Running Bear

runningbearI didn’t think mom and dad were fair! They had taken me to the theater plenty of times before and I had no concept of ratings, so all I could think of was their meanness. I loved the movie theater, the movies and all that came with them, even though by today’s standards the Naval Base Movie House would have rated $1 Theater at best. It was damp, had sticky floors and a tinny sound system, and bats – live bats – at the ceiling that would sweep down after mosquitoes in the butter flavored air. But ratings didn’t matter to me and now I was mad and wanted to get even, so I called my friend Tina a few doors down.

Before I dialed, I ran into the room I shared with my big brother and threw some things in a battered blue overnight case, a cast off from my sisters. I threw in some underwear and socks, a few t-shirts, and jeans. I was already wearing my favorite red boots and I could carry the bear. I gingerly carried the case with me down the hall, treading lightly on the linoleum lest my siblings overhear, and set it with care next to the telephone table that I always felt too much like a school desk for my comfort.

I sat down gently and dialed the phone.

One ring.
I craned to see who was around.

Two rings.
I could feel a hot redness creeping up my neck.

Three rings.
I wasn’t sure that I could do this.

I clutched the bear.

Thank God Tina answered.

I cupped my hand around the receiver and whispered my plan into the phone. I was going to live at her house. I was running away.

I told her it was Okay because my parents were only a few doors down and I could go to school with her. Nobody would miss me, I could help cook or clean to earn my keep, and I would even share the bear. Surely this sacrifice would seal the deal. My plea was well thought out and earnest.

Tina, who normally jumped at the chance for a sleepover, suddenly sounded hesitant. She needed to ask her parents. She let go of the phone.

The few moments of confidence I felt as I wooed my “would be” roommate dissipated as quickly as steam. I knew Tina’s father. I was a little afraid of Tina’s father. He had a bald head, a mustache and was, to me at least, a tall and imposing figure. I could hear him talking faintly through the phone line and it didn’t sound friendly. I held the bear a little tighter as I scanned the parts of the house I could see to make sure that I was still clandestine. By the time Tina came back on the line, I had become aware of my breathing, amplified by the mouthpiece and damp around my nose. The hair on my neck where my braids met was becoming ringlets as my nerves outran the air conditioner. She took so long! Then she broke the news.

Apologetically she explained that I couldn’t come over. Her parents would tell and she would get in trouble. She was really sorry, but I had to stay home. I felt the last of my foolish hot air expire like last week’s helium. Her father said no and I deflated. I hadn’t even had a chance. I told Tina goodbye and hung up, dejected and defeated, awash in humiliation and shame.

What was I to do? I was beaten. The power I once had to get what I wanted had disappeared with my diapers, even though the desire for it had not, and six-year-old tantrums aren’t tolerated. I was the overthrown despot, done in by age. I realized that being six years old wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and I was going to miss a lot of movies. No longer concerned with staying undercover, I tucked the bear under one arm, dragged the case back to the bedroom and shut the door. One by one I put the clothes back in my dresser and then put the case in the closet on top of the toy box. The bear, he stayed with me. He stayed with me as I cried and dried my childish tears.

Sometimes it takes a revelation, no, a revolution, to learn who we are. I never, ever tried to run away again. The next week, my mom and dad took me to the movies.

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Manipulated with Photoshop.  Distributed under license here


Island Girl

islandbearThe first real memory I can recall was of walking into our house on the navy base in Puerto Rico. I was four years old. It was as if there was nothing before and my life began in that instant, the instant that I walked through the door into the living room and saw the white walls bathed in striped sunlight and the exotic, temporary wicker furniture that filled it. You would think that I would remember the plane ride to the island, but I don’t. However, I certainly was awestruck by that house. It was like a sort of dream or fairy tale, real but unreal. I remember it seemed strange, exotic and oh, so exciting! For a first memory that’s not too bad, but a door opened in my mind as well as that house that day. I lived there for about four years. For a little girl, there couldn’t have been a more magical place to be.

From front to back, our yard was a jungle and a playground. On the concrete half wall that separated the porch from the yard, it was common to see iguanas sunning themselves among the rhododendron. You might have also seen me, a little girl with cats eye glasses and dark pigtails, a striped t-shirt and red cowboy boots jumping off the wall, pretending to be a superhero, gifted with the capability of flight. Or maybe I was learning to skate on Christmas day holding onto that wall, my security blanket against skinned knees, stoically scuffling under the winter sun.

In the backyard was an almond tree with the unfortunate addition of a swing hanging from it. Nobody thought to warn me that lawn mowers can pick up and throw almonds. They can throw them very, very hard. I’m sure I blamed my brother at the time, but I hope he realizes that is a grudge I’ve outgrown. It was also the backyard where I left my favorite bear, BooBoo, out in the rain and jumped the reedy ditch at the border. Just beyond the yard was the base’s Family Pool where I learned to swim. Doing torpedoes underwater was my favorite and I was proud of my ability to open my eyes underwater. I still kind of am.

Under the carport, where more rhododendrons closed in like a fragrant fortress, my daddy stored the rocking horse I rode for hours on end, and when it rained, the gap between the gutter and the roof would create a horizontal curtain of water like a waterfall. In the little river that gathered and ran under the curtain I played with my little animals until my knobby knees were stiff and my hands, raisins. That tiny stream was an ocean of ideas to fill my animals’ imaginary lives, but my mother saw it as a possible source of Schistosomiasis. I still see it as a rain forest oasis filled with mist, rain and the sweetness of honeysuckle.

