Then she howled. And we danced and twirled and she threw leaves up in the air and watched them fall and I twirled the large branch and imagined I lived at the top of a tree like a fairy and that Adelmira wove a fence of leaves below me. That no one could get in. That no one could break into us. We stayed like that, enraptured with the muddy fall for another ten or so minutes before she broke our stride.
“I need to head back.”
Snapped out of a parallel daydream, both my hands were full of dirt when I came to.
“What, why?”
“I have to take care of my mom.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing, I just have to go.”
“Ok, I’ll walk back with you.”
We both began the trudge through the ditch.
“Are you gonna get in trouble for your clothes?”
She looked down towards her feet and then turned back to me. She was leading.
“I don’t think so. It will be alright.”
She smiled at me, bright. She had a front snaggle tooth. A few other kids I knew had those. My brother said it’s because they couldn’t afford dentists and orthodontry. My mom agreed. My brother said other things too; more negative things but I didn’t repeat them to her.
“I had fun.”
“Me too, want to play tomorrow?”
She was messing with her hair a lot. I envied her hair; long and tangly, fine like mine but longer. Hair was what I felt when I twirled the leaf, envy, hair, what it would feel like to run my fingers through my hair. It was the secret thing I did that I couldn’t explain; touched things that felt like they could move–straws, ribbon, leaves, tall plants. As I touched them, I would imagine they were long locks of my own hair except it wasn’t me, it was the distorted more perfect version of me. The one with hair. The one who had good handwriting. The one who always won the science fair. The one who boys liked and girls admired and she had long hair.

“I like your hair, Adelmira.”
She didn’t say anything but she stopped playing with it. When we got to the edge by the church where we met, I asked her which way she was going. Pointing to the left, towards Chesapeake, she bit her lip.
“I’d invite you but my mom doesn’t like people over. It’s better if we meet here.”
“That’s ok. I am not allowed in that neighborhood. Or that one,” I pointed to my left. “I got off at my friend Parres’ bus stop once but I wasn’t allowed to do it again. I don’t know really know why.”
“I do. It’s cuz your white.”
“No, my mom says it’s cuz it’s too far. Aren’t you white?”
“No,” and she added. “I thought you and I were kind of the same but we’re different. I still like you though. It’s ok that you’re white.”
“Ok,” I became sheepish.
She headed towards Indian River, that was the name of the neighborhood, and I began walking home. I was going to play Kirby I decided. Or Donkey Kong if no one was in the den. It’s cuz your white. Years later, my friend Parres, in high school would turn around on the bus to face me and tell me she thought I was different but that I was white like all the white girls and that we were all racist. I didn’t argue with her but I told her I wasn’t racist. She looked at me. We had once, in third grade, gotten into a fight because she thought I rolled my eyes at her when I was trying to get something out of my eye. My mom taught me a trick–you close your eye and roll it around and whatever is stuck will fall out. In order to keep it closed, I had to pull the eye shut. Because of my predilection for attention, I often tried to get my friends’ attention no matter what I was doing or at least looked their way. Both Parres and another classmate, Tamara, saw me and took it as a slight. I actually did not know this until much later, weeks later when they decided they were done being mad and started doing my hair at lunch again.
“I love your hair,” Tamara would say and run her fingers through it twisting it into a loose braid.
Kids. Kids have no idea what trauma is until hindsight. Hindsight is the adult’s burden. Ignorance is the child’s.

We stayed like that for awhile: throwing sticks and running to catch them. She would throw her own and catch it while I looked for bigger and better sticks to fly with. We went as deep as we could until we reached the crossing with the stagnant water. Beer cans and Coke cans stuck out of the mud, sometimes a cigarette butt, a few styrofoam cups. You couldn’t traverse this area easily without jumping and Adelmira stopped short.
“I have an idea Princess Catarina.”
“Yessss……”

“I will jump across the lake for you to get you that big stick.”
She pointed to a large branch that had fallen; a branch too large to carry on its own but was also attached to three smaller branches. Some green leaves were still on the branches. I didn’t really want the stick so much as I wanted to see her jump across without getting wet. I had never tried it. We always took the long way around if we really wanted to get to that side. All that was over there was someone’s back yard, a metal fence, nothing. The other direction led to the gas station and highway and we would sneak out, walk the length of the ditch and around the highway. Our parents had no clue what we did all day.
“Ok,” and I waited.
She backed up a little and tucked her hair behind her ears. Inhaling deeply, she assumed the lunge position. Poised, she let out another exhale and began running then leaping then landing one foot squarely in the water and the other on land. Her entire left pant leg was covered with mud and had slipped and her right knee nested on the ground. She used her hands to crawl up and I was laughing.

