This is another installment of a rough draft of a memoir chapter that covers fourth grade. This is final episode, I mean installment for this chapter (which is way too long and needs some epic editing sessions). This story comes to a close.
Late in the school year we took another musical instrument test. I didn’t even look at my grade, just filed the paper deep in one of my black folders with the neon pink and yellow squiggles. The folder was so full now that it was starting to tear at the crease. Mom would have to look through a lot of dittos to find it. I would find this folder years later in the basement of our new house in New Jersey. I’d gotten a D. Mom had never found it, or never said anything.
In the last week of class, we had a lot of fire drills, to meet some regulation. One time, Matt Peer was behind me in line as the class filed in and used the water fountain on our way back inside. Matt Peer, my 107 true love. I drank some water then swirled away in what I imagined was a supremely flirty move.
On the afternoon of May tenth, when my dad got home from work, he and Mom sat me, Randy and June down in the living room. What could it be this time? Though it had subsided for awhile, the way light fell on the wall when I walked in from school was creeping me out again. The light was yellower, more spring-like, and it reminded me of something else I couldn’t remember and it made me feel like something terrible was imminent.
Dad spoke first this time. “The Bureau has transferred me,” he said. “To Newark, New Jersey.”
“Well not exactly Newark,” Mom corrected as if we, at ten, eight and three had ever heard of that city and its reputation for dirt, drugs and crime.
“Right,” Dad agreed. “A field office outside Newark called West Paterson. We’ll be looking for a house in one of the nearby small towns.”
In class I overheard some of the more popular girls, Katie and Ann Marie, talking about the Baby-Sitters Club. Ann Marie told everyone she had called the 555 number in the books for Mary Anne and asked for her. “And the guy goes, ‘hold on, just a minute,’ and I got so nervous I hung up!” We all looked at her. I wasn’t part of the conversation but we were into the same books, and she wasn’t making fun of me. That was something. I could almost pretend this made us official friends.
But close only counts in horseshoes as my dad liked to quip, and Mom was back on her favorite train, the “you need to make more effort to make friends” express.
“Why don’t you invite someone over?” Mom asked. “Someone other than Maya.”
One night, in my room early as usual, I was laying in bed, trying to sleep, trying not to sleep. My light was still on and I looked at my big red numbers on my large-print alarm clock, doing math problems with the numbers as always. It was 8:17. One and seven made eight. 8:24. Twenty-four divided by eight was three. Two times four made eight. Suddenly I remembered something. It came to me out of nothing. A long time ago, maybe when we first moved in to our house four years ago, Dad had said something about a crawl space or something in our basement. It might be almost like a secret passage.
Later that day, after Dad got home from work, Mom and Dad sat me down. It was in the kitchen this time, at our big white oval kitchen table. Mom wasn’t saying anything, which I realized was way worse. Screaming would’ve been comfortable in its familiarity but this was something else. Across the stable, she looked still but I could feel her vibrating with rage.
“I just don’t know what to do with you anymore,” Mom said, “I just don’t know what to do.” She wasn’t resigned or sad. She was on some edge, like she might crack and get stuck, just repeat this sentence over and over and star pounding on the walls or the table or me, lie she could barely keep crazy away. I knew then that though she hadn’t said anything to me, Mrs. Domaracki called my mom.
“I’m sorry,” I said in a pathetic, pleading voice, and started to cry. This time was too different. I knew better than to argue.
I thought about it all morning, trying to imagine how Mom would explode if she asked for the key back and he didn’t have it. If I could endure it in my head, maybe I could endure it in real life. If I imagined it all in exquisite detail, maybe the key wouldn’t be his and he would have our key tucked safely in his backpack. But I just couldn’t imagine it. I hit a wall once I imagined her finding out. I couldn’t go past it. I still felt like I might puke.
It was March when Mom gave Randy the house key for a day. One day we had to walk home together, not go to Centerstream, and let ourselves in. Just this once. My little eight-year-old brother got the key, not me. I walked home with him like it was a regular day, Randy leading the way, and nothing disastrous happened.
The next day, Mom picked us up from Centerstream as usual after she got done with work or therapy or whatever. The sky was dark when we left around five-thirty, a deep cerulean blue, just the tiniest twinge of dusk left in the sky. We got to a crosswalk on our way to the parking lot and Randy started crossing the street.
“Randall James Jordan!” My mom’s voice screeched, “How dare you?” I froze, her voice higher and more hysterical than maybe ever. What was going on?
A girl named Holly invited me to a sleepover. She had come over my house a few times before. It was a household dinner table joke that she’d once asked my mom if she could use the bathroom. As a joke, because the question was so silly, my mom had said no.
At Holly’s there was a punching bag in her big living room. I beat the shit out of it. All of the girls stayed in Holly’s room. We did girl things like tell the boys we liked. Matt Peer, I confessed. He was quiet, mysterious, and seemed nice. A few of the girls were doing some complex algorithms with names. “You guys are a 107!” One of them shrieked. “Oh my god, you guys are like true love!” I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.
So this is an excerpt from a chapter from a project I’m working on called Eclipses of Jupiter. It’s in its infancy still, but it’s about growing up with albinism and being legally blind in my crazy family, and all the school and social implications. It’ll also focus on blind camp and related programs when I get into teenage years. This chapter, which will be broken up into installments and posted over the next few weeks, is all about fourth grade, which was a bit of an epic school year.
On my birthday, I was reading a book at the lunch table. I think it was The Long Secret, the sequel to Harriet The Spy. I was sitting by myself. My mom had let me buy lunch in the cafeteria for my birthday. I ate some chicken nuggets and tater tots and a pack of saltines that were supposed to be for people who got soup but the lunch lady gave them to anyone. I unwrapped them and started nibbling while I turned the page, devouring the words faster than my food. When lunch was over, I was almost at the end of a chapter and I kept reading, finally closing the book and running to catch up to my class.
“Emilia,” Mrs. Domaracki’s voice. I stopped and turned around. “Were you just going to leave this here?”
I couldn’t see what she meant from this far away so I went back to the table. It was the clear plastic wrapper for the soup Saltines. “I’m sorry,” I said, closing the plastic in my fist. “I didn’t see it.”
Mom was going to counseling a lot, or some type of meetings. It was all hush-hush and grown-up talk but I had surmised that much. And that it had something to do with her parents. One day she took me with her.
The therapist was named Diana and she was really friendly. They always were. This was not my first therapy rodeo. I knew all the tricks, how to charm them the way I charmed Mom sometimes by pretending to agree with her, or maybe temporarily really agreeing with her on the way home from that visit to Mrs. Domaracki the day before school.
I knew how to pretend to be good. Talk about bad things other kids do, even if you’re really the one who does them more than anyone else. Use logic. Be interesting. Maybe mention quirky things like the flagrant love you had for the blood red octagons of stop signs as a three-year-old. If they can tell you’re smart, that you read a lot, that you think and feel deeply, they’re less likely to blame you. If you can infuse some Dad into your voice, speak with his bland cheerful optimism about topics like the weather, then maybe they’ll think you’re normal, let you draw pictures or play games. You have to not show all your smarts though, so then you can beat them in Battleship.