I was born in January of 1979 in a bed of coal at the beginning of a stream that ran parallel with a gravel road. The world is different in a lot of ways, now, than it was, then. I have no idea what people believed in, during the year 1979. I can’t picture the way people must have dressed and the music is a vague notion of camp and gore, in my mind. Somewhere between disco and cocaine, I was born.
My father and mother were young when they had me. They were poor, as well. My father worked in a window factory and he was a dangerous sort of young. As far as I can tell, my father spent the entirety of his life wishing he were somebody else, with somebody else's troubles. When he talked about himself, he told his story like he was an adventurer and the smartest man who's ever lived. I guess he always supposed that he deserved more than he had, but I never saw him behaving any way that would suggest that to anybody but himself. My father had a problem where his thoughts and his actions got all mixed up and turned around backwards so that he was acting like he deserved the dirt under his nails, and nothing more, but he talked as though he were a king.
My mother was a golden specimen, however, with shining strands of yellow light-hair that sparkled in the sunbeams. She had gentle green eyes and her smile was tiny and understated. She had been somewhat of a commodity when she had been younger, but somehow she found herself caught up in a man who didn't even touch the hem of her skirts, let alone hope to look her honestly in the eye. Everyone had dreams for my mother. She was an athlete and a darling. She walked around the streets of a littered and decapitated coal mining town and when people looked at her, they saw California and white sand beaches. People's hearts were broken by the delicate way she hovered over the ground. And then she had me and she learned very suddenly about how to be a human being.
I was born on a cursed day, seven days after Christmas and one day later than the New Years Eve celebration. Because of the unfortunate placement of my birth, I spent the rest of my sorry life receiving Christmas presents that also doubled as Birthday presents This was a real tragedy and something I was never able to come to terms with. These Christmas/Birthday presents couldn’t have happened to a less deserving person, seeing as I happened to be crazy over getting presents. I loved and hated surprises with an unparalleled fervor. All my life, I would unwrap my presents days and weeks before Christmas and peek at them, and then carefully replace the colorful wrapping paper. I just had to hope that nobody would notice that I simply wasn’t ever a very good wrapper.
My father never touched alcohol and I thought it a shame because my grandfather drank and he was just about the most interesting and worthwhile person I had ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was my mother’s father, an ex-marine. He was a worn out and tough sort of person, the kind of man nobody wanted to mess with. His childhood has been troubled. His youth was spent playing rough sports alongside a gutted out coal mine in a nothing town in Western Pennsylvania. When he reached age 18, he joined the Marines and traveled the world learning about new and fascinating subjects, like prostitutes and pizza. In fact, he never heard of or tasted pizza until he made a trip to Italy, and he never thought about being a good and settled man until he met my grandmother and fell in love. Before that, I’ve heard, he just wandered.
I always imagined his wandering to be full of back alleyways and seedy bars and women wearing too much red lipstick. By the time I met him, he was marked up and worn down, for sure. He had a tattoo of an almost naked lady on his right forearm. She was wearing a sheet that fell around her hips and barely across her round breasts and made all the snooty women at the Laundromat stare, stare, stare. I knew those ladies had to act shocked by my Pap. That’s just the way old ladies conducted themselves. They acted disapproving of all the best things about the world, but secretly, his strong arms and naked lady tattoo made them jealous and interested. As soon as we let the glass door close behind us, my grandfather carrying an impossible armload of clothing, those ladies would blush and pass out and giggle like little girls. I just knew it.
My grandfather drank whiskeys and smoked filterless Lucky Strikes. He was the way I thought a man should be. Like Popeye, but without all the chuckling and silliness. My pap even liked canned spinach. I never saw him save anybody from a burning building or beat up any bad guys, but I knew that he ate his spinach faithfully just in case.
My grandmother’s kitchen had a counter that ran the length of the wall and allowed you to sit and look out the window and the hanging bean tree in the back yard. My Pap had a special seat at that counter, and aside from the brown stuffed corduroy armchair in the living room, I never saw him sitting anywhere else. He wouldn’t have said it out loud, but I knew he liked the way the sunlight would shine in on him and make him warm while he was reading the paper or doing a crossword puzzle.
I pulled up a chair next to him and the sunbeams would blind me. I would talk and talk too much, as I have always been inclined to do, and I would admire the silent way he kept his shoulders bent over slightly and his hand wrapped heavily around a sweating tumbler glass of Jim Beam and ice cubes. He even had a special ice cube tray that would make adorable little circle-shaped ice cubes that I was absolutely wild over. There were all sorts of clues about why my Pap was the most brilliant man in the universe. Most men couldn’t understand the subtle importance of using the cutest and most tiny ice cubes imaginable. Most men would just stick with big clunky ice rectangles in their whiskeys, thank you.
I spent a great and comedic deal of time as a preschool girl trying to imitate and be as much like my grandfather as possible. I wasn’t allowed to drink liquor, necessarily, but I was sure that I liked it very much. I sat next to him, leaning over my glass of 50/50 soda cooling by the way of a thousand tiny circle cubes, memorizing the proper way to smoke a cigarette. However anybody else might have done it, they didn’t come near to the grace and manliness that my Pap exuded while he was holding his hand in the air, his elbow resting on the kitchen counter, a cigarette dangling carelessly and lazily from his giant fingers.
