It’s late, it’s cold outside, and I’m parked in front of the apartment complex leasing office, wearing my flannel, red dog pajamas and stealing wi-fi so that I can upload this fifth entry. We’re back at Grammy’s house: me and my brother.
Again, criticism and feedback are very welcome!
I was born. Fat, whiney, mixed up about my nights and days, with a narrow, vertical strip of hair running from the base of my neck to the top of my head. They, my family that is, called it my “rooster” hairstyle.
At three, I was “tree-trunk legs,” “Wild Rose,” and “girly whirly.” But before I became all of that, I was something else.
I was unwanted.
I was so strongly unwanted, in fact, that I was nearly thrown into a ditch.
I was all nuzzled inside of a blanket, cradled in a woman’s arms, in a little city called Clearwater, which is located along the western coast of Central Florida. I would come to know the woman as Grammy. The blanket would wear away; I would outgrow it. The city still stands.
“Ahhh! Just throw her in the ditch,” Bobby griped.
The two of them (or three of us) were walking from Grammy and Grampy’s little country cottage-house to the bus stop. There, they would step onto a bus, ride it to Miami Subs, and they would buy Bobby cheese sticks and get Grammy some sort of forbidden meat dish that she would try because it was “tempting” and she was “off track” at the time. I would sit beside them at the table, a young infant in some sort of toddler’s seat, and years later, I’d wonder why Bobby got to order the cheese sticks and I was stuck with cheap, seasoned fries.
“Because Bobby is sick kitty and you are well kitty,” Grammy would tell me. “Bobby is buck, and you are penny.”
“Throw her in the ditch,” Bobby repeated.
“Oh Bobby,” Grammy cried, “I just can’t. Here,” she held out her arms and offered me to him. “You do it.”
He looked down at me for a minute and eyed me curiously, frowning, his arms crossed tightly against his chest.
“I don’t want to do it,” he looked up at Grammy. “YOU do it.”
“I just can’t, Bobby,” Grammy whimpered.
He sighed and continued to stare at the curious little bundle Grammy that was holding out in front of him. The cute little demon that had been stealing all of mom and Gram and dad and Grampy’s attention for the last few months was right here in front of him. Her. It was her. It. The it was his sister. Sister? Who on earth needed a sister! Everything had been completely wonderful before she got here. Grammy did seem pretty crazy about her though.
He sighed again. “Whatever. I can’t do it.” He shook his head. “Just.. don’t throw her in the ditch.”
Our relationship obviously improved over time as I’m alive today and not wallowing, maimed and blind, in some random, Floridian ditch.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I do now, and I believe that, as the years progressed, he began to realize it, too: my brother and I were childhood best friends. I was his, and he was mine. Every memory I have, in some special, intrinsic way, includes him. He has his memories, too, and I’m sure that most of them include me as well. He is absolutely inseparable from the memories I have of my childhood, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
One of my favorite things to remember is the day that Grammy taught both of us how to get invited to parties.
I was outside, leaning against a big Oak tree in Grammy and Grampy’s front yard, discreetly peering around its wide trunk at the neighbors across the street. A young girl I hadn’t seen before was running down the driveway, obviously excited, wearing a pretty set of blue-denim overalls with a faded pink t-shirt underneath. Her hair was in pigtails and she had sneakers on. She looked fun.
An older woman who I presumed to be her mother was standing at the front of the yard too, focusing her attention on tying a big bunch of colorful balloons to the family’s mailbox. I couldn’t read yet but could tell by the feel of things that they were preparing for a birthday party, and I desperately wanted to be invited.
I sprinted back into the house, running from room to room, searching for Grammy.
“I’m over here,” her voice called from the den.
“GRAMMY!” I ran in and stood, breathless, in front of the chair where she was sitting. It looked like she had been trying to read a book while Bobby sat on the floor beside her, watching television. Bobby looked over at me for a second, curiously, then returned his attention to the tv screen.
