Our family had moved out of the townhouse and into our final, South Carolina residence: a real home. We started renting the small two-bedroom, two-bath house in the early Spring. It came with a big, fenced in backyard, and we even bought an above-ground pool to put in it (it rose about two and a half feet off of the ground). The transition was easy for our family; dad had been transferred to a Publix right in town and continued working as a bakery manager. Bob was still recovering outside of school and I had yet to start.
While the last few months of uninterrupted childhood passed, I enjoyed what I loved most: being outside. There was a big backyard to explore and it turned out that there was a little boy next door who wanted to explore it with me. His name was Travis and we were the same age. We spent hours outdoors, creating games for ourselves and lugging a little red wagon around our yards, collecting rolly pollys and picking lizards up by their tails and containing all of them inside of it. I got in trouble with my mom one day when Travis and I were using chalk on the driveway and I wrote a cuss word with the color pink. I can’t remember what word it was and why, as a child, I was so fascinated by cuss words. I guess because they were so forbidden.
There was a teenager who lived across the street from us and he took a liking to Bobby and I; particularly, Bobby. I don’t know if it was because Bobby was a boy or because Bobby was noticeably sick. Either way, he liked me, too, and I had a big crush on him. I remember mom letting Bobby and I walk over to his house one day, and while he and Bobby looked at action figures that Russell had in his room, I stared at a poster on his wall.
“You checking Hanson out over there?” He teased and smiled. I didn’t know what “checking out” meant but I smiled back.
“Yeah! Are they rockstars?”
”I guess you could say so,” he replied thoughtfully. “More like a pop boy band though. Actually,” he paused and walked over to where a computer was sitting on his desk, “you guys can borrow this.” He walked over and handed me a CD with “Hanson” written in orange, white and yellow across the front. Russell smiled at Bobby while I looked down at the CD cover: three long haired boys who sort of looked like girls.
“I think you’ll like it, buddy,” he said to Bob, who nodded enthusiastically. Bobby looked up to Russell; I could tell.
And he did enjoy it. We both did, actually. MMMBop quickly became the theme song of our lives. I can’t remember if we ever remembered to return Russell’s CD, but I’m sure that he didn’t mind if we forgot. I doubt that he used it much; it had probably been a cute gift from a dumb girlfriend who didn’t realize that only girls listened to boy bands. It was lame for guys to. That was the general outlook and attitude during the time period I grew up in, anyways.
There were a few other interesting people in our neighborhood: an old woman who lived about two houses down the street was one of them. She loved nothing more than for me to come into her house, sit on her couch, and eat cookies while she smoked a cigarette talked on and on. I can’t remember our conversations very well; she probably talked about her kids, her job, or her childhood, the same things that most older people like to reflect on and share. I would look at the paintings on her walls and the magazines lying on the table in front of me, and after an hour or so of me just sitting there listening to her, she’d dismiss me.
“But oh, you’re young,” she’d smile. “You don’t need to be hanging out with me all day. Go home,” she’d shoo me out the door, “and have fun.” I would have already walked through the door and down the steps by the time she spoke again.
“And Rosey girl?” she’d call out after me.
“Yes ma’m?” I’d turn around in the driveway.
“Come see me again soon, doll.”
There was another person – a girl about three or four years older than me – and we hung out every once in a while. She lived across the street and down three houses. The age difference between us was considerable, considering that I was five, but in the nineties, you made do with what you had: whoever lived next door to you became your friend. Socializing took place in neighborhoods, as in houses and yards… not over the internet.
I’d walk over to her house in the afternoons and we’d stand around in the
kitchen together, drinking pouches of Juicy Juice. She had a dog in her back yard, a big dog – some kind of mix between a Rottweiler and a Chow. It was kept inside of a six-by-twelve, fenced in area. I felt bad for it.
Time passed quickly and uneventfully, and soon, it was time for me to start the 1st grade.
Certain things were similar: getting onto the bus, walking into a big, brick building, and having a teacher and other kids around. But 1st grade was different from kindergarten; it was more interesting. It was more real. It was more memorable.
