Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Blog Memoir in 25 Things (inspired by Facebook)

25. I was unofficially voted Most Likely to Flirt With Your Boyfriend. The truth of this depends on what alcohol is at hand. (See #24.)

There are two early memories I have of boys, both named David. Well, there are more than two memories, and more than two boys, but these are the most telling.

David Oliver was my first childhood crush, a teenage boy who lived in our apartment complex on Santa Rosalia. (Which we pronounced San-ta Ro-sa-lee-ya, an iambic, musical sound I’d whisper to myself.) Back then I didn’t know that we were poor; I thought our white stuccoed apartment building was beautiful. Scarlet bougainvillea crawled over the front walls, sunlight shined warmly across the hard wood floors of our apartment and so what if my sister and I slept in what was clearly supposed to be the dining room. We had a piano our father would play while making up funny songs to make our mother laugh, mom made hammocks strung across the hallway so we could swing quietly in the air (while I imagined we lived in trees like bananas) and we would sometimes climb into a cardboard box and launch ourselves down the smoothly worn stone steps to crash against the front door below.

(We did this until my mother decided it wasn’t exactly safe for me to send my light-as-air sister hurtling through second story space to bust through the front screen while I pealed with laughter on the landing above.)

But David lived across the automotive oil-splattered courtyard with his single mother who was, more often than not, drunk on her ass. He was a light brown color and his bouncy afro was smooth, neat and medium sized; he was as thin as Encyclopedia Brown and he liked hanging out with our dad who was handsome, young, employed and friendly to everyone in the building. I see now that the patterns of my youth pretty much dictated what my later family life would be: my father would be everyone’s father figure and every man I met would be a rival for my father’s affection.

Buried in my family’s stuff, my dad still has the audio tape of a recording he and David made, spoofing the old TV show, Kung Fu. You play it and first you hear the shooshy white noise of a hand held tape recorder then the wobbly theme music of the show. Then you hear my dad’s voice as The Master, giving Grasshopper a test. It’s five minutes of improvised nonsense about the price of eggs in the ghetto and in the background you can hear my mother laughing while my father and David struggle to keep it together. I love listening to that tape.

He would come over a couple of nights a week or on the weekends to practice on our piano. I remember he said that he wanted to go to Julliard. I was only a kid, maybe 5 or 6, but I would hide behind the wood slatted doors of our dining/bedroom and listen to him practice and felt something that made my little girly chest squeeze tight. My unreliable memory tells me he practiced Moonlight Sonata but my common sense tells me I have no way of knowing what it was he played all those times.

Between the slats of the door, I’d watch him, unable to take my eyes off his long fingers running over the keys, playing music my dad didn’t know. Everyone in the house would stop to listen to him – my mom standing still at the stove; my little sister huddled at my back; my father in the living room with David, listening.

With the hindsight that comes with pop psychology, age and a couple years of therapy I realize, and have peace with the fact, that David was playing for my father. My little crush on him was nothing compared to the love and yearning David had for a father like mine. His love swamped the paper boat of my five-year old squishy feelings, which were probably created more by the music than actually falling in love with a 15 year old neighbor.

When we moved to our new house later (doesn’t every childhood, ‘first love’ story end with someone moving?) I remember clearly that David clung to my father and cried.

(Here is where I hope my memory has betrayed me.)

We never saw David again. I think that we had heard, through old friends, that his mother stayed at the apartments while the Santa Rosalia neighborhood crumbled around them and that David may have become just another young black male statistic, cut down by the death-dealing gangs of Los Angeles.

The 39-year old me thinks about the gentle, 15-year old he’d been and, oh, how I wish that he’d made it to Julliard.

There was a little loud black kid, David, who was in my third or fourth grade class. He had freckles, a square-top ‘fro, and jumped around the playground with his little gang of friends, like a terrier. My friends back then consisted of the Girl Who Peed, the Girl Who Wore Pajamas to School and the Girl Who Picked Her Nose. I was not high on the Mar Vista Elementary social totem pole.

One day he bounced up and began to run the dozens on the Girl Who Wore Pajamas to School. She was mortified; I could see little tears beginning to form in the corner of her eyes. Then he shoved me in the chest and called me fat. Without hesitation I kicked him in his little elementary school balls so hard he dropped in mid-laugh.

Sure, I got sent to the principal’s office; sure, they called my parents (my father, who worked the night shift at the station was home for the call and when he heard it was basically self defense, he told the principal to stop wasting his time when she should be calling the bully’s mother, instead) and, sure, they made me apologize in the end to little sniffling David.

But I’ll never forget the feeling of shock, anger and then the adrenaline-propelled pleasure as I stood over David’s keening body on the cracked elementary school playground.

Girls are taught to avoid pleasure. Pleasure will give us a reputation; it will get us in trouble.
But when I felt my little third/fourth grade foot connect with David’s testicles, and heard his laugh choke off, that’s what I felt. Pleasure.

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