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Monday, May 2, 2011

Two Birds, One Stone

When I was growing up we were 'poor' but we kids didn't know it. We just had no money.  Neither did anyone else in the neighborhood so it was just a fact of life that we didn't have a lot of stuff and had to share everything from crayons to popsicles and having three other siblings, you learn a lot about negotiation just to get a piece of the pie or cake or the icing rose on the cake because there were always less icing roses than kids and birthday parties could be a bloodbath if we didn't know anything about diplomacy or in all truthfulness, ruthless manipulation. 

We fought over things that while now seem stupid, at the time were crucial to our survival like would we watch Roadrunner cartoons (David) or the Patchwork Family (me) or Captain Kangaroo (Donny) except often by the time negotiations (dragging Donny around the room by the feet of his footie pajamas until we lost interest) were finally over, we'd realized that our parents had locked the door to the den yet again because I had a nasty habit as an insomniac of strolling in there around 2AM in my granny nightgown and sitting 8 inches from the screen to watch the test pattern until my dad would hear static in his dreams and come and carry me back to bed. He did this several times a night until he decided to install a chain lock. We used to have a small 12" black and white Sony that my mother used to watch soaps on during the day while gossiping with her girlfriends in the kitchen and in the evening we'd pick it up by its handle (it was portable!) and carry it into my brothers' room which had a balcony and mezzanine (read; bunk beds) and either watch to our hearts' content or our grandmother recruited us to weed, sweep or scrub something, until the evening my brothers were bored and poured a pitcher which we normally filled with watered down Shop-rite store brand Kool-aid, of water into the little hole where the antennae used to be before my brothers apprehended it for a sword fight during one of our pirate adventures. The little Sony exploded, we all got spankings, and the door to the den was locked for forever. (in kidspeak: a week) 

My maternal grandparents owned our house and at the time they lived upstairs and we lived downstairs and my paternal grandparents lived across the street. My aunt Christine's fiance's family lived next door to them, and my mother's best friend Lucille lived with her parents next door to them, and nearly each house on the street at a certain point were linked to us in one way or another via blood, marriage or scandal with the exception of our next door neighbors and the house on the other side of them.

In that other house lived a family with a horrid awful son named Garnet. His name was really Michael but no one called him that except his mother. (I should have known by his given name that he was trouble but that's another story for another day) He also had a sister who was bigger than me whose name I don't think I ever learned because I spent a good deal of time avoiding being anywhere near that house on the off-chance Garnet was fixing to torture me. Somehow he always figured out when I was alone and often inflicted bodily harm on me enough to cause pain but not to be seen as so unusual to capture parental interest. Because I lived with two brothers and an uncle who was only three years older than me, I learned very early to not only defend myself against boys but to make my own mark on their memories and limbs. Bones were broken. No regrets. No remorse. Kill or be killed.

My uncle John was what was back then commonly referred to as a 'change of life baby' --an oopsy--after older children are grown and the folks think they're done raising kids, one more miraculously appears out of the ether (Make plans, God laughs) and my grandparents decided to pawn my uncle off on us so even though he was technically not the oldest, he lorded over us and if he didn't get his way, he feigned something creative like an attempted decapitation that brought my grandmother running and making threats and whatnot. If we 'made her' chase us around the dining room table, we were ordered to march outside and down the stoop and pull a switch off the boxwood hedge in front of the house. She'd beat us with it and if we pulled off the leaves by the time we got to her, she'd beat us and make us go back and get another one. My father was either in work or sleeping (he often did swing shifts) and my mother was either distracted with her friends or grocery shopping when these events occurred so none of the wise none the wiser. John was a tyrant and had to be dealt with.

I wanted a bike for my birthday because I was 7 and my uncool tricycle had long been pawned off to Donny and later Lisa and I saw the world passing me by on Schwinns and Huffys and I couldn't even rate a stinking Big Wheel. I wanted a fake wicker basket with fake plastic daisies and streamers on white handles and a pretty ding-ding bell. I wanted a pink bike with a banana seat and a sissy bar. The folks said no and for an entire month I pulled a series of impressive flounces usually resulting in spending the rest of the evening in my room plotting my family's agonizing demise. After a lengthy conference with my imaginary friend, the following day I went to my maternal grandfather, a man of very few words, but when he said them it was law, and pled my case. "I need a bike, Grandpa. John has a bike he isn't using. Can I use John's bike?" While it seemed pretty straightforward and simple to me, he really didn't appear moved by my case but I was shocked the next day when he announced to the family that John had to share his bike with me and to add insult to injury, the little bar that made it a 'boy' bike would be removed to make it a safer 'girl' bike. John was enraged, my grandmother was speechless and my parents were stunned that I had not only successfully broken the chain of command but also performed a small coup and they didn't even have to invest a penny into my new wheels. 

