September 30, 2004

More tales from a suburban misfit.

Part Two

I thought about that day for months to come, though I kept my thoughts to myself. Other words, such as voluptuous chick, had become associated with my name, though “rash girl” always stood out in my mind.

That spring break, I sat with Karen, a senior best known for her curly blonde hair and flamingo-esque legs, at a slumber party. We planned on wrapping a house that night and I convinced everyone that Jason was the perfect target. Karen hated Jason after he dumped her at homecoming; I still hated him for his “rash girl” comment.

Seventeen of us gathered together that night to head out to Jason’s house: 16 girls and one guy, Josh, the half-black, half-white guy best known as Cody’s best friend. The seventeen of us divided ourselves amongst three cars: The Toyotas that Karen and Jill, Cody’s current girlfriend, drove and my Oldsmobile.

We waited until midnight to make our way to his subdivision on the edge of town. Eager to begin throwing the toilet paper into the tall trees in his yard, we parked our cars down the street from his parents’ house.

As a group, we tiptoed our way to his house at the end of the street, silently motioning to each other like Army commandos in the darkness. Soon, the first rolls, thrown by a strong armed friend, made their way into the treetops before hitting the ground with the familiar “thud.” Other toilet paper rolls began hitting the lower branches, stringing a line of paper from tree to tree.

We giggled as we wrapped the toilet paper around the bushes, a trademark of a wrapping job done by girls. As self taught experts who had completed 13 houses that year, we knew girls worried about details, guys about height.

The events proceeded accordingly until a lone car drove by slowly, watching us as we continued catapulting toilet paper into the treetops. The group stopped and stared at the car as it sped off down the street. Scared of getting caught by the cops, we decided to head back to our cars and get out of the neighborhood before it was too late.

Our cars formed a mini-parade as we drove around, unsure of what to do. Though we had done a good job with the toilet paper, we did not consider it up to par. After stopping in the parking lot of a local Kettle restaurant, we decided the time had come to make it back to Jason’s house.

Again, we parked at the end of his street; far enough away that our cars could not be seen, but still close enough that we could make a run for it. Our trunks, overflowing with multi-colored toilet paper bought earlier in the night, quickly became the gathering places where we returned for more paper.

I heard Josh’s cry as I stood in a ditch, thinking about where to throw the next roll. His voice, piercing the rhythmic thuds and giggles of teenage girls throwing toilet paper, was frantic: “Cops!”

I could feel my running shoes pound the pavement as I fled down the street for a quick getaway, a feat I had grown used to making while in high school. Getting to my car, which happened to be the closest of the three, and making a fast exit was the only thing on my mind. I threw the roll of toilet paper in my hand into the trunk before slamming it shut. As I jumped into the driver’s seat, half of the girls clamored for spots in the back seat.

With one foot hovering over the break and my car in reverse, I had started to back up when the police officer reached into Jill’s car, grabbing her by the sleeve and pulling her out. We began to scream when he did the same to Karen, whose car was in front of mine. Sure that my car was next, I put it in park and jumped out, screaming for everyone else to do the same.

“Get your hands up!” yelled the officer as he shined his light into our faces. “Get on the ground, now.” I grimaced at the thought of having to climb on the ground in the outfit I had just bought that day. Realizing this guy meant business, I lowered myself, first on my knees, then on my stomach, onto the cement road.

I looked around at the dark suburban neighborhood surrounding us as we lay in the middle of the road. A few windows had figures in them, peering out from behind blinds to see what had caused a commotion in their quiet little hamlet.

Trees rustled in the spring wind, still with a little hint of the cold air that graced Houston for only a few months. I could feel a few loose pieces of gravel digging into my hands, making me desire to squirm in place on the street.

“Well, well, lookey here,” he said as he walked in between all of us as we lay on our bellies in the road. “Looks like we’re going to have to call out the bandwagon.”

Near me, Erin, a buck-toothed freshman who had never been in trouble with her parents before, began to whimper. “Not the bandwagon!”

Snickers erupted from the group as they lie still on the ground, though they were soon followed by whispers of “Shut up, you guys!”

Slowly, I moved my arms so that I could use them as a pillow, instead of the hard, black cement it was resting on. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my white Oldsmobile with the door open, inside lights on, like a beacon in the night for all to see. I stared at the maroon interior of my car, wishing at that very moment that I had made the decision to try to outrun the cop. Instead, his voice brought me back to reality.