My whole family had always been poor and mostly came from homes that were broken in the worst and most American ways possible. My grandmother was the middle child in a house full of thirteen children. Her father was an alcoholic, and he was the mean kind of drinker, at least that’s the way her story has always been told. My grandmother was called Grace and she dropped out of Junior High School at the age of 13 to help raise her younger brothers and sisters. She got a job as soon as she technically became a teenager and by the time she met my grandfather at age seventeen, she already had a number of years of working experience under her belt. She had been witness to just about every kind of atrocity a man could commit. She knew how to keep her mouth shut and how to cook for a very large number of people on a very small budget. She even knew how to gather up a bunch of sweet children and hurry them into a cornfield in the middle of the night, and how to keep them quiet and safe while their father stalked around, slurring and yelling. She knew that the way to avoid getting into trouble was to never second guess anything a man said, and to ignore it any time she started feeling sorry for herself. She understood that there was an art to being a woman, and that being a master of her craft meant being an expert in denial. People didn’t get happy living life. They just got by.
I don’t know it for sure, since I wasn’t there at the time, but I guess that a lot of women learned about life in the same manner as my grandmother in the 1950’s in small town Pennsylvania. I also guess that my grandmother must have been very glad to meet a strong man who didn’t ever say much and who never raised a hand to harm anybody who didn’t deserve it. I wasn’t there in the beginning, but from where I could see, my grandmother was happy and in love with her life, after she got taken away from her father. Her brothers and sisters grew up and moved away, too. My grandfather and grandmother went on to have five children of their own and I imagine that it must have been very hard for two working people to raise them right, but I know that it must have been a relief, too. It didn’t matter how difficult things got where money was concerned just as long as nobody was getting drunk and mean. Most problems in this life are relative.
By the time I can remember, they were both retired and living in the same big, creepy old house they had raised their children in. The paint was chipped and the wallpaper was strange and full of colors that didn’t exist anymore. There was even a room upstairs that was painted a fluorescent pink, which was the ugliest and best color for a room that I could think of.
My pap would go away for days, propelled by strange personal business propositions and he would always return with a new toy for me. I remember a particularly grotesque plastic rabbit with long arms and legs that bent in shocking directions. I was sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen one night when he returned with a package. He brought the cold in with him all over his blue traveling coat and he used his freezing fingers to take of his ball cap and place the box in front of me. He smelled like the autumn air outside. As I have mentioned, I have always been wild for getting presents, but I would learn to be wary of the surprise gifts my grandfather would bring home from his excursions. I suspect that he acquired them in a manner that had to do with card playing and gambling, and they were always an adventure.
This particular night, I opened the box and spied a matted, grey, furry object inside. I immediately didn’t like the look of it, but I have never been somebody to not give new things a chance. I reached into the box and pulled out my gift that was apparently a large toy monkey with murder written across its face. The monkey was wild eyed and his mouth was pulled into a sneer and he was holding a set of cymbals. My pap seemed to find this monstrosity to be delightful, but I didn’t understand it for a second.
My Pap reached behind the monkey’s back and wound a little silver key which started the monkey jittering and chomping all over the place, playing his tiny golden cymbals manically. He skittered across the counter top and turned, in a series of hideous jumps and sputters, to face me. I inhaled once, softly. I took one look into the insane face of this weird and grotesque anti-toy and started to scream. My grandma grabbed the monkey and took off running with it in one direction while my mother picked me up under my arms and sped off with me in the other direction. She held me on the couch while I cried and cursed my Pap’s name. He laughed, I remember, but it wasn’t all together a cruel laugh and he even eventually apologized for his grossly inappropriate gift. I even eventually forgave him.
The clashing-cymbal monkey haunted me for years, though. My grandmother stowed him safely out of the way in a storage room that you had to walk through the laundry room to get to. He was stuck on the top of a hopelessly tall metal cabinet where nobody could ever reach him. The knowledge of his existence was enough to drive me mad with anxiety, at times, though. I would find all kinds of excuses to visit the storage room, and I would silently peer up at the diabolical face of that wretched monkey and feel myself become filled with an icy dread.
