Thursday, March 31, 2011

Starting Over

I think my teachers and the priests breathed a great sigh of release when I moved and had to be transferred to another catholic school. They said they would miss me, but I didn’t believe them for a second…they looked too relieved!

If I thought a new school would be any different, I had another thing coming. And, if my family thought a new school would give me a fresh start and keep me out of trouble, they had another thing coming. If anything, it gave me more power to get into even more mischief because now I would meet my partner in crime, my soon to be best friend. I don’t think catholic schools were ready for the two of us, at least not together.

It was the middle of my fourth grade year. The sun beamed down on our little schoolyard with the children gaily skipping rope, or racing each other from one end of the yard to the other, or standing around gabbing excitedly with their friends about this thing or that. I sat upon the steps to our school with two of my friends, Rochelle and Tenisha. Tenisha braided my hair, while Rochelle talked incessantly about the great injustices done to the black race. I didn’t disagree. Great injustices were done to many groups of people. I listened.

We were called the “Oreos” because they were black, and I was white. (It was okay to say black then; you have to say African American now to be proper. I wonder, does that mean I should be called Italian/Irish instead of just plain 'ole American?) You could usually find me in the middle and Rochelle and Tenisha on either side of me, and this was how we earned our nickname. It didn’t bother me, very little did.

I watched as a black car pulled up the driveway and a blonde-haired girl got out. “Who do you think that is?” I said to no one in particular. Rochelle, barely pausing from her long spiel, said, “Oh, great another white girl, like there isn’t enough white children in our school to try and suppress the creativity of the minority black children trying to learn here!”

Stifling a giggle, I ignored her and looked back at Tenisha, who rolled her eyes. Being the pioneer of the bunch and a seasoned veteran of six months in my new school, I yelled, “Let’s go find out!” and, jumping up, led the way. Tenisha shared my enthusiasm and followed close behind. Rochelle cautiously hung behind Tenisha still rambling on.

I ran up to the new girl and breathlessly stopped in front of her so quickly that Tenisha nearly rear-ended me. “Are you new?” Tenisha blurted out. I laughed and squealed, “Duh!” We all laughed. We found out her name was Elizabeth but liked to be called Beth, and she immediately was at home with our small group of “rebels”.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Living the "Normal" Life

The next day in class was moving day. Our teacher liked to give everyone a chance to sit up front if they wanted so we would get to choose our seats again. It had only been two weeks since the last time, and I had a feeling she needed a break from me sitting across from her every day. I chose a seat in the very back. Steven plopped into a seat next to me and grinned. I felt my cheeks flush as I remembered his kiss and shyly looked down at my hands. "Hey!" he whispered. I looked up. "Did you get in trouble?"

"A little." I managed, "My uncle was in more trouble, though, so it wasn't too bad." Steven nodded.

"Class! Pay attention! Everyone needs to finish finding their seats," Mrs. Bradley announced over the chaos. She was a new teacher, very new. I liked her, and I think she really liked me, too. One day she told me, "You ask very good questions, Tammy. They make me think." I felt very proud of myself!

Having Steven sit next to me proved to be quite the distraction for me, and he didn't help much. He was always talking to me so we were always in trouble. One day Mrs. Bradley embarrassed me by announcing, "Okay, you two lovebirds, if you cannot sit next to each other without talking, I am going to have to separate you." I was humiliated! I only talked because he was talking to me, and I didn't want to be rude. While I really wished I had invisibility powers, Steven actually seemed to enjoy it, but he did quit talking. He wrote me notes instead and, of course, I had to write back. It was the polite thing to do, and Nan was always on me about minding my manners.

Steven and I would quickly become close friends. We never called each other boyfriend or girlfriend but I guess we sort of were. He would walk me home from school and we would stop at the playground along the way. We would race each other to the swings and challenge each other to see who could go the highest. He always won, but his legs were longer!

On Friday nights we would go roller skating. He would laugh when Bobby would knock me down but would always offer me a hand up. After Bobby made a scene, singing, "Steven and Tammy kissing in a tree.." I absolutely refused to skate with my brother again. Soon after he got bored and didn't want to go anymore much to my relief. Now Steven and I could skate together alone!

For a while things seemed to go smoothly in most areas for me. Life seemed good and normal for a bit, but something I learned quickly hardly ever stays that way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Facing the Music

Steven walked me all the way home, gave me a quick kiss, and waved goodbye. Floating into the house on Cloud Nine, I was about to get knocked off of it by a very angry and worried Nan. "Where have you been, young lady?" The kiss had preoccupied my mind for so long that I had forgotten to prepare a story! Uh oh!

"Um...just hanging out with my friends." Well, I wasn't totally lying. I shuffled my feet back and forth on the ground and squirmed uncomfortably. I wasn't sure why it was that big of a deal. I would often stop at my great grandparents and/or the playground on the way home but I usually showed up a lot sooner. I had no idea what time it was.

