First Encounter

It was one of those late spring days when the teachers were tired of looking at our faces and we were tired of sitting in the humid classrooms. We daydreamed of Willie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, the air-conditioned movie theatre, riding our bikes all over town, talking on the phone ’til midnight and just being free to do whatever we wanted.

We were big kids now, not little tykes that got two recesses a day. We were in middle school, on the cusp of being in high school, and rarely were we let outside, unless it was to run laps for gym class. Because everybody was itching for summer, Miss Maloney told us we could spend study hall outside. Upon the announcement, half the class made a “whooping” noise.

“Settle down, settle down…..QUIET! Okay, now that I have your attention, the other 8th grade teachers and I agreed to let you all go outside this period,” she said.

This was a new day! God, the teachers really did hate us. I had heard whisperings from the teachers (I’m a good listener; my Gigi calls me nosy) that we were the worst class they’d had in 15 years. Whatever. We were just social.

“Listen!” Miss Maloney continued. “I don’t want there to be any tom-foolery going on out there. You are meant to study and that’s all. When one of us blows the whistle you line up immediately, got it?”

We nodded our heads eagerly as we knew the drill – the more we talked the less time we’d get outside. The teachers knew damn well there would be very little studying going on, but we knew we had to make it look like we were going to be doing something academic. I grabbed a pencil and a notebook, others grabbed random books, pens or looseleaf sheets of paper. Like good little soldiers, we lined up. When Miss Maloney opened the door, the first in line, Brad, sprinted out the door and was surprisingly spry, appearing somewhat like a gazelle. You would have thought we’d all been held captive by a terrorist group for months or were dangerously low on vitamin D the way we carried on.

“What ‘cha wanna do, Mags? Stalk Chris around a bit?” asked Brie a little too sarcastically.

“Oh my god, that was, like, my crush from grade school. I don’t even like him anymore!” I said.

“Could of fooled me,” she smirked and looked around conspiratorily at Jen and Rachel. They both giggled like puppets.

I sighed. Truthfully, sometimes I hated my friends. They were kind of bitchy and mean. They were funny and all, but usually at the expense of someone else. Really, I considered them my school friends, since they went to their expensive camps and exotic vacations during the summer. I was mostly alone in the summer and I pretty much liked it that way.

“I’m gonna go walk around and get some exercise, k?” I announced.

I didn’t wait for a reply. I doubt they really cared. It’s not that I didn’t have any non-school friends. I suppose I wouldn’t announce it on the school’s P.A. system, but my Gigi was my best friend. Yes, my grandmother was the one I told (most of) my secrets to. From the day my mom had me, the first-born grandchild in the family, she insisted on being called Gigi. She said it sounded French and elegant and she was too young to be a grandmother anyway. She wasn’t French and certainly not elegant, but she was like no other grandmother I knew. I also had a best friend whose story was about as fucked-up as mine, but she wasn’t around all the time. Cath was sometimes with her mom, sometimes her dad came and got her and other times no one could tell me where she was. She was elusive, but as true blue as a friend could be.

The grounds of the school had tennis courts on them. We no longer had a middle school tennis team, so it was pretty dilapidated. There were large cracks in the concrete and holes in the one net that remained; the other two had been ripped down. I’d heard people came here at night to smoke pot and make out, but I never got an invitation to that party. I just planned on circling the perimeter, but I noticed a person sitting in the corner by themselves. The gate was rusty and stuck in a narrowly opened position, so I held my breath and squeezed through.

If there was one thing that really got to me, one thing that made my heart ache, it was seeing a person or a dog all by themselves. I know that might sound strange. Maybe the person just wants to be left alone. Maybe the dog is looking to find a place to pee, but it always made me pause.  As I moved closer to the corner of the courts I saw a wisp of a boy with a shock of black hair who had his nose stuck in a book. How did he get here so fast? What was he reading? Who was he? Because I’m a person that is often alone and knows what it likes to feel lonely, I’m not too shy to start talking to strangers. My Gigi always says you don’t know what someone is going through until you’re walking in their shoes. And he was alone and that made me sad.

I kept walking towards him. I didn’t want to startle him so I shuffled my feet a bit so he’d hear me. He didn’t move or look up. Hmm…maybe he was deaf. I was within 15 feet of him so I cleared my throat. Still no response. I felt like one of those feral cats that no one wants around and you end up chasing them out of your yard with a broomstick. This might have been a mistake.

