Monday, June 26, 2006

The Ignominy of Being Small

I was reading Finslippy's entry on her baby-sitter hitting her son. Eesh. It got me thinking about bad baby-sitters and brought back memories from a million years ago.

Mrs. King. I must have been 5 or 6, which means my sister was 2 or 3. Mrs. King was a truly awful person, and the worst kind of baby-sitter. She was mean. And while she didn't hit me, she made my six year-old existence a living hell.

I was the kind of kid who went out of my way to seek adult approval, and who avoided confrontation at all costs. My first grade teacher suggested I use a tissue for my nose instead of my finger, and I cried. Not because she yelled; she was as quiet and sweet as possible. But I did something that displeased her, something wrong, and oh, the shame! A strong word from an adult would reduce me to a jelly-kneed, gurgly-bellied, teary-eyed mess. There were some kids who were sent to the principal's office on a regular basis, and I remember being amazed that they could do that and not shrivel up and die from the sheer terror and humiliation of it. That they could go, sit there, and then come back to class so nonchalantly, going about their business while their heart continued to pump blood and their organs continued to function and how did they do that?? Because I was sure I would die.

My first experience with scholastic disciplinary action took place in the first grade. A group of us sat on the reading carpet while the teacher worked with another group elsewhere in the classroom. A childish flirtation was developing between me and John C on that reading carpet. I don't remember how it started, but a word was spoken, then a retort, then more words. Things were good, light-hearted, and I playfully pushed him. Oh, you. A teasing smile. "Hey!" he yelled. "Rachel hit me!" "What? I did not...." "Rachel, did you hit him?" "No! Well I mean sort of but I didn't mean-" "Rachel, please go and sit out in the hall." Oh lord. The Hall. With the child-sized chair placed outside of every door for just this purpose. The Hall was the final stop on the way to the Principal's Office. Oh, the humiliation. My face flushed beet red, I gasped for air and tried to hold back the tears. Don't let them see you cry. And I sat. In the Hall. While teachers on breaks from their classes and the odd wandering parent or student walked by and looked at me as if to say, Rachel? You, in the Hall? I never would have believed...

My point in all this being that I was not the kind of kid who sought out trouble, and my worst offenses up to that point were play-pushing a kid and telling the occasional outrageous lie that always failed outright and miserably, the net result of this being that now I am unable to say with a straight face anything that is even remotely untrue. There goes my career in law or politics...

I was a good kid. Quiet, well-behaved. Adults generally liked me and I generally liked them. And then came Mrs. King. I'm not sure where my mother found her. Maybe she had a flyer on the bulletin board of Selby's grocery store. But she had a son my sister's age, and off we went every day to Mrs. King's townhouse. Maybe she had red hair, like her freckled, bratty boy. Maybe not. I don't really remember what she looked like. Maybe she smoked. I do know that she yelled at me. Right away, and for no particular reason. She told me to CLEAN UP THAT MESS in her son's room. As if I would play with her son's icky toys. I had probably been there less than ten minutes anyway and hadn't had time to make a mess of any sort. "But I didn't make the mess, I didn't even-" I tried to explain. DON'T YOU TALK BACK TO ME NOW CLEAN IT UP!!!! So, I had to clean up her son's toys. All the time. I don't remember what else she said or did, but I do know that whatever it was it instilled a holy fear in me. My clearest, most vivid memory of my time there was playing in her tiny postage stamp backyard. By playing I mean going down the slide over and over and over again, for what felt like ages. It probably started out as a suggestion. Why don't you play on the slide? But I took it as a command and slid on that slide like it was my job. Step step slide circle around step step slide circle around, for probably about three hours, because I was afraid anything else I did would incur her wrath. Now, this wasn't just any slide, not a metal playground slide or anything fun. This was a tiny, plastic Fisher-Price slide made for babies. It was about 2 feet high and it was for BABIES! But yet I circled, wearing tracks in the grass, going out of my tiny little mind, afraid to waver, convinced that as soon as I stopped moving she would snap. And she was happy. She was as happy and relaxed as I had seen her and obviously thrilled we were out of her hair. As I circled, the urge to go to the bathroom grew greater and greater, but I was afraid to say anything. Finally I could take it no longer. I built up all my courage and said, "Um, is it ok if I go to the bathroom?" OF COURSE IT'S OK IF YOU GO TO THE BATHROOM YOU DON'T HAVE TO ASK, she said. And oh! The luxury of doing something else, anything else but going in circles and down the slide! I remember when my father appeared to pick me up that day, it was like angels and sunbeams pouring down out of heaven, I was that relieved to be going.

I remember asking my parents about it in later years, Why did you take us to that awful awful woman?? They said, in their defense, that they didn't take us there for long. I'm not sure what the actual timeline was. It could have been a couple weeks, it could have been months, but man, it felt like forever.

