Bad enough I have to write a diary for school. So why did I write another one? To tell the truth …
Stupid Diary, by Karin Bishop
So I have to write this stupid diary thing for English. You know it’s stupid, Mrs. McKenzie, but you assigned it so you’ll have to read it. And for anybody else I’m supposed to explain the assignment in the first paragraph. Okay. I have to take a special English class because my grades are so bad. I have to write this diary or journal—she said to call it that if it’s easier to think of than a ‘diary’—and thank God for spell-check, I say! Anyway, at the end of every month we’re supposed to turn it in and by the end of the year we can look back and all that stuff. She said some of us will wait to the end of the month and try to put everything down, but it’s better to write a little as it happens. She said we’ll find out what works for us.
It’s my last year of junior high, thank God, and I can’t wait for tenth grade to roll around and high school! Only my grades are bad so I’ve got to clean things up. Yeah, for what? Another dead-end job like the one that killed my old man? Or Mom working long hours at the hospital for low pay? Land of Opportunity, sure …
Okay, this is the end of September. I missed three days in the middle of the month. Got even farther behind. The classes all seem dumb to me; the only thing that makes it worth coming is looking at pretty girls. That’s honest, Mrs. McKenzie!
Forgot something—I didn’t say my name. Even though it’s on the front of the paper, what the heck. As you know, Mrs. McKenzie, I’m Larry Hanson. There. Oh, and I’m supposed to put in ‘life stuff’. Well, Mom is still on my case about my long hair, my friends, and so what else is new? I’m lucky to have any friends at all. I’m the runt of the litter, as my old man used to say. No matter what I eat, even protein things, I stay small. So I have some friends who watch out for me. Yeah, maybe we get a little rowdy, but, hey, we’re guys, right?
Like the suspension thing. A girl said some rude things to a friend of mine and we told her off. So now we’re the bad guys! If she hadn’t started dissing us nothing would have happened and how come she didn’t get suspended, too?
Me getting suspended did not sit well with Mom. She usually leaves me alone, because she’s either working or too tired to fight, but she does take every chance to yell at me about my hair or my room or whatever. So she went ballistic after the suspension and said the school says I need some counseling. So we went to this therapist that helped her best friend stop smoking and another one lose weight. The hypnosis thing. And big deal, I got bored and went to sleep because she couldn’t hypnotize me. Just a waste of the school’s money and my time! Mom said we’ll try again every week until they get some progress. It’s not gonna happen. They can’t hypnotize me and I’m just getting some extra sleep. Waste of money.
The one cool thing Mom did is make a deal with me. She said she’d get some CDs from my favorite bands, the real metal stuff, hardcore, as long as I went to the therapist. Easy deal! So I get to put on my phones and zone out—maxed out to eleven!—and an extra hour of sleep with the therapist. Like I said, easy deal.
So that’s it for September.
September Truth Time
McKenzie said we could write a draft of this journal thing, and she said we can swear and say anything we want as long as it’s honest. Then clean it up and edit and all that stuff and turn it in. Mackie—he’s my best friend, along with Steve—said we’d fry her brain with what we’re really up to! So I thought it might be fun. To do the draft thing with the truth, and then make it all clean and lily-white for McKenzie.
Then I thought, what the heck; why do all the editing and clean-up? I’ll just write Squeaky Clean for McKenzie and Down & Dirty for my own safekeeping. Truth Time. What the heck; it might be interesting to see how the truth of what happened changes over time!
The suspension thing sucks big time. Mackie and Steve and me were just checking the babes out at lunch time, and this stuck-up bitch Celia Duran got pissed. We were hanging out at the edge of the school and Celia lives close, I guess, and was walking back from lunch. Mackie was going ‘Celia-feel-ya’ and Steve and me were cracking up. She stops and says something about Neanderthals and Steve says, ‘Shut up, you stupid bitch’ and she didn’t cry, which surprised me, but her face got hard. I’d seen that once before when Heather—one of the Heathers, the one that’s a cheerleader—said something to her and bumped her as she passed. Celia just turned and there was that hard face and I was ten feet away but when I saw that face I still went ‘Whoa!’
So Celia stares down Steve and just said, “You guys are pathetic. Get a life,” or something like that and Mackie just said, “You’re pathetic. You just need a real man.” And she said, “What would you know about that?” and Steve had said something and Mackie had said something so I had to say something so I said, “You just need a good fucking and we’re the ones to give it to you.”
Okay, I’ve never said anything like that but I had to prove myself to the other guys, right? So maybe that was a little over the top, but she did these squinty eyes at me and her mouth worked like she’d swallowed something bad and just said, “Oh, Larry.” Then she walked away.
Mackie turned to me and put his hand over his forehead and went “Oh, Larry!” and Steve said, “She’s such a bitch!” but I wondered what she meant by that, the way she said it. I felt really crappy for some reason.
