My memoir for Advanced Composition.

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My brother Adam was 16 months younger than I was. He was skinny and cute and soft-hearted, like a girl. He never learned the finer points of telling a grand and terrible lie. He never told stories that made our own mother seem more like the Wicked Witch of the West. He did, however, seem to enjoy hearing them. So, we began a lifelong sort of relationship where I did all the talking and scheming, and he would giggle along with me. This way, I could do awful things, but since Adam had been involved, I couldn’t possibly get into any real trouble. He was just too sweet to want to punish. (This tendency to just naturally stay out of trouble only lasted him until he became a little older and more gangly and more of an adolescent. All of the sweetness that was in him as a baby was turned into awkward energy and clumsiness, as he got older. By the time he was old enough to be ashamed of himself, our parents were fond of giving him a reason to feel that way. I maintained my evil nature, and every time Adam got yelled at or spanked, instead of wanting to help him and protect him from The Hulk and The Wicked Witch, I secretly thanked Jesus that I wasn’t the one getting into trouble.)
Really, though, our parents didn’t mean it, all the spankings and yellings-at that my brother got. They weren’t even in real control of themselves. God and Jesus decided what was right and wrong, and parents were a vessel for godliness, that’s all. Any time we didn’t choose to listen to our parents, we got what we deserved. God said so. Like I stated already, we were just the kind of family that was crazy over Jesus.
We attended church at the kind of place that the devil really hated. Everybody there was so helplessly on fire for the lord that they didn’t even have time to think about anything else. Church service began at 10am. They started every Sunday by projecting the words to a song up on to a screen in the corner and everybody would stand up and sing.
“I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you! Oh, my soul! Rejoice!” And, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.”
I really liked all the singing about souls, but after a few pretty and nice songs, things really started to take off and somebody would project the words to a fast song onto the screen and the Lord’s people would really get down and lose their minds. By the time twenty minutes of singing had gone by, there were bodies hitting the floor everywhere. Fat ladies would waltz and spin down the center aisle and people were babbling in strange languages. It was a gift of the spirit. I was only a kid, so I couldn’t properly understand something like speaking in tongues, but I grew up being taught that someday I would have a prayer language of my own. Someday, I wouldn’t be so taken with the “Oh! My soul longeth after thees!” And I would have to start writhing and praying and passing out cold if I wanted God to know that I believed in him.
I kept a secret that I was never sure if I DID believe in him, though. People were always talking about miracles and salvation, but as far as I could tell, these adults were just having a good time letting themselves be crazy. I figured that it must make them feel a little scary inside to tell stories about little deaf boys who could suddenly hear. About a cancer being thrown up on the alter. The casting out of demons. Lazarus, and the living dead. I understood about why all of these things were appealing. I even liked to tell myself that they might be real, too. It might have been a more dangerous way to live, but it was better to live in a world full of unexplained terrors where there wasn’t a real God, though. If God existed, and everybody knew it, then so did the Devil, and everybody knew about him, as well.
Our pastor and his family had been to Africa. They were important missionaries and they had even eaten bugs. They put on fantastic slide shows with pictures of Africa and its people. The Africans were a superior race, as far as I could tell. Their necks were long and slender and decorated with a thousand golden rings, they never felt an inclination to wear shirts or shoes, and their skin was as blue-black as the spaces between the stars. They had smiles that were pure white and the palms of their hands were a delicate shade of pink. I secretly went wild over the continent of Africa. I would think about Africa when I was alone and how I was someday going to marry a slender African boy with a strange name that I would need to learn to pronounce before we were to be wed. I would walk around the in dirt in my bare feet, wearing nothing but a bed sheet draped across my naked and beautiful breasts. Magnificent. I might even try eating a few bugs, if I was feeling in a particularly shocking mood.
These people needed saving, though, and I didn’t care enough about their endangered souls. I asked my mother why the people in Africa needed to be Christians if there weren’t any churches where they lived. How could God be mad at them for not believing in him, when they had never even heard of him?
