Generally, I find that my memory is pretty good, surprisingly so. I’ve tried to cross check facts with my sister and, to a lesser extent, with my mother, and this cross checking has left me with the feeling that my memory’s pretty reliable. That’s a good thing since I’ve never been able to keep a diary for more than about a week. I guess this blog is the closest thing to a diary that I’ve ever had. Sometimes, I remember entire conversations or sequences of events, but mostly it’s spottier, more like a series of snapshots and the occasional sentence. If I have enough of these snippets, I can usually string them together into a coherent, readable narrative. Unfortunately, there are some events I need to cover where my memory is not good. This is one of them. I’m going to try to make it as easy to follow as possible. I also behaved very badly, and I’m going to try to not whitewash my own behavior. That’s difficult. We all want to hide our faults a little.
In the days following being slapped by Lanky Joe, the other girls behaved in a way that I can only describe as cool. No one said anything, at least not openly. The other girls, of course, continued to date their boyfriends, and Chuck E and Hazy Davy remained friends with Lanky Joe. The result was that they would all continue to get together and I became alienated from the group. There was no consequence for Lanky Joe for slapping me, but instead I was the one who was socially punished. No one thought this through, I’m sure. It was just a chain of human weakness and self-interest. The exception was Suzy Q. She was beginning to develop something of a feminist sensibility, although I’m not sure whether or not we would have called it that at the time. We were aware of feminism, but only in a childish way. The tennis player, Billie Jean King, was probably the most well-known feminist among children. Since I wasn’t athletic, I felt that it didn’t have much to do with me. Suzy Q, however, saw the idea of me being alone while the boy who hit me continued to be invited as an unjust situation.
One Saturday shortly afterward, Suzy Q and I went to the shopping mall. We went there, in part, because the others rarely did, although it was a common enough destination for kids our age. The shopping mall was laid out around a central atrium. All of the stores were on the first floor and on the second floor, ringing the atrium like a great big doughnut, was a food court. In the center, was a double height waterfall landscaped with potted plants. In my provincial little mind it was quite snazzy. Behind the waterfall were several staircases. They twisted and turned and opened out into areas with benches and then narrowed again. When the shopping mall first opened and I was still quite young, I loved these staircases. They were like a labyrinth. As I got older, they became partially hidden places to hold hands with boys and maybe even exchange some kisses. There were escalators and an elevator going to the second floor, but I always took one of the staircases and I preferred the path with the greatest number of turns.
Suzy Q and I headed up to the second floor to get something to eat. We passed a landing with a nook where I once sat with a redheaded boy whose name was the masculine version of my own and we held hands and giggled, too young to even yet understand why we wanted to do that. Further up, there was a larger landing where another staircase joined the one we had taken. As we passed by, I heard somebody call my name. I turned to see Lanky Joe. Behind him were Chuck E and Hazy Davy. He said something. To this day, I’ve never been able to recall what he said. Suzy Q was a couple of feet behind me and didn’t hear it, neither did Hazy Davy. Chuck E would later tell me that he heard but wouldn’t repeat it. I am entirely clueless about what he said. Entirely. All I know is that I flew at him. All reason entirely left me. I have no idea what I would have done had I actually managed to reach him. There was no thought, only action. I charged like an enraged bull. Chuck E lunged forward and grabbed me. So did Hazy Davy. I caught a glimpse of Lanky Joe and he was smirking. The smirk sent a chill through me and I started to calm down. I saw that Cherry Bomb and Cat Eyes were there. Cherry Bomb was angry, “You scratched Chuck E!” Indeed, Chuck E had a faint red line across his cheek, although I didn’t remember doing it.
My mind was foggy and I felt confused. Chuck E turned to Cherry Bomb and said, “Calm down. It wasn’t intentional.” Then he took me by the shoulder and led me around the corner. I started to apologize for scratching him.
“Don’t think about it,” he said. “I know it was an accident. Look at you. Either of us could have overpowered you without even trying. It was only because I was trying not to hurt you, so I was grabbing you in a funny way. You didn’t scratch me. Your hand brushed against my face. That’s all. I don’t know why Cherry Bomb’s so upset. I’m sure she’ll calm down and forget about it.
“Do yourself a favor and keep far away from Lanky Joe. I wouldn’t care if you hit him. You’re too small to hurt him and he probably deserves it. He’s looking for an excuse to hurt you and you don’t know what he’s capable of.”
My mind was still spinning, trying to believe what had just happened had actually happened. Had I really done what I just did? Why? Can your body just go without your mind’s consent? I asked Chuck E what Lanky Joe had said. He was taken aback that I had no memory of it. In fact, my memory is spotty of everything between hearing my name and seeing that smirk. Chuck E shook his head, “Then I’m not going to tell you. Forget about Lanky Joe. Forget about everything.”
Cherry Bomb wouldn’t forget, however. She would repeat later to me that I had scratched Chuck E. If the other girls had distanced themselves from me before due to circumstance, now it was intentional. A few days later, Chuck E would seek me out after school. He emphasized yet again that he felt it was an accident. He told me that he’d be perfectly happy to have me hang out with them again and would ask Lanky Joe to not come by. He said that he tried to make it okay again with Cherry Bomb, but she wouldn’t have any of it. He seemed to feel really awkward and bad about it.
Cherry Bomb, Cat Eyes and Sour Puss didn’t stop at simply avoiding me themselves. They started putting pressure on Suzy Q to not be friends with me. Suzy Q, however, stuck by me.