The monkey incident is the single time I can remember hating my grandfather’s guts. He was absolutely excellent, other than that time, I swear. During a specific time in my childhood, he was healthy and I was just young enough to allow myself to be very blushingly in love with my own grandfather. He had almost unbearably strange tastes in things, but I somehow magically loved everything that he loved. He was fond of a grey meat paste called scrapple. It was made from the left over scraps in the butcher shop… entrails, skin, noses, whatever they had lying around. If it was a body part of any disgusting sort, they would throw it into a grinder and churn, churn, churn until all the parts were congealed together in a fine, jiggling paste. A grey paste, even. He actually liked this, much to my dismay. Since I needed desperately to be as gorgeous and cool as he was, I would sit myself in front of a plate of scrapple and watch tentatively as he took his first bite. I watched him chew and swallow, waiting to see if he would barf his guts out, or simply keel over and die, or something. When he swallowed without incident, I would cut off an impossibly small sliver of this “meat” with my fork and stick it in my mouth and begin chewing as fast as I possibly could. My eyes would water and my gag reflex would kick in, but I smiled and gave my Pap an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Something else he loved, seemingly in order to spite me and my efforts to be as much like him as possible was the television show The Incredible Hulk. How someone could be wild enough over this story to make sure to watch it every single day was beyond me. The Hulk was alternately boring or scary. I wanted to cry during the dull parts, and the scary parts made me look down at my lap and feel uncomfortable. I especially didn’t like it when he would scream and put his mutating hands into the air, and his clothes would rip off of him and his skin would glow green. That sort of thing wasn’t pleasing to me at all, but every day at mid-afternoon I would get my Pap’s attention and remind him that it was almost time to watch The Hulk.
I had a serious hatred for anybody with green skin, I think. The witch from The Wizard Of Oz was even worse than The Incredible Hulk. At least the hulk had been a regular man at some point. He tried to do good, but because of his radioactive accident and his unfortunate ability to control his sense of outrage, was a freak. A pariah. He didn’t mean anything by it. The Wicked Witch of The West, however, was pure evil. I was mesmerized and reviled by her , simultaneously.
I walked around my grandmother’s house in my little kid shoes finding secret places to hide and think about the witch. I would lock the door to the bathroom and make sure to listen that nobody was standing within earshot, and I would say in my scariest voice possible, “I’ll get you my pretty! And your little dog, too.”
The part about getting the little dog, too, was the part that really gave me the shivers. I didn’t so much care or obsess about what the witch might do to Dorothy. I couldn’t really come up with anything scary enough. Would she put Dorothy in a cage? Or maybe she would cast a spell on her, or something. It didn’t matter. But, there were about a million awful things that somebody could do to a dog, especially a dog as good-natured and teeny as Toto. I feared for his life.
Since I have always had a tendency towards scariness and drama, I would watch The Wizard of Oz every single day. I would study the movements of the witch and try to figure out what made her the way she was. How a lady could be so terrifying and mean was something beyond my mental grasp, but it was an idea that enticed me. The idea of evil existing in the world was a far more appealing notion than the existence of good. I liked things and people that were good. I always rooted for the good guys to win, for example, but I never thought about them, late at night, when I was trying to sleep I never wondered what good people must think about, or how they liked to spend their time.
I was introduced to the absolute battle for good and evil a little later. My parents had always gone to church, at least for as long as I had existed. As I got older and my parents had more children, we all became the sort of family that was just crazy over Jesus.
My brother Adam came after me. He was not a misbehaver and a talker, like I was. He was blond, like my mom, and shy. He wasn’t bowled over by funny jokes like I was, either. He didn’t make bad mistakes like telling somebody what they were getting for their birthday, and he didn’t cry very often or very loudly at all. I would have liked to know more about him as a person, but really, there were criminals and misbehavers everywhere. I was in a fight with my eternal soul to not become one of them. I admired the pretty way he sat without wriggling and how some of the strands of his hair were more golden and see-through than the others, but I couldn’t really be bothered with his sort of person. The good kind.
We were shopping for a present for my Pap for his birthday and my mother picked out a boring pair of brown shoes that didn’t thrill me in any way. In the car, on the way to deliver this birthday present that fell far short of my standards, I told my mom that I had been saving an especially hilarious joke to tell Pappap on his birthday. She asked me how the joke went. I held his stupid shoes on my lap, hating them for being brown and being shoes. Really, who wants SHOES for their birthday, anyway? I thought about how he would love my joke so much more than these dorky shoes, and I asked her,
“What is the biggest pencil in the world?
A joke of pure gold.
When she didn’t know the answer, I told her, “Pennsylvania!”
I’m not sure if I’m only mistaken, but I distinctly remember thinking long and hard to come up with this joke on my own. It was nothing short of hilarious.
My mom said to me from the driver’s seat, “That’s pretty funny, kid. Your Pap is going to crack up.”
Since I had a hard time keeping scariness out of my head, the idea of my Pap cracking up was terrifying. I pictured his skin breaking into a million pieces and falling all over the kitchen floor. I was suddenly determined to keep my mouth shut about this new joke, even if I did find it to be the funniest thing I’d ever heard. I didn’t want to risk saying something so funny that somebody would actually just crack up and die.
By the time we finished the drive between the mall and Grandma’s house, I was in a terrible mood. We had gotten Pappap a stupid present and now I couldn’t even tell him my joke. His birthday was ruined. I walked into the house, marched right up to where he was sitting in his armchair watching TV, thrust the shoebox at him and said, “Here’s your dumb shoes. Sorry your birthday is so crappy.”
I could hear everybody laughing as I walked out of the living room and firmly shut myself into the bathroom to think things over. I didn’t even care that they were laughing. They weren’t the ones that had to worry about cracking anybody up.
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.