Long Plaid Coat – Part 4

There’s not a lot of things in life you know for sure. You’re not sure about your identity or your aspirations. You don’t completely trust your memories. People even like to tell you that even science isn’t known for sure, and you’d have to agree because in middle school your favorite thing to do was say ‘Truth isn’t universal.’ There is one thing you’re sure of, though: it’s the little things that count.

The little things count when Ashley pokes her little pink tongue out of her little mouth at the class photo and says, “I look so bad!” They matter when the girls crowd around the picture and point slim fingers at ‘ugly hair’ and moan about being too tall or tilting their head too much or not liking the clothes they wore. Later when you squint at your round face in the front row, short hair held back by a headband, legs crossed, hands on your knees, your focus is drawn to your face. It’s the same face that your mom loved for it’s round nose and cute cheeks but your mouth is so square. You frown and tuck the photo back into its folder because little things matter. A smile matters.

The little things count when you’re in fourth grade and you’re standing in line to sign in in the morning but get stuck behind two girls. They count when you witness the secret handoff of a Justin Bieber book between two smiling friends. When one of them is the new girl your classmates smile too wide at and immediately abandon when recess starts and the other is the kindest girl you know who’s hated for crying too much little things matter. While you’re staring at Justin Bieber’s long hair on the glossy hardcover surrounded by lights and you member that just yesterday you’d overheard your other friends complaining about his high voice and terrible music and terrible hair little things matter. A book matters. Two girls matter. You’re silence and your ignorant agreement with the Other Friends matter.

 

Long Plaid Coat – Part 3

Read Part 1 here

You hear your first rumor in second grade as well. It’s about a boy named Ian who moves in near the end of the year. He’s a little shorter than you, long eyelashes and lanky frame, and has a feathery dark brown mess of hair sitting on top of his head. He also has the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. So of course he becomes you’re almost friend. Almost.

In second grade recess comes before lunch. Second only to independent writing time, it’s one of your favorite times of the day. Before recess the whole grade crowds into the second grade hall, filling the building with sounds of opening and slamming short blue lockers. The hallways overflows with the chatter of young high pitched voices. The windows at the end of the hall spill in bright noon day light and in your wide second grade mind there’s no room in that hallway for anything but smiles.

One particular day, sometime soon after deciding that rather than slamming your locker door you would carefully lift the latch and close it, Ian doesn’t come out with the rest of the crowd. But you don’t look for him. You’re not friends, just almost friends. Just people who are very ver nice to each other. So you hear it from another almost friend. The girl with frizzy brown hair asks where he is and the very blond girl says he was talking to the teacher. Then that they were arguing. And the teacher had thrown a table. And he had thrown a chair. And for half a moment, while you watch their backs walk away, you believe it. Then you don’t. Then, for the rest of recess and most of lunch and every time in the future that you thought of the event your throat tightens and you gets a bitter oily taste in your mouth because you’re not sure if it’s true.

You put more thought into it than you should. You think about how Ian’s face always twisted a little bit every time he talked about your teacher and you think about how your teacher can have a short temper sometimes. You think about how your teacher is a universal least favorite even though you never figured out why and you think about how no one’s really friends with Ian because he’s eccentric and passionate and acts in a way that, to anyone older, places him as obviously rich. And you like to trust people so much. And you don’t like to ask. So you never find out if the rumor was true. All you know is that in third grade Ian makes a lot of friends then loses them all in eighth and your second grade teacher’s name is said with distaste right up until the day of your middle school graduation.

Long Plaid Coat – Part 2

You remember a lot of things. You remember yellow legos in kindergarten. You remember dressing up like Hermione on Halloween in first grade. You remember sitting in front of the TV with your grandfather watching Star Trek even though you didn’t know what it meant. You just don’t remember events. Some memories, when you think about it, are actually impossible. Scratch that, a lot of memories.

Your first concrete memory is of rug time in second grade. The rug was blue with a circle of diverse triangle kids. The teacher’s name as Mrs. Johnson and she had lots of fluffy gray hair. That year you also had a friend named Ashley who would soon become the epitome of cool. She had straight bond hair and murky blue eyes and she’d introduced you to basketball and gotten you into collecting little shaped erasers.

That day on the blue rug she had sat in front of you. She’d leaned to the side and whispered in the ear of one of her other friends, one of the ones you never got to know well. In her hand she held a little eraser shaped like a hamster with a white belly and a hot pink back. You’d never seen one like that before, and the hamster were the cutest and your absolute favorite of them all, so you poked her in the lower back and whispered, “Let me see.” She twisted around to show you and you were about to pick it up, about to hold it close to your face, eyes sparkling with joy, but your teacher’s voice interrupted. No talking. Pay attention please.