There is always a catch and there was no exception here. At one point earlier during the summer Donny and I had decided we didn't like our mother anymore and prepared to run away. We packed all our earthly belongings (admittedly mine was mostly stuffed animals and a Radio Shack lime-green transistor Flavoradio) into two Hefty bags. My mother asked us where we were going, we announced that we'd had it and were leaving and she graciously offered to help us pack. We disdainfully turned her down but allowed her to make us PB&J's for the road.  I honestly thought her snickers were tears.  My father, coming home from work, found us standing on the corner crying and asked us what we were doing. We told him we were running away. He asked us why were were there and we said we weren't allowed to cross the street. I knew his snickers were NOT tears and I spent that weekend in my room. I spent a lot of time in my room plotting my revenge.

No matter that I wasn't allowed to leave the street, not even go around the corner; I rode up and down the block thrilled with my new-found freedom, the breeze blowing my braids behind me. I had three glorious days of freewheeling until the afternoon I saw a flash running down a stoop two doors down and Garnet waving his arms and yelling at me demanding I let him ride 'my' bike. I drove past him and he slapped the back rim and I almost lost control. The bike was a bit too big for me and my feet couldn't exactly make direct contact with the foot brakes and my heart skipped until I regained control and flew past him but I knew I had to get back home without going around the corner or crossing the street so I had to make a choice upon turning around. I could hit the brakes and possibly injure myself and do permanent damage or hit the beast in my path and hope for the best. My survival instincts and adrenaline pumping, I said a little prayer to St. Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes, and turned the bike around. 

He stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, a big rock in his hand, the sneer on his lip daring me try to get past him but in my mind that was not an option. There was only one way I was going to get rid of this little shit who wouldn't leave me alone or keep his hands off of  me and that stone was meant to spill MY blood so I did what any self-respecting little girl in a hopeless situation would do. I ran him over. And backed up and ran him over again. And backed up again and ran him over again. When he looked like he was still twitching, I did it twice more for good measure.

Unbeknownst to me, Garnet's sister was standing in the dark doorway of her vestibule watching everything. He was down and I was standing still next to my bent bike wondering what the hell I was gonna do now. I heard a noise and looked up and my heart filled with terror as she walked down the steps toward me. She was twice my size and I thought for sure I was dead. She looked at her brother and sucked her teeth and said, 'He had it coming' and then said we had to make it look like an accident. He was moaning and moving around and she kicked him in the ribs and we picked up the bike and she held my hand as we crossed the street to the concrete carport on the other side. "Get on the bike and smash it into the wall" she commanded and I did and totaled it beyond repair. I suffered a chipped tooth and a scraped chin and lost a lot of the skin off my knuckles. We carried the bike back across the street to the front of my house and she just walked away. I ran up the stoop, shrieking that I fell off the bike and it broke and everyone came running to sooth me and tend to my wounds and John ran to see the damage to his bike, his hatred for me burning a hole through me while I held a bag of frozen peas to my knee, snot running down my dirty face for full effect. I smiled at him with my chipped tooth. His reign was finished (so was his bike) and so was Garnet's.

A few days later my grandfather came home with a girl bike for me. A red three-speed Colombia with a ding-ding bell and hand brakes. John deemed it too girly to have anything to do with it and found other victims to torture. Garnet's family decided to send him down south to spend the summer with relatives. I don't recall ever seeing his sister again.


  1. Priceless! I always get to "see" what you're saying, despite the fact that I grew up in an ENTIRELY Different way. Thank you.

  2. Good thing you didn't ask your grandfather for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle. I've no doubt Garnet's sister would have set you up for juvie with no remorse.

  3. Garnet had a brother Da-von. They both terrorized the neighborhood. As I walked home from school alone, they both jumped me. I kicked the crap outta both of them and they went home crying. Later, their father showed up at our door wanting to know why I beat them up. I suppose they left out the fact that they jumped me. Anywho, Dad chased them off the porch. Priceless.