The Smelt Fry

I wanted desperately to go to the smelt fry in town, but Denny was having none of it. Living out in farming country in the Northern half of Wisconsin, there were few things that ever really happened, the smelt fry being one of them. Smelt are tiny fish, that look like salmon, but rarely reach seven inches long. After being spotted in streams by flashlight late at night, the swarming schools are swooped up in nets. The oily little fish are brought into town, floured and battered whole, then dipped in a deep fry and heaped on a paper plates to be passed out to a waiting line of people who each paid their five dollars at the door, each taking a seat where-ever they can squish in, sitting side by side along room-long folding tables with rows of folding chairs, all lined up in the fireman’s hall. Many of my family would be there, including my grandparents, aunts and uncles and a few cousins.

I had sewn a new skirt from remnants I got when I was still working at the Ben Franklin store in a neighboring town before I had Kelly, quitting that job when I went into labor, becoming a stay at home mom. I had saved the remnants to make something for myself that wasn’t a pregnancy muumuu. Kelly was now two months old and my waistline was back to 24 inches and I made a skirt that cinched my tiny waist into 23 inches. The full skirt was light blue, matching my faded blue eyes and had a white ruffle sewn in the bottom. I wore the skirt with a matching white lace vest that fit tight on my tiny hour-glass frame showing off my best curves, which were now plentiful from breast-feeding. My body felt back to its old self again after the long months of pregnancy then recuperation from a cesarean birth, I was ready to show it off a bit.

Maybe Denny sensed the joy I felt in that new skirt and my recently returned figure and felt threatened by that, thinking perhaps I would be swept away by some handsome farm hand with a redneck tan. Or maybe he just hated to see me having fun; because he dug in his heals and flat-out said he was not going. There was no more talking about it. The subject was closed.

I had been stuck out in that old farmhouse we lived in, with nothing but the fields and the garden for company for two months. My only trips into town were to get the groceries and to take the diapers and dirty clothes to the laundromat for washing. It was true that I wanted to show off my returned figure, that I wanted something back from my old self, a girl I still remembered as independent of being a mother and a wife. I loved my new baby daughter beyond a love that I could have ever imagined having, but I was still a young woman, only twenty-one years old, wanting more than diaper changing and grocery shopping.

Maybe if my life as a new wife had some fun and laughter in it, I would have felt differently that evening. Denny turned out to be a solitary husband, coming home from work each day from the factory, not offering up a word, taking up joint, blurring his vision behind red eyes, picking up his guitar, or disappearing into the bathroom for an hour or more at a time, with the door locked, or sitting in front of the TV watching the news, anything to tune me out it seemed. If I tried to pick a conversation with him, he turned his back on me, making it clear that he felt trapped into marrying me, that he only married me because he had to, because of the pregnancy. He was doing his bit working at the factory, paying the rent, paying for the groceries.

Denny also decided that I was responsible for “the kid,” as he put it. I was the one who wanted to have her, he told me. I could not understand, though, after having her, after seeing her as a real live perfectly formed creature, with little fingers and little toes, a person who looked to you for comfort, who relied on you for everything to stay alive, who showed her gratitude with those eyes peering back at you, by nuzzling in and curling up against you, by wrapping those tiny little fingers around your one big finger, how could he not fall in love the way I fell in love. But he didn’t. Kelly might as well have been a hamster in a cage that needed feeding or a cow that need milking. She only represented a mouth to feed, a diaper to be changed, a chore that needed doing. Not that Denny did those things for her. I did all of that. He explained to me that he was the wrong sex to be doing that type of thing. Men did not change diapers. That was all that was to it. Men just did not have the stuff it took to feed or care for babies.

It was a Sunday and I had spent the whole day taking care of Kelly while Denny sat around the house finding ways to ignore the fact of our existence. He knew that I wanted to go to that smelt fry. I told him about it earlier that week and let him know my family would be there, expecting me to show up. I came out to the kitchen to let him know it was time to get ready to go. I had already gotten dressed up, had my blue skirt on and my make-up and hair done. He just said he wasn’t going, said it like he was choosing chocolate ice-cream instead of vanilla. He turned to walk into the next room and picked up his guitar, closing me out the same as shutting a door in my face.