I would get an ear bashing like no other because not only was I very late, two hours to be exact, but Sister had followed through on her promise to call. "How could you talk to Father like that? What is wrong with you? Do you know how embarrassing that was for me? What in God's name would possess you to do such a thing?"

All these questions were fired at me so quickly that I never had a chance to respond so I stood there feeling helpless. "I mean, really, Tammy, sometimes I don't know about you. Are you going to answer me? I don't know why I am being punished like this. What did I do that was so wrong, God, to deserve this? Tell me." When Italians get wicked mad, their hands do a lot of talking, too, and hers were flying all over the place! I looked around the room, half-expecting God to be there, and say something like, "Well, Rita, you may want to sit down. This may take a while..."

So when Richie came bounding through the door, I was relieved. He had been in another fight and suddenly my Nan had something else to deal with. Normally I would hang around and be nosey, but I knew an opportunity when I saw one so I took advantage and escaped. She didn't even notice. As I ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, I heard my grandmother start cursing in Italian.

I tossed my schoolbag on my bed and dragged my toy box over to the closet. Standing on tippy toes, I felt around on the top shelf until I found what I was looking for. Launching myself onto the bed, deliriously happy, I wrote, "Dear Diary, you won't even believe what happened to me today..."

The Meeting

The dismissal bell screeched me back to reality. I hadn't really heard any of my afternoon classes; I was still sulking over confession. Confused by my own behavior, I found myself trying to understand it all and make some sense of it. Hours later and I wasn't any closer to figuring it out.

Like a zombie I filed into line and, somewhat in a fog, shuffled out of the school building, quiet and pensive. My teacher gave me an odd glance but was probably relieved she didn't have to deal with me for the day. "Hey!" I almost kept walking, forgetting my meeting.

"Oh hi!" I said without much enthusiasm. Steven searched my face for a moment but whatever he thought he saw he never let on. He grabbed my schoolbag and shoved my lunchbox into it, swung it over his other shoulder, and took my hand. The next thing I knew we were running down the street away from my house. Laughing I managed a "Where are we going? I live that way!" reaching back to point in the direction of my home.

"I know. I wanna take you somewhere." We ran all the way to Hoffman Park, a local hangout that I had never been without adult supervision before. My uncle and I would often come here with Puddles who bit at rocks in the creek...such a strange dog. The trellis extended over the water, and Richie would make me walk across it. He never did, though. He would always make me do the craziest, most adventurous things, but it just dawned on me, he never participated. Interesting.

Steven came to an abrupt halt with me almost running into him. "You wanna cross over to the other side?" I had done it easily before, skipping across the tops of rocks, without any trouble at all so I nodded. The playground was on this side of the creek; the other side was definitely quieter. It was like being in the woods and because you had to cross the creek to get there, not many people would venture over. This time, though, would present a challenge I wasn't expecting. My patent leather school shoes were not conducive to hopping from rock to rock, and I found myself slipping all over the place. All I could think was how I would explain coming home soaking wet to my grandmother. Luckily, I wouldn't have to.

Hand outstretched Steven helped me jump the rest of the way to land. We climbed up to the top of the bank and sat silently for a time. He shot me a concerned glance. "You aren't going to get in trouble, are you?"

"Probably." I answered. "But it'll be okay. You?"

"Nah. My parents are both working. No one is there when I get home."

"Oh.' I whispered thinking that was sad. My parents were never home during the work week, which could be perceived as a good thing, but at least my Nan was there for me.

We chatted about most everything: skating, school, classmates but both of us steered clear of talking about our families like it was some unwritten agreement. Just as I was thinking, I had better be getting home before my grandmom had a search party out looking for me, he kissed me. Not just a peck on the cheek kind of kiss, but my first real kiss, a long one on the lips! Whoa! Staring into my eyes, he said, "I better get you home before I'm never allowed to see you again." I was, for once in my life, at a loss for words. Did this mean I officially had a boyfriend?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rebellion Strikes (Part 2)

Sister sternly pulled my arm, "Didn't you hear me? I said you were next." I hadn't even realized the line had moved in front of me. How long had I been gone lost in my own thoughts? Obediently, I walked over and sat beside Father, Mr. Grumpy himself. I went through the motions quickly and emotionless, and then stopped in mid-sentence. "It's been…" How long had it been since I was last at confession? "Who really cares?" I thought and said, "A week since my last confession" knowing full well it had been much longer than that. Father nodded.

I knew I was supposed to pour out my indiscretions at this point but wasn't in the mood. I toyed with how to proceed and Father eyed me curiously out of the corner of his eye. Feeling dangerously mischievous I proclaimed, "I don't have anything to confess, Father."

He shifted his weight and turned so I was looking straight at him. "You have nothing to confess?" He didn't sound like he believed me, probably because he didn't. I always had lots to say.

