It’s well into April Fool’s Day but I don’t need a special day to feel foolish. That’s every day. That’s today, and yesterday, and all the yesterdays stretching backwards to the day when I first became aware that my skin didn’t fit the bones across which it stretched.
I remember that day.
Stop reading now if you enjoy these Musings because they bring you sweet stories of the life of a Missouri Mugwump. Click the delete button with your mouse or on your keyboard, or on your tablet’s screen. I’m out of precious stories at present. This one rose from the murky waters this morning.
Forty-four years ago this September, I started high school. I should have run screaming out of the building when my mother and I met with the administrator to enroll. Your sister Ann was Valedictorian of her class, he reminded us. Adrienne was editor of Panis Vitae — the literary magazine. Joyce chaired the social services club, SOS. Students Offering Service.
He paused, then asked, Which sister will you take after?
I almost corrected his dangling preposition but my perceptive mother quelled me with a raised eyebrow. I glanced at the sign on his desk which said, When in doubt, mumble. So that’s how I responded, with a demure murmur of something vague. He seemed to accept my remark as indicative of good intent, for he rose and welcomed me to Corpus Christi High School.
By the end of September, the pattern which would mark my four years there had been chiseled in stone. The girls who welcomed me all had similar backgrounds and natures. They came from families that could be considered lower middle class. They were intelligent oddballs, living on the fringe in the all-girls Catholic high school across the parking lot from where I’d been just the same in grade school. You’d know me: The girl with glasses, who walked funny and whom the boys all teased and the girls heckled.
That girl. Not the “it” girl; not the popular girl; the side show.
I cried a lot in those days, maybe more than I realized. I volunteered for everything — the literary magazine as well as the social services club and a whole lot more. I took photos at the Father / Daughter dance because I had no desire to urge my father to get sober and attend with me. He asked; I just looked at him and remarked, I’m the school photographer, I’ll be there taking pictures. Children can be so cruel.
That night, I sat on the stairwell outside the gym listening to the music, the school’s camera idle on the step next to me. Suddenly the door behind me opened and a girl came out. I didn’t know her. She sat down beside me and took a pack of cigarettes out of a little handbag that she carried, a pretty thing that matched her shoes.
She lit the cigarette and blew a long stream of smoke into the air. I coughed a little and turned my head away.
You’re that freak in the freshman class, aren’t you, she said. Your Dad’s not here either, is he.
I shook my head and lifted the camera from the step. You want me to take a picture of you and your father, I asked. She shrugged and said, Sure, the old guy’d like that. We went into the building. I fussed with the composition then took several shots. The man thanked me and asked if he could get a copy. Sure, I said, echoing his daughter’s casual tone. She rolled her eyes behind his back.
On the following Monday, I sat at lunch with the usual group. Jeanne Chrismer, Marie Clark, a few others. We talked about our weekends; about tests we had that week. Marie told a story about horses, one of her obsessions. Someone asked, So where is your Dad, and they looked at me. I lowered my eyes and said, Oh, I don’t really know, he’s just around somewhere.
At home passed out, I didn’t say. He wanted to come to that stupid dance but I wouldn’t let him, I thought but refrained from mentioning.
Jeanne hugged me and Marie changed the subject. Whoever had asked the question didn’t press for an explanation. We finished lunch and hurried to our next class.
A few days later, I studied the pictures from the Father-Daughter dance to choose which ones would go in the Yearbook. I spent a long time looking at the shot which I had taken of the girl who sat outside and smoked. Her dad’s arm encircled her shoulders. She looked adoringly at him. I laid in on the table and walked over to the windows, staring down on the garden which the biology teacher carefully cultivated.
Mother Biology, we called her. Regina Marie, I think was her actual name. She paid 5 points per weed pulled by any of her students. Those points could be leveraged to a solid A regardless of how you scored on her exams. I myself had filled many bags with dandelions. She trusted your count.
The fall garden lay bare and brown beneath the window where I stood. I felt the chill of autumn pressing against the glass. I laid my forehead down on the marble sill and wept.
The dog’s persistent bark penetrates the reverie into which I’ve fallen. I see a message from my hairdresser reminding me of an eleven o’clock appointment. I let the memories settle back into the dim recesses of my mind where they normally reside, the sweet and the silly; the sad and the sublime. I know they will wait for another day, when I summon them to come and be examined. For now I have more memories to make. I reach to close the computer as the sounds of a spring morning drift into the room around me.