Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Don't Go Breaking My Heart

My eighth grade boyfriend Chris (the second one - out of an eventual eight) cheated on me with my friend Amy Christian*. Apparently she gave him a blow job. I heard this not from him, and certainly not from her, but seeing as how she had done it during choir class, on her knees while everyone stood around her singing, I heard about it from quite a few people. (This was before everyone had a camera phone, so I was spared at least from seeing it myself.)

I came to school the next day, filled with righteous indignation and wearing my sexiest dress. I had only just started wearing dresses again that year. I stopped as soon as I quit going to Christian school, and quit being required to wear one on Wednesdays for Chapel.

He knew I knew. How could I not? He stood there in front of me on the courtyard where we had sat together with our friends, where he had felt me up under the table while we laughed and joked and talked about music and how much our parents sucked. Chris stood there begging an apology with his face, and trying to foist a small white teddy bear holding a red plush heart on me. He squeezed it and it let out a high and tinny sound, like a singing birthday card or the music in a Japanese Nintendo game.

I didn't even have words. My rage was primal, animal. It wasn't the kind of rage that spoke; it was the kind that growled. I snatched the bear and snarled at him, then flounced off to my locker. Did he seriously think I would forgive him if he bought me some gas station teddy bear with his cigarette money? Not only was that totally insulting, almost more than the blow job even, but the damn thing sounded annoying. Somehow I made it through that day, and onto the bus home from school. I kept myself busy, watching TRL and talking on the phone or else chatting with people on AIM.

My mom was out of town then. She has gone to at least two conferences a year for as long as I can remember. Even as a grad student, my mom missed Easter every single year, because an annual conference is held that week, and it's cheapest to fly on Easter Sunday. My sister Esther and I weren't very close at that point, and we each sort of kept to our rooms (mine a 10' by 10' office and hers a 10' x 16' bedroom the same size as our mom's.)

Esther and I made and ate our meals separately, like always. We hadn't been forced to do family dinners since I was ten, and we both knew how to use the microwave. It wouldn't have occurred to me that eating the meal with someone would be better in some way. (I still get very impatient after I'm done eating, when people want to loiter at the restaurant. The inner diner waitress in me is screaming, "What are you - French?!?")

At bedtime I started looking for some scissors. I found the rusty orange handled ones we kept for opening boxes in the junk drawer. I took them to my small square bedroom, decorated with letters from my friends, taped open, in a desperate subconscious attempt to get my mother to notice me, and notice the danger I was in.

I set up everything I would need on the bed - scissors, a lighter, a hammer, a cutting board, a box of love letters, a trash can, a mix tape, and the bear. I climbed over the pile to the head of my bed by my dresser, and began.

I ripped open the right side of the bear and yanked the small plastic voice box out. I tossed the bear aside momentarily to focus on the white circle in front of me. I placed it on the cutting board and smashed it with the hammer over and over, till the music stopped and it resembled a squashed bug more than a piece of electronic equipment. I leaned over and put the hammer, cutting board, and carcass at the foot of the bed, and settled back into my spot, cross-legged on my pillows in the corner of my room.

I pulled out all the cotton stuffing, throwing it on the floor off to one side. I had to flip the arms and legs practically inside out to get all of it. Having an idea, I reversed the bear. Looking at it, I suddenly felt much calmer. "Huh," I said aloud. "I invertedted it." I thought my stutter was really funny for some reason and I enjoyed for a moment the sensation of actually being as weird as I felt. I calmly and methodically clipped all the hairs coming through the inside-out bear, and when I got tired of that, I used the scissors to stab and snip the limp and hairless remains. I wasn't sure if voodoo was real or not. I certainly believed in sorcery being both real and demonic. Right then I didn't care. I wanted voodoo to be real. I wanted him to know how much he had betrayed me, but I didn't want to have to tell him. I didn't ever wanna speak to him again.

Once there was really no more bear left to destroy, I moved on to the mix tape. For some strange reason, Chris really liked Phil Collins and the song "Groovy Kind of Love" was on the tape. I hadn't heard it before and that it was uncomfortably cheesy. The only other song I remember being on there was "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns N Roses. I pulled the thin, gossamer strand of audio tape, out and out, unrolling it from the spools. Into the trash can it went.

Now it was time for the night's major attraction - the grand finale. I set my small green plastic garbage can, now half full of cotton stuffing, in front of me on the bed, and took his love letters - his painfully misspelled and written in a childish scrawl love letters. He wasn't exactly a wordsmith and I remember not being that impressed even when I felt all gooey about him, before my supposed friend put her mouth on his cock in front of thirty other kids, and before he didn't stop her at any point in all of this, until after he had come and she had swallowed.

I unfolded the first letter, from the origami-like shape everyone seemed to pass notes in at school.** I held it by one corner and flicked the lighter with my other hand. I let the flame climb onto the paper, and twisted it this way and that, getting the ashes to fly into the trash can. I burned it down till just the one corner remained, and blew it out before the fire could singe me. I did it again. And again. On the fourth letter, I couldn't keep the flame moving the way I wanted it to, and it burned my fingers. I dropped the letter and the fire into the trash can.

Whoosh! The teddy bear stuffing might as well have been made out of lighter fluid or pure oxygen. And suddenly, in a moment of crystal clarity, I realized the exact stupidity of what I was doing. Trapped in on all sides, with a fire in front of me on the bed, I started screaming. "Help! Fire! Water!"

My sister yanked open my door and threw an old plastic yogurt cup filled with water in my general direction. Looking exasperated, she stalked off and slammed the door to her room, to try to go back to sleep. I grabbed the sodden, charred, smoldering remains of the trash can out to the yard, and let it continue melting and warping out there, then set about airing out the house.

My sister never told my mom, or if she did, mom didn't act on the information. I set another fire a year later, trying to perform a magic spell and letting the candles catch my drapes. I had to use the fire extinguisher on that one, and the clean up was a pain, but mom didn't know about that one either. It wasn't until she went to check the extinguisher, six or seven years later, that she realized it was actually near empty.

Maybe my mom should have invaded my privacy, just a little. I certainly shouldn't have gotten away with as much as I did, and she's said herself that she knew about a lot more than she's told me. I had my secrets written on my walls, if only she had looked. I could scarcely have made it more plain to her how very not-okay I was.

Disclaimer: No actual animals were harmed in the making of this memory.

* Yes, her name really was Christian.
** Is this a lost art form now that kids have texting?