I guess my point in this is that there are bad baby-sitters out there. People who have no business taking care of other people's children. Entrusting your child with a stranger must be very scary. Sympathies to
Finslippy.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Dry Clean Only

We were walking to a bar one night last summer, and Becca said she liked my shirt; a black, knit Banana Republic (outlet) number. "Thanks," I said, "but you know, it's driving me crazy because after I washed it the seams went totally askew, and I can't get them to go back. See?" I showed her how the seams started out fine under my arms, but by the bottom the right one was somewhere near my belly button while the left hovered around the small of my back. "Oh," she said. "You know, I think you've told me that before." "Really?" I said. "God, how embarassing." What a pointless story to make someone listen to twice. Sheesh, I thought, now I look like some kind of type A, seam-obsessed, one-shirt-wearing dork. In my defense, I think I had recently been particularly frustrated after wrestling with the thing wet and trying to get it to go back to some semblance of a normal shape on the drying rack. It couldn't be done; the, whatsit - warp? weave? woofer? of the fabric was permanently distorted. Its very DNA had mutated. I had a mutant shirt! But wait, the beads. The oh so pretty beadwork around the arms...the seams didn't show that much. I continued to wear it.

The next time I saw Becca - "Hey, there's that shirt again! The one with the seams, right?" "Umm, oh yeah, haha. Same shirt, yup." After the third or fourth time we had this same conversation, I started to think. Every time I see Becca I'm wearing this shirt...and every time I see Becca we're going out. This is my "going out shirt." This is the best article of clothing I own...and it's a piece of shit!!!

I started to wonder if there was some sort of lesson about myself to be gleaned from this. But what? That I'm cheap? Boring? That I don't get out very often? Aha, I know what it is. This tale is one more in the annals of Times When Rachel Is Right and James is Wrong, Chapter XLVI.iii, entitled "I have nothing to wear!!!!" At which he scoffs. Scoffs! Look at all those clothes, he'll say. How can you say you have nothing to wear? You're ridiculous. I know. I know! I'll say. Clothes I have, yes, but nonetheless... I have nothing to wear!!!! Well, after this tale of black-shirted woe, I think even the most hardened of hearts would have to agree that when a girl's best and only option is to reach for the same, disfigured shirt not merely on one or two occasions, but every single time, then truly, that girl has nothing to wear.

The black shirt has been in hibernation this last winter, but was brought back to mind with a conversation about what we would wear to an upcoming harbor cruise that weekend. "Maybe I'll wear my black shirt, heh. Heh, heh...." Hrm.

Well look out world, 'cause there's a new black shirt in town, and it's called Victoria's Secret short-sleeved cropped wrap sweater!

Yeeah.

It's good to know there are concerned citizens...

One day, many months ago, I stopped by my boyfriend's house after work.

"Oooh, so clean," I said. "And it smells lovely."

"Yeah," J said, "I think Chip is showing it at 5:30."

"Oh, ok," I said. "I'm just going to get my stuff."

As I stood poised in the doorframe to walk downstairs, J grabbed me from behind in an attempt to pull me passionately to him. He frequently lavishes me with these enthusiastic and clumsy maneuveurs, which more often than not result in lumps and bruises. Predictably, as he oh-so-lovingly yanked my arm, my elbow flailed out and smacked against the doorframe. Perhaps I cried just a smidgen more more dramatically than was completely necessary, but friggin ow! "Owwwwww!!!" I wailed, and stalked indignantly downstairs to pout. At the bottom of the stairs I almost ran into a very concerned looking man. The plumber! Ack!

"Are you ok?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah," I mumbled, embarassed, looking away. Turned around to glare at boyfriend; I didn't know anyone was here! I shut myself in J's room to nurse my wounds, but the man's face stayed with me. He was just so... concerned. Why was he so concerned? I ran through the previous few moments' events in my head. Loud thud. Woman crying. Ow. Woman running down stairs. Boyfriend running after. Oh my god....he thinks J hit me! Cripes, how awkward.

I went in the living room and sat next to J on the couch, making pointedly casual conversation. See? It's all good here...nothing out of the ordinary...The plumber finished and said goodbye, perhaps eyeing us a bit suspiciously. J and I went into his bedroom to talk about what we both already knew.

"He thinks I'm a wife beater!" J exclaimed. "Or, a girlfriend beater...Why did you have to scream like that?"

"I didn't know anyone was here! I can't believe you didn't tell me he was here! And why do you always have to hurt me anyway? You always hurt me, you clutz!"

"Well if you wouldn't flail so much! If you would just relax and go with it you wouldn't get hurt!"

"Oh yeah? Let's see how much you like getting thrown around," I said coyly, pushing him backward onto the bed and straddling him. "How do you like that...?"
*nuzzling*

"I think he keeps walking past the window," J said.