“I knew you wouldn’t make it.
She didn’t turn back to look at me but scrambled up that hill to snatch the stick and then trotted back down to the edge.
“Well, now you’re just filthy. How ya gonna get across?”
Did you know she just traipsed right across like that? She didn’t even try to jump.
She just walked through the dirty water and handed me the stick.
“I am Adelmira. I’m a good dog.”
“Good doggie, you are very dirty and now you need a bath.”
We both laughed and I sort of jumped and twirled in the air with the giant stick and it was the lightness of it that kept me. The way that girls laugh. The way games start. The way we showed off to each other in the woods, and never a guy around until suddenly they were around all the time. We had spitting contests, cursing contests, stealing contests, cartwheel contests and the world was ours. We had frilly skirts but mostly mud-marked shorts and skinned knees and tangles in our hair that sometimes we combed for each other. We had secrets and secret language and secret games and a lightness, a buoyancy that carried us. If you asked me then, that day, if I really wanted to marry a king, I would have said only if I can live with all my friends in my castle.

“Adelmira the very very very very good and brave and magicl dog!” I screamed and then turned my scream into a howl.
Then she howled. And we danced and twirled and she threw leaves up in the air and watched them fall and I twirled the large branch and imagined I lived at the top of a tree like a fairy and that Adelmira wove a fence of leaves below me. That no one could get in. That no one could break into us.

Then he ran ahead leaving me to wonder if they’d cave at his request. I lost track of time in reverie and had become fixated on a stone pattern near by. Squinting, I was willing the stones to form a pattern of words, some sort of magical bridge only I saw.
“Hole” I said out loud. It says hole.
I continued squinting to see if anything else came up as the stones transmuted into language in front of me. My secret game of plant math. I barely heard the crunch and turned.
“Hey.”
“You’re late.”
“Sorry,” she looked down.
She looked down a lot, nervous and today we both wore short sleeves and colored pants. It was warm.
“We kind of match,” I said, standing up.
She did look like me a little only darker and with longer, darker hair. She may have been a little heavier than me but not by much and she had darker eyes but they seemed bright, like big new moons or black holes that shone to guide you through. Her fingernails were dirtier than mine and her hands looked dirty all the time. I was wearing pink corduroys and she was wearing light green, Easter Egg green with the same white shoes and a plain dark pink tee shirt. My tee shirt was plain light blue. A coordinated duo already.
“So let’s play!” I held my arms out.
“What do you want to play?”
Dumbstruck.
“Your game! Pretend village.”
“Oh….right.”
We squared each other, did nothing. Immediately irritated, I took the lead even though it wasn’t my made up thing.
“What if we start by making up our names and roles in the village. I’ll start. My name is Catarina. Pronounce it like this Cat-Uh-Reena. Practice.”
I held my hands out to encourage her.
“Cat-uh-reena,” she mimicked.
“Yes!” I clapped my hands.
“Now what is your name?”
She beamed, “Adelmira.”
it took her no time.
“Cool name! Ok so I am the evil princess that wants to be turned good but needs true love to do it and so you and I are going to find a spell in the rocks and dirt to help me.”