But Mrs. Olson the cafeteria lady was around the corner and heard us and so we got busted and nothing was done about Celia calling us names but we got suspended for three days.
Mom was so pissed, like I’ve never heard her. She was going on and on about my old man and she’d hoped I was better than him and I yelled for her to stop talking about my old man like that, you stupid woman! I almost called her a bitch but stopped at the last moment. She raised her hand to slap me and I don’t know why but she just kind of deflated. Dodged that one!
So the school said I had to do some ‘sensitivity counseling’ because I’d threatened Celia with gang-rape. Gang-rape? Geez! We were just talking, you know? Just screwing around. We were mad at her. Mom said the counseling couldn’t hurt, so she began calling around. She found this new-age space cadet named Ms. Belasco, if you can believe that name. Plants all over the office, big weird paintings and sculpture things, and she was in this long dress thing like my grandmother wore called a moo-moo or something. Stupid name.
I just lay on the couch and talked about myself but it was all as clean and lily-white as the stuff I write for McKenzie. Then I fell asleep. I think Mom and I got ripped off, which burns me, but she said the school required it so Belasco’s getting paid by them, I guess. We got some vitamins and a case of a fruit juice supplement. I’m taking the stuff every day and the juice isn’t bad. What the heck; vitamins can’t hurt. Maybe I’ll get bigger and stronger.
What I didn’t put in the McKenzie thing was about the CDs Mom got me. I mean, they’re really hardcore metal—way beyond those dinosaurs Metallica! The funny thing is, Mom’s a real straight arrow, never does anything wrong, but she got these bootlegs. I thought she’d go to the store and buy the individual CDs of the bands I asked for but she said they’re too expensive—got that right!—and has a friend that duplicates them. So like I said, she doesn’t mind me listening to them and they’re really great bands. The recording is a little fuzzy but not enough to bother me; I guess it’s part of the bootleg duping process. And I thought, she could afford one CD at the store, but she got ten of ‘em so a little fuzz in the mix can’t hurt! And cranked up, who the hell cares?
I’m doing better in school, I think. Maybe because I’m not spending as much time cutting classes. I started doing the homework because I have to turn it in anyway, because the school said I might not make The Bridge—that’s what they call going into high school—if I don’t make the effort. So it’s actually easier to just show up, listen, do the homework that night, turn it in the next day and forget about it.
I’m getting along better with some of the other kids. A friend of mine knocked a girl’s books down by accident and I helped her pick them up. After that some kids seemed nicer to me. I guess it’s like making the effort for the schoolwork.
Not a lot to report. No holidays until Halloween. My friends and me will do the usual, just kind of hang out and watch things. We don’t do costumes or anything.
Halloween was cool. We just hung out, but we had a scare of our own when some older guys, out of high school, I think, chased us. But we got away and had a good laugh. We found a bag of candy that someone had dropped, too, so we had dessert!
And life stuff. Getting along better with Mom. She’s backed off about my hair and even got some special shampoo and some other stuff. So we’re getting along better.
October Truth Time
A very weird month. I’m getting so much shit from Mackie about doing my schoolwork, but I had this thought—what if he got busted? I mean, as long as it’s Mackie and Steve and me hanging out, that can go on forever. Who the hell cares about school? But he stole some stuff from a sporting goods store and got away with it, but if he’d gotten caught and went to juvie, I’d be stuck with Steve who is cool but let’s face it, not too bright. But with Mackie gone, what would I do? Nobody likes me. Yeah, I’m the runt of the litter, but hanging with Mackie is two-edged. It protects me from hassle, but nobody wants anything to do with me. Or us. So we just hang together.
I guess that’s why I helped Leslie with her books. Mackie came up and said, “Outta my way, cunt” and she kind of screamed and Steve giggled at that. But she dropped her books she was so freaked, and I was last in line and I don’t know why but I picked up the books because Leslie was standing there shaking. She didn’t say anything but I saw Celia and some other kids looking at us. I got the squinty thing from Celia again. What the hell?
I’m not jacking off as much as I used to. Since this is Truth Time, I might as well tell the truth, you know? So, jacking off, well …I never knew if I was any good at it. I never did it as much as Steve says he does—Mackie just laughs—and I’m probably doing it wrong. Maybe I never thought of the right thing. Steve says he thinks of tits and cunts and that’s all it takes. Mackie says Steve’s a walking hard-on. Probably.
Anyway, I’m just not in the mood to do it. Maybe I’m growing up. Like doing the schoolwork and helping Leslie with her books, maybe it’s just part of growing up. Not too bad. But Steve’s getting on my nerves. He’s so fucking stupid! He really is! Last month Celia called us Neanderthals and I googled the thing and she’s probably right, about Steve anyway. I know his mom’s a drunk and I heard something about drunk moms messing up their babies. I don’t know but his isn’t a house to hang out in or ask questions. Especially about being drunk or stupid!