"You're crazy!" I said, "now kiss me."

"I think I hear him outside. He's probably talking to Chip right now, telling him I beat my wife. Er, girlfriend."

"That could be anyone outside, babe. But you're right, we should get up. We don't want to, uh, surprise anyone on the 5:30 tour. Do you want to go to the grocery store with me?"

We made our way outside about 10 or 15 minutes later, and ran smack into...Landlord Chip and The Plumber. Talking, right outside the window. Of course.

"Oh, hey guys, how's it going? So, are you going to show the apartment now?" J said.

"Oh, it's already done, they really liked it," Chip said. "I was just standing here...I was going to...go back inside to...get something...I can't remember what right now..."

"Oh, ok, right on. Well...we're going to get going. Have a good night, guys," J said.

Inside the car I exploded into laughter. "I was going to go back inside to get something? I can't remember what?! He SO thinks you beat me!"

"I can't believe this..."

"Well, at least you're moving out in a few weeks!"

Why I Will Most Likely Die Young

One crisp spring Saturday a few months back, J decided it was absolutely imperative that he pick up a few things from the spice store. He wasn't sure yet what those things were, but he would recognize them when he saw them, like long-lost friends. ("Sumac, where've ya been? Grains of paradise, missed ya!") And I, being his weekend chauffeur (chauffeuse?) agreed to accompany him. I parallel parked and got out, waiting for the vehicle stopped at the light next to me to pull up, so I could cross the street. It didn't pull up, so I walked around it to cross. The light turned green, the line of cars pulled away, and still this vehicle stood, unmoving. I could feel the driver staring at me, in his unmoving vehicle at the green light, and I wondered if he was checking me out. I turned to look over my shoulder, and he was in fact staring at me, but there were no waggling eyebrows, no licking of lips, no sly wink. Instead, this man, this craggy-faced, gray-haired man, was looking at me....no, no, looking is not the right word, staring fixedly at me as if I had ritually slaughtered and killed his entire family and his dog, and he had come back to seek vengeance. I'm telling you, this man wanted me dead. I continued walking, looking over my shoulder, unable to turn away from this man who hated me so. Then he rolled down his window and leaned his head menacingly out, while the daggers he was shooting out his eyes metamorphosed into swords, then machetes and buzzing chainsaws. I looked frantically for J; he had to be seeing this too! He would save me from the crazy-eyed potential killer! My hero, my sweet hero will save the...but J was single-mindedly and purposefully striding ahead towards his true love; the spice store. I wanted to call out, but I couldn't even squeak. I was on my own with the crazy-eyed crazy, who was still determinedly staring me down. Then, having finally exhausted his store of poison death rays, he slowly, oh-so-slowly, pulled away, without ever taking his eyes off me. I scurried across the street and caught up with J, panting and whisper-screaming, "I almost died! And you didn't even notice, but I almost died back there!" J was skeptical. "I'm telling you - he put a hex on me!"

Later that night I had sufficiently recovered to go out for a late dinner with J and co. I would walk there, J would T there and we would meet at the restaurant. I left the house feeling rather jaunty in my kitten heels and new trench coat. It was dark out, but still a warmish night for March. I had planned to walk to Harvard down Broadway, but awoke from my self-absorbed reverie to find myself on Cambridge St. Oh well, I thought, this is what I get for not paying attention. But it runs mostly parallel to Broadway, and I can get there this way as well. There weren't many people out, so when I heard footsteps behind me, they stood out against the relative silence of the street. I heard them from a little distance back, and the jingling of change in a pocket. They were the footsteps of a man, I knew that. I made sure to keep myself alert, and listened to the steps getting louder and closer. The change jingled louder, and suddenly the cadence sped up, faster and faster. Ok, I thought, any minute he'll pass me, he'll go around...the footsteps were so fast as to be nearly running now, and my heart sped up. At the critical point where I felt him directly behind me, I turned slightly, but he was not going around me. He wasn't going around me at all; he was directly behind me and so close he could touch me. As I strained to turn to see my assailant's face, he reached an arm around to cover my mouth...My last thought was, "I can't believe this is happening." In the whirl of images I took in during what I thought might be my last few moments on Earth, I caught a glimpse of a face; not my assailant's, but someone else. His accomplice. A familiar face, actually, one that I had seen many times before. But where? The evening news? Primetime, Dateline, America's Most Wanted?

"Dave!" Which meant that....I turned around to find J laughing while I tried to fight back tears. I wasn't able to do more than whimper for the first few seconds while I formulated something to say. Which probably wasn't necessary, as I think my face said it all.

"Wow," Dave said, "her face...That was really mean...You probably took years off her life there."

And that is why I will most likely die young.