To venture out of the carport and onto the grass was to risk sands spurs and ant bites, but the reward could be a coconut to take inside. I knew very well the taste of fresh milk and the sweetness of fresh coconut on one of my mother’s cakes. There were coconut palms everywhere on Cowpens Drive.

Our house was at the bottom of a hill that rose steeply enough to cause inexperienced bike riders to end up with serious road rash at the end, and at the top w as the way to “The Rocks”, an area of cliffs and rocky coast on which my friends and I would risk our necks regularly. If you turned right from the driveway instead of left, it wasn’t a long walk to a white sand beach complete with shelters, grills and playground equipment, the perfect place to make frog houses and catch hermit crabs. It was also where, when drifting lazily in shallow water on a driftwood log, thinking of lunch, that I saw a barracuda swim by my leg. I got out of that water so fast I must’ve looked like I have suddenly been gifted with the ability to walk on water. It occurred to me, I guess, that the barracuda might have also been thinking about lunch.

But the real story of my childhood is inside the house, where I sprawled on the living room floor watching Bugs Bunny in Spanish and developed my first crush on Captain Kirk. In that house a little girl shared a room with big brother, had a dog named Bo, and celebrated the day she was able to reach the Popsicles in the freezer. This same little girl galloped on all fours around the dining room table until mom got a migraine. She sat sullenly in the hall to protest unwanted bed times. She tried to hatch lizard eggs in dresser drawers and listened to Lambchop on her sisters’ record player, refused to wear dresses, and tortured naked Barbie dolls with homemade haircuts.

We moved away when I was 9, when my father retired from the Navy. That plane ride I do remember. It took me from something that can never be replaced. Everything has changed, years have passed and even if I decided to visit, the house is no longer there. But something tells me, after a few more years have gone by and the grass has grown over and the buildings crumbled and the land is taken over once again by palms and sand spurs, you will be to glimpse the ghost of a little girl in red boots and braids galloping among the iguanas.



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Manipulated in Photoshop.  Distributed under license here.

(Actually, I’m not sure it was lifelong. It seems I remember it hitting around fourth grade.)

Somewhere around the age of 10 or 11, I started to change.

I can remember being a very happy and active small child, very imaginative and playful. I had a good humor and I’m pretty sure I was easy to get along with. I don’t remember being a slug, in fact, I NEVER took naps, and I didn’t need them. There was a time I got in trouble in kindergarten because I told the teacher at nap time that I ‘don’t take naps’ and she called my mother. My mother simply looked at her like she was a nut and “But she doesn’t,” and I was never required to do it again. I still had to lie down and be quiet mind you, but I didn’t have any trouble with that either.

But right around the 4th grade (that would make me 9 or 10 really), I can remember the struggles starting. My schoolwork hadn’t started to suffer yet, but the fog was starting to form.
By fifth grade, it had me firm in its grip. My teacher, who was hateful in the extreme, TRULY hated ME. She was convinced that I was the laziest child who had every clouded her classroom and had no trouble telling me so. All those times I didn’t turn in my penmanship papers, the oral presentation that was so ‘off-the-cuff’ because I hadn’t done the work, rather only ripped through the cliff notes five minutes before, she made those into some sort of personal vendetta that she could cure only through humiliation and punishment far too severe for the nature of the crime. If I had been a less intelligent child, I would have been put back for sure, but my innate abilities saved my ass. It helped that I read encyclopedias for fun.

It stayed that way. All through grade school, it stayed. Through high school it stayed. Algebra class was the most frustrating failure I could imagine. All my life I had been told I was smart, but here I was a complete idiot, enduring it only by ignoring it. The confusion was too much. But how do you explain that to someone who has access to your intelligence tests? And how do you explain to anyone about the molasses in your brain, the one that makes you so hard to wake, and so inclined to sleep, so slow to move even when you knew the importance of speed and weren’t intentionally being that way? How do you tell them that you can’t keep your mind from wandering no matter how you try? There is no leash for the mind.

I talked to my mother about it at length yesterday, and she remembers all this. She would ask me, no IMPLORE me to explain. All I could say through my tears was that “I forgot”, or “I don’t KNOW why”. She was just as confused and frustrated as I was and had no clue what to do. She confessed to me about her worries for me and for my future, whether or not I would ever be able to make it in the adult world where responsibilities don’t accept excuses, the same ones I found myself having for my daughter.

Research now confirms that this is a condition that manifests around pre-puberty and persists at its strongest during the teen years. It usually diminishes with adulthood, but never really ‘goes away’. Some are luckier than others.

In fact, I consider myself very lucky indeed. I have recourses and resources my mother never did. Medical knowledge has caught up with the condition. Back then even the classic hyperactive type of ADD wasn’t recognized easily, now they know that it can manifest in two ways. Boys generally exhibit the ADHD that is easy to spot, but girls, with their different brain chemistry, exhibit it in opposite fashion. The girls with ADD may not be ADHD at all, no hyperactivity. It is inertia, dreaminess and a paralysis stemming from a perfectionism that is obsessive and aggressive.

All that said, it is important that we learn to recognize the ADD girl. She is bright, very bright. She is creative and imaginative. She is not at all disruptive, in fact she is usually so quiet that her behaviors aren’t really noticed until the half-finished homework is found crumpled up in the bottom of her book bag covered in doodles and bleeding red ink. She is the one with ‘so much potential’ that the teacher doesn’t get why she is failing. She is everywhere, but we don’t see her sometimes until it is too late.

I always thought I was just an introvert, an introvert in the extreme. Now I see.