This Is Me (Part V: The Christian School)

Right. So in the summer of 1987 we left Georgetown and moved to Lewisville, which is just north of Dallas. This was the summer after my fifth-grade year. Mrs. Truehardt had retired after fourth grade anyway, our pilot program finished, so at least I wasn’t having to suffer leaving her and my core of classmates behind, as we’d already been disbanded. I would mostly miss my best friend (and next-door neighbor) Tara and her family, and my best school friend Emily.

Dad’s people had found us a temporary house, and it was awful. There was something malevolent in it, and we all knew it. Even our dachshund was acting strangely. One of the bedrooms in the house (there were three) would close and lock itself periodically. We only used it for storage, but it was still annoying. And I’d seen a strange woman walking up and down the hall from time to time.

You have to understand, my grandmother came from a line of Scottish witches. And my dad’s grandmother—the one whose name I share—knew her share of Voodoo. Of course my mom would often rage against the “generational curse” with which I was afflicted, praying over me, sometimes anointing me with oil. Doesn’t seem all that different from other rituals, come to think of it. If she’d have burned sage . . .

Anyway, we eventually found out the reason the house had been so quick and easy to rent short term is that no one else wanted it after there having been a murder in it. A man had beat and strangled his wife or girlfriend or whatever. She had at one point locked herself in the third bedroom, but he’d forced the door. Fun!

We only stayed about six months.

But since we’d moved in summer, I did not know anyone. Nor did there seem to be many kids in our neighborhood. So I spent the summer inside, watching a lot of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. That was the summer Disney was airing Summer Magic so often. And I would stay up and watch Nick at Nite, all the old black-and-white sitcoms: Ann Southern and Make Room for Daddy and Mister Ed. They would show the old Oscar Meyer commercials, too, with that eerie whistle.

Really, it was just difficult to sleep in that house, and the place gave me nightmares. So I would stay up until I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer.

When school began, my parents decided to send me to a private Christian school. It was so small the fifth and sixth grades were taught together in one room. And even then there were only eleven of us. We had chapel (except it wasn’t really) every morning, and we had to memorize long passages from Proverbs. The textbooks were almost funny, particularly the history book, which of course began with Genesis and the creation of the world. (Or maybe that was the biology book? I can’t remember.)

We also had this weird class once a week where we had to go do workbooks by Zig Ziglar. And for phys ed girls took ballet while boys did whatever sport was in season.

I was a well-behaved student but decidedly difficult to mold in God’s image. I was reading Watership Down that year, and when others asked me what it was about, I began to hold court during recess. I would sit on one of the picnic tables and recount the story of Hazel-Rah, Fiver, and their companions. My classmates thought it sounded like a great game, so the elected me to be Hazel, and everyone took a rabbit name, and at recess the boys (who were the Efrafans) would “raid” our warren.

At the end of the school year I was politely asked to leave the school. Something to do with my influencing the others in odd ways (and maybe it hadn’t helped that the pastor’s son had been an Efrafan). But they gave me an award for “Thoroughness,” whatever that means.

I wasn’t so sad to leave the school as I was the one or two good friends I’d made, including one Joel Boersma, on whom I had a terrible crush. His parents had been missionaries in Africa, and they’d only just come back to the U.S. Joel co-captained field day with me, and for some sad reason this remains one of the greatest moments of my youth. Though as I understand it they moved again not so long after.

Imaginary Friend Bloghop

To join this bloghop go here.

As an only child, it would seem I should absolutely have had an imaginary friend. But I didn’t. My friends and I played imaginary games, of course, in which we were people other than who we were (usually I was Holmes and she was Watson, or I was Diana and she was Fergie, or I was Indy and she was some unspecified sidekick, or I was David Addison and she was Maddie Hayes . . . Yes, we played Moonlighting. Is that weird?) . . . And so while we had plenty of imaginary friends and foes, there was no one regular imaginary friend for me. Instead it was a cast of thousands, a host of characters crowding my brain. I was never alone.

And that’s how I became a writer. Living with so many people inside and around me. I’ve done some stage work, too, bringing those characters to life in whatever way: on the page, on the boards. That’s my place in life. I’m a medium for those who do not exist, made to channel them into being. It’s schizophrenic in some ways, but wonderful in most.

First Loves Blogfest

First Movie

My parents have told me my first movie was Bambi. I don’t remember this. And I don’t like Bambi, so even if I did remember it as my first movie, it certainly wasn’t my first love.

The first movie I can remember really having an impact on me—a movie I loved and still love—is Raiders of the Lost Ark. This is, in fact, the first movie I can actually recall seeing in the cinema. I was all of five years old and, say what you will about my parents’ judgment or lack thereof, my childhood would be defined in large part by Steven Spielberg movies, Raiders being just the first in what would become a long list of loves. Raiders introduced me to “movie magic” and made me fall in love with movies as a whole, and in a way that would define not only my childhood but my path in life.

