I stood in the March mud of Bountiful, Utah at recess out of breath and daydreaming about sick days watching Dialing For Dollars movies and how great it would be to have a plastic screen I could wear on my arm to watch movies and cartoons instead of galloping in mud. It wasn’t quite the end of winter. Warmer winds blew and, inspired by a film about the Revolutionary war, grades 1-3 were all Horses Galloping In The Mud and the in remaining slush.
It would be wonderful that on the days I had to endure the MormonBullykids or Learning the Metric System, I could press a button and instantly escape with the diverse crew of the Starship Enterprise to Anywhere But Here. The Star Trek crew were my tv friends in summer when my feet would split open and bleed for No Damn Reason. (Once I could walk again in August, it involved open leather sandals approved by The Schoolboard andprescription powder used on soldiers and knee-high white socks during the school year until it snowed, so there was that).
TV shows would also allow me to escape the attempted kisses of Sheridan Hipplethorpe. For a chubby kid like me, he could gallop well enough to get a cheek kiss and tell me with hotdog breath that he would marry me someday. Eeck! No! Why was it never the cute Tommy Cuddlestone or Billy Sturgus? Always Sheridan. I didn’t like him romantically because he looked like, well, me. Bleah!
Maybe if I was Penelope Pross. Tiny blonde girl with perfectly feathered hair and a lime scarf tied to the left left on her neck who smelled and sounded like Juicy Fruit gum. Tommy or Billy would notice me. Romance!
My best friend in my class was Carol, the 14 year old girl from Korea. She was adopted from an orphanage that had a trough wooden plank toilet. One day her best friend fell backwards off the wooden plank seat and drowned. I tried to imagine planks and Korea and my best friend at home, Laura, dying. I couldn’t. I just said “I’m sorry. What was her name?” and kept listening, looking into Carol’s watery almond eyes. Carol was really glad to have been chosen by her US parents and was my gentle giant. She spoke slowly, had special classes and told me that she liked the food better here. She never let her big boobs get in the way of a good game of Red Rover Running. The boys may have called her “over” to opposing sides a lot in Red Rover. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Carol right over!” “That’s the 5th time! So unfair!”
We played other games. Calling in Colours was popular. Penelope started the jump rope around her in a circle. Those of us outside the circle chose a colour in our minds and would jump in and jump the rope as all colours were called. I thought Purple. Penelope called Yellow, then Blue, then said “Calling all Mormons!” Everyone jumped in. Except me. They stopped and gasped “you’re NOT Mormon?! What ARE you?!” I stood there defiant, arms crossed in humiliation. Now the colour I was thinking of was Red.
The next day on the ashphalt playground the girls mumbled and looked down “Our parents said we can’t play with you anymore.”
Tuesday nights in 1976 I took ice skating lessons at the ice rink just down the street. It was here that notorious serial killer Ted Bundy abducted and later killed Debi Kent. He was our Boogeyman since just that previous November in 1974, and when we got to telling scary stories in summer it was always “Ted Bundy is gonna get you!” I managed to get as good as doing a Bunnyhop at the rink but didn’t stick with the sport for long.
The preceding summer of 1975 after Ted murdered several girls in Utah in Novemer 1974, all the young girls in my neighborhood had their hair chopped off. All of us. He seemed to like girls with long brown hair but none of us knew if he might change his mind. We all got the Carol Brady Old Lady shag and I cried at the JCPenney salon. It was my first professional haircut and I cried for my long Marsha Brady hair that was turning brown (picture above).
Thursday nights I had dance practice. I wanted desperately to be a beautiful lithe swan like Penelope and my ballerina coloring books from the dentist. Penelope’s tummy didn’t poke out weirdly from the tights outfit. I was a round ballerina who was bad at ballet, fair at jazz tap and excellent at causing trouble in class. My body was far less malleable than Barbie. My whole center of gravity was off for one thing. Frustrated, I resorted to clowning, making a single crossed eye and sticking out my tongue to make the girls laugh. Chameleon in a tutu.Miss Teacher would oft be mad at me and my Spring Recital was, well, terrible and caught on a home movie for All The Damn World to see.
One Spring afternoon, my mom brought me a newspaper clipping and said ” I have something important to tell you. We sat on my parent’s bed. “Brigette died.” I examined the clipping. I recognized Bridgette’s face but now with short brown hair and remembered her babysitting us. I could read the words “died of a gunshot wound to the head.” I knew what it meant. “Clever girl.” I thought. She knew Bohemian Rhapsody too and found a way out. That was my first non-cat funeral.
Near the end of school Jennie Grant had a sleepover birthday party. So exciting! She finally got her ears pierced too! In the morning, 15 of us gathered in a big circle to play the Telephone game. One person whispers in the ear of another something plain like “Mickey Mouse has big ears.” The person speaking cannot repeat it if it wasn’t clear the first time for the listener. The listener just needs to do the best she can and repeat what she though she heard. You can imagine the very silly outcome that could be. I was last and couldn’t wait to see how funny it was. I got no whispered message. Instead, the girl blurted “Suze wears a BRA!” “Suze wears a Braaaaa!” Over and over they taunted, giggling, falling over on themselves in slow motion.
Mortified, I called my mom, crying to come get me. And thought of Bridgette. And Dad’s pistol he kept in the dresser.
Monsters hung out at skating rinks and sleepovers and in our own minds.
Summer meant lilacs and Barbies with Lauraand no school and no Bullies! It also meant the smell of freshly cut grass in the morning and watching Charlie’s Angels late at night on a small black and white tv. It was such a clever setup and I was sure I would have that on my arm as a grownup.
I told my husband that on my bucket list is to return to the area in summertime and stay near a golf course with cut grass so that I could smell June again and remember that happy smell. I’ll probably watch cartoons on my iPad too to keep the monsters away.