Am I in earth, in heaven, or in hell?
Sleeping or waking? Mad or well-advised?
Known unto these, and to myself disguised!
I’ll say as they say and persevere so,
And in this mist at all adventures go
– (The Comedy of Errors, Act II, Scene 2)
I was nine years old. That morning I had chased my younger brother around the house to kick his ass. He had taken down a bunch of my model planes and he had been playing with them on his bed! Those World War Two airplanes practically gave me a boner because they were so curvy and sensuous to caress, unlike those modern airplanes that look like medical devices. I kept my model airplanes jealously high on my shelves. I don’t know how my retarded little brother could have reached them but he could have knocked down the whole shelf. Rrrr!
I almost caught up to my brother running down the hallway but he pulled the hallway door behind himself and I ran into it. Luckily I turned my shoulder and I only bounced back onto my ass, shrieking curses. I could have broken my collar bone! My mother loomed over me and it was now all my fault. Rrrr!
I hollered to the ceiling above, “Why do I have to share a room with that little retard!?”
Mom then sent me out of the house to school. I always walked the mile to Emerson Elementary through three different neighborhoods and over the bridge across the flood control channel. I usually ended up walking behind other kids and I played my little game: I would match my stride to a kid yards ahead and pretty soon I had a disembodied sensation like I was that kid. Pretty cool.
I was in Miss Williams’ class. My dad had told my mom after he and I had gone to “Open School Night” that I had a crush on Miss Williams. Thanks Dad. Rrrr!
Anyway, the morning was OK until Folk Singing. I was making other kids laugh by singing silly lyrics that I made up, big deal, until Miss Williams scolded me in front of everybody. Rrrr!
I went out at Lunch Recess and I was determined not to use my lunch money in the cafeteria. They were serving canned spinach today. Uch! I thought instead about the choice of comics I would select from on the way home, using my “lunch money” to buy one.
I committed as I walked toward the swings and the sandlot, “Definitely The Fantastic Four.”
At the sand lot I was looking for “antlion” pits. The tiny antlion larva is a ferocious-appearing little creature with an enormous pair of sickle-like jaws with several sharp, hollow projections. The antlion digs into the sand and makes a little cone and hides under the sand at the bottom. When an ant falls down the steep cone the antlion grabs and eats the ant. If the ant tries to climb out the antlion throws sand up on him until the ant tumbles back down into those jaws. Cool. Several of us boys had collections of antlions. Yeah.
There were two girls on the swing set. There were several groups of boys and groups of girls there at the sand lot as usual, ages from Fourth Grade, like me, down through First Grade. Annoying.
And then at last I paid attention to the girl on the swing nearest me. I got suddenly that squooshy wavy feeling like just before a wet dream. She had long curly blonde hair that moved like a golden flame on her head as she rode back and forth across the sky.
I got that disembodied feeling like when I was matching another kid’s walking stride. I walked up to her. I think she saw me out of the corner of her eye but she looked annoyed for some reason.
I said nonchalantly, “Hey, I’m Terrence,” and my face suddenly felt sunburned, “Are you new here?”
I thought she said “Hmm,” but it could have been the swing creaking. She concentrated looking straight ahead. Back and forth. Back and forth. Her bare legs thrust past her skirt into the sky. Her hair billowed. I swallowed suddenly wanting a glass of water. I noticed then the brown-haired girl on the swing next to her.
The brown-haired girl on the swing next to her kept her head turned looking toward me so that she began to swing crooked and wobbly. She was obviously snooping our conversation. Rrrr!
I found myself in uncharted sand dunes, speaking to the blond girl again, “Do you come here a lot? Uh, I mean, I come to this sand lot all the time. I catch antlions, y’know. They’re pretty cool. Did you ever see one?”
I thought I heard her say curtly, “No,” during her next pass.
I began to feel like an ant in the jaws of an antlion, being sucked down into the sand. A couple younger girls playing nearby began shrieking and laughing.
I lashed out, “Hey, dork-ettes, we’re trying to hear each other here! Grow up!”
A pair of synchronized tongues came out and danced for me, saying, “You’re the dork,” “playing in the sand,” “waiting for the girls’ swing,” “Do you love her?” and they shrieked and laughed even louder, “Do you lo-o-o-ove her?” and they both made writhing kissy-faces at each other. Rrrr!