I still think about Celia and the squinty-eye thing she does when she looks at me. What’s up with that? I was so mad at her when she got us suspended, but thinking back on it, and her saying ‘Oh, Larry’ in that quiet way, I still get a bad feeling in my stomach. It took me awhile to realize what it is—it’s shame. I never really felt that before. Wait—that’s not true. I felt something like it that when I think about not being a big guy for my old man. This thing with Celia, though …it’s different. Hard. Right to my gut, like the bottom of my spine. Makes me feel crappy and worthless and it’s like being sick to my stomach but I can’t puke it out. It just stays there.
But I had to be tough for Mackie and Steve, right?
Halloween—God, we’re lucky to be alive! What we’ve done the last couple of years is hide in trees or bushes, where it’s dark, and find some kid out alone and grab his bag of candy. This year the kid put up a little fight so Mackie pushed him over on his ass and Steve grabbed the bag and we took off, with the kid still crying. Only, when we were back in the bushes, Mackie said I didn’t do shit so I couldn’t get any candy. Steve said I should go stomp the kid or something. They just stared at me.
So I walked to the kid—he was still on his ass, looking at his skinned elbow—and had my back to the bushes so the guys couldn’t hear me. I whispered to the kid, “Those guys want me to stomp you. I’m going to fake it but you need to scream like it really hurts or they’ll come back and really hurt you!” The kid was smart enough to nod, and I recognized he was somebody’s little brother, I forgot who. So I yelled, “You little bastard!” and pulled my foot way back like kicking a football and kicked forward but slammed it into the ground right next to him so it looked like I killed him. The kid’s going to be a great actor; he screamed bloody murder and grabbed his side and bent in two and rolled over. I whispered “Stay down!” and strutted back to the bushes and said, “Give me some goddamned candy, you asshole!” to Mackie who also gave me a squinty-eye thing, like Celia, only this one was different because he grinned with it, and said I was a nasty motherfucker. That’s high praise from Mackie!
Unfortunately, I was right; the kid was somebody’s little brother—of one of the big Mexican families. Montoya or something. And the biggest nasty guy was his brother. Who had buddies. Who were a block away, and on the next street they pulled up in a chopped low-rider and came out fast with silver shiny things in their hands and we ran for our lives. One of the fences had a hole in it small enough for us to scramble through and stopped the big guys who couldn’t fit through—even Mackie barely made it. So they yelled at us in Spanish and we ran for blocks to Steve’s backyard and after we caught our breath we saw that I’d been carrying the candy bag the whole time so I was the hero of the night.
But when I got home, I didn’t feel like a hero. I felt like a stupid boy. A dumb, clumsy, loud, sweaty, nasty, mean boy. I almost wanted to cry. And that’s another thing—I feel like crying a lot. Like when I saw a dog that got hit by a car, I teared up. And some movies that I saw. Mom said we should spend ‘quality time’ together according to Belasco. So Mom rents movies or there’s something on TV. I said we could trade, like one night I choose a movie and the next night she could choose a movie like the chick flicks she liked. She knew I’d chose something like House of 1,000 Corpses so she said no to violence which left her chick flicks, I guess.
But the truth is that the chick flicks aren’t bad. We saw some Sandra Bullock things that were kind of fun, with her being a butch FBI agent. Of course, Mom got some teen things, too, because there wasn’t any violence in them. She’s All That was actually pretty good about older kids, and one of those Traveling Pants things that was closer to my own age. Mom explained things about how girls relate to one another because I didn’t really get it at first. They make more sense now, and in fact the way girls relate makes more sense, even though, like Mean Girls, girls can be bitches to one another. I realized that’s what Heather had done to Celia that day I saw her hard face.
So after that Halloween scare I decided I wasn’t going to hang with Mackie and Steve as much. It wasn’t the scare as much as the little kid. I was glad that I hadn’t kicked him, and I knew that we deserved being chased by his brother. But everything else just left me feeling very unhappy with myself and I didn’t like the feeling. So the trick will be to not spend as much time with them. I guess I’ll say that Mom’s really on my case because I’m falling behind in school or something and I’ve got to study. They won’t ask any questions about that.
School has been getting more intense this month. We had mid-terms and if I read my online grades right, I got Bs! I’ve never gotten higher than C- in anything! So there’s the reinforcement—a word I’m learning about from the therapist I go to, Ms. Belasco. I need to avoid reinforcing the bad habits, and I’m kind of evaluating my friends and how I relate to them. And I’m reinforcing the good habits, like doing my schoolwork and bonding with Mom.
I didn’t mention that before. We have movie nights together and talk about things and there’s nowhere near the yelling we used to do. She’s given me a lot of advice that I used to blow off, but now I’m listening. Like cleansing and stuff. I just feel cleaner than I used to and that’s not even hard to understand.
