Monday, July 20, 2009

Moving up

Puberty, a body -- I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to keep pulling this belt tighter. More layers, why do you wear three shirts? I wear three shirts because I need them. But somewhere I go from wanting no one to see, anything, me, to wanting everyone to see. I mean I always wanted them to see my mind, what you can’t see, but what you can see I didn’t want. This is when I realized that I would never find anything if I couldn’t make my outside reflect, so other people could. Kids, I mean. Other kids.

This was a problem, a problem to my parents. Everyone noticed. Before they had only noticed my mind, now they were noticing something else, a change, a problem. It was very calculated -- I remember so clearly thinking to myself: I don’t have any respect for my parents at all, and I will never again trust them on any level. Of course it took more than that realization, but it was there, there in that place with all these changes.

I needed to count how many calories -- that’s what my first datebook was for, it was so hard to get under 1000, so hard when I would rush to the corner store after school, buy every candy bar I couldn’t have, take one bite of each and then throw it all in the garbage: 1/10 of a Twix, 1/12 of a Milky Way, 3 Skittles -- how many calories is that? Oh, no -- there’s another Skittle in my bag, should I eat it? I don’t remember the bus, the bus on the way to therapy, but I must’ve taken the bus because I got there on my own and then my father would pick me up. Maybe afterwards was when I would go down into the basement, the fallout shelter, waiting for my father. At therapy I would say: of course I eat, of course I eat because I have all this energy.

This energy in my head, I realized: no one will ever find me, no one will ever find me if I can’t get out of this body, this body holding me here. I needed to show them something else besides fear. I stopped eating first, then I stopped trusting my parents, and then I started dressing in clothes that I thought might reflect something: first it was Generra sweatshirts, baggy Union Bay pants, black sunglasses like Tom Cruise except now when I see pictures of Tom Cruise from that time he didn’t wear those sunglasses at all, so who did? I realized quickly that this didn’t work, was it really when Gabe asked me to borrow my sweatshirt so he could look trendy? And I gave it right to him, before realizing.

The bad kids were the ones I admired, like Zelda Alpern when she bleached her hair with Clorox and it all fell out in the front -- we’d been close friends in second and third grade, I still remembered her mother, who was single, and that Zelda was allergic to wheat, was it wheat? She was allergic to something, so we always had ginger snaps. But anyway, now she was dating Gabe, one of the new bad kids at our school, the mod kids who listened to The Monkeys and The Who before they realized mod wasn’t bad enough so then they became punk. They were from Capitol Hill, or at least they went to Capitol Hill Day School, which ended in eighth grade so some of the students were moving over to our school, moving over to get a head start before high school I guess. It’s funny that Capitol Hill was considered kind of rough, because you know what else was there. I mean it was kind of rough because white people with kids who went to my school were buying houses there and renovating them, right around one corner was poverty and around the other corner was government, it’s always that way. But anyway, Gabe, who I respected because he knew he was smart but he paid no attention to what people wanted, or at least that’s what I thought.

I graduated to pegged jeans and V-neck sweaters over black turtlenecks, black loafers with dimes instead of pennies because I liked the color better: this was eighth grade. The mods who later became punks never paid much attention to me, even when I got of leather jacket in New York that looked way too tough on me, they knew I’d bought it new. I just looked like more of a faggot, most of them never said that because they were too cool but I still knew it was a problem. Even when I went to the smoking area, a small hill on the other side of the Safeway parking lot, and recess, this was in high school and I was scared, scared that they would reject me and they did. I mean they didn’t pay any attention.

I was always nice to everyone, this was part of my strategy, on two fronts: I didn’t want to be like everyone else. And: I wanted people to think I was someone else, someone besides that scared kid who answered every question first, the one who got to our school in second grade and sat down for reading, quickly read everything that was available for second grade, then went through the entire reading series, up to the eighth grade level. This was the kind of school where everyone remembered that kind of thing, once you are someone you couldn’t be anyone else but I was trying anyway, high school was a good time because there were all these new kids, these new kids who didn’t belong. Soon they belonged and I still didn’t, or I realized they weren’t the people I wanted to belong with anyway -- many of them hadn’t unlearned their suburban behaviors yet, something the rest of us have had years to practice. Soon enough I realized I would never belong anyway I mean not soon enough but soon, looking back on it, and that’s when I realized that was the way I would find people.

Growing up, it was always my sister who told our parents to fuck off. I mean literally. Maybe around four or five, she would say shut up! Because that’s what they were always saying to us, to each other; this was supposed to be an egalitarian household. At the grocery store, she’d turn to my father and start screaming: shut up, shut up you fucking asshole! Soon, only my father and I would go grocery shopping.

People would say to Allison: where did you learn those words? As if they didn’t know. This was when I hated adults, why did they think we were the ones who played make-believe? Here’s a picture of my sister and me in our first house, the one that came after the apartment where my parents and I lived together, before my sister was born. I don’t remember that apartment, except once I saw a picture and I asked my mother: where’s that? That was where we lived when you were born, she said.

Anyway, around when I was two we moved to the new house, the one where this picture was taken: it’s 1977, I’m four and my sister’s two. We’re sitting on the floor, and in front of us on the rug is a pile of Legos. I’m smiling huge, and my sister looks kind of like she’s been caught, caught by the camera she’s just knocked the Legos over and her mouth is in between expressions. In the second picture I’m leaning down towards the Legos, and my sister has her arm around me. We are softness and beauty, the shine of our hair and my sister’s smile but if you look closely at my smile in the first picture, it’s like every muscle in my face is tense: I’ve already learned to pretend, pretend for the camera. If you look closely at my sister, she’s holding on because she might be falling. It must be my grandmother who took this picture, you can see my father’s arms in the distance, back at the dining room table.

Take these Legos, I want to say -- we can take these Legos and build a bigger house, a house where they can’t find us. My sister knocks it over, and then we smile, smile for the camera. What does this mean? Soon we’ll leave this house, but we will continue falling. Looking back it feels so fast -- why only four years in that house, that house where we could walk to the end of the block and there were actually neighbors? My parents wanted something bigger, this was excitement, we were moving up.


CaroleMcDonnell said...

Wow, that was soooo powerful! I did something somewhat similar about the attempt to change the body or disregard it or .... And am still one who prefers to walk the borderlands. Have a blessed week. God keep you. -C

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, Carole :)

Exactly -- "the attempt to change the body or disregarded or..."

Love --