Denny’s guitar woke up Kelly who had been sleeping in the basinet not more than a foot away from where he sat hang-dogged over his guitar. I stood just inside the door watching from the kitchen, waiting to see if he would pick her up. I decided not to run to her like I usually would. Surely if I stayed put, he would see her there, right in front of him, her little crying snivels. How could he not do something for those cries? But he didn’t. He did not halter his playing on the guitar, not even a twitch came to his bony shoulder that stared blankly back at me, even while Kelly’s cries turned from sputters to full-out wails for help, he just kept on playing his guitar, head down, absolutely no reaction, nothing.

What little spunk I had in me would be worn out of me in the two years we remained married, my resolve quietly disolving like a setting sun, but there was still some of me left this early on in our marriage. I looked at this situation just long enough for the steam to build up in me. I exploded into the room with an energy that took over my usual easy-going nature, took over the place in me that could never say no, took over my shy quietness. Through clenched teeth I hissed loud enough to be heard over Kelly’s wailing, in a way that allowed no retort: “I am going to the smelt fry. You can stay home as long as that’s what you want and, as long as you’re staying here, you might as well take care of your daughter. If you hadn’t noticed, she is awake and needs to be changed and given a bottle. The bottle’s in the fridge, just warm it up, make sure it’s not too hot. It doesn’t take a brain scientist to figure this out. You can do it!” With that I left before the dust could settle.

I went to the smelt fry, but the entire time I was gone, I worried Denny was home doing nothing, just letting Kelly cry. After greeting all my relatives and making excuses for Denny not being with me, I went home early. Kelly was fed and diapered and asleep. He managed to do what needed to be done.  I knew though, I could not just leave her with him. She needed someone who loved her.  I would be the one Kelly would turn to in life, I would need to be there. I knew also, that I was trapped in this marriage, I was trapped the same way Denny felt trapped, like a skunk in a cage.

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Mother Protector

I’m still not able to take in the immensity of the relief I feel to have her here in my house, safe and alive. In the darkened bathroom, my twenty-four year old daughter sits in the bathtub filled with hot water. I can see her beautiful golden hair flowing over the edge of the basin. There’s not a bone broken or a scratch on her body. Her spirit is a bit shaken and there are a few bruises. That’s all.

I wonder if I somehow caused that car accident with all that constant worry I have over her. I have worried more about car accidents that anything else in her life. I remember the nights when she first learned to drive, waiting to hear the door open, to know she had arrived home safe. I’m going to stop right now. No more thinking about car accidents. Never.

That car was so demolished, that little green Honda hitting that huge semi. It is amazing she walked away from that. Maybe my meditations of her, surrounding her in a zone off safety, protected her. I really am crazy. Here I am almost killing her off with my worry and now saving her at the very last second. How do children survive their parents anyway?

I can’t help but wonder how I can make her a survivor, no matter what happens. I want to be God or something, being able to save her with my positive thoughts.

But there is nothing left to do.

OK, stop. Just enjoy the fact that she is here and alive.

They never told me this would be so hard.

 

Death

I haven’t checked back with my mother since Dad died. I wonder now and then how she is doing. It’s been over a month now.

Dad was cremated. There was no body at the funeral. The thought of his cremation has flashed though my mind; the big fiery pyre with Dad on top, the tribe crowded around the edges of the fire, as I look close up and see those big bushy eyebrows sizzling up in the flames.

I don’t feel that he is gone though, really gone, not the way my mom would miss his presence. It’s not like we had a close relationship. We didn’t talk on the phone. He didn’t check up on me to see how I was. There were no Sunday dinners I was required to attend. We had a connection though. It was just never stated in a way that I could touch it.

After the funeral we flipped Mom’s mattress for her. She wanted to sleep on Dad’s side of the bed, the side closest to the bathroom. But there was a big hollow in the mattress, worn in from the years he laid on that side of the bed. Her much smaller shape fell into that hollow like into a hammock.

It was that day, after the funeral, when Daryl found her grandfather’s rack of suspenders in the closet. Mom passed them out to the grandchildren, who snatched them up, wanting to grab onto their favorite piece of him. They had each had their many turns, sitting on his lap, leaning into his round belly, grabbing hold of those suspenders. Now they put the suspenders over their dress clothes from the funeral, red Santa suspenders over little girls’ dresses, Harley Davidson suspenders over dress slacks and a crisp white shirt. Little ones running around pulling suspenders like sling shots, their mother’s racing after them to avert the potential damages. After much arguing and fussing, the suspenders got divided between the grandchildren and were carefully tucked away into suitcases to be taken home.