In trying to deal with new friends and old friends, I’ve had some name-calling but anyone as small as I am is used to it. But on the plus side I’m learning that some kids are nicer than I thought. So that’s cool.
I’m sleeping better, too. Sign of a clear conscience, Mom teases. But there might be something to it. Last month I wrote about being chased by some big guys at Halloween. I’m not doing things like that and maybe that’s why I’m sleeping better.
The therapist is probably helping, too. I still go every week, even though she signed the form that satisfied the school. I usually go to sleep there but lately I think that I’ve actually been ‘under’, so maybe she really is pretty good at hypnosis or whatever she does. Like I mentioned, she’d helped Mom’s friends with smoking and weight loss so she probably is just an all-around helper.
For Thanksgiving we’ll be going to my grandmother’s. I should say a little bit about her. She’s my mother’s mother and has been her Rock of Gibraltar, as Mom says. She’s a tough ex-farmer; she sold her farm to one of those big agri-businesses after my grandfather died. She worked with a construction company until retiring. All of this makes her sound butch, but she isn’t—she’s motherly. And grandmotherly! She bakes and sews and her house always smells like cookies and I think Martha Stewart could learn a few things from her! So that’s where we’re going.
This is the last night of November. We had a fantastic time with my grandmother. I never really appreciated her before but this year was so different. Maybe because I helped, instead of sitting in the family room watching sports with the rest of the guys—two cousins and an uncle. I decided that my grandmother was working so hard while they sat on their butts, so I helped her. It just seemed to make the food taste better, somehow. Like the cornbread—I’d helped with that so I was proud of it.
It was kind of boring trying to talk with my cousins; all they seemed to know was ESPN. Things were a little awkward with them, but I just ‘rose to the occasion’, as my grandmother likes to say. I felt better about myself doing that, instead of making up things to say to my cousins. My Mom was really proud of me, too.
November Truth Time
School really is a lot better when you’re not sitting there without your homework, and you get tests back with good grades. And it’s easier to make friends when you’re not seen as a loser. Part of that was pretty much cutting loose entirely from Mackie and Steve. They said I was pissing them off, and it was mutual but I never said that. I just didn’t like the things they were doing, like egging somebody’s house, or keying somebody’s car, all because they said the people pissed them off. It seemed that everybody pissed them off, and that wasn’t possible, statistically—we’re learning statistics in math—and I realized that those two guys were the ones that were using the pissed-off thing as an excuse to cause some damage. I had to get away from them.
It was when they started making fun of me. It wasn’t just when I bowed out of egging Celia’s house. They called me a chickenshit and crybaby and even a little girl. Everything I did seemed to trigger them; the way I talked, the way I walked, everything. Calling me a little girl wasn’t even the worst of it; I discovered that by overhearing them one day when I was coming around a corner.
I don’t know what Mackie said, but Steve said, “What about Larissa?” and he said it all fruity and I realized from the way he said it that they’d been calling me that for awhile.
Mackie said, “Beats the hell out of me. He’s so …prissy these days. Probably won’t go for it.”
Steve said, “Prissy ain’t the half of it. He’s like a goddamned cop.”
“Prissy cop,” Mackie laughed.
“Like a meter maid,” Steve giggled.
There was a silence from Mackie and Steve said, “What?” and I held my breath. Finally, Mackie said, “That’s exactly like what she is.”
I was chilled but Steve was, as always, slow on the uptake. “Who’s ‘she’?”
“Larissa, you fucking moron,” Mackie said with disgust. “He’s gone girly on us.”
Steve giggled, stopped, and giggled again. “Then maybe we should just fuck the bitch.”
I quietly stepped backward, keeping my eyes on the corner in case they came around it, until I was able to get away without them noticing.
When they wanted to egg Celia’s house, it was mostly out of boredom. They had it in for her for some reason; even before the confrontation that got us suspended. But I managed to talk them out of egging her place by diverting them. I said, “You know who really pisses me off? Stan Waterman!” who was one of the jocks, sports hero and all that, but I’d heard some really serious racist crap from him. I knew by now that Mackie just wanted to egg somebody, and I thought it was better to egg a racist than a girl I knew.
Anyway, that was really the last day that we even sort of hung out together. I hoped they’d go for Stan’s place but I really didn’t know if they would consider anything I said. Maybe that was the final straw—plus, I didn’t want to egg Stan’s or Celia’s. When I walked away from them, I felt that I really was walking away. And it felt pretty good.
I told Celia that her house might still be a target, but I wasn’t hanging with Mackie and Steve anymore so I couldn’t help again. She said she was glad I was finally ‘over them’, and it just sounded funny, somehow. Like I was in love with them and we broke up or something. But she surprised me by asking if I wanted to come over after school. At first I thought, ‘Oh, like maybe become a boyfriend or something’ but I didn’t feel like that. I mean, about Celia. Or about any other girl.