"No, I took a break from being a bad sinner this week, Father. All of us have to be good some time, don't we?" Part of me was thinking, "Have you lost your flipping mind, girl?" but the other part of me didn't care. For some reason, I felt like I was challenging him, probably because I was!

I could feel the tension growing between us as my defiance never weakened. "Get out of here now!" he bellowed. Oddly calm, I thought, "That took longer then I thought." I got up and walked out with Sister and everyone else staring at me. As I strode past Steven, he looked up with an odd smirk on his face. I knew I was going to be in deep trouble this time, but I didn't care. I don't even know why. I just didn't.

In the schoolyard I stood quietly gazing at the rose bushes, feeling anti-social, and not at all happy. My trip to see the principal had gone about as well as I had expected. I got a long lecture and a promise to call my Nan, which means I would be in deep doo doo when I got home. Still I didn't have any regrets. I was tired of this place and most everyone in it.

I felt warm hands wrap around my eyes. "Guess who?" I couldn't help but smile. "Hhhhmmm…Steven?" I asked trying to make it sound like I wasn't sure. He turned me towards him with a big grin. "What were you thinking?" I shrugged. He laughed, "I would've loved to have been a fly on the wall in Sister's office this morning. What happened?"

Not wanting to get into it, I shrugged again. "Okay, I get it. You don't want to talk about it. Meet me after school. I'll walk you home." The bell rang and we watched as everyone ran to get in line. "Well…?"

"Well, what?"

"Are you going to meet me?" I noticed he was holding my hand and realized I didn't even know he had taken it in the first place.

"Well, yeah, of course." He smiled, and we walked over to join the rest of the clan. He had never walked me home before, usually he disappeared as soon as we got out the doors, so it made me wonder why now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rebellion Strikes (Part 1)

Steven butted in front of Alice so he could be next to me. "I hate confession," he said to me in an annoyed voice.

"I know what you mean," I answered dryly.

Steven was cute. Dirty blonde, curly hair and blue eyes are only a couple of his best features. I had never realized he even liked me until the Valentine's Day Dance when he had given me a box of the little hearts with phrases like "I love you" and "Be mine" written all over them. We had danced together and had a lot of fun that night. I liked him, but I only saw him at school or at school activities.

"Are you going rollerskating tomorrow night?"

"Yeah. You?" I whispered as Sister stared daggers at us.

Having noticed Sister was onto us, too, he nodded. Then he leaned in closer to me, so close I could feel him breathing on my neck. "Will you skate with me if I come?" I blushed, and I was suddenly glad that I was facing forward and he could not see.

"If I don't have to skate with my brother, yeah, sure." I said trying not to sound too interested.

"Good!" his voice perked up.

He stayed close behind me, but I didn't turn and look. I tried to keep my composure, even though I was distracted. I began to think about how I could talk Nan and Richie into letting me go skating alone for once. I loved Bobby, but I always had to skate with him. And, if that weren't bad enough, he would always make me fall! He was a horrible skater and spent more time on his bottom then up on his skates.

He never just fell either. He would wobble and kick his feet out until our skates would connect, sending the both of us flying. It was really embarrassing. I think it was entertainment for my family, though, because Richie's laughter could be heard clear across the gymnasium and above the music!

(To be continued...)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Day in the Life of Me, Part Two

I rolled my eyes in response and huffed and grumbled as I yanked my bedclothes off and threw on my uniform. "I don't know why I have to go to this dumb school anyway. I hate it!" I pronounced vehemently.

Nan seemed tired and distracted as she thrust a bowl of cereal at me. I swirled my spoon in it, not feeling very hungry. Bobby plopped himself into the chair next to me, not in a much better mood than the rest of us. Only Kevin, who sat in his high chair feeding Fruit Loops to the dog, seemed cheerful and oblivious to whatever was affecting us. I guess at 2 his life was still pretty simple, although mine never had been even at that age. Watching Kevin as he giggled playfully, I felt a tiny bit envious.

My mom rushed down the steps calling out, "Bobby, let's go or we are both going to be late." I looked at Bobby sympathetically as he shoved down one last bite of his cereal into his mouth and washed it down with a gulp of his juice. Kevin wiggled in his seat, chanting, "Ma ma, ma ma" excitedly. Hearing him she ran into the kitchen, passed by me, and kissed him goodbye. "Be good for Nanny," and off she went with Bobby not far behind her.

Nan, having observed the whole thing, put her dishrag down, walked over to the table, and kissed the top of my head. "She was in a rush that's why she forgot you." I sometimes wondered if Nan knew how ridiculous her excuses sounded for my parents' weaknesses. I shrugged, deciding it was better to let her think I believed her, and in a low voice I mumbled, "It's okay. I know."

As I trodded off to school, dragging my schoolbag behind me, and my tin lunchbox dangling from my other hand, I felt a presence beside me. I didn't look because I knew no one I could see would be there, I always walked to school alone. It didn't speak this time, but its silence spoke volumes and suddenly I didn't feel so all alone.