It’s been over a month now. I imagine Mom shuffling through draws and closets, looking for clues about who he was, making mental notes on their life together, her in the silence of his absence.

I haven’t called her yet. I don’t want to hear that silence.

Running With Wolves

I read a story in Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, many years ago. The story spoke about a girl who waited for the right suitor to come along. The girl lived in a small village and suitors came from far and near, but each time they were not the right one, and she let them go. She was looking for the perfect one. She did not try to fix this or that, in the one that was almost just right, she just sent them on their way and waited for the next one. Eventually, after many suitors and much waiting, the perfect one came.

I was so impressed with that story and could not get it out of my mind. I had never sent a suitor packing before, instead I always tried like hell to make it work. I would grasp details of something that I liked in a man, and hang on for dear life. I never imagined that there could be a constant stream of suitors for me to choose from. I never had faith that there would be the perfect one.

Just prior to reading this story, having been married twice, each marriage followed by divorce, having had numerous one night stands and many relationships of varying length, all ending badly, having given up entirely, handing in my library card, saying enough was enough, the good ones are gone, snatched up by women much smarter than I was, I woke up one day realizing that I had not had a date in five years.

It seemed like there were no men out there, even though the statistics showed millions of single and available men in the world. I imagined that all the good ones were completely taken and were now gone, even though there were divorces in the thousands that happened every day. It did not matter because in my experience, the well was dry. You get what you believe and I believed there was no one out there, no one who was perfect for me.

The story of the girl with the stream of suitors bothered me. How could there be such a story. The symbolism in the story was supposed to shed light on some truth after all.  Where did all these men come from? After being bothered for long enough, I checked out the internet and found dating service after dating service of men looking for someone. I looked up the number of single men in my city and in my state. The number was big. I started to let myself believe, letting the door creak open to the thought, with all these available men out there, maybe just maybe, there was one for me. I was a good catch and I was available, so why couldn’t that be the same for those men who were also looking.

Once I opened that door with the expectation that there were available men, the stream of suitors began to line up. Friends introduced me to their single friends. I went on coffee dates. I met men at my church. I met them over the internet. The stream became steady and reliable.

The next issue I faced was not clinging to the ones who were a close, but not perfect fit. I needed to let them go, like the girl in the story, let them go and remain patient for the right one. It was not that I was looking for a perfect human being. I am not a perfect human being. But I was looking for someone who was perfect for me. That’s a far different thing.

There were many false starts along the way to finding my perfect suitor. I thought that this one or that one was Mr. Right but it would become apparent, sooner or later, that it was not to be. There were those who came close and I had to work hard not to clutch, as I had in the past, letting him go on his way, working hard to be patient and not look back. It took everything I had at times to break the pattern of wanting something that was not right for me, remembering that trying to make it work had failed many times in the past. I needed to hold out for the perfect one. I worried often that I was just being overly picky, that what I was after did not exist, and it was hard to keep a steady gaze forward.

It was the overall feeling of the thing I was after. I wanted it to feel easy, like coming home. I wanted it to be fun and full of laughter. I wanted to be understood without having to push at the finer points. Mostly, I wanted to be loved without reservation. I did not want someone who loved me with one eye over his shoulder, looking for someone better, nor did I want someone who would be constantly pointing out small little things that I might improve on. I wanted someone who was absolutely sure that I was as perfect for him, as I was sure he was perfect for me.

So I waited like the girl in the story. I was not always as patient or as clear as the girl in the story, but I did the best that I could to stay the course. In the end it worked. Mark walked into my life one day and never walked out. The moment I saw him, I thought that he was the one, but I did not jump out of my dress and I waited to make sure. When he did not ask me out on the first night we met, I did not lose heart. I knew that if he was the one, it would happen, and I felt certain that it would happen. There was a knowing I had from the first moment, a knowing that had been missing from all those bad first starts. It turned out that he did want to ask me out, believed that he would find my name in the directory, but was unable to. He came back to the discussion group where we first met the very next opportunity that he had, and made certain to ask me then.

Mark was as keen on me as I was on him. There has been nothing difficult about our relationship and our courtship is a highlight in both of our lives.  For the first time in my life I am where I know I should be in a relationship. That is not to say that we have not come up against difficult things. We have had our share. The difference is that we know that together, we can figure things out. We also know that we are committed to being together. We are right for each other. We are perfect together.