The group of younger boys was turning toward the girls’ laughter and looking at me. Now my friends Greg, Marquis, and Warren were approaching. I turned back toward the swing set and she was gone. I saw her walking away with the brown-haired girl toward the Fifth and Sixth Graders’ playground, merging into the milling crowd. Rrrr!
Greg asked, “Any antlions?”
Marquis asked, “What was so funny?”
Warren said, “You should be careful looking for antlions around the swings. You could get your head kicked in!”
Greg said to Warren, “You would know. I guess that explains your freak face.”
Warren stuck his chin at Greg and retorted, “Are you talking to the mirror again, Greg?”
I said, “Guys, guys. Did you see that girl on the swing a minute ago? Do any of you know her?”
Marquis answered, “Yeah, I think her name is Lois. She’s a Fifth Grader, man. What do you care?”
I focused on Marquis, “How do you know her name?”
Marquis answered suspiciously, “She’s been hangin’ with my sister. I hear them talking. She’s new this year. She and her sister Jane both hang.”
I looked down and said, “We were having a good conversation until those dork girls over there interrupted us.”
Greg asked, “A ‘good conversation’? And you don’t even know her name? Does she even know your name?” and he laughed.
Rrrr! I said, “We were just coming to that.”
Warren looked perplexed, and he asked, “Who cares? It’s a girl.”
Greg put his arm around Warren’s shoulders and advised him, saying, “Well, son, Lois is like a bird and our friend Terrence is like a bee with a big dripping stinger, see?”
Warren pushed Greg’s arm off and asked me, “What can you do with a girl, anyway? I’m sure she hates antlions!”
The next day at school when it was Morning Recess I ran ahead of anyone else to the sand lot. I had a daring plan. It was Valentine’s Day. I stood under the swing set and I hopped around on my left foot while dragging my right foot through the sand. I drew a big heart. Then I drew and smoothed with my hand cupped like a spade, writing “Lois and Terrence”. Guts, man. As long as my friends didn’t see me. Or anyone else. Especially those two dorky little girls. I don’t know how I grew the grapes but I just thought about Lois as I ran away diagonally from all the approaching kids. Like a saboteur. Yeah.
I could hardly wait for Lunch Recess. I couldn’t concentrate during History and I didn’t make any jokes during Folk Singing. Miss Williams asked me to wait behind when everyone else was clattering out to Lunch Recess. Rrrr!
She asked me, “Do you feel alright, Terrence?”
I answered impatiently, “Yes, Miss Williams. Can I go to Lunch now? I’m supposed to meet my friends.”
I felt like I was cheating on her.
She gave me what I thought was a suspicious smile and said, “Of course, Terrence. Nice talking with you.”
Nah, she couldn’t know, no way!
I didn’t run but I galloped like Popeye to the sand lot. Lois wasn’t there!
Her brown-haired friend was there and when she saw me coming she putted a glance over to the Fifth and Sixth Graders borderline and there I saw Lois who then quickly looked down and pretended to look at her shoes.
The brown-haired girl spoke awkwardly to me, saying, “Hi, Terrence?”
I answered, “Hello? Who are you?”
The brown-haired girl looked confused and answered me, saying, “I’m Lois?”
I stammered, “You’re not Lois.”
She answered, “I’m not Lois? I am Lois!”
I still wouldn’t agree, insisting, “You are Lois’s friend from yesterday.”
The brown-haired girl said, and I thought I saw her lip tremble as she pointed over to Lois, “I’m Lois. That is my sister, Jane.”
I cringe now when I imagine what my expression must have been. I said, “Ooooh.”
That moment became my eternal definition of an “awkward moment”. I looked over at the “real” Jane who no longer pretended to be fascinated with her shoes and who now squinted, looking puzzled.
Then the Lois formerly known as “Jane” said to me in earnest, “I like antlions. I have a collection.”
Lois and I thereafter became a lot more than friends. For a lifetime.
Until she was killed in a car crash last weekend.
Until she was killed in a car crash last weekend.
Lois, where are you? You’ll be happy to know that I’ve decided to change that sad ending to my story. Yeah, the one about us. No, it is not every husband’s dream, c’mon.
Hey, bug, swing up here. I’m in the bedroom. RrrrRRrrrrrr.
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