Saturday, February 16, 2013
Saturday Musings, 16 February 2013
A chill seeps through the old floorboards. I shudder and huddle close into my velour sleeping shirt. Dusty snow settles on the shingles of the neighboring house. Small tracks pepper the sloped roof, ending in a long jittery slide. I imagine the bird that must have found a momentary perch, as cold as I am right now, frigid damp against her small fluttery breast.
I staggered giddily through this week, from day to jarring day, dealing with the twists and turns of my life and my clients' lives. The tender-hearted young woman who escaped a controlling bully in New Mexico; the mother who tore her brood from the grips of a tyrant in Kansas City; the man whose teenage daughter has grown weary of her unconcerned mother and wants to live with him. They sat before me in turns, anxious, eager, excited, grim.
I drive from court to office to court to home. One day, coasting through a curve on Inter-State 70, I see a sign for sponsoring charities and gasp. The Lions Club, it says, in the center of an emblem that I have not seen in forty years. And I am instantly transported back, back, to Lions' Park in Jennings, on a summer's day when I was twelve and a reluctant Camp Fire Girl attending day camp.
Day camp both horrified and fascinated me. That I could never excel at the activities did not occur to me but the other girls had long since determined that I should be shunned. One or two girls in my own troop spoke to me, but no one else did. I could not run; I could not dodge a ball; I fumbled crafts; I fell behind on hikes. But I persisted. I wore the crispest uniform, a fact only noticed by the leaders. I had ironed each blouse myself. I kept my kerchief between two books so that it did not wrinkle between meetings. I volunteered for everything. That only adults applauded my relentless pursuit of acceptance escaped me most of the time.
On one particular day, the milder forms of torture had been abandoned for rougher, wild play. Softball, volleyball, running games. We formed lines and chose sides, and I always stood alone, scuffing my saddle shoes and hoping to be chosen. One side or the other got me by the bad luck of the count. The chosen captain gestured and I would join them. They never started me; they benched me if they could. The bored college students working as camp counselors sat to one side and drank Pepsi from the machine, lounging on benches in the pavilion. I plastered a smile on my face and stood, scratching the back of one leg with the toe of my other foot. My long hair hung limply down my back, fallen out of the braids in which I customarily wore it.
The sudden smack of a ball against my chest startled me from a daydream. I staggered to one side and fell against the fence behind me, frantically grabbing at nothing, falling to the ground. A couple of the counselors who were supposed to be in charge ran over. One pulled me up, shouting at the other to get a wet rag for my skinned knees. I shook my head and pushed her away. And we stood, a silent gaggle of females, most of my peers with shocked looks on their faces. A few wore smug expressions. The captain of the team on whom I had been foisted briefly flashed a victorious grin before assuming an innocent air.
The game resumed. I sat on the bleachers, making no pretense of involvement. The afternoon ended and the chattering sound of departing campers drifted down to the wall on which I waited for my mother to come get me. The counselors left last, glancing my way, calling to me, asking if I had a ride. I assured them I did.
Night fell. The pierce of cicadas cut through the air around me. The first flash of lightening bugs twinkled in the long green expanse of the park. I waited. After a half hour or so, I saw the low lights of a car coming down the drive to the parking lot but it was not my mother's old vehicle. A car door closed, almost timidly. Through the gathering gloom, I glimpsed a figure, and felt a momentary pang of fear. But the figure came into the light and I saw that one of the college students had returned.
She sat beside me on the wall, stretching her slim legs, leaning back on her tanned arms. I'll just wait with you. I glanced sideways and shrugged, as though to invite her to do what pleased her. We did not speak again. Another half an hour past before my mother came, apologizing over and over for forgetting me, profusely thanking the counselor, hugging me, hustling me into the car with profuse promises of a delicious if reheated dinner.
We drove out of the park and home. I watched the counselor's tail lights ahead of us until she turned at a point where we went straight, and I couldn't see her any more. And I never saw her again. I never went back. I spent the rest of that summer at home with my brothers and quit Camp Fire Girls before the start of eighth grade.
A friend recently told me that her daughter is taking a class at college with the very kid who mercilessly teased her in high school. My heart cringed. Of all the classes she could take, she ends up in one with her tormentor! Her mother, my friend, shook her head. How cruel life can be at times; how mean we can be to each other, to people whom we perceive as odd, or different, or weird. I want to put my arms around my friend's daughter and around the shuddering shoulders of all the sons and daughters. I want to urge this beautiful girl, and all the halting, worried girls and the awkward, inept boys, to ignore the cretins who bully them; though I know she will not be able to block his taunts from her ears. I know that as surely as I still feel the sting of that ball on my chest, as surely as I still see the mocking glances of my own tormentors, so many years ago, when I was young, and the katydids were still plentiful in the parks where we used to play.
The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.