Every life has moments that are worthy of recording. Mine just tend to be weird. Granted, weird can be good fodder for writing. Just don’t expect people to believe it.
I was, perhaps, an odd sort of child. I was not terribly well socialized for one thing, unless you consider sitting on the back of another toddler in the sand box and beating her with a spoon a kind of business networking. I also bit a child’s finger when she stuck it through the fence of my yard (that will teach you). Not surprisingly, I am the only person I’ve ever met who was kicked out of pre-school and asked not to return. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I was less raving monster and more Wednesday Addams. And one of the best examples of this comes from my first day of kindergarten.
I walked to school when I was five because back then, you could do that. It was about 4 blocks, I think, and my next door neighbor Gina was supposed to make sure I got there and back in one piece. Of course, this was a new role for Gina, and this was the first day of school. The getting there went all right. The getting home, not so much. She forgot, and I was left wondering how on earth I’d get back home.
Now, I was not the panicky type. I figured the adults must know what to do (a mistake I have since tried not to repeat.) My teacher was a slightly elderly woman, and I first went in search of her. I think she pointed me in the direction of the office, a brush off I wasn’t expecting. I still remember her frail form silhouetted against the back door of the school as she ambled to the parking lot. Okay, I thought, starting to get a bit nervy, next set of adults. I was keeping my cool. My ponytail was still in place. Things were going to be fine. The Principal would know what to do.
“Mr. Nowan,” I said in my 5-year-old voice, Gina didn’t wait for me.
It had not occurred to me that this was not at all clarifying to the 6 foot 6 gentleman I was craning my neck to look at.
“Yes. She didn’t wait for me. I don’t know how to get home.”
The office secretary seemed to grasp the situation.
“Ah. We should find your teacher,” she said, but of course, this had already occurred to me.
“We can’t. She went home,” I said, and I remember quite clearly the secretary’s exclamation–
“Well, doesn’t she just make the grass grow,” (I have never heard that epithet again, incidentally).
At this point, the principal tried another approach. He asked me where I lived. And I gawked at him. Obviously, if I knew where I lived, I would have gone home. Now, you might be thinking that this sarcastic little tidbit has been added by my adult brain, but remember, I’m the biting child kicked out of pre-school. And frankly, I was starting to worry that these people were too dumb to help me. Secretary to the rescue–again.
“Why don’t you tell us what your house is like?” she suggested, thinking perhaps we’d figure out my address from these details. And so I began with the main thing, in my five-year-old opinion.
“I live in a green house,” I said–but this declaration was met with utter blank stares. I tried again. I was usually good with pronunciation. “A green house.”
“But,” the mountain-like principle began, “you can’t live in a greenhouse!”
Shock. This man was telling me I couldn’t live in my own house!
“Maybe there is just a greenhouse nearby?” the secretary asked. I was nonplussed.
“I live in a green house!” I said, my voice getting shaky.
“With plants?” (I am not making this up.)
“My m-m-mom doesn’t like plants,” I quivered. “A green house–I live–in–green–house.”
And that’s when I started to cry. I knew I was right–who were they to question what I knew about my own living quarters? Of course, it never once occurred to me that they mistook the color for the kind (besides, my grandmother never said ‘greenhouse’; she would say ‘garden center.’) The secretary tried being soothing, the principal, who was actually a very kind man, tried to distract me from my tears. But I was angry and adamant–and at a total loss. I had been talking for more than three years already, but I could not make myself understood. It was utterly frustrating and humiliating. And that’s when Gina turned up. She’d run all the way from our street and was sweating and gasping and apologizing. I don’t remember if she helped untangle the confusion, or if we just left the bemused adults behind us. I do know one thing: my first priority that evening was to learn and memorize my street address so I would never again be at the mercy of the synonym-challenged.
My spouse is very fond of this story. He says it gives him a lovely image of my younger self, embellished (for him) with gothic lipstick and a spiked collar and ending with my demands that people be less thoroughly stupid. That, of course, is an exaggeration. But it is a useful one. And while I have not (yet) written this scene into a novel, I feel it probably informs a great deal of my work in one way or another.
PS: Green. House. Who confuses this?