[about the author]
i actually like speaking in front of large crowds. freakish,
i work crossword puzzles in ink.
i am the american nigella lawson. or maybe the american eddie
izzard. can't decide, really.
i would be a really good mom, but i'm cool with being a really
i am sometimes more perceptive than i would like to be.
i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.
i never play dumb. never.
i am way too hard on myself.
i am a change agent.
i sometimes cross that fine line between assertive and aggressive.
i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.
i am militantly pro-choice.
i am pro-adoption.
i know a little bit about alot of things.
i typically enjoy the company of men more than women.
i am capable of being really mean and nasty, but i fight it.
i am a lifelong cubs fan. do not laugh.
i have been known to hold a grudge.
i have hips.
i am not my sister.
i am lousy at forgiving myself.
i am an indoor kind of gal.
i am a bargain shopper. to the point of obsession.
i am 32 flavors. and then some.
i grew up in a small town. actually, i grew up outside a small town, in an area that wasn’t even an official town. i grew up in what is often referred to as “the sticks.”
but even in a town as small as mine, there were "haves" and "have nots." our town is divided – in every sense of the word – by a river. on one side of the river were the “haves.” the other side, the “have nots.” i grew up on the “have not” side.
you’d think that a bunch of kids who spent their formative years being looked down upon by kids who thought they were better than us because their parents had some money would treat each other with kindness. or at least understanding. but, as is the way with many things in this world, that kind of thing just rolls downhill.
within our world of the “have nots” there was still a pecking order. there were kids like me who probably would have been "officially" considered lower-middle class, and then there were the really poor kids. dirt farmers, as they were often called. these were kids who didn’t get to take a bath every day. kids who wore the same clothes two days in a row. kids whose eyes looked sad.
they lived in trailers. in shacks with outhouses. i remember one brother and sister -- jimbo and teresa -- who lived in an rv. they walked out of the hollow, out to the “hard road” to catch the bus every day.
the school system didn’t make it much better for them, despite their good intentions. their subsidized lunch cards were a different color than the regular lunch cards. blue, as i recall.
“hey, jimbo! what color is your lunch ticket?” the boys would taunt.
i remember once, around christmas in my sixth grade year, my school had a clothing drive. my mom gathered up some clothes i had outgrown and sent them to school with me in a grocery bag. i remember asking her why we didn’t have a yard sale instead. we could use the money ourselves, after all.
“and sell that that sweater for, what, fifty cents? and what will you buy with that fifty cents? gum? candy? would you rather have fifty cents to buy gum which will be gone in a day, or give that sweater to someone who will wear it to stay warm all winter?”
well, i had been saving up for a record player, and could have used the fifty cents, but i had to admit that i could see her point.
a few days later, teresa got on the bus. my friend, carrie, elbowed me.
“hey, isn’t that your sweater? teresa is wearing your sweater! hey, teresa, nice sweater! wherever did you get it?”
and, sure enough, it was my sweater. one that i had carried to school in the brown paper grocery bag from fas-chek. the school had redistributed the donated items to some needy students at our own school. i’m sure they meant well.
my cheeks were hot with embarrassment for teresa. i couldn’t look at her. i kept elbowing carrie, whispering to her to cut it out. but, the rest of the not-quite-so-poor kids had figured out what was going on and had already joined in a chorus of jeers.
i never saw her wear it again.
that spring, those of us who rode the bus the furthest were sitting in the back of the bus. one of the boys proudly showed off a polaroid photo of his new dog – a beautiful german shepherd pup. talk quickly turned to one-upmanship as the boys tried to outdo one another with stories of their own dogs.
“well, my dog is the best huntin’ dog ever – my dad says he’s better than any huntin’ dog we ever had before.”
“oh, yeah, well, i taught my dog to fetch. whatever you throw, he’ll bring it right back to you.”
“so? my dog swims with me in the river up at the falls.”
in the midst of the boasting, the biggest, and meanest, of the boys waved his hand to quiet the others.
“watch this,” he sneered.
“hey, jimbo, what about you? you got a dog?”
a few of the boys snickered.
jimbo stared at the floor.
“i guess when you live in a car you can’t have a dog.”
the boys laughed.
“i don’t live in no car!” jimbo snapped.
“it don’t matter,” another boy chimed in, “he couldn’t afford to feed it anyway. you can’t get no blue lunch card for a dog!”
“you don’t know nothin’” jimbo muttered. his sister, sitting beside him, whispered to him.
“oh, yeah? well, if i don’t know nothin’, then why don’t you just tell me?”
“we got pets,” jimbo started. his sister elbowed him. as he turned to her, she shook her head from side to side.
i felt my cheeks growing hot again. inside my head, i could hear myself telling him, “just let it go. stop now. please.”
the boys were on edge now, some kneeling in their seats, leaning over to get a better look at the scene.
teresa was whispering to jimbo again.
“well? come on then, tell us about your pets!” said the ringleader.
it was suddenly quiet. you could hear the drone of the bus. the cha-chunk as it rumbled across the potholes of the backroad. the steady sshhhing of the tires as they made their way through the rain.
it was so quiet, i wasn’t sure i had actually heard it.
“we got chickens.”
the boys erupted in laughter.
“chickens?! chickens ain’t pets! i bet you eat those chickens!”
“do not! those are pet chickens!” he was angry now. angry for playing into their hands. angry that he hadn’t listened to his sister and kept quiet. angry at the world.
“oh, yeah. well, my dog does tricks. what kind of tricks can your chickens do?”
there was a pause before the answer came.
“well…” he started. “well…my chickens run so fast, it looks like they’re poppin’ wheelies!”
the laughter was deafening.
the bus trundled to a halt.
jimbo raced to the door, bounded down the steps and streaked toward the treeline.
he never looked back.
teresa rose more slowly. she walked quietly to the door. she stopped at the top of the stairs, and turned to face the back of the bus. it was only a moment that she lingered there, her eyes locked on the still-whooping boys in the back of the bus. only a moment before she turned again and walked silently down the stairs and stepped onto the muddy shoulder.
there, in the rain, her books at her side, she turned and stood, facing the bus. staring. she stood there on the shoulder, staring after the bus for as long as i could see out the back window. stock still. staring.
i stared after her until she was out of sight. when she had faded from view, i turned around and slumped down into my seat.
i hated those boys for what they did. i hated myself for not standing up to them. i hated my mom for making me give that sweater to the school. i hated blue lunch cards. i was angry at the world.
they never came back to school.
some days, as the bus rolled past the spot where they used to wait for the bus, i’d press my face against the glass, looking for them.
but they never came back.
years later, when i was living in atlanta, i came home to visit. i stopped into the local grocery to run an errand for my mother. as i placed my items on the counter, a quiet voice said, “i bet you don’t remember me, do you?”
her face was not familiar to me. but her eyes were. and something in the way she carried herself.
the plastic name badge read teresa
“i do. i do remember you, teresa. how are you?”
“oh, you know. how are you? i still see your mom around town. she’s always so nice to me. i can’t remember where she said you live at now.”
“atlanta. i live in atlanta now.”
“oh, that must be so nice. a big city like that. you were always so smart. i always knew you’d get out. that you’d make it out.”
my cheeks were hot again, and i couldn’t look her in the eye. it was something in the way she said it. the way she emphasized you.
i realized in that moment that, just as teresa always knew i would make it out, she always knew that she wouldn’t.
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