“Hey,” I said kinda loud.

His body shifted quickly and the book fell in his lap. I guess he didn’t hear me.

“Jesus, you scared the shit out of me!” the not-so deaf boy grumbled.

“Sorry, I was trying to walk loudly. I thought you would have heard me.”

As he was gathering up his book a photograph fell out. He quickly put the book behind him and picked up the photo, ready to put it in his shirt pocket.

He looked up at me for a while and bit his lip nervously. His eyes squinted from the sun. He wore glasses and a black button down and black trousers. Oh, and black Chucks. Everything matched his hair. Well, except for his skin. And his eyes. With the sun shining in them they looked like a watercolor study in blues and greens. I was mesmerized. I smiled.

In a much gentler voice he said, “I….I just really was getting to a part of the book that was….well, it… Sorry, I was engrossed and I didn’t hear you. You alarmed me. I didn’t mean to yell.”

“That’s okay. See? I’m not that scary.”

I threw my notebook and pencil on the ground and sat down right in front of him. I actually didn’t mean to sit that close as our knees were now touching. He was clearly taken aback. Without the sun’s rays blocking his vision, I could tell he was studying my face now, head slightly tilted, still squinting as if he were counting every freckle on my nose. He ran his fingers through his hair. I wasn’t used to being stared at, so I shaded my face with my hand and looked to the side, pretending to be staring at something in the distance. Now I was the one taken aback. I turned my gaze towards him again.

Cookie jar poetry

My mother wrote poetry. Lots of poetry. I guess the muse struck at odd times because she would often write on gum wrappers, napkins, envelopes, bills, old movie tickets, recipe cards, notes home from school and on the back of photographs. I was too little to actually remember her doing this, and I suspect I may be the only one that knows this happened. How do I know she wrote poetry? Because she hid her poems all around the house. From the time I was about 5 and could read semi-fluently and comprehend tenuously I started find them.

The first discovery was in our cookie jar. My father was at work (as usual) and there was our Cookie Monster cookie jar, staring at me from atop the refrigerator with that goofy, drunken smile on his face. Since my mother had been gone there were no longer homemade cookies (they came in bunches after she first was gone, brought in by my aunties and neighbors and ladies from church; but just as quickly as the bounty started, the visits suddenly stopped). Now, my father would buy generic brand cookies that were supposed to be like the real thing, but were always a little off. Chocolate wafers with cream filling, vanilla-flavored rounds and crunchy chocolate chip delights were the best we got now, but they were better than nothing.

I did my little climbing maneuver of pushing the kitchen chair next to the counter. Then I stepped on the chair and carefully put one foot and then the other onto the slippery counter (my mother? or maybe grandmother had taught me early to NEVER wear socks when climbing because they would surely make you slide off and break your neck). Finally, standing on my tiptoes, I carefully removed Cookie Monster’s head and slipped my tiny hand into the jar. I felt around blindly, touching crumbs, one cookie and a piece of paper.

Of course, my main concern was the cookie. I snatched it out and set it on top of the refrigerator. I picked up Cookie’s head and was ready to fit it on it’s base, but something made me pause. I can’t really explain what it was. I had figured the paper I had felt was part of the wrapper of the bag of cookies, but something in my tummy told me to grab it. I sat down the head and stood on my tiptoes again. I searched around the crumb-filled jar and caught the slight paper between my thumb and forefinger. I breathed out, set the paper next to the cookie, placed Cookie’s head on, grabbed my two stolen goods and carefully climbed down from the counter to the chair.

I munched on the vanilla-flavored cookie as I pushed the chair back to the table with my belly. The paper, which I now saw was a torn off corner of a sewing pattern, seemed useless. I was annoyed that I went to all that trouble. But, then again, I thought, why would that be in a cookie jar? I stuffed the rest of the cookie in my mouth, sat down and turned over the torn paper. On it was beautiful, perfect, light-as-a-feather handwriting. My mother’s handwriting. She had written:

He was trying to steal my heart

But he went by way of my head

His words brutally injected with a drill

He broke my heart, made my mind fuzzy

And I never saw clearly again.

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