“Everybody, at some point in their lives, has the chance to learn about God,” she told me. “Some people get a better chance than others, but it is up to each person to recognize the chance they get.”
I wanted to know why some people got better chances than others. She told me that in some parts of the world, the people had been cursed since the Bible times. Cursed! Imagine, my very own adult mother talking about spells and curses like they were real!
“Who cursed them?” I wanted to know. “And why doesn’t God just undo the curse?”
I was much too old at this point to believe in all that Wizard of Oz baby nonsense, but I still didn’t like the idea of being cursed. I might have been a few years older, but the idea of witches and curses still gave me the creeps.
“Well, I guess they cursed themselves,” she said, “Or their ancestors did, anyway.”
“Oh,” I said, thinking that this whole thing got a little stupid sometimes. “Who cares, then?” I knew that there was no danger that I might just decide to curse myself.
My little sister was born and the ground opened up and swallowed the sun. The faces of the flowers grew ashamed and they went thirsty and died, rather than to appear vain in the face of this tiny newborn beauty. Or, at least that’s how I should like to tell you I remember it. My little sister was an amazing baby with sparkling brown eyes and a head full of red hair, but I don’t so much remember her that way. I was six at the time she was born and I suppose that I must have liked her very much, but, I can remember a time when she didn’t exist at all, and then all of a sudden she just turns five years old in my memory.
My mother gave birth to my youngest brother quickly after the arrival of my little sister. Audra and Andrew, they were tiny and without personality to me. I spent so much of my time wondering whether or not I was the proper sort of person, whether I was good or bad, whether God could love me even though I believed in ghosts and mummies, and especially about why I should have to be cursed with the terrible clothes I was given to wear.
My mother bought 2-dollar patterns from the fabric store and sewed us all of our outfits. They were too brightly colored and the legs of all the pants were too long, and these clothes pulled at you in places that you would rather not be pulled. I went waltzing into school in front of all of these fashionable and immaculately groomed young students. I was a disgrace with hair that couldn’t be taught to behave, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway if I did know anything about hair taming. My mother absolutely refused to take any of her children to have a proper haircut. The girls at school had hair that fell flat and straight and shined like it had been bathed in pure light. They had stockings that were cuffed at the ankles in lace, which absolutely drove me crazy. They wore all manner of over-alls and adorable jumpers and I couldn’t even keep the crotch of my oversized and ridiculously long floral shorts from turning sideways and making a fool of me.
I decided to confront my mother about her methods of cruel and unusual child-dressing and grooming. I woke up in the morning for school and picked out two of the most foul and disturbing articles of clothing I could find in my closet. I matched a maroon and brown shirt with sleeves that puffed up in a way my mother, no doubt, had considered fancy, and a pair of pink and orange Bermuda shorts that tied with a string at the waist. I pulled on a pair of mismatched socks and went downstairs to the kitchen where my mom was waking up and holding a cup of coffee against her cheek for the warmth.
I cleared my throat to make sure that she would take notice of me. She looked at me and I’m sure her glance was weary. My mother was, by far and exceedingly, the most stunningly golden and miraculously beautiful woman in America, but there was never a time that she looked at you where you weren’t wondering what kind of weariness was going on inside this poor lady’s head. She had a delicate way with softness and sorrow, and despite the fact that I disagreed with her about almost everything, I hated to tell her so, most of the time. It might make her cry, and there was nothing more terrifying than having to sit alone wondering what kind of person it made you if you went around making your own mother cry. This clothing issue was a matter of great passion for me, however, and if she was going to cry, I was prepared to brave it. I was prepared to unleash a tale of woe so great and sorry that nobody who was privy to my point of view could possibly keep themselves from feeling bad for me. I had been awake very late the night before, steadying myself.
“Mom, why do you make me wear these clothes?” I asked her.
She gave my outfit a good looking over. Her eyes traveled to the maroon and brown puffy sleeves and the shorts that were too bright and hideous to be acceptable in any society. She lingered for a moment over my different colored socks and then she laughed an exasperated, sleepy laugh.
