sized rumple of sheets. The room is still decorated with the wall paper I had picked out when I was eleven, a rolling farm scene of contented horses and prancing ponies. Everything in the house is exactly the same as when I left so many years ago, the wall paper the furniture the carpets in the rooms. Most people expect that home will remain the same, everything just stopped in time awaiting their return, I found such fossilization, disconcerting as if I had taken some vital force of change with me in my suite case when I left home to join the army.
3am and the coo coo clock I had given my grandmother for the Christmas of my eighteenth year does his thing three times. 3am the past crowds close.
Burt and I spent almost no time talking about my past, my family. When they did come up it was always at my instigation and only as part of another discussion, they were never the focus of discussion. An odd omission for a psychologist, like a farmer not talking about the weather. It was as if for Burt I was born phoenix like from the fire of my own creation.
I hear my grandmother in the bedroom turn over in her sleep.
Once upon a time on a potato farm in the little town of Winn there lived a little girl named Shirley Leathers. Shirley was the youngest of twelve brothers and sisters. Her mother died when little Shirley was four years old. She bled to death in the marriage bed trying to give live birth to unlucky thirteen.
In the town of Winn at that time there existed a single automobile. The Morticians hearse, little Shirley Leathers being the baby of the family was given the privilege of ridding with her dead mother and still born brother to the cemetery and then back home sitting tall in her fathers lap.
They arrive home and her father lifts her down from the hearse. Shirley takes her father’s hand then says.
“Well, at least we got a good ride out of it.”
My grandmother fell in love once. It was at a dance. Was my grandfather the drummer at the dance? He may have been but I don’t know. Actually I don’t know at all how my grandparents met. I assume they met at a dance but I have no story of that meeting. My grandparents got married by a Justice of the Peace. My grandmother had once shown me the dress she had gotten married in, a plane blue wool suite even for the time remarkable in its aggressive rejection of style.
My grandmother fell in love once. It was at a dance. He had dark hair. Such detailed description leaves little for the imagination to fill in. I imagine him as a Rehett Butler sort dashing, a bit too cocky of his own charm. He entered the dance hall and my grandmothers heart fluttered. She actually used the word fluttered.
He asked her to dance.
She said yes.
He asked her to marry him. Not, I presume at the conclusion of the dance, but that’s all I have. They danced and later he asked her to marry him.
She said no.
I gather her father hadn’t approved of the man.
“My father was proved right, as the man became a drunk.”
I thought perhaps he had turned to drink after being spurned by the woman he loved. My romantic streak struggled hard to find some reason to hope for a hint of passions spark in my grandmothers heart that had fluttered once.
My grandmother fell in love twice.
She was married with two small sons. She owned a little truck stop dinner. He was a trucker from the south. I imagine a muscled Alabama man with that sweet buttery southern accent and extravagant courtly manners.
She thought about divorce.
“I stayed because of how leaving their father would hurt the children.”
Considering how well that all worked out I couldn’t help in a way admire my grandmothers ability to say that with a completely straight face.
It’s love verses love the mad woman had screamed at the indifferent lions, Its love verses love. But then she was mad so what does she know.
My Uncle met his bride during his Stienbeckien exploration of blue berry picking. Serena was Marlo Thomas pretty with dark hair and an emotionally expressive nature. She was a berry picker, not as working class cool means of earning collage pocket money but as a way of life. She was a berry picker descended from a family of French berry pickers, and potato pickers and apple pickers. Her family lived in a house that was an Appalachian cliché complete with dead console TV on the porch, busted pickup on the hard mud grass-less lawn, too many children with too few clothes running around. I’m sure my grandmother contented herself with the thought that at least she wasn’t a carnie.
Serena had told me of my Uncles proposal of marriage (Old Duke white wine, the foulest stuff in the world but it does loosen tongues) . After a day of berry picking they had gone off into the hot summer night with a bottle of wine. It was the first time, for him. ‘I guess we have to get married now.’ He said.
My father met his bride when he was in the army stationed in Baltimore. Why my mother would go to a dance with a Major and end up married to the chauffeur I have no clue. It wasn’t love. That’s all I was ever able to find out. No she didn’t love him, she liked him but it wasn’t love. What it was, not even Old Duke could discover.