I suppose there are those out there that get this straight out the door. They don’t have to go through marriages and divorces and many failed attempts before finding the one. For several reasons I didn’t get it. I don’t beat myself up about that anymore. I like the life that I have had. All the crazy things that I have been through and done, in the name of love, have made me who I am. I know for certain that I appreciate what I have now, in a way I never could have, if I had not gone down this long and winding road.

Trust Severed

We were already three hours late for the wedding; at least that’s what I had told them. I was standing up in my sister’s wedding that day and if they had it their way, I would get there three hours after the wedding started. We had driven all the way from Oklahoma to attend the wedding in northern Wisconsin but my husband’s mother lived in Madison which was on the way and we could never, I mean never, just pass Madison without stopping in.

When we moved away from Madison to Oklahoma, when Tim got into a master’s program there, it took a full month of saying goodbye to his mother. We had to have a special party at her house, which turned into many dinners saying good-bye, because we would not be able to see her all the time after we moved. Each of these dinners focused on how much she was going to miss us meaning miss Tim. She came up with a series of excuses why Tim had to come over to help her with this or that. The goodbyes were endless. Finally we were set to leave, but we had to postpone because Tim’s mom had to go out-of-town, and if we left as we had scheduled, she would not be able to see us off. Finally, it got to the point that if we did not leave, Tim would miss his first day of classes. Even so I felt like I could not breathe on that first day out-of-town, imagining that we would have to turn around for some reason having to do with Tim’s mom.

Tim said early in our relationship that it was just easier to just do as his mother told him. Over the years we spent together, I saw how she manipulated Tim and his brother to do her bidding. She was very free and easy with her love, affection and money as long as you towed the line and complied. I had lived on my own for several years before hooking up with Tim, and the idea of having a mother to cow toe around was foreign to me. I adored Tim’s mom at first, she being so overwhelmingly engaging, well-educated, cute and petit, she was downright charming. I soon found out that, like Tim, I was expected to follow the family rules which meant I was to show up at all the family events, put on a bright and happy face and do what I was told. The first time I got out of line, Tim’s mom gave me the silent treatment which lasted a full year. During that year I was still required to show up and put on a happy face. I was in love and wanted to make things right with Tim’s mom, so I complied.

By the time we left for Oklahoma, I was on speaking terms with Tim’s mom and for several years we returned to Wisconsin each Christmas to visit our respective families. Invariably, we would stop to see Tim’s mom before heading further up north to see my parents and invariably we would be hours late to see my parents. We could not leave late the night before, because that would be too hard a drive so late at night. Never mind that we had driven the 18 hour drive from Oklahoma straight through with Tim and I taking turns at the wheel. Never mind that we had already stayed for days with Tim’s mom. It would be agreed that we would leave early in the morning so that we could get to my parents for Christmas lunch. But in the morning we could not possibly leave without a large breakfast, a breakfast that lasted until noon making us arrive at my parents for dinner instead of lunch, my family having to tell the kids to wait to open presents until we finally arrived.

Of course that was not the end of the story. Tim’s Mom would then talk Tim into a cross-country skiing trip after Christmas so we could spend just a little more time together. On a couple of occasions we made the mistake of also trying to get together with friends for some cross-country skiing. Tim’s mom would find a way for us to have to linger on with her, while our friends waited hours at a restaurant for us to show up. The first time it happened I called my friends over and over explaining the problem so they were not in the dark. The second time I told Tim he had to make the calls. He never did. There would not be a third time skiing with friends.

So now I was faced with the prospect of getting to my sister’s wedding on time. I was standing up and this was extremely important to me. I knew from experience that we would have to stop at Tim’s mom’s house on the way up and knew there was no way out of there on time. I decided the only solution was to lie. It was the only lie I ever told during my marriage but it had to be done. I told Tim and his mother that it was a morning wedding. I told Tim and his mother that the wedding started four hours earlier than it did. Of course they decided the best solution was to wake up really early in the morning to get there on time. I set the alarm for the proper time, according to my lie and got up. I got ready and packed the car. I got the kids ready to go. Then I waited. As I suspected we had to have the big breakfast. I could see that both Tim and his mom were looking at me, waiting for me to become hysterical in the manner I usually did about leaving on time. They could not say anything though, because that would announce the fact that we were dangerously late for a wedding, a wedding that I was standing up in. We continued the charade until we finally left.

We left on the three-hour drive north to my sister’s wedding when the wedding was supposed to have started, according to the lie I had told them. Not a word was said by either Tim or his mother about how we could possibly make it on time for a wedding that was starting already.