Before, like Mackie, I considered guys either cool or losers, and girls were all bitches—and occasionally bee-yotches!—but they weren’t people; they were part of the landscape to be used. Sexually, I mean, like things Mackie always said. In his world, girls existed only to pleasure him sexually. The fact that we were thirteen-and-fourteen-year-olds didn’t enter into it; it was what his old man had said and it kind of resonated with me. I mean, I kind of remember my father saying stuff like that, especially when he fought with Mom. It was funny; I didn’t remember the fights. He was just ‘my old man’, you know? But from little bits here and there I was realizing that life with him had been hell for Mom. And he was a lot like Mackie, or at least Mackie’s dad …so it just seemed that I was going to be that way, too, you know?
So I was re-evaluating everything I knew, basically. Boys, girls, fathers, friends …everything. And Celia seemed like a really nice person. I liked how she’d given Heather the hard look, and although I was embarrassed, I liked that she hadn’t freaked out that day in September, and we sure deserved the hard look. And I deserved the ‘Oh, Larry’ because I guess she was disappointed in me.
That’s what I asked her. I walked home with her—she was so lucky it was just on the other side of a block from school—and we stood in her kitchen having Diet Cokes. I asked her why she’d said that the way she did and she didn’t want to talk about it at first because she said I’d grown so much since then and it was better to forget it. But I persisted, telling her it was important to me, and finally she said that she always liked me, ever since second grade, but then held her hand up and said ‘Not like-like’, and I knew what she meant. She was all worried that she’d hurt my feelings but I really did understand and I told her that. And for some reason I actually relaxed that she didn’t ‘like-like’ me, but liked me.
Celia said that somehow she always thought we could be friends but said she ‘didn’t know how’. There was this weird kind of pause and there was this thing that Mom has said where you could tell that ‘the world was shifting’.
I told Celia that I would like to be friends with her, and not as a boyfriend. She looked me directly in the eyes and smiled, then nodded, then said, “So do you want to tell me what’s going on?” and I said nothing was going on but she said I was changing. She quickly added ‘for the better, way better’ but I just nodded.
So we’re friends but there’s like this question mark floating around.
I told Mom about that I was no longer friends with Mackie and Steve, and was getting to be friends with Celia. She said that was wonderful news and I felt wonderful inside when she said that. We were sitting and having tea, something we did on movie nights, but we got to talking before watching The Notebook. Anyway, I told her what they’d said and how they’d treated me like a girl behind my back and she asked how I felt about it. I told her I felt hurt and betrayed and just …burned. Like somehow they’d cheated on me or something.
She didn’t answer for a long time, and then asked how I felt about what they’d said, about being called ‘Larissa’, for instance. I said it hurt because it was like they were making fun of me the way they did with everybody else. I was no longer one of the guys, meaning Mackie and Steve; I was one of them, everybody else, and so I was fair game for ridicule. Mom pursed her lips and said she understood, but how did I feel about being ‘Larissa’?
Finally I understood what she meant and I didn’t have an answer. I hadn’t thought about the name other than a term of scorn, like calling somebody ‘fat boy’ or ‘pizza face’. But Mom meant something more. I told her I really didn’t know, but it had hurt, under the circumstances. Mom smiled and said sometimes the best way to make something hurtful hurt less was through familiarity. I didn’t get it, but she said, “What if …I started calling you Larissa all the time?” I said that would be mean. She said, “Sure, if I said it meanly or sneering, but what if I said, ‘Larissa, time for dinner’ or ‘Larissa, sweetheart? Could you help me with the groceries?’ and I said that that was different. Mom said it could take the sting out of the word and that we should try it and I guess it was okay, at least to get it out of her system.
We watched The Notebook that night, and I was crying. I guess I do that a lot now, but I say it’s the movies that Mom picks. If I cried at Roadkill or something, then I’d be worried! But people in love dying, or people struggling to be together, and that first kiss …who wouldn’t get all misty? But that night I was really sleepy—and weepy—and she volunteered to clean up. She smiled and said, “You go on to wash up for bed, Larissa.” I looked at her a moment and nodded. She was right; it was okay when she said it.
I’ve been sleeping like a baby. It’s weird, because I was listening to the most hellacious hardcore metal bands all summer. Then Mom got me the cool bootlegs and for some reason I liked listening to them in bed. I was surprised that Mom didn’t mind, because she had to hear it, even though I had the volume kinda down. And I didn’t mind the bootleg fuzz; after the first week I never really noticed it anymore so low volume was cool, too.
Only …I kinda got turned off on the bands, too. A lot of the lyrics were …well, really cruel. And especially to women. They were like Mackie and Steve, going on about how women only existed to serve men sexually and then would go on about what the girls would do and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was looking around for some other music and Mom made some suggestions for me to explore with iTunes and I was getting into some of the more ‘emo’ bands. At lot of girls and some guys at school were into emo and dressed the part, and a lot more kids liked the music but didn’t do the eyeliner and fingerless-glove things. So they were okay, I guess.