She scratched her chin.
“Can I be a princess too?”
“Ummm, you are my dog that serves me and then one day turns into a princess because you have found all the dirt clues and eaten the right bug and we live in a house together and we each have our own princes and then become queen of different worlds but I become queen first and then help you.”
She said nothing but nodded.
“Ok, so now I am the evil princess and you are my guard dog but you are like, special and magical so you can walk over water and fly and stuff and I can fly too but not without this stick. You can fly whenever.”
I picked up the biggest stick nearby and threw it.
“Ok, dog go get it and bring it back and then we both will fly.”
I remember being surprised at how well she took direction and was willing to obey me. My friends had the same complaint about me.
“I’m going home. You’re being too bossy.”
That’s when Leana and I would fight. When I couldn’t relinquish control of what we were doing. Back then, we had more time. More time to play and make up games and tell secrets and I loved winning and being in charge. The only time I was ok with losing was if it was to impress or trick a boy, or if Leana or Leah won. I didn’t mind losing to friends. I hated losing to boys especially in math. They always gloated and said things like “girls suck” or “girls are stupid” so I liked when my girl friends won. Tyrannical, I held the class’ esteem tightly in my pocket. If I had a real role in Pretend Village it was court jester. I was tetchy like some princess’ are but also too mischievous, too loquacious, too dirty.
She brought the stick back and handed it to me.
“Very good, doggie!”
I exaggerated my motions, placing my hands on my thigh congratulating her.
“Now, lead the way to our castle and catch the stick every time I throw it.”

I started the game by throwing the stick in the other direction, deeper into the woods. Adelmira glanced at me, unsure, hesitant but then jogged and then ran. At that age, I could throw far. At that age, my demands were met with haste. At that age, I scowled when upset and made pettish cries heard. At that age, time and space were of no consequence, I knew each stone in that ditch favored me and would guide my way.
“Great, Adelmira!” and I ran to catch up

Then he ran ahead leaving me to wonder if they’d cave at his request. I lost track of time in reverie and had become fixated on a stone pattern near by. Squinting, I was willing the stones to form a pattern of words, some sort of magical bridge only I saw.
“Hole” I said out loud. It says hole.
I continued squinting to see if anything else came up as the stones transmuted into language in front of me. My secret game of plant math. I barely heard the crunch and turned.
“Hey.”
“You’re late.”
“Sorry,” she looked down.
She looked down a lot, nervous and today we both wore short sleeves and colored pants. It was warm.
“We kind of match,” I said, standing up.
She did look like me a little only darker and with longer, darker hair. She may have been a little heavier than me but not by much and she had darker eyes but they seemed bright, like big new moons or black holes that shone to guide you through. Her fingernails were dirtier than mine and her hands looked dirty all the time. I was wearing pink corduroys and she was wearing light green, Easter Egg green with the same white shoes and a plain dark pink tee shirt. My tee shirt was plain light blue. A coordinated duo already.
“So let’s play!” I held my arms out.
“What do you want to play?”
Dumbstruck.
“Your game! Pretend village.”
“Oh….right.”
We squared each other, did nothing. Immediately irritated, I took the lead even though it wasn’t my made up thing.
“What if we start by making up our names and roles in the village. I’ll start. My name is Catarina. Pronounce it like this Cat-Uh-Reena. Practice.”
I held my hands out to encourage her.
“Now what is your name?”
She beamed, “Adelmira.”
“Cool name! Ok so I am the evil princess that wants to be turned good but needs true love to do it and so you and I are going to find a spell in the rocks and dirt to help me.”
She scratched her chin.
“Can I be a princess too?”
“Ummm, you are my dog that serves me and then one day turns into a princess because you have found all the dirt clues and eaten the right bug and we live in a house together and we each have our own princes and then become queen of different worlds but I become queen first and then help you.”
She said nothing but nodded.
“Ok, so now I am the evil princess and you are my guard dog but you are like, special and magical so you can walk over water and fly and stuff and I can fly too but not without this stick. You can fly whenever.”
I picked up the biggest stick nearby and threw it.
“Ok, dog go get it and bring it back and then we both will fly.”
I remember being surprised at how well she took direction and was willing to obey me. My friends had the same complaint about me.
“I’m going home. You’re being too bossy.”
That’s when Leana and I would fight. When I couldn’t relinquish control of what we were doing. Back then, we had more time. More time to play and make up games and tell secrets and I loved winning and being in charge. The only time I was ok with losing was if it was to impress or trick a boy, or if Leana or Leah won. I didn’t mind losing to friends. I hated losing to boys especially in math. They always gloated and said things like “girls suck” or “girls are stupid” so I liked when my girl friends won. Tyrannical, I held the class’ esteem tightly in my pocket. If I had a real role in Pretend Village it was court jester. I was tetchy like some princess’ are but also too mischievous, too loquacious, too dirty.
She brought the stick back and handed it to me.
“Very good, doggie!”
I exaggerated my motions, placing my hands on my thigh congratulating her.
“Now, lead the way to our castle and catch the stick every time I throw it.”

