Monday, April 25, 2011


I would guess I was around age nine when I was accused of assault with a deadly weapon. I wasn’t formally charged or anything, but when you’re nine any adult might as well be wearing a cop uniform.
It was a Saturday. I was dragged to my brother’s tee ball game. I took refuge on the playground with my best friend Megan. I could not handle another five year old tapping the ball, letting it dribble off the tee and barely clear home base or just miss the ball completely. We were on the swings. The ground was covered in millions of pieces of gravel. I absent-mindedly kicked them with my dangling feet unaware of how if it was asphalt, maybe this would have gone differently. Then again it could have been worse that way. Asphalt tends to come off in chunks on the edges.
What did we talk about at nine years old? What was on the forefront on our minds?
“I got some new earrings at Claire’s last night,” Megan said pointing to her earlobes.
“Cool. Orange cats,” I commented.
I imagine it was something like that.
I heard the sound of a gravel hitting gravel in front of me. Megan and I looked up to see a boy, younger than us, hanging on the domelike jungle gym. He tossed bits of gravel at us. His face was blank. It didn’t seem too malicious. Just your garden variety rock tossing. Megan and I ignored him and resumed our cat and saturday morning cartoon banter. The boy started throwing the rocks into the air above his head. When they landed it sounded like hail.
I remember thinking, “He’s going to hurt himself.”
Seconds later, he abruptly ran away.
“Do you want to see Splash?” Megan asked me. “My mom and dad have the video at home.”
“Really? The mermaid movie? Okay.” My stomach fluttered. I was pretty sure that was rated R.
“Which one?!? Tell me which one!” I heard an angry woman’s voice yell.
Megan and I looked to our left. Storming toward us was a beet red woman. The jungle gym boy trailed behind her. We froze. I tried to steady my swing with my foot, but my legs were too short and the gravel was slippery.
The woman stopped in front of us breathing heavily. “Come here,” she said to the boy. The boy stood next to her. “Tell me.” She said to him.
He looked at both Megan and I, deciding. His eyes landed on me. “Her, mom,” he said pointing at me.
My heart was pounding. The boy’s mother pulled his lip down and showed me the blood. “Where are your parents?” she growled.
I looked into this kid’s eyes, but he betrayed nothing.
I couldn’t speak. I had no idea what to do. I could only hear Megan’s breathing. She sounded like she was just getting over a cold. I subconsciously looked over to the field my brother was playing on and without warning, this woman, this stranger, grabbed my arm so hard I thought she might have pulled it out of it’s socket and dragged me off the playground in the general direction of the baseball field. Megan followed behind along with the boy. Why did he say that? I was terrified. She pulled me harder so I would keep up with her pace. No one had ever treated me this way before. I was so scared I would be in trouble. I felt completely powerless. This was new. I’d gotten in trouble plenty of times, but never something I hadn’t done. My parents wouldn’t believe me. I had no idea how to handle myself. The walk seemed to be miles. At the most it had to have only been a block or so. I began questioning my own memory. Maybe I did do it. Did I? I was going to be in so much trouble. I was never going to get to see Splash. Could she call the cops on me? She never let go of my arm. She held me so tightly I thought I’d have bruises. I don’t remember my feet moving. I couldn’t feel them.
She said nothing to me as we walked. My parents came into view. They were cheering. Maybe my brother’s loser team was on the upswing. My dad glanced my way and the smile fell from his face. “Beth?” This was it. I was in trouble.
Then the woman started screaming, “Your kid threw rocks at my Bobby! Look at what she did!” Bobby, the stupid fucker, showed him his lip. “She could have killed him!” The woman started to speak again, but my dad interrupted her.
“Get your hands off my daughter,” he said in a tone I had never heard before.
It seemed for an instant that she had forgotten she was holding my arm. She let go suddenly. My dad pulled me over to him protectively. I couldn’t speak. I was shaking.
“She didn’t do anything,” Megan said breaking the silence. “The kid is lying.”
My dad looked at me. I nodded. He then looked at the woman. He didn’t need to say anything. The truth hovered in the air, undeniable. She walked away with her lying son in a huff. I realized I was holding my breath. When I let it out, I cried.