But I also got into some singer-songwriters. Not the weepy, high-pitched whiners like that Blunt guy, but some of the girl singers that were writing about real teen problems and some of the songs made a nice emotional sense, like some of Mom’s movies, and I had to laugh that there was more emotion in their songs than in some ‘emo’ songs! But anyway, Mom said for me to make a list and she’d see what she could do, so by mid-November I got a bunch of new CDs with the artists I’d listed. Bootlegs again, of course, but again it meant I got a lot more than just one store-bought CD. Now, going to sleep was a lot more peaceful and pleasant and I really truly did sleep better.
I surprised myself by sticking with Ms. Belasco. Even though I didn’t have to go to her after she’d signed that form for the school, I felt so much better about myself. I mean, there were a lot of reasons I was feeling better. The closeness with Mom, of course, and I was sleeping better, eating better—mostly salads, yogurt, whole grains and juices—and taking vitamins and I’d even thought about some kind of exercise, maybe swimming. I mentioned it to Mom who thought it was perfect, since I was kind of a loner, and it was such a healthy exercise, but I was kind of ashamed of my body. I was used to it being small and I was used to being shorter than some of the girls in my class, but I had been getting kind of pudgy. Kind of soft. Too much couch time, I told Mom, who just smiled.
But Ms. Belasco was so calming and soothing, although I still had no idea what she was saying. Or what I was saying, but every time she’d say that ‘our session went wonderfully’ and I’d say thank you and still have no idea—but I did feel wonderful, and I didn’t want that feeling to end.
Something else that didn’t end was Mom calling me Larissa. She’d been right, as usual. I didn’t mind the name any more—in fact I liked it; it was a special bond between her and me. And I made up my mind in November to tell Ms. Belasco about it. She asked how I felt about it, which is what I’d expect. Then I fell asleep as usual and felt great when I woke up, so when she asked me if she could call me Larissa, ‘just between us’, I felt so good I said sure. And I did feel good about it.
I did not feel good about Thanksgiving. Scratch that. Some parts of Thanksgiving were fantastic. Others, not so much. The not-fantastic parts were my stupid cousins and uncle. They’re so macho, just going on about sports and cars, so if there was a commercial on ESPN they’d click over to The Speed Channel and go on and on. Every so often my older cousin, Tommy, would ask what I thought and I’d say, ‘yeah, it’s cool’ but got caught once when they were asking what I thought about a terrible crash at one of the races. Then they realized I hadn’t been listening. So I told them I was kinda hungry and was going to see how long before dinner.
That got me out of the TV room and into the kitchen, where my grandmother and Mom were bustling around getting the spread ready. My Aunt Cheryl—Mom’s sister—had been killed by a drunk driver and this was the second Thanksgiving without her, but the first with my uncle and cousins. I thought that with my blood relative aunt out of the picture—to put it coldly—I didn’t really have any connection with the macho jerks in the TV room. And that was okay with me.
I said the guys wanted to know when dinner was ready but phrased it so Mom and Gram knew I was the messenger and didn’t yell at me. I asked if I could help and they exchanged a look. Gram said she had an apron somewhere and fished around in a drawer and pulled out a barbecue apron that had grease stains all over it. Washed and clean, but stained. All three of us made a face and kind of laughed at that, and then Gram snapped her fingers and walked into the TV room and grabbed the TiVo remote and froze the image—of a really ugly quarterback sack—and the guys moaned. She held up the remote and said, “Oh, knock it off; you can rewind it, or whatever this gadget does. This will only take a moment. Dinner will be in one hour from now. Danny, what time is it?”
My younger cousin said, “Huh? Oh. An hour from now.”
Tommy bonked him on the shoulder. “Not what she asked, dummy.”
Gram said, “Thomas, don’t call your brother a dummy.” She looked at Danny and said, “Now, dummy, answer the question. What time is it?”
My uncle and Tommy laughed.
“Oh!” Danny said. “I thought you asked ….yeah. Um …six-fifteen?”
“So dinner will be ready when?”
“Um …seven-fifteen?” he said, not brightly.
Gram nodded. “Got that, you?” My uncle and Tommy nodded. “We’re working our tails off in there and Larry’s been drafted to do some heavy lifting for us. So we don’t want to be disturbed. Got that? If you wander into the kitchen, for a soda, or a cookie, or to ask a question, it will only delay dinner. And you will be put to work—and that will mean no more TV. Do you want dinner delayed?”
All three dutifully shook their heads and said, no, ma’am.
