I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.
"The Memoirs of Jesse James," Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt. Richard Brautigan, 1970.
I was riding home from work on the train, actually one of the lucky ones to get a seat on Muni. Staring me in the face was a poster that must have just been put up. I am guessing the poster is new because it has not been instantly defaced with graffiti and stickers.
The poster showed a teenage African-American kid being hugged by his two proud, positively beaming, middle-aged Caucasian adoptive moms. Everyone in the poster looked happy. And looking at the family, I smiled for the boy who had been adopted into a loving home, no matter how "untraditional" it might be to some.
And all of a sudden, I had this flashback to seventh grade, and a friend of mine named Kari, and it dawned on me that she was raised by two moms. Somehow, that year or two of playing at her house and having sleepovers--the two-mom thing never registered with me. Not that it should have.
What I remember most about Kari was that she had really pretty big brown eyes, really long eyelashes, really really curly dark, almost-black hair and a big nose. We got along well, probably being the only two Jewish kids in school, and her moms made things out of wood (I think) and sold them at crafts fairs (deep in the heart of the 70s). I remember the moms had a big waterbed in a dark, wood-panelled room and we used to roll around on the bed and listen to the water slosh inside the mattress.
I think the moms smoked. One of them had an old Porsche. But not for a second did I question why Kari had two moms. I really honestly never think it occurred to me, and perhaps we were good friends because I never asked.
But now looking at that poster and thinking of my friend that moved away, were people mean to her? Did they treat her poorly because of her home life? I hope not.
But now I think that maybe some people did. The 'burbs of San Jose were no place for a lesbian couple and their assorted children.
The reason I even bring any of this up is that it is just dawning on me now about the kids I grew up with, the ones I was friends with. Kari's two moms were younger than I am now.
I started ticking off a mental list of kids and then trailing off into the home lives I witnessed but didn't understand. Sharon #1, who lived in our cul-de-sac and had a black dad and a white mom. Even though her dad made more money than any one else's dad on the street, people whispered because they were a "mixed couple." Even I knew that. But what was Sharon's life really like in our little petri dish of a brand-new neighborhood of a California subdivision?
And Jenny, who lived next door to Sharon, and didn't have a mom. Her big sister raised Jenny because Jenny's mom had died of cancer. I remember when Jenny's sister told me I couldn't play there anymore because I was Jewish. I can't remember what else happened, but now I think of a 16-year old girl trying to raise her little sister after school until her dad got home from work. She probably thought she was doing what was right to take care of her little sister.
There was Sharon #2 (I had three friends named Sharon), whose dad traveled a lot and also drank a lot. This Sharon used to have bruises on her arms sometimes and I don't know if they came from her dad or her older brother. She ate a lot. She was fat.
And then there was Sharon #3. Beautiful, charismatic, troubled Sharon, who was adopted by militant Born-Again Christians. The father was a sheriff, the mother a stay-at-home who looked like a mutant version of June Cleaver. She even wore an apron.
I remember their lemon-yellow shag carpet and the bibles in every room. Sharon's mom probably only let me play there after school because she held out the hope that she could convert me to Christianity. I remember her telling me once that it was "too bad I was going to burn in Hell, because I was such a nice little girl." I remember thinking that Sharon's mom was a total moron and that if she knew that I was probably the only person that kept her daughter from flunking seventh grade, that her little girl was already sneaking out of windows at night to meet boys, that all of her preaching about who was good and who wasn't, that that information would come as a bit of a shock.
That last Sharon is the only friend that I know what happened to later on. She ended up having two illegitimate children with different fathers: one black and one a Hispanic gang member. One was in and out of jail and neither one helped her with child support. She lived in a run-down apartment behind a movie theater and worked as a receptionist for an elevator company. I remember how sad I was for her when I took her out to dinner and she told me what had happened to her since I saw her. Since seventh grade.
That poster made me think about the hidden lives of children. Perhaps more children were wiser than I was. I think I took in a lot of things but they still never registered with me.
Or perhaps that is just what childhood is supposed to be, until one day the bubble bursts and things are just a little too clear.
Anyway, I hope that boy on the poster, the one with the two moms that love him, has as happy a life as I think he does. I hope he does.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I remember all those thousands of hours