I made it to the wedding on time because of the four-hour lie. My family was extremely relieved to see me, but was prepared to go ahead without me. Tim never said a word about it. We did not discuss it on the three-hour drive north and never said a word about it after getting to the wedding on time.

Elmo

It all started with Elmo, truly the ugliest Lhasa Apso ever to exist. I had always had a love for dogs but had resisted getting one for the kids because I was having a hard enough time coping with just the two girls to raise. The added responsibility of a dog seemed over the top to me. But I was in the middle of my year of tears, having split from my second husband, feeling lost and alone, thoughts of an adorable lap dog to snuggle up to began entering my mind, causing me to cave, causing me to run to the library for some quick research, needing a dog that did not shed, finding myself on the wrong side of town at a pet store crammed with cages, looking into the big brown eyes of a bundle of fur the size of my hand. Elmo did not look big enough to be weaned but I knew he was meant for our family.

Elmo With Turd

When I brought him home the girls both ran and squealed in delight. It was clear that my visions of a lap dog to cuddle up to were out the window. This dog would never again be put down if I did not insist one of them take him out to do his duties. He actually managed to do his first dutiful turd right on the middle of Kelly’s bed. The girls were so thrilled with the magnificence of his performance that a picture of the turd with the offender was taken before Kelly took him on a walk in the neighborhood.

The very next thing that happens and it seems to happen almost instantly, is that Kelly comes screaming up the stairs and into the apartment: “Elmo’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead, Elmo, he’s dead.” Kelly had bleeding scratches up and down her arms and legs. There were some deep gouges. I was terrified, images of terrorist type attackers in our little apartment complex flashing through my mind. It took what seemed like several minutes to calm Kelly down enough to tell me what happened. A bunch of cats, which seemed to her to be coming from every direction, attacked Elmo.  Kelly tried to rescue him from the attacking cats, getting herself attacked in the process. Later, I discovered that the cats were strays with kittens that were being rescued by one of my neighbors and Elmo must have been a threat to their little brood.

Kelly continued wailing for me to go find Elmo and would not allow me to take care of her until I found him. I wandered in the direction that she had walked with Elmo, wary of the attacking cats and thinking the worst about what might have become of the little bundle of fur after seeing what the cats were able to do to Kelly. I found Elmo under a bush. It did take some doing to extricate him from the thicket, and when I picked him up he was still shaking from the experience but there was not a scratch on him.

After bringing the unscathed Elmo home to prove to my daughters that he was indeed alive and well and after they were allowed to swoon over him a bit, I was able to get a better look at Kelly’s wounds. She clearly needed to be taken in for some medical treatment.

I went over to my friend Dee’s place to see if she would watch my youngest daughter, Daryl who was just six years old and needed supervision. I had never gotten a sitter for Daryl and Dee was the only person in the neighborhood I knew who owed me a favor. She owed me a lot of favors in fact. I had begun to drive out of the complex through the back, because if I left the usual way, Dee would more often than not see me pulling past her place and run out to ask me if she could ride along. Riding along for Dee meant that I stop at the various places for her to just do a little shopping or a few errands. I never got home in under two hours and in that time Kelly would be home watching her younger sister. My day and the things I needed to get done would be set behind schedule. When raising two kids by yourself, schedules are everything. I think Dee was just lonely and wanted the attention. She was in her early thirties, had a good job as a Dentist and she did own her own car. Fortunately, Dee was very happy to watch Daryl.

At the clinic, Kelly’s scratches were all cleaned and bandaged and she was sent home with pain killers but no stitches, the whole process took over three hours. When I got back to the apartment complex, I saw a police car with the lights flashing at the front office and when I got to my door there was a police officer waiting for me. I was taken to the office where I found my six-year-old in the custody of another officer. My youngest daughter, Daryl was grinning from ear to ear. I knew why she was grinning. Daryl is a very special child and has difficulty with many things but the one thing she knows and loves are police officers and police cars with lights going. She was the type of kid that after going to Disneyland and being introduced to getting autographs from Disney characters decided she wanted her autographs from police officers and had a small stash of police officer autographs by this time. The only thing missing was the siren blasting and her world would be perfect.

