(If you would like to start at the beginning of this journey, please begin at the beginning, and start with “It Was A Dark and Stormy Night”).
The guy in the turquoise 1956 Chevy was really something! Dark hair, like my father’s. Thick lower lip, like my father’s. Tall and thin, like my father. But that’s where the resemblance ended.
My father, although he had his faults, wasn’t a convicted felon. He hadn’t stolen the car he drove to work. He didn’t watch the game on televisions he acquired by breaking into other people’s houses. He never finagled the driver’s side window of a friend’s car to gain access to his pumped up car stereo system. And I’m quite sure his crowd didn’t include gang bangers from East Los Angeles, or pimps and prostitutes from South Central.
Back when I was a shy, naive sixth grader at James Kew Elementary, meeting the James Dean wanna-be would have never entered my mind. My mind was filled with dreams of becoming a great writer, dreams inspired by my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Snyder. One day he read a piece I had written out loud to the class, a story about Benjamin Franklin and a mouse. I have a flashbulb memory of the moment he told the class that I had all the makings of becoming a great writer some day. He told them I left him “wanting more,” at the end of my paper. I still remember where I was sitting as he spoke about me…last row on the right side of the classroom, sunshine streaming in through the open windows, the smell of fresh cut grass wafting in. I recreated that moment in my mind all summer long, and signed up for a Creative Writing class as my first elective at Monroe Junior High.
I dressed very carefully for my first day of 7th grade. I had on my usual uniform of under things…a white tank top undershirt with the tiny satin bow on the front and lace-trimmed white anklet socks peeking out from white, bright, brand spanking new tennis shoes. There must have been a memo that had gone out to my elementary school girlfriends during the summer that read, “Sometime this summer, make sure you grow up. Shave your legs. Have your mother buy you a tiny garter belt and “suntan” colored nylons. Experiment with make-up, and get a bra even if you haven’t sprouted any yet.” I didn’t get the memo. And we had to dress-out for P.E.
The bullying started that first day and followed me through the halls of middle school, filling my skinny, stick straight frame with shame and fear. At the same time, my creative writing teacher combed through over one hundred student papers a week, and I think writing a “C” caused her the least stress to her wrist. One fell-swoop instead of all those curly-cues and straight lines. I decided that Mr. Snyder must have been smoking something that day so long ago, back in the sixth grade, and once I finally made friends with the bullies, I began to experiment myself.
I met the guy in the turquoise 1956 Chevy two-years later. After a whirlwind courtship filled with crime and betrayal, we married in a sweet outdoor ceremony under a white arbor, me in white gown and veil and my fiance in standard black tuxedo. The ceremony took place in a beautiful garden filled with smiling guests who sat in neat rows of white chairs, decorated with little white satin bows. I was sixteen and he was twenty-one, and in this forever moment I looked up at my husband-to-be and saw only the face of my father.