I was a good kid. Well behaved, quiet. I talked early and read early. As a toddler I said excuse me to the vacuum cleaner when I passed by in the hallway, I’ve been told. I was soft spoken and got good grades in school.
On a family road trip once my parents bought me a box of Cracker Jacks late at night. I made sure to eat every bit of the snack before allowing myself to peek at the prize. I was proud of myself and then dismayed that my parents didn’t seem wowed by my amazing self discipline.
I was an irritable kid. I fought with my brother constantly. Sometimes just the feeling of his leg brushing mine in the car made me want to scream. We wrestled for fun but then I wanted to pummel him for real. I corrected him constantly, his speech, his grammar, his technical errors. The injustice of his wrongness infuriated me.
Once for a school project he wrote and illustrated a book about a family vacation. In it he claimed that he’d caught a fish with my dad when they went to the lake. I insisted they’d never caught a fish. I couldn’t get over it. How could he LIE? Why didn’t anyone care?
I was a tidy kid. My room was as neat as a pin all the time. I kept my pencils in a ceramic pencil holder that looked like a Converse sneaker, not that I ever wore Converse sneakers because I was told they were bad for my feet. The pencil holder was peach, the comforter on my bed was peach and I made my bed every morning before school. I kept a clean blotter on my desk at all times. I hated for my brothers to ever touch my stuff.
I was a messy kid. Every year in grade school my report card reported that I was smart and helpful and did all my work but my desk was a MESS. A mess! I could not keep it organized or neat at all, ever.
I was shy but social. I always had friends and we played at each other’s houses regularly. I roamed the neighborhood when I was small and when I got older I could walk to some friends’ houses, to the library, and downtown to get pizza and candy and hang out.
I was lonely. I never had a best friend. I never could tell anyone all of my deepest secrets. I was always the second or third ranked friend of everyone I hung out with and I knew it. It bothered me that I never had a nickname, not one that stuck anyway.
When I was in 5th grade our school had a spirit week and on Inside Out Day I showed up dressed the part. My homeroom teacher urgently whispered to me that my shirt was on inside-out. Even as I explained, I was flooded with the humiliating realization that she thought I was dweeby enough to dress like that by accident.
I was a creative kid. I loved to draw and loved to read even more. I wrote stories and illustrated them and stapled them to make little books. I recorded myself talking and singing on cassette tapes and added them to my stash of “secret stuff,” which I bound up in a kerchief like a cartoon hobo and took to my fort in the woods.
I was very literal. I knew that Snuffy was Big Bird’s imaginary friend but Big Bird could actually SEE him, so… that must mean I had no imagination, if I couldn’t see the things I imagined, right? I despaired. I tested myself by inventing an imaginary friend family of giant puffballs and concentrated on being able to make them real but it never quite worked right.
I was religiously confused. There was a Christian Rock song my parents played sometimes in which the singer laments that he keeps putting Jesus off until it’s too late for him to be saved. I once sat in the back of our van listening to it and secretly cried. Every Sunday I listened to the sermon and believed the pastor was speaking directly to me, knowing the evil that lurked in my heart. My little brother was baptized when he was 7 and I still hadn’t done it, a shameful fact that I could only hope no one had really noticed. On the occasions that we had communion in church, I orchestrated ways to hide in the bathroom or the nursery if I could. I wasn’t supposed to take it if I wasn’t saved.
I was superstitious. I decided to try to prove to myself that God was real by making an outlandish wish. Every day for about a year I threw a penny into my neighbor’s wishing well, and sent up a prayer to God to make one single red rose grow in the middle of my front yard. That couldn’t possibly happen naturally so I would know if it happened that it was God finally answering my prayer. I waited and waited.
I was afraid of the end of the world and I was afraid of the Devil. Once when I was about seven, I woke up in the night needing to use the bathroom. The house was dark and I was scared. I knew the Devil could see me and I didn’t want him to know that I was scared of him, so to prove just how not scared I was, I walked backwards into the bathroom without turning on any lights and I sat down on the toilet. Someone had left the seat up and I fell in completely. I was humiliated and I cried. I had recurring nightmare about the apocalypse.
This kid is still inside me, this tangled and contradictory little me. It’s weird sometimes how accessible those thoughts and feelings still are, washing up on the shores of my consciousness like bits of jetsam that weren’t supposed to follow me here.
More from parenting