6th grade; Jupiter, Cottonwoods and Crime Scenes


By the fall of 1979, I’m beside myself with excitement of going to Jr High. Riding The Bus. My sister talked all about it last year and how Miss Busselthrok was like a Best Friend. How exciting! My Grades were going to be stellar This time.

I couldn’t go to the city school because Mom taught 6th grade science. You can imagine if I succeeded or failed, either way spelled disaster.

To arrive by 830 at my new school, I needed to walk Shady Lane to Brick Elementary where the bus to Central Mesa stopped twice a day. I launched. Buses drone. So, of course I was asleep after the 20 minute bouncing ride.

“Central” was a 3 room schoolhouse built by sensible and sturdy pioneers. Sixth grade was on the ground floor in the shade while 7th and 8th grade rooms enjoyed morning sunshine on the main floor. To use the bathroom, a 6th grader needed to walk up the large stairs on the left in the front of class. Unless vomit was involved. Then the metal recess door to the back was fair game.

Miss Busselthrok probably explained her Classroom Rules but I don’t remember. I was boy crazy just like my friend, Lori, so we were always thinking about or planning the next Dance With Cute Boys in her basement or mine.

I liked the dances at Lori’s house better because she had linoleum, The Cars and REO Speedwagon and ELO and disco lights.  In my house, I had the BeeGees and Donna Summer and carpeting. It was a little harder to Get Down on Melrose Drive.

At 11, life was still bewildering. Adenomyosis never let up for a second. Right on time every 28 days, pain that sends today’s girls to the ER. Birthing aliens.

High-waisted pants were the only available denim and were Not My Friend. I bloated with the adeno 3 weeks out of 4 and when I was forced to use The Giant Hammock Pads of Shame, I had to wrangle the zipper and button. Everyone wanted to play Soccer and Sports and Stuff! at recess. I was having none of that. 

Ugh. Children!

I suppose we had a science fair, or no, a science report of a kind. I got Lungs. Lori got Planets. We sat on the floor looking at artist’s renditions of the planets that in 1979 were still murky. “What if we could fly to Venus?! We would choke to death with that green vapor!” I mused. “Yea,” said Lori, “That would be pretty cool!” We definitely had plans to visit Jupiter together when we were grown ups.

I must have worn clothes in 6th grade, but for the life of me, I can only remember the high-waisted torture denim, a green dress with a vest that I wore to the school dance and my blue velour shirt. It’s possible that I wore that shirt every day. On picture day, me, and the zit at the end of the V neck sat Tall for the picture.

We were a terrible class for Miss Busselthrok. We made her cry. Hormones raging, feet twizzling. Everything was funny. And not snorking when you have the giggles is really impossible. You have to think of something sad, a pet being sick or dead to stop it. “That’s IT! I’ve had it with you guys!” Miss B stomped. “Heads down on your desks!” in a guttural “NNNNOW!” as she wiped her eyes underneath her saucery glasses. Peeking under my arm, I could see the hem of her light denim jumper dress and the Red Tights. She had Green and Blue ones too but I don’t recall if she was calmer on the Blue and Green days. Her foot tapped the poor earthshoe that always got a bit more workout than the other.

“She’ll never be my friend”, I thought, ” If she realises I’m snorking. I can’t help it. Dead dog. Dead dog. Sad.

After school and the hot dusty ride back to Brick, I would walk a little ways to our sporting goods store to play with the “guard dog” Satan. He was a red dobie and gentle as a mouse. By this time, I was up to running gas pumps and the register. But once the store closed, I could play with Puppy! “Sayyytaaannn…come and fiiind me…” Plonk plonk plonk! “Woof woof!” “Oh! Good Boy! You GOT me!”

That October, when the afternoons were so hot and the Cottonwoods had already snowed, Satan fell sick to distemper. I prayed to God to save him but there was no sound but The Giant Cottonwoods. My dad said “you’d better go see your puppy, he won’t let anyone else near him.”