“I want to see some ID’s,” he said as he paced in between us, shining his light onto the backs of my friends. My friends, all having been passengers in the vehicles, shook their heads no when he asked about their identification. Slowly, the officer lifted his head and stared at my car, as if the interior light had set off a light bulb in his head. He picked up his pace and made his way to my vehicle. “Whose car is this?” he asked to nobody in particular.

I jumped up, eager to get off the ground. Soon I realized how foolish I was to do so, now he focused his attention solely on me. “It’s mine,” I said, meekly.

“Let me see some identification,” he told me in a monotone voice. My heart jumped, causing me to catch my breath. I had a horrible habit of not carrying my driver’s license with me. I hardly ever even had it when I drove my car, though I didn’t necessarily need it for the three months I drove illegally before my sixteenth birthday.

Thoughts of the officer calling my house swarmed my mind. I could imagine Stuart, my bushy haired stepfather, leaning out of the bed to answer the phone, only wearing his pink bikini briefs. He would then inform the officer that “They could leave me in jail overnight,” a threat he had promised to keep if the time ever came. Jail would not be an option for me that night.

I quickly scanned the inside of my car, hoping that I would have left the ID out in the open. No luck. Thoughts of all the bad things that could happen to someone caught driving without an ID flew through my mind. I had to find it!

I rifled through my glove compartment and then through my console, but still couldn’t find my license. Hoping that the officer had forgot about me, I glanced over my shoulder. He was still standing there, staring at me. All of my friends stared, too.

The elusive license hid itself in a compartment in my door and I felt a wave of relief as I held it in my hands. He took the license from me, placing it on his clipboard for a call in to the station.

He ordered my friends off the ground, informing us of our choices: Either pick up all the toilet paper or go to jail. Though grateful for not getting in serious trouble, we still groaned at the thought of having to pick up all the toilet paper.

He paraded us to the front door of Jason’s house, where still nobody was aware that a commotion was taking place in their front yard. We all nudged each other to knock on the door and inform Jason and his parents that we had given their yard some new decorations.

Josh, being the only male in the group, knocked on his teammate’s front door. Within a minute, a sleepy-eyed Jason, clad in boxers and a white t-shirt stood before us.

“Surprise,” I said. “Good luck at your track meet tomorrow!”

Posted by Rachel at 03:29 AM | Comments (4)

September 23, 2004

Tales of a suburban misfit

Part One.

I have never excelled at math, or even considered myself competent. Logic was never a strong skill of mine and my placement in a “level” geometry class in the tenth grade cemented my expectations.

My math skills, amongst other issues in my life, caused me a great deal of embarrassment. While other kids in my school zipped through geometry in the eighth grade, I found myself in a class of misfits, all deemed sub par by the school system that had obviously let them down.

And who would be our leader into the wonderful world of geometry? A first year teacher-- an Asian man of diminutive stature, whose only interaction with teenagers up until then had been writing their textbooks.

Starting in the seventh grade, when students, like myself, with lower than normal math skills were herded off into our own classroom, I began to become ashamed of the books I carried around in the hall. While everyone else had textbooks such as Algebra, I kept my seventh grade level math book hidden by a brown book cover. Tenth grade and geometry textbooks would prove to be no different.

Like my math skills, I usually tried to keep my arms hidden from others who I felt might have better arms than I did. More specifically, I kept my right arm hidden, thanks in part to a heinous rash that had taken residence in the crease.

My battles with heat rashes had turned into an ongoing war, one that I had fought on and off since the sixth grade, when the sweltering southeast Texas heat began to take its toll on my delicate skin. It never crossed my young mind to seek help from a doctor, and my mom, a nurse, never brought the taboo subject up, either. We hated doctors, who had been known to treat my mother like a second hand servant.

“Never be a doctor,” she’d tell me. “Or a lawyer or a dentist.”

Instead, we tried a barrage of creams and powders, none of which actually helped the skin, all of which furthered the crimson growth on my appendage until it looked like the skin on my arm had been sliced off with a razor blade.

Some days I forgot that the raw skin, roughly the color of a candied apple from the fair and covered with white bumps, was not considered the norm. On those days, I wore short sleeves to school, completely unaware that others might not find my arm attractive.

It happened to be one of those days when Pat, a tan, rich kid who had made a name for himself by being the cute short one, noticed my arm in class.

“Eww, what’s that,” he yelled at me during the middle of a lesson. Our young Asian teacher, not one to try to control his class, just kept on talking.

