THEY put me up on the big Rock next to the driveway. "Now judge," they said, "who is the handsomest, and who does the best tricks." I was in great consternation and fidgeted as they came down on their skateboards; it was only once in a while that the boys raised me up like this and made me their admiring woman; and this was a delicate task, sure to hurt someone's feelings. But as they stood to be judged, I was a diplomatic little queen, and slyly flattered them equally.
"Tell them you're a delicate flower," Mom would always tell me. I felt very guarded by this statement.
"I'm allergic to flower pollen," I boasted one hot summer's day. But this was a lie. I could have been jealous that I had no allergies (and consequentially got no attention and was not special). Or I could had actually deluded myself by sneezing while smelling a blossom. That would be a more innocent reason.
"Oh, yes," I said seriously. "I am."
The boys were not impressed. We were lazing around the swingset. They barely seemed to take notice, and I was disappointed.
Except they had taken notice. Unbeknownst to me, all of them (except my brother) later went around collecting flower buds, and shook the gold dust into buckets. They then mixed the buckets with sloppy mud, and filled their waterguns.
"We thought you said you were allergic," they later told me reproachfully. "We just wanted to see."
I don't like to remember this part of the memory, for Mom then saw me flying across the yard, screaming. I came before her on the porch, streaked with rivulets of mud, much like blood, irate and sobbing. She soothingly took me around the house where the hose was.
She washed me off and repeated, "You just tell those boys you are a delicate flower!" I was comforted by the fact that she knew I deserved better treatment. I was a princess.
We all stood around the big Rock, throwing stones of granite against its flat face.
A perfect slice!
Another hot summer day, a few years later. Idling it away cracking rocks.
A police cruiser suddenly crawled down our street and stopped - by the driveway!
"What are you kids doing?" the man yelled through his loudspeaker.
I knew the boys wouldn't answer; they all stood stiff and solemn-faced, or awkwardly, so I, always the spokesperson, yelled back, "Cracking rocks!"
"Oh," said the policeman, doubtfully, through the loudspeaker. He did not understand the joy of it. "Don't you kids play... kickball or something?"
"Yes," I yelled back, "But we've been playing that for the past six days." I felt defensive.
Luckily, he laughed. Then he said sharply, "Who's that little guy there?"
For Jonathan, my younger brother, had dived into the tiger lily bushes near the Rock, and was hidden in the reeds.
"I think I'm gonna have to take that kid downtown."
I saw the reeds wriggle.
My dad had come out on the porch. "Go ahead," he laughed.
The policeman laughed and drove away, flashing his lights for our benefit. I suppose policeman get bored on summer days, too, and have to bully the neighbor kids.
"I'm going to have a wedding," I announced, "between Sugar and Chocolate."
These, I ought to clarify, were the white and brown teddy bears that sat on my and my brother's pillows.
And I have no idea why the boys decided to go along with my plan.
Mother got into it, too. She was briskly chopping strawberries in the kitchen, and she said she would put a white bowl of them out for the boys for the reception.
Hearing this, I withdrew upstairs happily, taking the bridal bear into Mom's room. Mom had a nice crystal bottle of vanilla perfume on her dresser. This wedding would be so much fun. I had it all planned out. We would march down the driveway by the Rock. We would have a ring bearer. We would have someone to lead the vows prettily. We would have a reception in the swingset fort and on the deck, and eat Mom's strawberries.
I knew I was a little old for this sort of thing, but I thought it was a quaint idea, and liked it for its childishness. I fancied it. It was one of those times where you decide NOT to be embarrassed by your idea, and so the idea becomes even bigger and more important. It must be done right, and your way, and perfectly.
The pitfalls of control are great.
In a dreamy haze foretelling the coming of the days I would spend locked away in a room dressing my own friends in their white glory - I dabbed Mom's vanilla perfume out of her crystal bottle onto Sugar's neck, in the privacy of her room. I was tingling with the womanliness of it. It all felt so sweet and intimate. I was alone in a warm room.
I went downstairs and Mom sniffed the air.
"Sarah! Did you put perfume on that bear?"
"Yes," I squirmed.
Mom could smell it too strongly. She has a very sensitive nose. "I think you put on too much," she smiled.
I looked down miserably. I felt Sugar's woolly white fur at her neck, under her thin pink bow, and I knew then that my teddy bear was drenched. Oh, I had been so little and inexperienced in Mom's room. What did an eight-year old know about putting on perfume? I only knew it smelled so good, kneeling on my parent's floor, and it made me so delighted, and I put on too much.
Even though Mom did not laugh at the action, suddenly I felt ashamed. The idea of perfuming a bear now seemed silly. I put too much perfume on a teddy bear. On a teddy bear! And I was eight years old!
Despite this, I clung to the wedding plans even more tenaciously. It was even more necessary that this turned out right. The wedding grew like a monster inside of me. I must make it happen right! I marched outside like a general. I would line up the boys for the wedding.
And what should I find, but those boys - those miscreant, miscreant boys - all over the swingset fort, and lolling on the deck, and hanging off the ropes, their mouths RED, and their hands RED... with... STRAWBERRIES.
Then I flew into a temper that would have bewildered the ring bearers and groomsmen had they seen it. But I turned on my heel and went to do battle with Mother. I ran into the house, into the kitchen, and stamped my foot at my mom. "How could you! You didn't! You ruined it," I stormed.
"You served them strawberries! You said you'd serve them strawberries after the wedding, not before the wedding, and you ruined it all! The whole plan is ruined! You served them without asking me! You did it without me!"
Mom was genuinely surprised at my outburst, and probably showed apologetic incredulity, but I was unforgiving.
Didn't she know? Didn't she understand? I ran upstairs to my room. Those boys probably wouldn't even notice or care. They would just keep sunnily swinging. I was so self-pitying.
Later on in the afternoon I went back outside. I had begun to forgive my mother for the morning, and was relaxing. Childhood relaxes easily. In childhood, Time is actually magical. In those days, Time waves her wand of forgetfulness most effectively.
Well, that peace lasted about five minutes.
"My mom said your mom said you threw a fit," smirked the oldest neigbhor boy, the one my age. His lofty smile made me feel like he could stare right back into the kitchen at my temper tantrum.
Talk about rubbing salt in the wound! I still feel the smart of that today. My embarrassment was complete. Children do not forget when they find out that their parents told. Our kitchen was supposed to be a secret place. And she probably told it laughingly on the phone!
I felt betrayed to the depths of my soul. And so childish! "Throwing a fit"?! That's what babies do. Not eight-year olds. Oh, the ignominy of it.
I probably flung back some sort of retort that just let the neighbor boy even feel more triumphant over me, seeing the reaction he got.
Oh, the defeats of this life.
I recently was up in the attic, and in a cardboard box under old quilts and stuffed animals, I found Sugar. I knelt on the wooden floor, picked her up, and put my nose to her snowy neck to see if I could still smell the vanilla perfume, ten years later.
I wanted to, but I couldn't.
However, for about five years after the incident, I still could! That's how much fragrance I put on.