Satan was in his run on his straw bed, hot with fever and whimpered through his goopey eyes. “Oh, puppy. Please live. Please don’t die”, I pleaded. Tears burned. My throat swelled.  “I’m right here. I’m right here.”

I stayed until dusk and then it was Time. After a full day of teaching, then helping with the store, my mom came to take Puppy to the Vet & Heaven.

Jellyfish stung my brain for days after. I couldn’t think straight. “What kind of God does THIS to a dog?!”

Monsters shadowed.

One day at school felt awfully busy. My mind was full of science ideas and writing that I almost skipped lunch. By 3PM that afternoon, it was a scene from Carrie. I felt the Horrible Wet under me and saw blood dripping on the floor. I had forgotten to wear The Giant Hammock of Shame that day. The small, scented Precious Little Liner was no match. “Oh God, oh god, oh god, oh god!” I HAD to get to the bathroom. Out the back? Too obvious and risks detention. Up The Stairs Like A Covert Spy? Yes. So that no one could see my backside, I crabbed my way up up up up then dashed to the bathroom. Hammocks available, but no fresh clothes. Someone came in and I begged for my sister. She offered her cheerleading outfit and to call Dad. “Dad?! Really?!” She insisted “Mom doesn’t get home until 6. I have to call Dad.” Ages later after the bus had left (“no! Just go! Go without me!”) Dad arrived. I explained kind of and he was very kind and a little freaked out “Well, Honey. These things happen sometimes.”

Fall is a time for pumpkins, hunting and going to get Cords of Wood. Adenomyosis kept me bedridden on those weekends, so I had the house to myself. Being Tall helped convince my parents that I was more grown up than I really was. I liked the quiet and having no particular schedule. I could make muffins and eat them all with butter while watching vintage Broadway or Elvis movies. I had a crush on young Elvis and imagined getting married someday in Kauai.

We had a Christmas Dance one afternoon in the basement lunchroom. I wore my green vest dress, hoping to look petite and was horrified 3 months later when the photos developed. Chopped hair, a baby’s face, not eye to eye with any guy and a Tall woman’s body.

When school got out it was already sweltering May. Shorts and a tee were great for swimming in the irrigation canals and running around the house doing chores like dishes.

One day, some guys from the store who I didn’t know well came to have a beer with my dad. They had lumberjack beards and wore thin flannel through Spring. I was loading the built-in dishwasher next to the hang out and dinner table. My dad stepped outside a few minutes and one of the men said what he wouldn’t dare if his wife was nearby with a frying pan “You’re growin’ up Real Nice, yep Real Nice…”

I winced.

My dad came back in and I hurried with the dishes and fled.

Monsters spoke.

They were like broken records.

In June, I got to go to Lori’s cabin in McCall, Idaho. Like Sun Valley, it was The ski resort town to See And Be Seen. I was jangled, nervous. Would I fit in? Will my shorts and jeans be ok?

That afternoon Lori taught me how to wash dishes in the manner that would pass muster with her grandmother. The water Hot. The suds Big. And the scraping Endless. Whenever I think of the Wheezer song “Beverly Hills ‘It’s so beautiful and clean, they get the spaces in between..‘” I think of doing dishes at Lori’s cabin.

Before sunset, we looked in the shops, trying everything on. I probably bought some pink harem pants hoping that I wouldn’t soon ruin them.

Saturday night Lori’s parents took us to the Red Rooster steakhouse. It was packed and expensive. I ordered something small as to not be imposing. They insisted on more plus steak. It felt wonderful. 

July meant Bike-A-Thon and raising money for something. It sounded like a capital idea until I actually got Out In The Sun to ride a damn bike. Soon, I caught up with a fun girl named Kristie who would be in my life for nearly 40 years and counting.

Physically, we were opposites. “Amazon, meet cute and petite”.  I had big Swedish boobs and was a Size 7-10 depending on That Thing and she was 000. We loved the same things in life, had the same goofy sense of humor and were always up to All Good in 7th grade.

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