I first met my grandmother when I was nine months old. My grandmother couldn’t wait to hold her first grandchild. My mother took me from the car seat and handed me to my grandmother.
“Be careful,” my mother had cautioned my grandmother. “She’s mean.”
“Ohh nonsense,” my grandmother said. “You’re not the least bit mean are you?” and she leaned in close doing that coochi coochi thing.
I punched her in the nose.
Four am the coo coo clock announces. Four am, a dark and quite hour when ghosts draw near to whisper. This house is full of ghosts.
My grandmother had bought the house as a wedding gift for my parents. A real estate transaction completed apparently without inspection, (the house was bought for its location, near to my grandmothers boarding house). My mother was the first one to enter the house. A Baltimore raised debutante with a degree in French literature, one can only imagine her thoughts as she steps across the threshold of her new home to encounter rooms strung with crosses and ropes of garlic.
The first order of business for every new bride is redecorating the new home, My mother gathered up all the crosses and garlic and tossed them out with the trash. The last bag carted out she returns to the house and a cold wind rushes though the house and the chandeliers in every room begin swinging. (The chandeliers were relics from the houses gas light days, converted to electric use. They were bloated metal spiders hanging from the middle of the ceiling in every room.) The crosses, the garlic the weird wind and ceilings of dancing spiders well, it’s no wonder my mother waited out on the porch for my father to get home .
What I always wondered about was, why didn’t they put the crosses back and why was there never any garlic in the house?
Amelia was the name of a woman who had lived and died in the house and as it sounded a goodish name for a ghost it stuck. Amelia was an active ghost. Even people who just slept over for a night or two left with an Amelia story to tell. Voices whispering in the dark, footsteps on the stairs, the invisible yet heard rocking chair, a chandelier suddenly swinging in unseen wind.
Amelia solidified her place as our own personal mythic figure the night Mr. Peeve did a naughty thing.
Mr. and Mrs. Peeve rented an apartment upstairs. Mrs. Peeve was a large woman, (women in those days weren’t fat, they had thyroid problems). She collected elephants. She had Jade elephants, ivory elephants, wood elephants, she had a huge terrarium fully tricked out as a miniature elephant habitat, with little trees little bridges little houses and lakes, and elephants elephants everywhere. She had an elephant carved out of a grain of rice, she kept it in a test tube and you had to look really close.
Mr. Peeve was a small thin man who looked like a particularly unsuccessful used car salesman. Which apparently wasn’t the dating impediment you would think it would be. Mr. Peeve came home late one night. He showered he shaved he brushed his teeth then crawled into bed. Mrs. Peeve awoke to a most dreadful sight. Two pair of ghostly hands clutching at Mr. Peeves throat. Mr. Peeve thrashing around in eye bulging terror choking for stolen breath. Mrs. Peeve turned on the lights and the ghostly hands disappeared and Mr. Peeve could breath again.
Mr. Peeve moved out the next day never to return. Mrs. Peeve stayed on and never had a lick of trouble from Amelia.
There was dinner table discussion over the two pair of hands Mr. and Mrs. Peeve had seen. Were there possibly two ghosts? Or was Amelia dating?
My father was another ghost but unlike Amelia my father was a spirit never spoken of.
It was spring, past the ugly dog turd time into the warm promise of budding lilac time, I was almost five years old when my father disappeared. Being only nearly five I possibly missed some subtle clue that such an event was in the works. All I remember of the event is my father tucking me into bed one night and when I woke up he was gone. Just gone, just not there. Not only was there no explanation there was no comment at all. My father had vanished and I seemingly was the only one who noticed he was gone.
My sister and brother born close enough together that they could be Irish twins, they looked enough alike to actually be twins, blonde hair blue eyed Bobsi twin cute, each born with an innate ability to be utterly charming to adults that I could only admire. were both still young enough that the sun rising each morning was still a surprise so of course they don’t notice a missing father. That my mother didn’t notice seemed a bit odd to me.