I remember my teacher’s name was Mrs. Brasco. She was tall, skinny and had short, red hair. She didn’t like me.
After just a few weeks in class, I already had a note sent home to my parents.
“Mr. And Mrs. Roland,” my mom read out loud, leaning up against the stove while I stood in front of her, my hands clasped awkwardly behind my back, and moving backwards and forwards on my heels. “Amber Rose is clearly a smart girl, but we are experiencing persistent problems with her during class.” My mom stopped to raise her eyebrows at me.
“I don’t know what she’s talking about,” I cried, shaking my head in disbelief. My mom continued.
“She talks incessantly during class, while I am trying to teach things to other students, and she is constantly interrupting me while I am giving out instructions, assignments, and doing demonstrations. Please correct your child.”
My mom frowned. “Please correct your child? Who does she think she is…”
My mom left the room, and at first, I thought that she was on my side, but it turned out that evening that after she shared the news and the note with dad, he decided to take action. I was spanked with a wooden paddle. I cried like a baby.
A few weeks later, my mother received a second note from Mrs. Brasco.
“Amber Rose has shown remarkable improvement; whatever measures you have taken, they have improved her behavior greatly!”
I became the official bus-counter soon after starting school. The driver seemed to have taken a liking to me, and for some reason, she was supposed to keep track of how many kids rode the bus to and from school every day, and when she came to me with the proposition of counting them each morning and afternoon, I readily accepted the responsibility. I would get to walk down the aisle slowly, while the bus was in motion, using my finger to count heads while my other hand rested on the top of the seats to keep me balanced. I was honored.
It was a great first year of school. I even had a crush on a boy: his name was Austin. In the school year book, he wrote: “When I grow up, I want to be a pastor, because I want to help people. The boy below him, whose name I cannot remember, wrote the following: “When I grow up, I want to be a police officer, because they get to eat donuts.” I thought that both boys had good and noble aspirations.
During an open house one evening, I brought a toy that mom had let me buy at Walmart. It was for Austin. I spotted him as soon as we walked in, and after a few minutes of mustering courage, I walked over and handed it to him. He thanked me and smiled; I smiled back and stood there, awkwardly. Silence. I waved goodbye and walked back over to my parents.
That was about the extent of it. The only other thing I remember is a boy cutting me in the lunch line a few weeks later and Austin getting mad at him and defending me. It made me blush, and I really wished he hadn’t said anything at all. I had to admit that it was nice, though.
Amidst all of my new found happiness, responsibility and scholarship, one bad thing did have to happen.
Mom was out of the house one night, working, shopping or otherwise, and dad was lying in bed after working a twelve hour shift. It was around seven o clock and everyone had already eaten dinner. Bobby had been having diarrhea, drinking Gatorade and throwing up throughout the day, so mom had left me with the following instructions: stay on the couch, and watch television; if Bobby gets sick again, go wake your dad up.
I did as I was told. We were sitting on the couch together, watching a movie called The Indian in the Cupboard, when all of the sudden, dad came running into the room, screaming at me.
“WHY didn’t you come get me, ROSE!” I watched as he rushed over to Bobby’s ighed and I gasped suddenly. Bobby looked weird; his eyes had rolled practically into the back of his head and his body looked limp; he was swaying a little, and dad had to quickly put his arms around him to keep him from falling.
“I… I didn’t know, dad,” I started crying.
He was staring at me furiously, and then he just shook his head, speechless.
”Go grab the phone, Rose… I need to call your mom. We’re going to the hospital.”
Mom, dad and I rushed Bobby to the hospital that night and it turned out that he had officially dehydrated. The doctors and nurses said that because of how weak he was and how severe the dehydration was, in just a few hours time, he would have been dead.
My mom never fully forgave herself for endangering Bobby like that. “I should have taken him earlier,” she cried in the hospital that night. “I didn’t know it was so serious.” The nurses listened sympathetically and looked at her, probably wondering how young she was.
And I never understood what I had done wrong either. We were just sitting there, watching the movie together. Bobby seemed fine. It didn’t seem like it was my fault at all to me, but somehow, it must have been.