Gram said, “So the kitchen is off limits. You eat in sixty minutes if you stay out. Enjoy the game.” And she handed the remote to my uncle and closed the pocket door to the kitchen, then the two side doors. I had never noticed there was a latch on the pocket door, but we were closed off from the guys and their noise.
“Incredible, Mom,” said my mom.
I asked what Gram needed lifting and she laughed and said nothing; she thought I wanted to help. I told her I did and she went back to the drawer and got another apron out, yellow and white and definitely a woman’s apron. Gram said, “That backyard barbecue one was your granddad’s favorite, and I just didn’t have the heart to throw it out. But it just doesn’t fit our lovely kitchen. Is this okay with you, sweetheart?” She meant the apron.
For some reason, I felt proud to put it on …or actually have my mother tie it for me. I was now part of the crew, the meal preparers, the providers …all sorts of weird thoughts went through my head while I stirred or sifted or measured or whatever. I learned a lot, especially about how to make cornbread, which was nearly all done by me—with their directions, of course.
At ten after seven Mom untied my apron and Gram unlatched the pocket door but we kept getting things ready. Mom set the table and I watched; she told me how and why she was doing it because there were more of everything on the table—silverware, glasses, plates—than any other day of the year. The guys came stomping in, grumbling about one of the games and talking a mile a minute. Gram made them go back and wash and by the time they got back everything was on the table.
We said Grace and said what we were thankful for. When it came to me, I said I was thankful for my family—looking only at Mom and Gram—and for getting my grades up. Danny snorted at that and got hit by my uncle. Danny said he was grateful that some guy broke his leg and couldn’t throw for Dallas, which earned him a threatening hit from his uncle who said, “Oh, Dallas; that’s okay then!” and all three guys laughed. Tommy said he was thankful for Jenny Smithson going out with him. Danny snickered and my uncle harrumphed and said he was thankful for family. Easy out. Mom said rather than being thankful, she was sad that her sister wasn’t there to be with us, which served to sober up my uncle and cousins. Gram didn’t say what she was thankful for, but gave an old Irish toast that was kind of funny and almost blasphemous and we all chuckled and ate.
I watched ‘my’ cornbread get devoured and felt proud for my part in making it, and angry when Danny took a little piece of cornbread and flicked it at Tommy, which earned him another hit from my uncle and that earned him a reprimand from Gram. It looked like it was spiraling out of control so I loudly asked Tommy what was Jenny like and that got him going and got everybody off the food-flick and the hits.
The guys almost ran back to the TV after a few loud burps and mumbled thank yous and I started clearing the table. Mom gave my arm a squeeze and I felt great doing it. Then, really rudely, my uncle showed up at the kitchen door zipping his jacket. “TV said roads are icing up; I’m going to beat it back home with the guys before it gets hairy. Thanks again, Mom. Really tasty. Guys?” And despite Gram’s stern face, he turned away. Each of the two cousins stared at the kitchen floor as they got their jackets on and dully said thanks and then they all left. Left us with a zillion dishes and the TV still blaring!
All three of us looked at each other. Gram said, “If the roads are icing up you’d better get going, honey,” but Mom looked at me and said, “No, Mom. If they’re icing up we’re staying put, but more importantly—” And I interrupted and said, “More importantly we’re not going to desert you like this. Where do you want these plates?”
It felt really, really good to help clean up and we got everything in the washer or put away. I wore my apron and got splashed at one point so it was a good thing that I had it, but my shirt still got kind of wet. When I took the apron off I didn’t notice the damp part, but we went to the TV room and Mom found a Thanksgiving special with a lot of stars. I sat on the couch next to Mom, with my legs tucked under me the way I’ve been doing it lately, and shivered slightly and that’s when we discovered that my shirt was wet.
Gram left and came back with a yellow robe. I stripped off my shirt and handed it to her and put on the robe and Mom told me it was chenille and it was warm because all I had on were my pants and no shirt, but the robe made it fine. But it reminded Mom that we were spending the night and we hadn’t packed because we’d planned to go back home. She kind of made a face at the thought of me sleeping in my clothes.
Gram said quietly, “I don’t have any young man’s pajamas; the last time anybody slept over they were little guys. I have an idea, and it might be kind of fun, but I want you to approve,” she said, looking at me. I said, “Why me?” and Mom hugged me saying she thought she knew what Gram was up to. Gram had left again and came back with a small pile of clothes.
“This is my idea. I only have nightgowns because that’s what I sleep in. And I only had Cheryl and your mother, so I still have some of their nightgowns.” She looked at Mom. “Remember that baby blue nightie you loved so much?”
“With the ducks?” Mom gasped.
Gram grinned. “With the ducks.” She pulled one out of the pile. “Quack-quack!”
Mom made a little ‘ooh!’ sound and took the folded nightgown with two hands and put her cheek into it and inhaled. “Same sachet,” she said as Gram nodded. Turning to me she said, “This was my all-time favorite nightie. So soft and I slept so well …” Her face changed slightly. “Before growing up and high school and boys and all that silliness. Your aunt Cheryl and I spent so much time in these.” She looked fondly at the nightie.