I started the game by throwing the stick in the other direction, deeper into the woods. Adelmira glanced at me, unsure, hesitant but then jogged and then ran. At that age, I could throw far. At that age, my demands were met with haste. At that age, I scowled when upset and made pettish cries heard. At that age, time and space were of no consequence, I knew each stone in that ditch favored me and would guide my way.
“Great, Adelmira!” and I ran to catch up

She kind of hopped and then I turned to walk away and then I heard her run off. I didn’t need to leave, I wanted to. I keep my word though. I would return. I didn’t go home right away. i rarely did. Home was small, constricting. My days were mostly spent outside rummaging through gutters, walking the block endlessly, thinking of another place, another time, another me. I walked the block about three or four times alone pretending; of village, of girl, of me grown and teaching at the chalkboard, writing, being proud of herself in front of all those students.
“And what is the answer, Mzzz Callahan?” I said out loud, rounding the corner.
Picturing myself stockinged and proper, chalk dust on my fingers like my heroes. I was going to be a teacher. An english teacher and a writer.
“Correct, Mzzz Callahan.”
And beloved.

At nine am, I was up eating my  mother’s pancakes. Saturdays we ate pancakes and my mom cleaned. Sometimes we had fun activities planned but my birthday had passed, my brother’s birthday was coming and so was Halloween so we were taking the weekend off. My mother was gentle and I loved her pancakes and so did Leana. They were perfect and only one time in my entire adult life did I replicate them with my vegan modification. I loved eating. Still do in fact. I watched some cartoons, got dressed and yelled to my mother, soaking our blinds in the bathtub filling the hallway with the smell of bleach. My dad was going to bet on horses that day so he would be back late. My mom was distracted with cleaning.
“I’m going to Leana’s!”
“Ok!” she yelled back. “Check in before dinner.”

I had to check in throughout the day. Just a quick run in; look I am alive, mildly unscathed save being filthy as usual and my shit eating grin is contained. It wasn’t really about examining me for marks but making sure I hadn’t been kidnapped or murdered which I appreciate more now. I had tons of freedom. Fun followed. Dirty girls have greater times.
At 11:00, I was there, sitting, waiting. I am punctual to a fault. I sat in the dirt and ripped clumps of grass up scared to go further into the ditch in case she showed up. I also felt stupid like I had been tricked. My brother was always saying I fall for things. When I was five years old, my brother, in the middle of Toys R Us, whispered to me that every night at midnight the Freddy Kreuger doll, the store’s featured doll, came to life and murdered the family of whomever it inhabited. In the middle of Toys R Us with my dad ahead of us on some mission I can’t recall, I began screaming.
“Alex!’ my dad snapped.
“What?!?!”
And then the sobs started. All those helpless families. And what if my brother tricked my dad into buying the doll and brought it into my room when I wasn’t paying attention? He was always doing that. The wails got louder and my brother had to shush me and tell me it was a joke.
“I’m just playing with you, Ava. Dolls don’t come to life. I was lying”
As we exited the store, probably empty handed, my brother leaned close to me and said, “Don’t scream ok.”

“Ok.”

“I wasn’t lying and I’m gonna get Dad to buy me that doll for Christmas.”
Then he ran ahead leaving me to wonder if they’d cave at his request.

“What’s your game?”
“It’s called…. Pretend Village.”
The girl twiddled her thumbs a little. I could tell she was trying to think of a game.
“What happens in Pretend Village?”

 She shrugged the way kids do. There was an uneven sloppiness to her. Her pink sweatshirt was stained with a gray bluish color a little at the sleeves, kind of like mine get from rummaging or spilling and her jeans had a green streak from kneeling in the grass. I envied the length of her hair but it was uncombed. She and I were unkempt together.
“It’s gonna get dark soon. Not sure if we have time.”
“Ok, what about tomorrow?”
I had no plans or challenging homework. It was the end of September. My first essay had just been turned in and math was easy. Leana was busy, I think, gymnastics she said.
I shrugged, “Ok, I guess, what time?”

