Memorial Day, Part 1

A snapshot, circa 1979, faded with the imperceptible progression of time.  A two-year-old and an infant wedged into a pink armchair; one of the two is smiling.  The same two little girls, slightly older, walk hand-in-hand in an overgrown backyard wilderness.  Watercolors and endless sheets of paper covering the table in the Floridaroom (one word), hours vanishing into murky puddles of pigment, a slight breeze barely drying the paint.  Walks around Goat Island, the roar of Niagara Falls; someone was still in a stroller.  Mom cooking, or doing laundry (you could smell the Clorox), or watching “Days of Our Lives,” then taking her afternoon nap.  God forbid you woke her up.  Dad mowing the lawn, painting something in or on the house, building a fence, washing the Buick, then the first Nissan; maybe even half-lodged under the bathroom sink fixing a leak.  Don’t turn on the water!  Getting sick during the night; which made it scarier. Incomprehensible arguments.  Peeing in the backyard like “boys do” and getting in trouble.  Piano lessons, having my teacher cut my fingernails if they were too long.  The first day of kindergarten.

Boys, the common thread weaving childhood, adolescence, and adulthood into one broken person.  The ease of school work; the joy of coloring, writing, reading, writing about reading, singing in chorus.  Girls being catty about wearing the “Tuesday skirt.”  Becoming self-conscious for the first time.  Becoming comfortable wearing sunglasses and carrying a purse, and losing both items repeatedly.  Joyfully playing with the babies in the church nursery.  More piano lessons; a new teacher, honors recitals, a competition in a different state.  Discovering the powerlessness of nerves.  School is less easy now, especially math.  Dreading the inevitable parent signature on poorly done or incomplete homework.  Growing taller and more feminine; now the second-tallest person in the class, and often reminded of that fact.  Teasing, constant teasing from both sexes.  Daydreaming about what it would feel like to kiss a boy, hold hands with a boy; unable to concentrate on that stupid math homework.  Realizing that I wasn’t in the popular crowd.  Shrinking.
Junior high, or “middle school.”  Half lockers, separate wings for each grade level.  Fights.  Cigarette smoke in the bathroom, knowing which kids were the ones doing it.  Teachers, larger than life, herding us into the auditorium for assemblies about forgotten topics.  Filmstrips and overhead projectors; lights being turned off and heads collapsing into folded arms on desks.  “Bite the bullet.”  Perfect sixth grade attendance.  Designer jeans and Benetton sweaters; the “right” sneakers, V.C. Andrews books, writing in cursive.  The refuge of the orchestra room; skipping classes to have extra “lessons” and practicing cello and piano instead.  Moving to a bigger house in a cul-de-sac with glossy orange walls in the kitchen and huge bedrooms.  No longer walking to school.  Mom going to work for a dentist, no longer home after school.  Ice cream eaten out of the carton and “Saved by the Bell” until one or both parents got home, then it was homework and practicing.  Getting a Walkman, a boom box, a leather jacket that could only be worn to church, and a box of Berol Prismacolors, still being used twenty years later.

High school.  Being labeled a “frosh.”  Seniors looked like adults and acted like them, too.  Unofficial school uniform was jeans and flannel shirts, hiking boots.  Floral dresses with shoulder pads, having to wear pantyhose and a bra.  Babysitting, delivering newspapers; cash and envelopes and papers scattered all over the bedroom floor.  Constant asthma, coughing and wheezing during the winter.  Gym class was torture, especially if you forgot to shave your legs.  Everyone else could run a twelve-minute mile.  Being bussed to the other high school once a week for orchestra rehearsal; looking forward to those mornings all week.  First kiss; a ride home in a Firebird.  Not being allowed to go to Homecoming.  Typing papers and short stories into a computer with a 5 1/2” disk drive that needed to have its operating system booted from a disk every time it was turned on.  Using a dot-matrix printer that could be heard throughout the house whenever something was printed.  Fires in the fireplace, cross-country skiing on weekends during the winter, hikes at the wildlife refuge in the other seasons.  Bitterly complaining about having to do such “boring things.”  A chocolate rose and a letter on Valentine’s Day placed in my locker, asking me to go out with him.  The discovery of theater and being on stage, the escape of being someone else, singing someone else’s story.  Hours spent in either a partially-lit or pitch-black auditorium.  Getting a drivers’ permit; driving around the court in circles behind the wheel of a huge 1987 Ford Country Squire station wagon, Dad in the passenger seat cringing.  Working at the local custard/roast beef restaurant, getting a paycheck for the first time.  Spending a paycheck unwisely for what would not be the last time.  Quitting piano lessons.  Breaking up; learning how to be “just friends,” learning what jealousy feels like.  Getting a lead in the musical.  Junior prom, actually feeling beautiful for the first time.  College searches, trying to figure out what to do next, deciding that high school was a big waste of time.  Second serious boyfriend, the main source of familial conflict for the rest of the year.  Choosing to attend college in Michigan and deciding that piano was the only real option.  Practicing for the first time with a true purpose–the acquisition of scholarships.  Getting another lead in the musical.  Questioning decisions.  Succumbing to pressure and making mistakes; tossing a graduation cap into the air and asking the question for what will not be the last time: “Now what?”


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