No pressure there, Mr. Spielberg.

First Song/Band

I grew up listening to my dad’s records. By the time I was three or four, I knew how to work the turntable on my own, and there were three albums I played often enough for my parents to want to hide them from me:

  • The Eagles, Greatest Hits
  • Paul McCartney and Wings, Band on the Run
  • Jimmy Buffett, Volcano

I don’t know which of these I’d count as my “first love” in the music category. I’ve always liked music in general. Now, if we’re talking about music I liked well enough to buy for myself? Using my very own allowance? Music I for which I would sacrifice the chance to purchase a brand new My Little Pony? Well, the first cassette tape I ever bought for myself was Invisible Touch by Genesis. That was the first time I liked a band different from what I’d grown up with, what my parents listened to. So that one probably wins the prize.

First Book

Ooooh. Geez. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents are readers, and I was reading for myself at age three. I remember really liking I Can Read With My Eyes Shut by Dr. Seuss . . . I was also known to sit down with my two-volume World Book dictionary and read that. So maybe there’s no accounting for taste.

But the first book I remember really loving, the one that had a huge impact on me, was The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. I didn’t know at the time the book was controversial, and I’m guessing either my parents also didn’t know, or else they didn’t know I had a copy, because I’m sure my mother would not have let me read it otherwise. All Snyder’s work had a strong influence in my childhood because, reading her stories (The Changling is another that really stuck with me), I had for the first time in my life the feeling that maybe I wasn’t the only person in the world who felt the way I did, or thought the way I did. Sure, I read my share of Judy Blume, too, but I had a very different experience in terms of “the social,” and so while I understood and enjoyed Blume, her work did not resonate with me in the same way as Snyder’s. The Egypt Game (and The Changling) spoke to the kind of imagination I carried with me and the kinds of games my best friend and I made up and played. It was wonderful to know that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so strange—or, rather, that my brand of strange was worthy of acknowledgement, and that I had just as much of a story to tell as the popular girl down the block.

First Person

Oh, sweethearts. At the risk of getting existential, do any of us really know whether we’ve truly been in love?

Fine, okay. The first person I might have had semi-romantic feelings for (or maybe just attraction)—and I’m thinking of people in my life, not actors or pop icon crushes—would be Joel. That is to say, he was the first boy I actively sat around (if one can “actively” sit around) and thought about for long stretches of time. I was 11 at the time. But I had also just moved to a new town and had nothing much better to do than read, watch television, and daydream. So Joel may only have been a way to kill the boredom. Thanks, Joel!*

*Joel and I did become a couple near the end of the school year, after he kissed my cheek while we were co-captains at Field Day. But after that year I switched schools and his family moved, so . . .

Champion of Crap Sports

As the days grow warmer and the school year nears its end, my mind is cast back to that old tradition known as Field Day, in which the athletic kids got to show off and the un-athletic kids were forced to submit themselves to torture and embarrassment.

I fell somewhere in the middle. I did okay, say, tossing a baseball. And though the relay and the long-distance running were banes to me, I was a pretty good sprinter. The 100-meter dash was no problem.

The one thing I did particularly well, though, at Field Day: Frisbee. I always won the ribbon for Frisbee. Toss it to that cone? Sure. Get it all the way down the field? Okay. I’m not sure why or how, but I’m a natural with a Frisbee.

Other strange things I proved good at over my years in physical education? Bowling. Jump rope (won an award for going the longest time in that one). Badminton. Croquet. Table tennis. Air hockey. Weight lifting. Pinball.

And yet I suck at foosball. Actual tennis? Nope. Or actual hockey? Decidedly not. Racquetball or squash? Nuh-uh.

I’m an indifferent swimmer; I enjoy it, but don’t take it seriously enough to do it especially well. Can’t dive, either. I’m no good on the field in soccer (“football” to my overseas friends), but make an okay goalie.

But I was useless with the typical American sports:

  • Softball/baseball—I would duck when someone pitched to me and couldn’t catch well enough to field.
  • [American] football—my coaches didn’t even bother; they just let me walk the track while everyone else played.
  • Basketball—not coordinated enough; I couldn’t keep myself from traveling.
  • Volleyball—I don’t even know what. Just a disaster all around.

I try not to feel too bad about all that now. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you’re only good at the weird, little things. But you know, there are a lot of football and basketball and baseball players. Not so many great Frisbee folks, though. I’m just in a select, exclusive sort of group is all.

Chad

For some reason I’ve had old friends on my mind lately, and just the last couple days one in particular. I knew him in high school and he committed suicide some years ago. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of him.

