On recommendation from the king of cashmere socks, I’m trying to think of one good story from 1st or 2nd grade. Just one… good… story. Well, without bringing up how terrified I was of going to the bathroom that whole school year, my memory is coming up short. My overall impression of 1st grade is the smell of creamed corn and the intense need to go to the bathroom.
I’m sure there were stories, but the sense of things seems to have stuck with me more. The cold black metal of the strange merry-go-round we had at John Gumm, that I was so afraid to ride, and then I did, and that’s all I wanted to do. Hanging on for dear life, elbow to knee with older kids who would make it go faster and faster.
The thrill of running away from a boy wielding an earthworm ‘wedding ring’. Even in 1st grade, there was a certain boy you wanted to have chase you.
And the edge of my chair, sitting contorted, trying to hold it. Why was I so scared of having my name on the board? If I could have gotten a glimpse of what real life was going to feel like down the road, I woulda skipped down that hall every-damn-day to a merry, good piss. My name on the board?!? Ha! What freedom. A consequence that doesn’t even hurt.
I can’t get into my first grade head very well, is the thing. At least not at school time. I was there, that’s all. A fairly contented inmate. But what about home?
Different. The year I turned five was the year my parents divorced and we lived in so many different places, staying with our mom as she crashed at friends’ houses. That was kinda fun; better than walking on egg-shells around our dad’s displeasure. All too soon we were in the house above the hill, across from the Hanson’s, sharing an upstairs apartment with “the man”.
I remember things best when my brother was there. I don’t know why. I think people maybe discount it, the sibling link. Too many explanations to separate people, shrink the wonder of shared experience down to D.N.A. It wasn’t so. We always fought, but my brother being there sort of vivids each experience for me. I remember the stuff we both saw and lived and went through much better than I remember anything I did by myself.
In that upstairs apartment there wasn’t even room for us. We were little, stuffed shirt children, in a way. We’d been brought up in a non-demonstrative, cerebral environment, and our mom’s new fella was just too much. Too much smells. Too much hair. Too much trying to hug us or ruffle our hair. I know you’d think a child would lean into that affection, but we didn’t really like it. We tolerated the too-much man, cus there was other stuff going on that caught our attention.
Like the dark wood bannister that went all around the hole in the middle of the second story. You could look down into the rest of the house from there, the 2nd floor was almost like a four-sided balcony. That bannister was our play thing- bars to play prison, an obstacle course to weave in and out of when our mom wasn’t looking, (she thought we would fall in the hole, and it scared her to death). The man had the television on all the time, and we saw things our parents had never let us see.
Across the street was a house full of older kids, and they were fascinating, too. The middle boy flipped his eyelids inside out because it freaked me out. The girl became my protector, my after-school babysitter. The oldest boy had something wrong on one of his arms, and I think I would see him now as handsome, but back then he only seemed too close to boring grown-upness, and gross, to boot, for his scar.
And I remember ‘The Jar’. While we stayed in that upstairs apartment, we didn’t have a room. It must have been a very crowded space. Mom and the man took large shelves, and split their sleeping room in half with my brother and I on one side, them on the other. We could see past objects on the shelves to the other-side, and at the right angle, you could watch the t.v. He always had the t.v. on. My brother and I found a way we could both watch, with one of us sitting upright, the other laying down, lined up just so. We’d watch The Twilight Zone late into the night while our mom snored on the other side of the shelves, and the man zoned in and out.
We got frightened.
Because, see, though we hadn’t noticed it, ‘The Jar’ from one of the Twilight episodes was right there on the shelf. It looked horrifying on the t.v., though we couldn’t make out the exact contents of the real one when the room was dark. But it was the right size, and we thought something horrible, twisted and bleak was living in there, just like in the show.
Mom found us curled up, clinging to the bannister the next morning, under a blanket.
I don’t remember our discussion, but I have a vague memory of a debate. One of us was all for leaving the thing there with the grown-ups, and one of us was worried about mom, but we thought, since she was sleeping, it would probably eat the man instead of her. We were pragmatic children, and to our minds, this was an acceptable loss.
Yeah, the memory is just impression now: The creeping horror of the jar. Padding softly, single file past the shelf. My brother’s fuzzy, slightly damp head pressed against my arm as I curled my wrist around the bannister. The feeling of anchoring us there, in place, if only for a little while.