Before school I’d slip into a dress or a skirt and blouse, knee high socks and brown, wavy-bottomed Famolares. My favorite pair of bell-bottom jeans, Swaby’s, got rolled up and stuffed into my purse. I’d toss in my brush and a pair of dangly red and purple beaded suede earrings. Wielding a blistering hot curling iron, I’d form perfect waves in the thin shiny hair framing my face. More often than not I’d burn my neck and a few friends would later tease me about sporting a hickey. I didn’t know what they were talking about.
As soon as I left the house I’d duck behind the large fir tree at the top of our gravel driveway, cast off the skirt in exchange for the jeans, which were sleek and tight in a way that made me feel confident, perhaps even cute. On with the earrings and I was ready to board the steaming yellow bus headed for junior high.
I felt like an impostor, aware that no one but my closest friends might guess that wearing jeans to school, even nice ones, was strictly verboten by my parents. The offense made me nervous and jittery, like I’d had too much coffee, but more importantly, I felt cool. That was the year Lidia and I became bosom buddies, the year we both had Mr. Nudo for art. His class met way out at the edges of campus in one of those flimsy portables with a wooden ramp. Mr. Nudo, one of our favorite teachers, was a hippy dude with a big sandy-brown Afro and an earring. He wore denim overalls and soft suede chukka boots spattered in paint. From the corner of the room a transistor radio broadcast songs by The Beatles, America and Bread while we all made groovy art out of clay, acrylic paint, fabric, wax and dye. For me, and perhaps for Lidia, Mr. Nudo embodied a mild rebellion against the status quo (our strict parents) and I think that's why we liked him so much, wanted to be like him.
It was also the year that I got caught by the janitor drawing cartoons on a friend’s locker; had to stay after school to scrub down the entire bank. I had no idea I’d done anything wrong, had seen other kids doing it, too.
At the dinner table that night my dad rattled off his customary queries and demands: "Did you brush your hair? Wash your hands? Let’s see your fingernails. Put some shoes on." And then, "Are you wearing a t-shirt?"
With a total poker-face I replied sheepishly, “Uh-huh,” knowing he could see through my fib if he was paying any attention. I was shaking in my sneakers, had no idea what punishment I would meet. But alas, nothing happened and the next day I worked up enough nerve to ask my mom for a training bra.
When I reminisce about my childhood I usually come around to wishing that, one day, I could tell Calvin funny stories about being a kid, about his grandpa and grandma, his aunts and uncles, my friends. I wish we could laugh about the silly, rowdy, mischievous ways I’d get myself into some kind of trouble or another, like putting french fries into my coach's glove fingers or stealing pocket change out of my mom's purse. And, inevitably I wonder and dream about what kind of curious trouble Calvin might be getting into now, if only things had turned out differently, if only he were a healthy child.
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