Ashley had turned back and you had looked down, cheeks not burning but instead aching. You started to feel sick. You’d wanted to cry. You didn’t though, because it wasn’t really that big a deal. You thought you’d forgotten about it a week later. Obviously you hadn’t though, because this is your first memory of getting in trouble.

In that moment you’d hated it. You still hate the memory of it. You’d hated the feeling and the eyes and fact that you were no longer good. You hate now that the moment had mattered so much to you. You hate that in that moment you’d made yourself a promise to never get in trouble, never make anyone angry ever again. You hate that you still honor it.

Read Part 1

Long Plaid Coat – Part 1

Imagine you’re five years old. You live in Gladwyne Pennsylvania. You go to Gladwyne Montessori School for kindergarten where you’re in Mrs. Golden’s class with five other kindergarteners and a crowd of preschool kids. At home you munch on pretzels and play doctor and your mom puts your hair in pigtails.

You have an older brother in third grade. He goes to Gladwyne Montessori, too, but his school isn’t the same one as yours because it’s across the road on the other side of the playground. You still walk to school together, though. You chase your brother while your dad chases you and you run behind someone’s house through the wood to get there faster. Once you get to school you hop up the steps of the big brick building and wave them goodbye. Then you grip the straps of you butterfly backpack and go inside. Your cubby is the second one on the right. It has your name and a picture of you on halloween last year when you dressed up as Mulan with a pink and purple helmet and scowled at the camera. At your cubby you shrug off your jacket and backpack all at once and stuff them in. Off goes the jacket. Into the cubby. Out comes the folder. And inside that folder are important papers that your mommy signed.

Your best friend Zach is one of the five. When you go into the classroom he’s already there sitting at the round table next to the sink. Today your teacher is out sick so the assistant teacher is in charge. You don’t remember her name. But that’s okay. The whole school day you sit across from Zach drawing on printer paper with precise squiggly black borders. You draw lines and fighters so that it looks like the video game your brother likes to play and narrate as you go. Your voices are high pitched and loud, but to your five year old self it’s like they’re weaving epics and shakespearian soliloquies. Zach draws a fire mage who helps the little swordsman with a flat head. You draw Midna with long black hair, so long it goes off the page. When the assistant teacher comes around with her white binder and asks what you’re doing today Zach looks up innocently and replies, “We’re drawing. Obviously.” And inside you laugh and outside you smile. End everything is good.

And if you have a crush on Zach, well that nobody else’s business.

After you go home your babysitter stuffs you with snacks and teaches you how to mold clay. She creates fairy worlds and you make a blobby red being and when they come out of the oven hard you decide to keep them forever. When your parent get home the lights come on and your brother appears for dinner. You pray for tater tots. If you’re lucky she’ll make you cookies. And then, since it’s a Friday, you get to watch a movie.

When you’re five years old you watch movies, see characters, and decide to be just them. First Nausicaa, then Mulan, then Maria from The Sound of Music. Late you’ll move on to Kim Possible and Amy Pond and River Song. You’ll even spend a time with Kenma, Akame, and Sherlock Holmes. But that’s later. At five you’re young and can be anything you want and right now you want Mulan and Nausicaa and Maria. The characters you choose teach you to be kind and confident and free. They teach you to care for the ones you love and protect them as well and that selflessness is always best. But it goes farther than that, because they didn’t teach you that instead of being bad you should be good. At five bad isn’t even something you know. You’ve seen your share of villains. Sitting in the dark it’s impossible to forget the dark cars and raging fires, but somehow for you “bad” doesn’t even exist. So really, you’re not being kind. You’re being natural, normal, real.

You also watch your share of Disney movies. You read more than your share of books. Sitting on the floor with your paper and crayons you draw your brother’s video games and fire mages and Midna. Then, on another paper you draw a boy and girl in love. These Disney movies and children’s books that you’ve read never made you feel the need to be beautiful. They never made you feel the need to be delicate or feminine. They only made you want to love. So you hum to yourself and draw. You draw the allure and fantasy of the freedom fighters your brother likes to control. You draw scenes with long arcs of grass and wide expanses of white sky and yellow corner suns. You draw two tall figures with skin colored octopus arms to fall in love.

After your mom waves you off to bed you call to be tucked in. Your hair is wet and just goes past your shoulders. Your pajamas are hot pink; the pants have stripes. Leaning over you, your daddy tells you stories about a milk princess who, armed with her bottle of milk because milk was her favorite, went out into the world to learn. Then, after ten minutes of story, he pulls you blanket up to your chin, says goodnight, and turns off the lights.

At five years old, these are the stories you grow up with.