As I sat in my car, it was just starting
to get dark. The few who had showed for the funeral were long gone. I too should have been…I am sure the man running the backhoe shoving dirt on my mom’s coffin
surely thought had left. A squeeze on my hand brought me back from my thoughts
and made me realize I wasn’t alone. I gave a weak squeeze back. Some memories are so impactful they latch on and never let go. I’m
forty, and I never forgot.
I was just nine years old, in front
of us, the ambush was in place; Girl Scouts selling cookies by the main entrance of Wal-Mart.
The usual sirens singing to us…drawing us in to our diabetic deaths, “thiiiiiin mints…caramel deliiiiiiiiights…peanut-butter
I was holding my mom’s hand
as she drug me toward the olive, uniformed-encrusted temptresses. My mom was
large; too large. I knew once we crossed the threshold of the store’s entrance,
Mom would get in one of the electric scooters with the basket to do our shopping. I
knew to expect the stares from others who would turn and whisper their disgust at her obesity.
I also knew I would secretly enjoy the relief from not being the focus of those stares.
Sure, Mom was large, but at my age, I didn’t care. She gave great
hugs; pack lunches that made me the envy of fourth grade, and loved me even though dressed like a boy and had braces on my
I learned early on that this love was NOT something I should take for granted. Dad left before
I could walk, at age four. My classmates’ cruelty, coupled with my own
shame, was what really crippled me. My legs got the job done, just not up to
everyone else’s standard.
As we approached the hoard with their
patch-burdened sashes trying to one-up each other with embroidered bragging; claiming, “I can sew a quilt, bake a cake,
clean a toilet”…or any other derogatory sexist bullshit…we could see they were surrounded by their pristine
mothers; who talked loud, too loud.
“Here comes a big sale.”
“Kids, hope we have enough
“Ahhhhh, it’s that little
boy that walks funny. How sad.”
“He’s a girl.”
That comment brought a giggle from
the gallery of perfect little daughters.
I heard them. Mom heard them. The Savannah-smiling scouts had big shit eating
grins as they stared.
Fifty feet to their left was a girl,
alone. She was my age. She didn’t
have a tall table with an emblemed, cloth top…instead, an old Charmin box turned upside down. On the front was a hand-written sign, scrawled with a red marker:
My mom let go of my hand and walked
to the women. Just inches from their faces she whispered something I couldn’t
hear. They reacted as if she had just revealed their spanks were visible through
their white, linen capris.
Upon seeing their stunned faces,
I asked Mom what she had said, but I was told it wasn’t for a lady’s ears.
It made me smile. Mom knew I was a lot of things, but a lady wasn’t one of them. A 100-roll of Blackcats leftover
from the 4th bulging in my pocket bore witness to this fact.
We moved to the girl; a sole vendor
with a soul. She said hello and stated she was trying to raise money to be able
to offer a reward for her lost kitty. She
showed Mom and I a picture; a scruffy yellow tabby.
When my wife asks me if I remember
what she was wearing the first day we met…I tell her…
On top, the little girl had a pink
tank top with the sequined word, princess.
She was wearing torn, faded jeans and scuffed cowboy boots that were sizes too large.
Atop the box were three paper plates
wrapped in cellophane. Beneath the clear plastic you could make out four round
cookies. Each cookie was too dark around the edges giving a hint as to the charred
bottoms. She said she had made them herself and that they were ginger snaps. My mom smiled and told her that those were her favorite and they looked delicious. I looked back down to the cookies, thinking maybe I had missed something; then back
to the girl and saw she was staring at my braces. I felt a familiar shame and
anger. But then she smiled…and not a, ha,
ha; you have defective legs smile like the other kids, but a real smile. She looked at my mother and said, “You must be so proud.” I am not sure what she even meant by that but the way she said it made me think, “I’m going
to marry this girl when I grow up.” I didn’t know others would find
that thought so wrong until years later.
She was a talker, and proceeded to ramble on and on…she shared intimate detail about
how her dad who was in a wheel chair. We learned the doctors had told him, with
hard work, he could walk again…but that her mommy had disappeared years ago and he just gave up trying. She repeated, “How proud you must be,” this time looking right at me.