My best friend had my back. That was no surprise. That was in the job description. But my dad had my back too. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was. If adults say something it must be true. That was what I had always believed. But my dad knew the truth when he saw it. To see an adult really get it wrong, was astounding to me. But to see my dad get it really right, now as a soon to be cynical teenager, that was the miracle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Kiss

I was deathly afraid my mom would say “war-sh.” It was annoying enough that she seems to work in talk of washing into conversation, but for her to use the Iowan slang, “war-sh” instead of the normal "wash" terrified me. (I’m not sure why though. I’ve found out since many moms say this except for ones from New York of California). I was fifteen and I was waiting for my first date, James, to pick me up and war-sh was all I could think about. My mom hovered in the kitchen making dinner while I waited with my face pressed up to the window in the living room. I racked my brain for topics to steer clear of: dishes, clothing, b.o. I was sweating so the b.o. might be a problem. I imagined James walking into my house meeting my dad who was half watching the Cubs game.
My mother pulling meatloaf in the shape of our high school mascot, the Trojan, out of the stove. “Hi James. Beth you better war-sh up!”
And my brother wearing his Michael Jackson glove, “Hey James. What’s your favorite Phil Collins song?”
Okay, I would not allow this to happen. I was not going to expose the ususally hidden strangeness of my family into the open. My Dad would probably lop off the trojan’s head to have him bring home for left overs. I made a quick phone call.
“Hey mom. I’m meeting him at the Tivoli!” I called to her.
She popped her head out of the kitchen looking a bit disappointed. “All right. Ten o’clock. I’m waiting up.”
I waved a quick goodbye happy to take any contingencies she set.
The Tivoli movie theatre was only four blocks away. Meet me in front, he said. Everyone would see us there. I turned the corner there he was. Long, blonde hair. Cigarette in hand. He hadn’t seen me yet.
“Hey!” I yelled a bit too loudly. He turned toward me as he flicked his cigarette to the curb. For a moment I was completely mesmerized. The way he looks at me…into me.
“Let’s go in,” he said.
His fingertips tickled my palm as he dropped the ticket into my hand. I headed to my usual seat in the 22nd row when...he quickly grabbed my arm.
“Why don’t we sit here?”
Fifth row from the back.
The back.
A place reserved only for… for lovers.
“Ok,” I said. I sat in my seat afraid to look at him. The only guy I’d gone to the movies with alone was my Dad. This was decidedly different. I had no idea what to do. Then as if mocking my panic the light suddenly faded to black.
Oh God it’s starting, I thought to myself.
James grabbed my knee. “Kinda a chick flick, but it should be good.”
Don’t panic, I thought.
And the movie began. I experienced the movie as a berage of color, sound and movement. My eyes fixed, unfocused on the flicker of film and the rattle of the projector filled my ears. All I could think the entire time was how I could still feel his hand on my knee. Those words went through my mind like on a digital screen: His hand is on my knee, his hand is on my knee, his hand is on my knee!An imprint forever left on my virgin skin, only touched before by mom medicating a scrape. My mind searched for a way to preserve that moment. A rush of anticipation filled me. I left my hand hanging over the armrest less than 2 centimeters away from his. My body pulsed with a tingle I only had felt before when I used to play with He-man and She-ra. My body was the epicenter, feeling the quake start to rumble.
“Beth, you ready to go?” He said.
The credits were rolling. The lights burst on unmasking my blushing face .
“Let’s go. I’ll walk you home,” he said.
We walked and we talked the movie and about Nirvana and The Pixies and school. Mental note: Buy those tapes tomorrow. He didn’t treat me like everyone else. We reached the front of my driveway
He leaned in.
Oh God, what do I do, I thought. Do I open my mouth? What do I do with my tongue? My shoulders tightened. Relax, Beth, relax. Here it goes…his lips touched mine…
Suddenly we were falling…weightless, a million miles an hour through phantasmagoria. There was nothing else, but us. He was familiar and sweet. I couldn’t feel where my body ended and his began, like we were dipped in bronze and we have finally come to life. Our lips hummed together. Our breaths in unison. I felt the warmth of our bodies curl around us, pressing us closer and closer until my skin sheds a layer of innocence and--
“I had a great time tonight,” He said.
“I had a great time too. Bye. Goodnight.” He walked down the block, his long blonde hair catching the snowflakes that were starting to fall. The air tasted fresh and new or that could be the junior mints he had during the movie.
True to her word my mom had waited up for me. She didn't press me for detail just went upstairs relived her daughter was home and finished the "war-sh." I sat in the kitched eating the left over trojan head and replayed the kiss over and over. He leaned in…a wave crashing on the shore, he washed away my lips like footprints left on the sand and I was submerged.