I immediately slapped my left hand over the rash, being sure to cup my hand as to not hurt the already delicate skin. I looked at Pat, eyebrows raised and said as nonchalantly as possible, “Nothing.” I hoped to myself that he would get annoyed and leave me alone.

“That’s so gross,” he kept on. “What is it?”

Thanks to his constant raising of his voice, some of the other misfits in class were beginning to take notice. Frantically, I leaned over to his desk and hissed “It’s a heat rash, okay?”

Pat kept on, speaking of the rash as if I had kept it around for fun. “Why don’t you go to a doctor or something?” I dismissed this question as nonsense. Of course he would want to go to a doctor. His father was a wealthy realtor and Pat had just been bragging about the large truck his father bought him. Well, I didn’t have a large truck. I had an Oldsmobile, even better, an Oldsmobile that had been used as a driver’s ed car in its previous life.

Instead, I tried to ignore his comments, hoping that my rash and I would just mesh together with the 20-year-old brown carpet that lined the floor in our windowless room.

My silence was enough to get Pat to shut up for the time being, though his announcement in class worried me. Did anyone else notice the rash on my arm? As it turned out, they did.

I stood outside of my school with my cross-country friends in the warm October heat, anticipating our 800 workouts that would have us tramping through woods and mud several times in a row.

We stood on the perimeter of the wooded area behind the 1970’s style massive brick building, huddling together like teenage girls do; all wearing sports bras and running shorts.

A group from the guys’ team ran by, all wearing shorts that wore shorter than ours, laughing and joking amongst themselves on their warm-up run.

Though nobody said anything, all the girls stood up a little straighter, sucked in their bellies a little more in order to look good. These guys may not be attractive, but they were guys and cross-country chicks weren’t exactly known for being a hot commodity.

I looked in the group to see Cody, a gangly, curly haired senior I had recently dated, running alongside his teammates. I rolled my eyes upon seeing him, eager to pretend that I didn’t care if he was in the group.

Everyone in the cross-country program knew of Cody and me. He, the unattractive red headed senior and I, the bubbly new sophomore-- happy that any guy had paid attention to me, had been an item after meeting at a party.

The relationship had only consisted of one make-out session in his bedroom, though it had been enough to make me change my status from “loser that can’t get a guy” to “sex goddess.” We never went on a date or even out as a group. Sometimes Cody and his best friend Josh would come to my house and sit with me on my daybed, but I found myself obsessed with the thought of them going through my personal belongings.

Cody had recently dumped me over the telephone, an act that I would soon learn to get used to by all future boyfriends, and we had not spoken since. I quickly turned away after seeing him, leaning closer to my friends to mumble how rude he was.

A surprising voice rang out from the guys’ group; they normally kept to themselves when it came to running. “Hey look, everyone! It’s rash girl!” the voice gleefully bellowed for all to hear.

I snapped my head towards the direction of the voice, only to see Jason, a tall senior with curly hair, laughing about his choice of words. The rest of the guys chimed in with laughter that echoed off the trees and onto the nearby soccer field. I could feel my heart jump into my throat. This would seal the chances of any guy ever liking me again.

To be continued....

Posted by Rachel at 03:12 AM | Comments (5)

September 13, 2004

Dead like Thee

You could say I had an interesting childhood. While most children went to visit their parents in office buildings or perhaps at schools, I visited my father at a funeral home.

When I was a young child, my father, a funeral director, bought the funeral home he worked at from his boss. This was not just any funeral home, no, it was a funeral home that was actually inside a home-- a large, white Victorian-style place that was over 100 years old. The building had three floors: The first for business, the second consisting of an inhabitable apartment, albiet a sketchy one, and a smaller apartment-style room, while the third had another large apartment used basically for storage.

My father inhabited the second floor apartment for a while after my parents divorced, or at least, he gave the impression of doing so while he was already living somewhere else with my soon-to-be stepmother, which meant that me and my sister would live in this apartment every other weekend as well. Although it was not in horrible condition, this apartment was not the type of place you would want to find yourself in alone at nighttime, especially during bad weather when the ghosts and goblins that lurked outside in the Bad Side of Town would crawl through the large windows and under the creaky old bed.

The third floor, which had a large hole in the decrepit wooden floors, made the second one look like a palace. The third floor was the type of place a young girl did not venture to alone, not even a girl like me who had the run of the place since her Daddy owned it. You stayed away from the third floor because if the hole in the floor did not get you, some unidentified creature lurking in the musty shadows definately would.