“I found your daughter with another kid smashing out windows in the complex with a baseball bat. She has been with me, in this office, for two hours now and there was no parent to be found. I was just about to pick up the phone and call child protective services. Is there any reason why I should not?” the officer demanded. I started with the story of the cats and taking Kelly to the clinic and Dee and that she should have been watching her. I knew I was not convincing and I was searching for a way to explain and making no sense. The officer looked at me skeptically, “We have been here for two hours and there has been no one looking for this child,” he interjected into my ramblings. It was then that Dee popped her head into the office, “Oh, there she is,” Dee said feigning exasperation. “I was wondering where she went off to.”  I was happy for her late appearance but wanted to strangle the woman just the same.

The officer was at least now convinced of my story but he started on a completely different tactic, “Your daughter just broke out several windows and does not seem to show any sign of remorse for what she has done. I am extremely concerned about her ability to understand right and wrong.” I looked over at Daryl who was beside herself beaming at the police officer, thrilled by the flashing lights on the police car coming through the window and dancing around the office, delighted by the entire spectacle.

How do I explain this one? Daryl had no diagnosis that could sum all this up for the officer. I had taken her to see many psychologists, a psychiatrist or two and councilors but the conclusion was that she just had needs and would take a lot of one-on-one work and would always have needs. Medications were tried but did not work. She was prone to extreme tantrums but was a very happy and loving child. In the end I just decided not to respond to the officer. He was both right and wrong. Daryl did have trouble always knowing right from wrong, but she did try to understand and by the time she was an adult she got it better than most people get it. She would always and forever remember this experience as the time her bat got taken away. In the end we were released with strong warnings about next time should this ever happen again.

After Elmo’s brief introduction into our family, which turned out not to be very off the mark on what life with us would be like, he stayed on with us for the next twelve years. We were the only ones that ever took to him. From that little hand sized bundle, he did grow into a cozy lap dog, taking turns with each of us in our needs, his hair never shed, his big brown eyes turned out to look in opposite directions and his teeth were extremely bucked. Most people who came to visit grew to hate how he nipped at their heels and growled at them and how he humped small children. But for us he was perfect. We learned to leave him alone when he was under a bed and learned to control his nasty edges but mostly we loved and adored him, thinking he was the best thing the universe could have ever placed at our feet. He has been gone for years now and we look at his old pictures with a bit of awe. How could we have found that ugly face to hold such unbounded beauty? “We were blinded by love.” Kelly recently explained. We were blinded by love.

Elmo

Longing

I used to long for the perfect man, the man I would recognize immediately as my soul mate, the answer to my loneliness, the man who complimented my finer points and I his. The problem was that I did recognize him. I recognized him everywhere. I even married him; I married him three times.  It was never the same man I recognized “as him”, but always a different face, a different profession, each time a completely different person. I would swoon at his feet. I would act coy. I would put on my smartest face. I would stumble all over myself to be seen, to be noticed, to make him love me. I found them all lovable, amazingly good-looking and kind. Each evening, alone, I thought over their words and the cute way they smiled at me, looking for evidence of their love for me. I would write in my journal: “Steve really is the nicest guy, I really do love that guy; I wonder if Dave will call me tonight, we had the best time last night; Jack just had a controlling mother, he’s got to sort a few things out, he will see that we are perfect together.”  Sometimes it would be years between this one and that one but other times it was only one day from one love to the next. My first marriage lasted less than two years, my second five years.

The truth is that I really was falling in love with the same guy over and over again. The guy I fell in love with was the one that made me work for his affections the same way that my Dad did. I fell in love the final time on the day Dad died, this time to a man who loved me back in the same way I loved him, openly and freely, no reservations. My third marriage is forever.

First Boyfriend

He was not someone who I would have picked out, not because he wasn’t good-looking – he was – it was just that it looked like he was trying to be good-looking. It was his clothes, mostly, that gave that appearance. They were never the things most of the guys wear – jeans, worn and tattered. No, he always wore black jeans or shirts with a yoke on them and a matching belt. He had moved here from somewhere else; maybe they dressed that way where he came from. It wasn’t like it was gawky or anything and it’s not like he stood out like a sore thumb for it, but it was just different. He sat across from me and behind me in my eighth grade English class.