I don’t know that Chad and I would have been friends if not for the fact we had so many other friends in common. Both of us were smart and shy, though while I was intermittently unhappy (in the way of teenagers), Chad was consistently so. This is the burden of truly brilliant minds: they cannot be satisfied, not with themselves, nor with anything or anyone outside of themselves. They are driven, and they see and know too much, taking everything in until it turns on them and consumes them, swallows them like a black hole.

Chad used to come over to my house and just sit. He was always polite but mostly quiet. Sometimes we watched television, sometimes we sat out on the patio with my dad, sometimes we just sat on the sofa and did and said nothing. That probably seems strange, and in retrospect I might even agree, but it suited us. We were strange people. (I still am, I suppose.)

He came to escape his parents, I think. I never met them, never met Chad’s little brother, but I knew that Chad wanted to be an artist and his parents were insisting he become an engineer of some kind. Being brilliant, Chad could have done anything he chose and done it well, but he had a real gift and talent for art. In my industry there are so many artists, so many people who are good and even great at what they do, but I’ve still never known anyone who could draw or paint like Chad could. He once made for me a sort of booklet from artfully cut and decorated construction paper that featured famous quotes about love on every page, the first page being that line from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

It wasn’t that Chad had any romantic interest in me, of that I’m fairly certain (in fact, my guess is he might have been gay). It was more that he knew me as a girl who desperately needed to feel wanted and loved. It occurs to me now it must have taken a bit of courage for such a shy young man to go to such effort for me.

I don’t know the exact circumstances of his death; it’s not the kind of thing you go around asking about. After I left for university, I lost touch with Chad and just assumed he’d gone off somewhere too—in fact, I’m almost positive he did go to college, at least for a while, though I don’t know whether he finished. A few years ago some of those mutual high school friends were the ones to inform me that Chad had committed suicide, and I wasn’t surprised in the least, sadly enough; in fact, it felt like something I had always known. Maybe when one’s spirit dies, tossing the body after it becomes a technicality. That sounds terrible. I know it does. But that’s exactly what happened to Chad. Something had blocked him; he was left with no other outlet. He had nothing but the pull of that black hole, the mass and quantity of his life and knowledge and experience, and he made the decision to let it absorb his light.

So why am I thinking about him? I don’t know. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned in all this and my subconscious is trying to prod me to attention. Or maybe it’s just that someone mentioned Twelfth Night a couple days ago. Whatever the reason, though, I can’t seem to shake it. I must probe the edges of my own black hole and see what I can discover, all the while working not to be sucked in.

How I Learned to Drive

Although I had a driver’s license, I didn’t really know how to drive . . . until some Teamsters took pity on me.

Here’s the whole story. I went to driver’s ed like most other high school students, dragging myself to school very early in the morning in order to watch gruesome VHS tapes of “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Then, after many weeks of these videos, we were split into groups, put in cars, and forced to run the gauntlet. By which I mean, we tried not to do any of the “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Because besides getting us killed, it would get us yelled at by the high school’s Eastern European basketball coach who was doubling as our driving instructor.

After a few weeks of that, and once we’d passed the written exam at the DMV, the Eastern European basketball coach took us out individually for a driving test. I remember him telling me that if he had to use his special emergency break, I would fail. I actually yelled at him at that point. I said something like, “I am FOUR SECONDS BEHIND THAT CAR! I am NOT going to hit anything!” After that, he didn’t talk to me any more. But I passed.

Okay, so if I passed the driving test and had a license, why did the Teamsters need to teach me to drive? Well . . .

I was an adequate driver. Really, I was. But a nervous one as well. I didn’t drive if I could avoid it. In fact, I was relieved in college not to have a car, and therefore not to have to drive. The campus buses were fine for getting around the area. The city buses weren’t terribly reliable, but I made do.

So then I was working on a film set. And I didn’t have a car of my own, but I was also too young and too expensive to insure for a rental, so the production office gave me a driver. Score! His name was Charlie, and he was awesome. He had lots of great stories about famous people he’d driven for, and told me that the set we were on was “one of the worst” he’d ever been on (it was a pretty difficult shoot). He said to me, “If you can get through this, you can do anything.”

And then one day the producer had me drive her Dodge Ram truck, and that made me all nervous. So Charlie and some of the other Teamsters took it upon themselves to buck me up. And they basically re-taught me to drive.

I imagine it was something like a defensive driving course, though I’ve never taken one, so I don’t really know. But I learned to maneuver and such, learned how to watch for other drivers in ways that were effective . . . Not so long ago, my husband said something about how, when I’m driving, I “worry about other people a lot.” But being aware of the other cars is part of driving well–especially since these days a lot of other drivers aren’t watching for you.

What Charlie and his fellow Teamsters really gave me, though, was confidence and a sort of freedom. It was years before I had a car to drive, but when my boss gave me his for a week at one point, I was able to go forth with few reservations. I had survived working on that awful movie set, after all, and as Charlie had said: if I could do that, I could do anything. Even drive.