I spent every other weekend and one month a summer in that funeral home with my dad and stepmother, biding the nine hours a day they worked by exploring. Old record keeping books became my playmates and I kept myself occupied by reading how exactly people died in that town in the 1940s and earlier.

If my stepmother was feeling overly friendly, I would get to indulge in my favorite activity: Bringing in the flowers from their holding room in the large garage to the adjoining chapel, where we would arange them around the casket. If she was feeling less friendly, my job would be to vaccum around the deceased person before the funeral started. Afterwards I would run up and down the chapel isles, indulging in any and every fantasy a 10-year-old girl could fathom, mostly about me being an entertainer and the pews full of my adoring audience. It didn't matter that a dead person lay only feet away from me in an open casket, no, I could be a Rock Star or Rockette without anyone bothering me in there.

Sometimes, if I was feeling a little adventurous, I would watch the person and hold my breath, just to see if they were really dead. It didn't matter that I knew the facts of embalming or that I witnessed plenty of dead people naked on the slabs in the morgue; I just had to see for myself.

My unique upbringing, along with the fact that I have known plenty of people who are now dead, has made me someone you do not want to go to a funeral with. I mentally critique things, even when I don't mean to. I ask questions to the funeral home staff, such as if they are owned by a large corporation or are they still independently owned? I note the locations of funeral homes near cemeteries and make chitchat about playing around in the casket showroom with those who really don't want to hear about it.

And then I tell my stories, such as the time my Dad locked me and my sister in a room with the body of a man who looked like Frankenstein. He only did it for a few seconds, but it was enough to scare us silly. Maybe I tell them how I remember being three-years-old and my Dad holding me up to see the body inside the casket because I wanted to see who was in there. Perhaps I tell them about how he used to pick me up from ballet class in a hearse and I would lay on the gurney, the same one the dead people lie on, in the back while he drove us home.

Or maybe I'll just offer a meek smile and a sympathy card along with a nice basket of flowers.

Posted by Rachel at 04:51 AM | Comments (4)

September 03, 2004

A man and a woman had a little baby...

I sat in the salmon-colored rocking chair in the living room on a weeknight sometime after Thanksgiving, quietly waiting for my parents to come home. The television was off as I rocked back and forth under the yellow glow from the lamp sitting next to me.

“Where’s Dad?” I asked my Mom as she came into the living room. It was dark outside and cold as well and I wondered why my Father, who usually worked late, but not that late, hadn’t arrived home yet.

“Your Dad isn’t coming home tonight,” my Mom said, then explaining that he wasn’t coming home ever again.

With tears flowing from my eyes, I went into their bedroom and saw the telltale signs of a divorce: The television was gone as well as my father’s clothes. It turned out that everybody knew, well, that is, everybody but me. It was at that moment that I learned the cold, hard truth about my family.

They definitely didn’t love each other-- never had, I would learn when I was a teenager—and blood, at least for my family, was not thicker than water.

I sat at a stoplight in our hometown yesterday when a song I put on a custom-made CD started to play. I had made the CD my junior year of college, one year after meeting The Hubs, only a few months before we’d become engaged.

I began to sing along to the words I hadn’t listened to in months:

“Happy times together we've been spending
I wish that every kiss was neverending
Wouldn't it be nice?

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do
We could be married
And then we'd be happy”

I sang the words and then looked over at our daughter, who rested quietly in the car seat next to me, and smiled. Though she looks nothing like him, she is our baby and the center of our lives.

Who would have known, four years ago while we met while studying on Valentines Day that we would have such a wonderful little girl?

I see him hugging her and changing diapers and I just smile. Here is this man who loves his little girl and his wife (his “bears”) so much, it is apparent in his eyes when he is around us. I would have never guessed that he would be such a sweetie for this baby when we were staying up late in his dorm room, talking until the sun came up.
Those were the days when I would sit and dream of being married to him and not having to be separated on holidays or at night. That we could spend every waking moment together and nobody could tell us otherwise.

Now our nights may mean he goes to sleep before I do and when I finally climb in bed he may not know who I am or where we are or how we got there, but I’m sleeping with him. And if I wanted the opportunity to do more than just sleep, which, unfortunately I can’t say I’m in the mood to do, well, I could.

That’s because I’m married to him and it is absolutely wonderful.

And one day, Ellie will grow up and realize that she is one of the lucky ones who has two parents that love her and each other very much. She won’t ever sit in the living room on a cold night during the holiday season and know what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under her.

She will be loved and she will know what true love is.

Posted by Rachel at 04:41 AM | Comments (6)