I asked her were my father was. At first she got this puzzled look on her face like she were trying to remember who it was I could be talking about. Then she told me he had gone on a fishing trip.
It was the first time I remember knowing I was being lied to. My grandparents (his parents) repeated the lie.
He fishing trip turned into a job hunt turned into just stop asking. Everyone was acting as though I was the weird one for finding this all a bit odd. It was the lack of explanation I found so disturbing.
‘Sorry kid your father was a secret ax murder and had to run for the hills so he doesn’t get the chair.’
‘oh,, well ok then.’
But nothing just gone, like a picture on an etch a sketch? If a father can be so easily erased what about the rest of the people in your life? Or of yourself?
And then my mother disappeared. There was a packed suite case and if no explanation at least a destination. She was going to New Orleans, for a week maybe two. Mrs. Peeve took over our care. I think she understood the arrangement as an extended babysitting job. By the time Halloween comes around and she’s picking out our costumes she came to the conclusion that her understanding may have been wrong. By Christmas we were living with our grandparents.
My grandparents owned a big boarding house on the edge of the fashionable end of Broadway Street where lumber barons had lined the street with their extravagant homes. I believe Stephen King lives in a house on that street. We weren’t cup-of-sugar neighbors or anything but I walked past his house more than a time or two.
The house on Essex Street had its ghosts the Boarding house on Broadway was likewise accessorized but the ghosts in the boarding house were all living ones.
My grandmother liked to rent to retired people. Old people kept regular hours didn’t have wild parties, except for that one who set herself ablaze with her cigarette, didn’t cause trouble. and their social security checks came in on time every month so rent wasn’t late.
Floyd was one of her older borders. Floyd looked like Boris Karloff on a particularly bad morning before his first cup of coffee. Floyd was a chain smoker, before the cigarette in his mouth was out he had another one fired up and ready to go. As a result of which he had emphysema, his breath coming out in horror movie death rattles.
Another group of people my grandmother liked to rent to was student nurses. My grandmothers secret heart fantasized about being a nurse.
One night a new student nurse tenant came home from the midnight shift and met Floyd for the first time. One am in a rambling Victorian boarding house out of the shadowed hallway on the third floor, Boris Karloff in a plaid bathrobe comes shuffling toward her as she exit’s the bathroom.
Boy I tell you what she screamed louder than that old gal who set herself on fire.
After that my grandmother moved Floyd down to the first floor and made sure he was introduced to new tenants in the day light.
My grandfather was another of the living ghosts. He had at some point decided that life was something to be watched rather than participated in. He would sit in his chair reading the paper, chewing the soggy ends of his cigars (My grandmother who smoked cigarettes, didn’t like the smell of cigar smoke so my grandfather for the most part chewed his cigars). He spoke little and then mainly only with the programmed politeness that spare one from actual conversation.
In his youth he had been the drummer in a band. He had been a young man with his own car, and he was defying his mother by being a drummer in a band playing that jig-a-boo jazz. My grandmother once used the word bitch when she was talking about her former mother-in-law. My grandmother said the word very softly and she hoped I hadn’t heard her say it. Whenever my grandfather would be standing for more than a minute he would begin tapping out drum riffs on his thighs, using his pocket change as cymbals. Males of the family seem to have this odd fixation with pocket change. Every time the men get together they all stand around talking sports and weather and all of them jingling the change in their pockets constantly.
The only time my grandfather could be roused to conversation was whenever anyone said anything mean about Nixon. Even if I had liked Nixon I still would have said mean things about him just so I could watch my grandfather get all red in the face and spit out bits of chewed cigar as he jumped out of his passivity to his president’s defense.
For my first day of school my grandmother had gone all out. I had every crayon every pencil, colored paper, glue all the recommended supplies. I was wearing a plaid dress with matching plaid hair ribbons and a matching plaid pencil box. I drew the line at the matching plaid lunch box, insisting on a Jose and Pussy cats lunch box but my thermos was plaid.
My grandmother had spent much time filling my ears with tales of her one room school house. Apparently the outhouse was a location of great humor for our ancestors. I heard of wicked boys who dipped girls pigtails into inkwells. And of course of how she had to walk five miles in the snow sharing a pair of boots with her sister, cause it was the depression you know.