I would never have noticed him if he hadn’t decided to leave his ID bracelet in my folder on the top of my desk during recess one day. We had two sessions in English every day. One was with Mrs. Theime and the other with Mrs. Boss, one teaching us grammar and the other literature with a break in between. It was when I came back from break that I found the bracelet, hidden inside my folder, causing my folder to bulge up funny. I was a little frightened seeing that bulging folder thinking that someone was pulling a prank on me. My worst horror was standing out; I could blush and wilt under scrutiny like nobody’s business. When I found the bracelet with his last name on it, I was a little confused. But things cleared up after class. He came up by my side, “Why aren’t you wearing it?” he wanted to know.” “You want me to wear it?” I asked. “Don’t you want to?” he responded and from then on I was his girlfriend.

The only difference after becoming his girlfriend was that now everyone in my class knew that we were together and he walked me to my bus everyday at the end of the school day. We never really talked. I never knew what to say and I suppose he didn’t either. It became something I thought about all the time though. I did not know the first thing about having a boyfriend but I thought it had to be more this. I had no idea about who he was or even where he came from. It was fun and exciting to have a boyfriend and I thought maybe I was the envy of girls who did not have one. My friends were asking me what it was like. What could I say? It wasn’t like anything. For several days we walked to the bus together and he politely said goodbye to me each time as I got on the bus. He was nice enough, anyway, and he was cute with that thick thatch of dark wavy hair and dark brown eyes, almost black even.

In the end it became too much for me. At break one day between Mrs. Theime’s and Mrs. Boss’ class I put the ID bracelet back on his desk. There was nowhere to hide it the way he had hidden it in my folder, so I just left in on top of the wooden desk. Later, my friend’s asked me why I had broken up with him. I said, “It didn’t feel right.”

First Love

My eyes rivet in place on him as if magnetized there – at the same time I don’t want to stand out like some type of gawking freak on a mission, so I hide behind corners and trees, following him around and when his path crosses mine I walk past him, nonchalantly, making as if I just happened to be there at the same time. It seems right that we should get together. We are the only two people from our school at this lake. Surely he would recognize me and find it equally a coincidence and an opportunity to start a connection before the school year. It would be our summer fling, our first love. It would be so amazing to come back to school and have summer love stories to share with my girlfriends. I would not be the same dowdy girl with no personality and little potential that left school for summer break. I would be someone if I had a boyfriend to be with when I came back to school. I follow and watch as he hangs around with his friends, locals from the area, he’s always easy to laugh, all tanned and in shape with blond sun streaks in his normally brown hair. When he’s out on the large wooden raft anchored just past the swim area, he can jump and twist dive in the lake with the ease of an otter, all that tan, sleek muscle glistening in the air.

My Aunt and Uncle have taken me on this week-long camping trip to Lake Mondeaux on the condition I watch my cousins for most of the day. The campground is on the other side of the Lake and it is time to return on the trail that winds its way full circle around the lake. I love to walk this trail, feeling the cool mud packed earth beneath my bare feet, avoiding the tree roots that crisscross along the way, enjoying the flicker of sun that manages to squeeze through the leaves overhead and dashes across my skin. I know this path by heart and feel that I could take it in the dark, knowing just where each twist and turn comes. On this path I can let my thoughts dream of this boy.  Back at the campground I am teased about where I was off to. Was there a boy I was chasing? Of course I am horrified to think my Aunt and Uncle know what I have been up to, not wanting them to read my thoughts, but the red,  that rushes up my cheeks, eventually covering my entire face, tells all. Even so, I refuse to acknowledge anything, hiding my embarrassment, turning to the fire, stoking some flames with a stick, making believe the fire is causing the blush in my face.

I take the long trail back and forth from the campground to the recreation area as often as I can, hoping to  catch a glimpse of him, seeing him in those cutoff jeans, frayed against his tan, hoping against hope that he notices me. I continue to torment myself, thinking only about him, his sun-streaked hair, his muscles as he dives in the lake and pulls himself wet and shiny back to the raft. I go to sleep in my tent each night, listening to the sounds of the crickets, imagining him holding my hand as we walk through the trees in Mondeaux Park stopping somewhere hidden in the branches to steal a kiss, imagining going to school in the fall and walking down the hall holding hands, laughing and sharing our secret stories of the fun we had at the lake.

The days stretch on and although I have managed to nearly jump in front of the guy, nearly tripping over him, getting more and more daring in my attempt to be seen, he never takes notice of me, never recognizes me. It is as if I am invisible. To him I am just another kid in the park, someone he does not know or care to know. Even so, when school starts in the fall and I get on the same bus as him, I think, then, possibly then, he will notice that I am the one who was also at the lake this summer. But even on the bus, I continue to be invisible to him. I am nobody to him.