She looked behind her towards the church.
“11?”
I nodded.
“Same spot, ok?” I said.
“Yeah!”
She kind of hopped and then I turned to walk away and then I heard her run off. I didn’t need to leave, I wanted to. I keep my word though. I would return.

stealth
adjective

  1. (chiefly of aircraft) designed in accordance with technology that makes detection by radar or sonar difficult.

 

“You came out of nowhere,” is the first thing I said to her.
She laughed, “Sorry, I tend to do that.”
I stood frozen. I hated getting caught talking to myself.  I dropped the clump of grass and leaf at the same time. Without anything in my hand, I felt exposed. Her eyes followed the ground where I dropped everything.
“What are you doing?” she said
“I’m just playing,” she made me nervous.
She had long dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes. She was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt like me and white sneakers, kind of dirty like me, and she kind of flittered, even while standing there.
“Can I play too?”
“Well, I was playing kind of like an alone game.”

“Oh,” she looked at the clump of grass I dropped and back up at me.
“Well…I know a not alone game we can play,” she started.
You’re probably thinking, as an adult, that playing with a stranger is off limits, but she was a girl, my age. There was no threat detected. I was embarrassed for sure but up for adventure at any given moment.
“And you love games.”
“Oh,” I emphasized. “When I was young, I RULED games.” I used my thumb to count, “I either had to win, had to make it up so the game was in my favor to start, or had to change the rules in the middle so even if the game was falling out of my favor, I could circle back to winner.”
“Sounds like you had to win.”

“I had to prove might.”
He nodded. The fire was warm. I had heard no more alarms or sirens. It wasn’t that I was comfortable with him, it’s that I knew he was engaged. It was 7:30 pm, black as night, cold as death, bleak as life and I felt the energy in the room shift from one of us could cut a knife to you have a better truth coming.

I spent a lot of time in the ditch with Leana, and later in my adolescence, with others from the neighborhood. Leana and I were best friends, inseparable, sisters. We fought also but we were real friends. I called her almost every day or she called me; to either talk or hang out. But even as a child, aloneness recharged me. The dichotomy of introvert and extrovert has always fascinated me as I no longer believe in those terms. Movement, moods, waves come over people and they must go with them so they aren’t dragged under. When I need people, I need people. When I need rest and quiet, I need that. Even as a child, entertaining grew exhausting. I was the “funny” one and the adventurer. My legacy was that I’d perform any dare, including truth. In games, sometimes truth is the hardest. I was always game. They used to dare me to dress up, go ask for non existent car parts at the nearby Advanced Auto parts.
“I’m deadpan,” I lower my face.
I was always chosen to prank stores because I never laughed, could make up things on the spot and had the properness of a real charm school girl.
“Thank you for your time,” I would say leaving the store, Leana in tears, the clerks baffled by, not the Halloween costumes in April, but the boldness of the child’s flirtation with the staff.
I would be the one to knock on the new boy’s door to introduce him to the block, the one to steal the Christmas decorations off of the old woman’s door step, the one to confess my undying love for the new boy first, the one to race him, the one to hit him, the one to run across the highway before the cars. I was the one who told the jokes and picked up bugs. I was voted “funniest girl” in my sixth grade class. Gregarious, I talked to everyone. Clamorous, I was the one to get the entire class in trouble often.
“We are waiting for you, Ava,” Mrs. Heinz said to the entire fifth grade class as I made faces at my friend Parres, unaware that The Oregon Trail game had started again.
It was always like that. I was mildly disruptive but entertaining enough to go undetected.
“I wouldn’t really call you stealth. You just yelled across the entire school bus that you were in love with Jon and were going to marry him”
I flipped my hair.
“I was being rooooommaaaaantic, Leana. Of course, I’m not going to marry him. I am gonna marry Dennis Rogers. Where’d you learn the word stealth?”
I looked up the word stealth that day:
stealth

noun

  1. cautious and surreptitious action or movement.

