Friday, September 4, 2009

Fifth Grade: part one

Fifth grade was the first time in my life I was actively aware of so many people disliking me. It wasn't necessarily daily torment; they might leave me alone if I could just shut up and stop being overtly weird for a while. But like a puppy that doesn't know how to avoid a kick, I kept trying to make friends with them. I wanted them to like me. I had had a good set of friends, or at least girls I got along with and could be part of a group with, back at Christian school, and I'd been especially close to two of those girls, Brook and Trisha. And in my neighborhood I'd lost Pam as a friend earlier that year, before we moved, when I told the police what her dad liked to do to me. Lindsay had stayed my friend to the end, but our parents didn't like us hanging out, after the time her married dad hit on my mom, or when Lindsay yelled at my grandma. I'd lost my best friend in the world, my cousin Jason, and I'd lost all my aunts and my two baby cousins and my Giggy.

My mom was working a full-time day job now, and I was in public school for the first time. Instead of my mom dropping me off in the morning and my grandmother picking me up in the afternoon, I had to stand in the snow for twenty minutes at the bus stop at the top of the hill. In negative twenty degrees. With a wind chill of negative fifty. I was a latch-key kid now for the first time, and I was cooped up indoors for the afternoon, because my chest always hurt after sledding, and it was just too damn cold all the time. The snow falls were never very thick, but there were months of freezing rain. In Florida the daily afternoon rains cleared all the dust from the air, and left all the flowers shining and aromatic. In Iowa the rain pounded into the ground, soaked the earth, and drowned the worms. The stench of bloated earthworms would last for days after one of these rains.

As the school year went on, I withdrew more and more. Recess was torture - all the kids would stand around me and the boys would taunt me, calling me ugly and "big nose". Once they spotted the skin-colored mole on my forehead, I was known as "wart girl" as well. I started to read books during lunch, since I'd given up on anyone talking to me. At recess I'd take my book off to a corner of the big yard, beyond the blacktop where kids played four square and the swings were kids laughed and jumped, to sit beneath a tree and escape into other worlds. I loved "Ramona Quimby, Age 8" and Patricia Wrede's "Dealing With Dragons" series. I fell in love with Edgar Eager, and through him, with E. Nesbit.

If it wasn't for the library, I don't know how I would have survived. It was a big, beautiful, two story library with huge windows on the open second floor streaming down to the first. We weren't allowed up there, as it was the adult book section, but there was a fabulous, glassed in children's library room. Rather than the tilted library reference desks we'd gotten used to from our beloved public library back home, this room had a book shelf mountain of carpeted square crates. Each cube was open on one side to reveal a cache of books, and my sister and I would climb up and around, gathering good books and playing Queen of the Mountain till my mother told us it was time to check out.

I'd always liked books. I started reading young and grew up in a house with floor to ceiling bookshelves lining the house. But I didn't start to rely on books till Iowa. I started fantastizing and day dreaming all the time - if only I could go to Fantasia, Narnia, Pern. If only I could play piano like "Libby Johnson" or wear a magic ring like in "The Enchanted Castle". If only I could find a magical library book on the shelves one day, and go off on exciting adventures far from here, .like in "Seven Day Magic". If only I could be some storybook hero and go on a knight's quest to slay dragons and save ladies fair. If only I could be anyone, anywhere but here.