With visions of inkwells dancing in her head she filled my thermos with chocolate milk and sent me off to school.
I came home with a tear in my dress, my hair ribbons lost, my knee was scraped and there was a dent in my lunch box and my thermos was broken ( the greatest invention of my youth, the unbreakable plastic thermos) .
“How had I gotten into such a state?” She demanded. “It’s just pointless giving you nice things you just destroy everything.” Sighing in exasperation she holds up my now bedraggled Barbie and waves her in the air. In the course of the day Barbie and lost her shoes and had sand in her bride of Frankenstein hair. “What happened?”
I had been looking forward to going to school. It was my first adventure into the wide world. I would learn to read (an activity I was already looking forward to) and I would be spending time with kids my own age. What were people under sixty five like?
Mrs. Briar was looking forward to her first day of school too. Young and pretty and this was her first teaching job. You could almost hear her humming the getting to know you song from Anna and the King. ‘getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to like you and hope you like me.’
With that inspiration she went around the room asking each of the children in her charge their names and what their parents did for a living. This being the late 60’s the question came out, ‘what does your father do for a living and does your mother work? Everything was going along well until she got to me.
I got past my name without trouble.
“What does your father do for a living?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well you will have to ask him.” She said brightly.
“Oh? Why not?” Mrs. Briar believed that there were no stupid questions but I am sure from that moment on she knew that there were questions that you wish you hadn’t asked.
“I don’t know where he is.” I shrug. The foot shuffling and half smothered giggles that traveled around the room were my first indication that not knowing where your father had taken off to was not considered normal. Though I had had my suspicions.
Mrs. Briar tried to recover to safe ground.
“So what does your mother do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ha, I bet she doesn’t even know where her mother is.” My very first class room heckler.
Mrs. Briar shushed him and got a trapped ‘oh how do I get out of this’ look in her eye.
“She’s in New Orleans.” I answered back quickly. Feeling a need to assure my classmates that I hadn’t quite totally misplaced both parents. “Though I don’t know what work she is doing there.”
Mrs. Briar moved on to the little girl sitting next to me (who was already looking around for a new seat)
“I’m Bethany Libby and My Father drives a garbage truck.”
And everybody cheered.
Well a garbage truck that is pretty cool.
Then we got to free play time. Mrs. Briar said we could play with any toy we liked. The room has on offer two options, either the side with the baby dolls the play ironing boards and toy kitchen or the Sand box built on a big sturdy table with toy shovels, building blocks and toy construction equipment.
The boys all rushed to the sand box the girls to the play house. I paused for a moment considering my options.
The girls very quickly were organizing the play. Who would be mommy who would be daddy, one had started the ironing another was setting out the tea set and three were discussing which of their baby dolls had poopie diapers.
ICK. To me ironing, washing dishes not to mention poopie diapers were all things a normal person deals with when they have to, but only some kind of twisted weirdo would call any of that fun.
I moved over to the sand box.
I picked up a pail and shovel and began building a sand castle.
“Hey, you can’t do that. This is the boys area, you’re a girl. The girls play with dolls.”
While the girls had been organizing the house hold shores the boys had been sorting out pack dominance. To their leaders proclamation all the boys voiced enthusiastic agreement.
“Mrs. Briar said we could play with any toy we liked and I don’t want to play with dolls. I am going to build a sand castle. You want to dig a moat for my sand castle with your bulldozer?”
The boys appealed to Mrs. Briar to eject me from the boys area. Unfortunately for the boys Mrs. Briar was on my side.
There was an enemy invader in their territory. The boys gathered together in a football huddle at the other end of the table to plan their battle strategy. They break apart and take up their places on either side of the table. They take up their toy bulldozers and toy dump trucks and making those obscene put put motor mouth noises that boys are so fond of, they advance on my castle.
“Road crew coming through.”
Shoulders squashing me on either side, pushing me away from the table as they bull doze my sand castle.
Their forces now fully committed to the assault I took two steps back from the table then flanked them, taking up new position in their undefended rear. I was now in control of their army’s supply depot, the cubby with all the sandbox toys was on my side of the table.