 

I looked up surreptitious:
sur·rep·ti·tious

/ˌsərəpˈtiSHəs/

adjective

  1. kept secret, especially because it would not be approved of.

“Sir ep tish is.”
I closed the dictionary.
“Umm, I am like so sir ep tisshh isss.”
“What’s that?”
Suddenly, I turned to see a young girl in the ditch with me. It was Friday, 

I had just announced my love for Jon on the school bus and looked up the definition of stealth to later impress Leana with a bigger word: surreptitious and was practicing privately in the ditch near her house. I wasn’t sure what she was asking about; the leaf in my hand that I was twirling to remain calm, the grass in the other that I had plucked for no reason or my exxaggerated use of the word surreptitious that I was practicing to impress everyone on Monday.

 

“A centipede?”
“Yep! But it was like, one of those smaller ones, not a real centipede.”
He made kind of a pursed lip motion as if he was trying to understand but also waiting for me to move on.
“Well it tasted like dirt and I was disappointed. It was the last time I ate bugs, definitely. It was not the last time I hurt them”
Sometimes I fed worms to Mike but what I preferred was to cut them up in pieces on the picnic table outside. In my house, it was easy to get away with things. You see, I made good grades, straight As and because of that I usually ran amok quietly and privately the rest of the time. A well studied, polite young girl can go on undetected in her duplicity. I was raised in the south, not sure if I said that,
“You do have a bit of a drawl.’
He cut in.
“Ah yes, some can detect, others cannot.
Well, yes I was raised in the south and I always said “thank you” and “please,” and as I grew, “excuse me” and “so sorry to intrude.” Politeness is a way to glide through the world. Something I still cherish. But I was curious about the micro world spending hours watching nature and animal documentaries by myself or with my mother. I read lot of nature books, specifically fascinated with dinosaurs. i enjoyed watching the seasons and learning how to predict weather trends, catching on early when monsoon season was, when hurricane season started and the difference in two. My favorite subject was Math and Science. I was a boyish girl. I was nine years old.
I cut the worms up with scissors or whatever I found, I am sure. Generally unsupervised, no fear of reproach in my actions. My brother mostly minded his business and also taught me how to spray paint my name into the garage so not the best influence either. I don’t think we even got in trouble for it. My dad was more concerned with wasting paint but I shook the can above them anyway.
“I’m gonna paint you silver and your friend gold,” I told the two helpless worms on the table.
I wanted to see how long it would take them to die or if they could exist like a metallic zebra underground. Memory is fuzzy but I recall an increase in movement and then a flatness taking over them. I felt guilty.
“I didn’t think you would actually die or I would have never played Sparkle Shine with you,” I buried them with a forlorn, detached reverence.
I know it was detached because I continued to cut them up for a while, longer that day, maybe another year.
“If you cut at it’s heart, it will survive.’
“I think that’s wrong, Ava, you have to cut it clean in half.”
“Ummm,” and I pointed to myself, “I do this all the time. You cut them and they wriggle and then you wish them luck and throw them in the ground.”
“It sounds you like killed them.”
I gasped.
“Are you joking? I make them stronger. Now they are many.”
I was at school in the lunch line with my best school friend, Leah, not Leana, Leah. They have similar names. The truth was, a lot of them died for my enjoyment but I didn’t want them to. I was pretty typical: salted a few slugs, stepped on a few beetles, chopped up a few worms and fed crickets to my turtle, but I was no sadist. Curious. I loved bugs. You could not convince me I was not in tune with them. They always found me.
Because of my creepy tendencies and proclivity for dirt, my girl friends weren’t always around for my escapades. Nine years old is the time in life when you’re understanding that you’re going to be an adult one day but it’s so far away that it bares no consequence to you. What you did at nine was inconsequential to who you were going to become. We were all a bit supercilious, me being the worst, and unafraid of walking the block, going into the ditch that separated our neighborhood from the “bad neighborhood.”
“There were projects, a church, it was a black neighborhood.”
He didn’t say anything.
“I don’t think this now. I am speaking from my nine year old to paint the picture of how I got here.”
“I am listening to you, Ava.”
And I felt that.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