I said, “So you’ll sleep in that?”
Gram tut-tutted. “Oh, it’d be much too small. I have this for your mother,” she said, pulling a white lacy nightgown out. “Never been worn. Much too sexy for an old lady like me,” she grinned.
Mom took that nightgown and opened it up and declared it beautiful.
I was waiting for whatever I was going to wear when I realized. “Oh …you mean …”
Mom turned to me, still holding the white nightie over one arm but treasuring the blue one. “Honey, there’s nobody here to be embarrassed about. Nobody will see you. I can almost guarantee you a good night’s sleep, warm and safe …” She looked to the blue nightgown.
“Mom, I’d be …honored to wear it,” I said, my voice sounding funny in my ears.
She handed the nightie to me and then hugged me. She whispered, “Oh, Larissa, you make me so proud of you!”
I got the strangest feeling, like a Christmas Eve-type of excitement.
Gram said, “Why don’t we all get ready for bed, get washed and all but don’t brush your teeth. Come back here and watch all these silly stars and I’ll make hot buttered rum!”
I followed Mom to her old bedroom, still with two beds, and knew we’d be sleeping as she and her sister had. Mom went into the bathroom first and came out, her face shiny, wearing the white nightgown and a robe open. She looked lovely and Gram was right—it was almost a sexy gown. Now it was my turn. I went in and washed up and used the same stuff she did because it was right there on the sink. I’d been cleansing and moisturizing for weeks now, and always felt better at bedtime with clean skin. I stripped, peed, and then faced the nightie.
I didn’t want to wear it because I’m a boy, yeah …but I really, really wanted to wear it! I found there were panties folded in it, so I put them on and then slid the nightie over me and it was really just like a big t-shirt, sort of, but was warm and soft and already I felt great.
I opened the door and came out and Mom’s eyes teared up immediately. She rushed to me and said, “Oh, sweetie, you’re so …you look so …”
I looked her in the eye. “You can say it, Mom.” I swallowed. “I want you to say it!”
She was on the verge of crying as she said, “Oh, Larissa, you’re so pretty!”
And I felt absolutely wonderful hearing it!
Gram had made hot buttered rum and I got some and loved it. I mean, real stuff, with the rum! Well, just a ‘splash’ in mine, Gram chuckled. But it was delicious and it warmed me and made me feel cuddly. We all snuggled together on the couch with our mugs in front of us to watch the TV but first I had something to say.
“Gram,” I started cautiously. “I …Mom and I have a …thing between us. Just between us.” I didn’t think about Ms. Belasco just then. “Um, some guys …” and I told her the story of overhearing Mackie and Steve. She smiled and listened. I finished with, “So I’d kinda like it if …if at least tonight, you would call me Larissa.”
My wonderful grandmother said, “I’d be honored, sweetheart. But only if you do one thing for me. No, two things.”
“First, would you get up and walk to the kitchen?”
I did that and turned. “Yes? And what do you need from the kitchen?”
“Nothing, Larissa; I changed my mind. Thanks, sweetie. You can come back now.”
I did that and just before sitting, she said, “And the second thing is, maybe for a little bit you might snuggle up with me the way you do with your mom? It was making me kinda lonely,” she said, but I knew she was kidding.
So I tucked my legs under me and leaned against her. She put her arm around me and squeezed and said, “I love you, Larissa. You’re so pretty. And I’ve got a confession to make—I sent you to the kitchen just so I could see you walk in that pretty nightie!”
Mom and I were quiet on the drive back the next morning. The roads had been icy but were okay now. We’d had a late start, a long wonderful night’s sleep and breakfast in our nighties and robes and my clothes had been washed and dried so I put them on but felt a sense of …loss, or something. That’s kind of why I was quiet on the drive back, thinking. I realized it was the first night in a long time that I hadn’t had my CDs playing, but I didn’t miss them because Mom and I had talked for a little bit when we got into our beds.
Now, in the car, I finally broke the silence. “Mom, do you think I’m weird if I said that …well, I liked helping in the kitchen, even the apron, and it was so nice wearing your old nightgown, and except for my stupid uncle and cousins, it was a really good time?”
She glanced at me and back to the road. “Not at all, sweetie.” She paused and said, “Something on your mind? Do you want to talk about it?”
I looked out the window, not trusting myself to look at her. “Maybe, kind of …I was kind of thinking that …well, I slept really good. Maybe it was the rum, but …would it be too weird if I got some kind of night shirt?”
She nodded. “Not weird at all. I think it suits you. Tell you what. We’ll look through the catalogs at home. Save a lot of gas and footwork.”
And embarrassment, I thought. Because I knew what I really wanted—I wanted a nightgown.
End of Part 1
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