[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.
four days in the asylum
on my first day of kindergarten, i wore a pink dress.
i remember it because it was one of the few times in my life, bridesmaid duty aside, that i can recall wearing a pink dress. there’s even a photograph as evidence.
in the picture, i’m standing there on the porch, all bright-eyed with my pink dress on, excitement all over my face. school. i was going to school! finally!
i spent exactly four days in kindergarten.
i remember that first day, i was all tingly with excitement. there would be learning! there would be challenges! there would be snacks!
about two hours into it, i was bored out of my skull. the teacher’s assistant was sitting at her desk reading the morning paper. we were supposed to be playing with wooden food.
i don’t know why.
i just remember turning the wooden grapes over in my hand and wondering how in the hell i got into this mess. i mean, i was definitely going to have to talk to my mom. certainly she couldn’t have known what kind of place she had sent me off to that morning. and there was no way she knew about the wooden grapes.
so, i remember sauntering over the teacher’s assistant and sitting down in front of her. after a few theatrical sighs, she looked up from her newspaper and spoke.
“what is it, sweetie? do you need to go to the bathroom?”
“no. i was just wondering if you were finished with the newspaper.”
“well, no i’m not. but if you want to look at some pictures, there are some really pretty picture books over there.”
“no, i wanted to read the paper.”
now she looked uncomfortable.
“well, honey, i’m…”
she stopped. i guess she wasn’t exactly sure what to say. after a few moments, she closed the newspaper and put it down on her desk.
“okay. how about you come over here and read me this story.”
and so i did. with a few hesitations, of course. i needed some help with a couple of words. i specifically remember legislature. when i finished, i turned to look at her.
she was white as a ghost, as though she’d never seen a child read before.
she almost ran over top of me in her scramble to go get the teacher.
i sat down in her chair and continued reading. she returned a few moments later with the teacher in tow.
“see, she’s doing it again.”
i looked around to see if there was some girl behind me doing something. again.
“read that story.”
“but i already read you that story.”
“well, read it again. for mrs. morrison.”
“but i’m in the middle of this story now.”
“well, fine then, read that one. just read something!”
and so i did.
this was all a bit confusing for me. what was the big deal? i read to my mom every evening. she never went all pale and ghosty. she never huddled with my dad in the corner, glancing sideways at me as though i was demon-possessed.
deciding i could no longer be bothered with trying to figure out what they were doing, i simply went back to reading the paper.
i noticed none of the other kids was reading the newspaper. or anything else, for that matter. they were all still acting fascinated by the wooden fruit. later that afternoon, a girl bit another girl when she wouldn’t give her a red block. then, during art session, some boy with red hair ate paste. a big handful of it. just put it right in his mouth, as though he was sneaking some magical treat and had to stuff as much as possible into his mouth, lest they take it away from him.
i remember being appalled. and thinking, “these kids are nuts. i’ve accidentally been sent to the nuthouse.”
the next day, we sat around a large table. the teacher handed out sheets of green paper with blue lines on it. then, she gave us pencils as big around as hot dogs, with big blue erasers on their ends.
“today, we’re going to practice writing our names!”
“okay,” i thought, “so, i’ll practice writing everyone’s names. this is okay. i mean, i already know my name, now i’ll learn how to write everybody else’s.”
she really meant that we’d learn to write our own name.
i wrote my name and then set my pencil down. as i looked around, i saw confused looks on the faces of the kids around me. some were staring off into space, clearly dreaming of wooden grapes. others were scratching meaningless lines on their papers, pressing down so hard they wore a hole in the green paper so you could see the shiny table through it. and, of course, the red-headed kid was just trying to eat his big blue eraser.
it was an asylum.
the boy next to me was named paul. paul was a twin. both paul and his brother were so pale as to be translucent. and they both had pale blonde hair that simply disappeared into their skin. their eyes were luminous and blue, as though lit from within.
paul was bent over his paper, focusing intently on his work.
i leaned over and watched him carefully.
after a few moments, he sat up and looked at me, a smile on his face.
i glanced at his paper.
“that’s not right. let me show you.”
and, with that, i took my pencil and drew a line through paul’s six-minute labor of love.
“p-a-u-l. see, you wrote p-a-l. that’s pal. not paul. it’s a-u…it makes the aw sound. like this – aw. you try.”
i put my hands on paul’s pale cheeks and said, “aw.”
he squeezed his lips together. but no “aw” sound came out. instead, his eyes grew big and he suddenly started to cry.
what in the world?
the teacher was there in the blink of an eye. i was grateful. clearly, paul was in dire need of assistance.
“what’s going on? what did you do to him?”
“nothing! he spelled his name wrong, so i fixed it. then i tried to tell him how a-u makes the ‘aw’ sound. then he just started crying.”
“oh my goodness!” she exclaimed as she helped paul from his seat.
paul’s shirt was made from the shiny polyester that was ever-so popular in the 70s. his was shades of blue, while his brother, peter, wore a matching shirt in shades of orange. they both had some sort of pattern on them, although i can’t remember exactly what. palm trees comes to mind, but the memory plays tricks, so one can never be sure.
paul also wore a pair of light blue pants. in retrospect, paul was quite the stylish young man. unfortunately, paul had a rather large dark spot on the front of his baby blues.
he had wet his pants.
the teacher’s assistant was standing there now.
“she made him wet his pants?” she asked incredulously.
“i was just trying to help,” i muttered, rolling my eyes. i was truly disgusted by the whole affair.
what i remember next is the feeling of being a rag doll. you know how you see little girls with rag dolls, and they have a hold of one of the doll’s hands and the doll is just sort of hanging there, almost dangling behind the little girl, bouncing with each step of the girl’s feet?
i remember the teacher grabbing my hand, and we were off.
to get to the principal’s office we had to go through three classrooms. i remember waving to a neighbor who was in the second grade classroom on my way through.
“hey, amy!” i shouted, my head askew from the velocity of mrs. morrison’s gait.
“uh-oh,” said amy. she looked concerned.
i remember being summarily deposited in a wooden chair in the waiting room of the principal’s office. the waiting room was the domain of mrs. cyrus, the principal’s secretary. she was a very large black woman, with bright blue frames for her eyeglasses. she always wore an armful of bangle bracelets that jangled quite a racket as she typed. on this morning, she wasn’t typing. instead, she was filing. her nails, to be precise. they were crimson and shiny, and she was humming in a low soft voice.
suddenly, i heard a raised voice on the other side of the closed door to the principal’s office.
“…get her out of my class…”
mrs. cyrus stopped filing.
“…reading the newspaper…”
she looked at me over the top of her bright blue frames.
“…scaring the other children…”
her eyebrow arched.
i squirmed under her gaze. she was unrelenting. i had to offer an explanation. defend myself.
she was waiting.
“i don’t know why they’re scared of me,” i said. “one of them ate paste. i mean, that’s just not right! eating paste! i think this place is a nuthouse, mrs. cyrus!”
“i know, sweetie,” she said, shaking her head and going back to her filing. “lord, don’t i know.”
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