“There’s a girl outside,” I caught my breath, “and her mom AND she has balloons tied to a MAILBOX!” I stood with my hands gestured outward, breathing heavily, clearly excited beyond comprehension.
“Really, Rose?” Grammy took off her glasses to look at me more closely. I watched as she bit her lip. “Sounds like a party,” she whispered more to herself than me.
“Yes, I know! I want to GO!”
Grammy squinted her eyes and tapped her foot. She always did that when she was thinking carefully about something. Bobby had looked up from the floor by now, mouth open, eyes riveted on Grammy, giving her his full attention and waiting to hear what else she would say about this party.
Her eyes lit up suddenly. “I have an idea,” she smiled. “How about you and Bobby go stand outside by the road for a while? Just walk around the yard a little; try to look bored,” and here she paused to make a face that illustrated what bored looked like.
I frowned. “What’s that going to do?”
“Maybe they’ll see you, feel sorry for you and invite you to their party.” She shrugged and smiled. “It’s worth a shot, girly whirly!” Grammy loved being sneaky and creating adventures for Bobby and I to go on together.
Bobby and I followed her instructions. He put his shoes on quickly and we darted out of the house together, slowing to a walking pace when we neared the road so as not to seem conspicuous. I really can’t remember how long we walked around playing Ispy and how much time must have passed while we kicked at the dirt by the road, but I don’t think it was very long. Sure enough, Grammy was right. The girl’s mom spotted us and walked to the edge of her yard. She smiled and asked us if we would like to come over to her daughter’s 6th birthday party; there would be cake, ice cream and “a swimming pool” if we were allowed to go.
We bolted back into the house, screaming the good news, kicking our legs out and moving our arms all over the place because our excitement was too great to be contained. Grammy started doing a victory jig in the middle of the living room and Bobby jumped around and I twirled in circles with her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had been standing by the window, watching us the entire time, smiling, laughing and praying that we would somehow get the mom’s attention and receive an invite.
The party was a success; well, we enjoyed it anyways, and I’m sure the birthday girl did, too. The food was yummy, there were lots of other kids who were friendly with us and Grammy agreed to let me swim in the pool. I got fussed at a few times for going near the deep end without an inner-tube, but whether or not she was willing to admit it, Grammy was proud of me for being so brave and being able to swim so well, so much better than the other kids who didn’t even try to leave the shallow side of the pool.
As the summer continued, a darker shadow than the one that was cast by the looming trees in Grammy and Grampy’s front yard fell over the happy little cottage. Bobby’s headaches seemed to be getting worse, and sometimes, when he’d try to stand up and get out of the pool or climb stairs to get onto the bus, he’d start to fall backwards. It worried Grammy like crazy although Bobby didn’t seem bothered by it very much at all.
Bobby and I were playing Go Fish at the kitchen table one morning when Grammy called mom and told her about Bobby’s progressively strange behavior.
“Doll babe, I’m starting to think that a visit to the doctor might be a good idea.”
She looked into the kitchen where Bobby and I were carefully eyeing our own cards and every move each other made. “You haven’t cheated yet, have you?” I asked him pointedly. “Nope!” he shook his head and smiled sheepishly.
Grammy watched as, a few minutes later, Bobby abruptly set his cards down onto the table and held his head, moaning a little like kids do when they are unhappy, tired or don’t feel well.
“I just don’t think this is normal,” she sighed into the phone.
Grammy and Grampy took Bobby to the doctor after the weekend and he prescribed some kind of medication that should help Bobby’s sinuses if they were irritated. “Could be allergies,” he shrugged. “This time of year, that’s not uncommon.”
“Well,” Grammy sighed and tilted her head, “he hasn’t been sneezing or anything.. no runny nose, no other symptoms of allergy problems.”
The doctor nodded, squinted his eyes and pursed his lips in a way that made his face look like he was listening intently.
“Right.. well, that is peculiar,” he agreed. ‘We’ll see how he does with this medication though,” he nodded, “just to be safe, because we can’t rule out allergies just yet.” He smiled with his teeth.
Grammy bit her lip and nodded. Smiled.