Mrs. Briar gave me a battle field commission, I was now captain of the sand box. It was my duty to see that all the toys got put back when play time was over, and to see that every one played nice and shared.
One of the boys asked me for a toy crane. I run to my cubby and grab the Barbie my grandmother had insisted that I bring. I jammed Barbie’s feet into the top tower of my sand castle.
“You want a crane? Ask Barbie.”
“So you’re the little bastard.” My classroom heckler has an older brother, a fifth grader. I am surrounded by a circle of it would seem almost every kid in the playground all pushing for a place to get the best view of the first official beat down of the school year. The word bastard is picked up and passed around the circle in scandalized giggles.
“What’s a bastard?”
“It means you don’t know who your father is.” He smirked and the circle laughed.
“Oh, well than I’m not a bastard. I know who my father is just not where he is.” Needless to say neither the older boy nor the gathered circle were at all impressed with hair splitting semantics.
The older boy said something about my mother and sailors which everyone thought very funny. My uncle was in the Merchant Marines at the time, but what this had to do with my mother I had no idea.
I was pushed from behind. Not expecting it, I stumbled and fell scraping my knee.
“Oh look the baby’s going to cry.”
I stood facing the older boy, the ring leader. I was pushed from behind. This time I was expecting it.
I stepped into the force of the push and with both hands gripping the handle of my Jose and the pussy cats lunch box I swung.
My lunch box connected with the older boys temple with a loud thunk. In a move reminiscent of cartoon pratfalls he spun halfway round and fell to the ground.
There was a collective intake of breath at this surprising turn of events. I stood there clutching my lunch box.
“Does anyone else want to push me?”
My grandmother was not pleased with any part of my story. She felt that if someone hit me, I should immediately apologize for annoying them so much. That I refused to be the least bit apologetic got me sent to bed without supper.
All the adults around me were totally convinced that I was an absolute monster of noise, chaos incarnate. According to them I never spoke when I could shout, never walked when I could run, I knocked over furniture, bounced off walls. ‘Even when she tries to be quiet and tip toes I can hear the floors shake,’ I heard Mrs. Peeve tell my grandmother one day. ‘She just can’t sit still for a moment.’ My grandmother replied.
This belief that I was incapable of either stillness nor quite was so ingrained the association of me with noise and restless chaos so complete that if I sat still and quiet I would, after a remarkably short period of time become invisible.
Since there was no way of knowing when a grownup might take it into their head to run off to never never land I used my new power of invisibility to keep a wary eye on my grandparents.
One day I am sitting behind the living room couch practicing invisibility when my grandparents have a very long discussion about sending me to the orphanage
Three young children were just too much for them to handle at their age. Two they thought they could handle but three was one too many. My sister and brother were so sweet natured and easy to get along with while I was too loud too rough, to destructive, I was a bad influence on my sister and brother.
“And she might not even be our real granddaughter.” Said my grandmother.
My sister and brother they were sure of as they had both been born in Maine but I was born in Baltimore too soon after their marriage to suite my grandmother. And I didn’t look a thing like either my sister or brother.
In the end they decided to keep me. While they couldn’t be certain of my parentage, they were certain that if they got rid of the ugly puppy in the litter, people would talk. There had already been too much talk already as far as my grandmother was concerned any further cause for gossip was to be avoided.
“Well if it proves to be too much for us we can call the lawyer back.” My grandmother said and packed the papers for surrendering me to the state neatly away in the big file folder of household receipts.
Much of the discussion confused me a great deal. Just the week before my grandmother had told me of the whole baby’s being found in the cabbage patch thing. Which even at the time I had thought it a badly worked out system. What happens if you pick the wrong baby out of the cabbage patch? Can you return it like damaged fruit? If my grandparents weren’t my grandparents than my father wasn’t my father. What do we call someone who doesn’t know who their father is?
I was actually disappointed not to be going to the orphanage. At least there I figured all the kids would be equally unwanted or unlucky. Little Orphan Annie started out in an orphanage and look how well things worked out for her.