“I’m not making you wear those clothes,” she said.
“Well, not THESE clothes, exactly,” I said, “But all of my clothes are hideous and nobody else’s mom makes them wear things as ugly as these.”
I expected for her to yell. I had prepared several counter-arguments, should she become indignant with me about the ugliness of the clothing she sewed and forced me to wear. I had an idea that my point of view might have been rude, but I couldn’t let soft-heartedness get in the way of my objective, not when it really mattered, like today.
“I suppose I make you wear them,” she said, “so that you won’t grow up worrying all the time what people are thinking about you.”
“That’s why?” I asked her. “I thought it was because we are poor…”
“Maybe we are,” she said. “Does it really matter to you how much money we have?”
This seemed like a trick question.
She continued, “Does it really matter what people think of the clothes you’re wearing?”
I couldn’t think of anything that mattered more. I was wild for things with fancy buttons, especially. A girl I went to school with had a navy blue coat that was cut like a little dress and it was decorated with fancy silver buttons that didn’t even DO anything! There were no holes for them to go in. They existed solely for the reason to be fancy. I loved them and thought up stories in my head about how I might someday be the sort of girl who had buttons that were missing their holes.
“It matters,” I assured her.
“Well, I think it’s ridiculous that you would worry over something so superficial. I think you should be more concerned with the way you’re turning out on the inside and stop thinking so much about the way you look on the outside.”
I thought for a second. This seemed to be a lesson. I liked to learn to new things, but I hated to be taught a lesson.
“Fine, then…” was my answer, “I’ll just be going to school then.” And I opened up the back door and walked right into the morning sunlight, wearing the stupidest outfit anybody could imagine.
I was calling her bluff. I was fully expecting her to stop me. Surely her pride as a mother was at stake. It was easy for her to sit around holding a coffee cup and telling other people, and KIDS for that matter, to be less concerned with appearances, but surely she wouldn’t let her own daughter walk the whole way to school wearing an outfit that would make most mothers weep with embarrassment.
I slowed my pace after half a block. I was sure that she would appear behind me at any second, ready to apologize and concede her point. She might even take me out shopping right that second. I took off my backpack and dragged it along so that it scraped the sidewalk while I repeatedly glanced behind me. I counted my footsteps and then decided that it might be fun to try to take exactly one step per second, so that it would take a devastatingly long time for me to disappear from the view of the kitchen window.
My mother may have been a beautiful lady of sorrow, but she was also stubborn. I spent all day with my face buried in my arms, folded across my desk, planning ways to run away to Africa and to give all of my hideous clothing to missionaries and dying children. When my life became really terrible, I tried to picture the bodies of the starving children of Africa from the church slideshows. They didn’t have anything to eat, but their bellies were humongous. They wore little diaper pants that were positively encrusted in dirt and filth. They even lived in houses that were made of mud and grass, and during the rainy season, well… I guessed that all their little houses melted and they were carried away in their beds to be eaten by crocodiles and Tasmanian devils. Even if I was the most afflicted child in America, at least there were places where the people were dying in the streets. At least I wasn’t doing that, no matter how badly I wanted to.
I guessed that my mother later regretted allowing me to leave the house that day in such a ridiculous outfit. For a while, I did it only to spite her, but I eventually started making amendments to my appearance for sport. I would tie my hair into three ponytails on the side of my head, or I would wear a pair of shorts that were colored with a horizontal stripe pattern with a shirt that was decorated with a vertical set of stripes of an entirely clashing color. I found a certain amount of freedom in living like an outlaw with no regard for the fashions of the day. I never stopped hating those fancy girls with their sparkling hair and store-bought haircuts, though. I could leave them with their useless silvery buttons and their shoes that zipped, instead of tying, but I would never stop being wild over how expert they were at keeping their own hair in line.

(no subject)

If, in your course, you don't meet
your equal, your better,
then continue your course
firmly,
alone.
There's no fellowship with fools.


-Dhammapada, 6, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu