Tuesday, December 5, 2006

the magic 8 ball and other things

Not to be ultra-depressing or anything, but my last post made me think of these two "essays" i wrote about the effects of my Zadie's death on my life when i was 7...

The Magic 8 Ball

On November 25, 1989 I turned seven. The number one gift on my wanted list was a Magic Eight Ball—an oversized fortune telling plastic replica of the game-ending piece to a round of billiards. This is what I naively let rule my first grade life. Of course I received this prized possession upon the termination of my sixth year because my life could not go on without it.
Three days after my birthday I brought the ball to school with me. Since I was several months older than a lot of the kids in my class, and my birthday was exactly one month before Christmas, my classmates eagerly crowded me during indoor recess to see the new toy. “Alyse, tell me my fortune!” squealed the admirers. “First of all,” I started matter-of-factly, “I don’t tell the fortunes, the ball does. And secondly, you have to ask a yesirno question for it to work.” Wen-dy, one of the smartest girls in our class asked if she was going to win the next game of Around the World. “Shake it!” she yelled. “You don’t shake it,” I said and gently demonstrated how to turn the ball around in my tiny hands three times and then hold the viewfinder side upwards till the answer floated to the top and revealed itself among the blue iridescent liquid. A devious smile spread across my face and I looked my component in the eye and said, “My sources say no.” “What do you mean—your ‘sources’??” Wen-dy exclaimed. “Not my sources. Look!” I turned the viewfinder towards her and showed her the magic answer. “Maybe I’ll win this time,” I told her..
When the novelty of the fortune-telling ball wore down I finally began asking my own questions. On the bus ride home I sat by myself and whispered my uncertainty so close to the rounded plastic that my lips just barely graced its smoothness. I watched Dave, the wimpy blonde boy, a few rows ahead of me sticking his feet in the aisle, telling a stupid joke to Jon sitting across from him at a window seat. "Do you think Dave likes me?” I asked the black orb. “Reply hazy, try again.” I wasn’t exactly sure what “hazy” meant so I asked again and turned it three times and waited as my triangular future floated through the blue stuff. “Don’t count on it.” Why not? I thought. That’s not fair. The ball simultaneously fell out of my hands and rolled on the grimy bus floor towards the front. I got on my hands and knees just in time to see two little hands grab at my future rolling away. I couldn’t tell if they were boy or girl hands, but as soon as I climbed back up on the bumpy seat and peered around the one in front of me, I got my answer. “Whadowe got here, Jon? Looks like someone’s Magic Eight Ball.” They both turned around to see me watching them wide-eyed. Mr. Know It All decided he had to play with it before giving it back to me. In an outside voice he asked, “Is Alyse a gigantic, ugly dork?” I sunk into my seat and watched the different colors of smashed gum on the vibrating floor. Then he announced, “Yes—definitely!!” Giggles invaded the bus and I wanted to cry.
At my bus stop I grabbed the toy out of Dave’s hands and stuck my tongue out at him for added discomfort. “See!” Dave shrieked. “Your face is all messed up!” I dropped the ball in the street on the outskirts of my cul-de-sac when I jumped off the stairs. I almost didn’t turn around to pick it up. I wished the bus would just run the thing over. But I pivoted, rescued the toy and examined it. The seam along the middle circumference of the sphere had come a little loose on one side. What was really inside there? I wondered. I want to meet the force behind these messages. I looked up at the sky. When I got home I ran up the fourteen stairs to my room and placed the Eight Ball on a shelf in my closet.
I didn’t touch it again for over a month. January 7, 1990 my Zadie turned 66. Three days later he died from an aortic aneurysm. I got the chicken pox the day after that. So did my younger sister, Sheri. We did not go to the funeral for this reason. When I returned to class I found out the scar marks (which still sometimes itched) didn’t help my “gigantic, ugly dork” status with the boys. But I did get invited to Christine’s sleepover birthday party. I had heard about these parties and I was ready to move onto these “big girl” games. I was seven after all, older than Christine or any of the other girls going that weekend.
Before going home that day I went to my best friend, Shelley’s, house two doors down from mine. I sat on her bed, one bendable little leg atop the other. Full of excitement I told Shelley about Christine’s party. Sleepovers were old news for her as she was nine months older than me, therefore a whole grade ahead. She did share in my enthusiasm, though, and wondered how I was going to ask my mom. I hadn’t thought about this beforehand, and there was no way I could let her say no. I took the Eight Ball out of my backpack. I had recently decided to give its powers a second chance. “Will my mom let me go to Christine’s sleepover party?” “Concentrate and ask again.” Why did this dumb thing always second-guess my questions? “Will my mom let me go to Christine’s sleepover party?” My voice gained a little anxiety the second time. I watched the blue water shift and my answer stared up at me. “Yes.” I jumped off her bed, yelled “Bye!” and ran home as fast as I could. Due to recently losing her father my mom was in no mood to argue with me when I told her about the sleepover party. I kissed the Magic Eight Ball and hid it for safe-keeping.
That Saturday my mom dropped me off at Christine’s house. I had already changed into my pajamas and had my new My Little Pony sleeping bag and pillow in tow. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Christine and ate some cake and ice cream. Then Christine’s mom went upstairs and we all decided to play games. I said to the ten little girls that I didn’t want to play. Instead, I grabbed my Eight Ball out of my pillowcase and silently asked it if I would ever see my Zadie again. I wanted him to hold me and tell me I was special. Wanted him to kiss my forehead and whisper in my ear that he loved me and would always be there. I looked down at the ball. “My reply is no.” I felt sick. I stumbled out of the family room full of little, innocent girls surrounding the Girl Talk game and sat on the kitchen floor at the base of the sliding door to the backyard. Pushed apart the vertical blinds. Tears streamed down my face and through their distortion I stared at the sky.
Before this party I did not realize that the Eight Ball was one year my senior and was older and wiser. Before this party I did not comprehend death. I missed my Zadie. Despite not seeing him laid to rest, I finally understood that I would never see my his kind eyes again or touch his familiar face the way I used to when I sat on his lap. The sky at night wasn’t black anymore like I used to color it. I understood the Midnight Blue crayon now. And I understood longing for something so much it takes away a little girl’s immortality. I miss you Zadie! I repeated like a broken record in what I thought was inside my head. “What’s a Zadie? Why are you crying?” Christine asked. She had heard me in the other room. I didn’t even turn around to look at her. I could not tear my eyes away from the brightest star in the sky. Made myself believe that was him. The world grew, with its size, more confusing.
In the morning Christine called my mom to come get me earlier than the rest of the party-goers who were still fast asleep. “She kept crying by the window and wouldn’t stop saying something about a zadie,” she told my mom. That was the last time I ever touched the Magic Eight Ball.

Behind Open Doors

People grow up faster in cars. Between transporting Cheerios and Midol from store to home you are confined to a small space that you cannot safely leave until you arrive at one destination or another. In exchange for food and drugs we learn to relate to other human beings. The following took place in a local Jewel-Osco parking lot in Palatine, Illinois when I was seven years old and my younger sister, Sheri, was four.
“All I have to do is run in and cash a check,” my mom told us. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to wait in the car?”
I told my mom that we’d wait there. I was trying to be brave. My Zadie had died just a few months prior and I was constantly afraid of temporary relationships. That you could have such a powerful love bouncing back and forth with someone and then have him ripped away and lowered into the ground overwhelmed me, and I thought that if I lost track of my parents the same thing would happen to them. It was the reason I slept with my door open, the hall light on, clutching a stuffed animal dog and worrying that when I woke up I might be alone. My mom knew I couldn’t stand not knowing where she was, but I was attempting the impossible: letting her leave us in the car for five minutes while I watched from the tinted window as the mechanical door of the grocery store ate her in one piece.
A look of shock flashed across her face and she said, “If I leave you in here, you have to stay in here. I’m locking the doors, and I don’t want you—for any reason—to open them, especially if someone you don’t know knocks and says it’s ok for you to unlock them—even if it is someone you do know. Only I am allowed to open the door.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, yeah mom, I’m not stupid.”
“Ok, I’ll be right back,” she said.
The sound of the power locks echoed inside me as I watched her slide the side door shut. Things inside the Chrysler caravan remained at a standstill for a few minutes. Nothing happened. I watched people honk at each other over the first parking space in the row. Kids using the backs of shopping carts as overgrown skateboards. I began getting antsy when I saw a mom holding her daughter’s hand looking both ways before they crossed over to the parking lot. I couldn’t watch the other people anymore. I wanted my mom to return. Maybe she decided to refill my Penicillin bottle. She better at least bring us back donuts to eat on the way home. I asked out loud why she wasn’t back yet. Sheri didn’t have the answer. She just shook her rattling Lolly doll. These three minutes were eating me and my patience alive. I stuck a few fingers in the built-in cup holder. Something sticky at the bottom. That’s it, I thought, I’m going in there.
I thumbed the lock up on the sliding door and pushed it open, smearing fingerprints across the window, jumped from the ledge onto the cracked asphalt and turned to face Sheri.
“You stay here,” I instructed her trying to sound motherly, knowing she couldn’t get out of the car seat alone, “I’m gonna go find mommy.”
She just stared back at me, a blank look in those big green eyes. My shoelace came untied as I headed for the entrance, but I did not stop to fix it for fear of either getting hit by a car or wasting more time in the pursuit of locating my mom. Look both ways before you cross the street. At least I obeyed one rule. She’ll be so happy to see me, to know someone’s worrying about her, I thought. The door magically opened for me. It was amazing that despite my small size the door still knew I was there. The moment I walked through the entrance a familiar face came walking through the exit.
“Where were you??” I cried, although relieved to see she was still alive.
Only a metal handrail separated us.
“I told you I had to cash the check,” my mom answered, exasperated.
“I know, but you took a long time!”
It had been four minutes since she left us.
Suddenly, her facial expression morphed from annoyance to panic, as she realized she was arguing with only one daughter.
“Where is Sheri?” she demanded.
“In the van. I told her to stay there, don’t worry.” I was not worried and this worried her as much as the fact that her youngest was alone in a car seat.
“Come here now!”
I ducked under the bar and followed her quick strides out the automated door and into the parking lot. She was making me nervous, almost more than when I was anxiously awaiting her return, safe inside the locked van. When the van was in sight and it was apparent that not only did I leave my sister in there, I had been careless enough to leave the door wide open, my mom looked like she was going to pass out. It hadn’t even crossed my mind whether I had or hadn’t closed the door at the time of my departure, being that watching my sister was not my top priority. But I realized then that I had made a huge mistake.
My mom ran to the open van, I’m sure at least half-expecting to see an empty car seat and the Lolly doll that she would look at every morning thereafter and cry whenever she heard a similar rattle. I didn’t run after her. I approached slowly, cautiously, terrified that I really would end up alone because there was no way my parents would keep me after pleading guilty for the disappearance of their baby.
She reached the open door. I stopped moving altogether and held my breath. She wasn’t crying. Her mouth was moving. A silhouette shifted through the back window. One pigtail. Two. She must have been asking Sheri if she was ok, apologizing for leaving her alone, for my irresponsibility, knowing she should have trusted her instinct about me—that three minutes apart surpassed my comfort level—that she should have just made us come in with her. My feet remained planted, this time hoping a car would hit me. My mom didn’t have to tell me what could have happened. I watched Unsolved Mysteries without blinking on Wednesday nights while she was at work. I knew what easy targets temporarily abandoned little girls made.
But she did tell me.
Turning so that she could see both of us, she screamed, “Alyse! Do you know what could have happened just in those few minutes you left Sheri alone in here?”
“Yes I do know what could have happened!” I shouted back. “And I hate myself! I really do. I wish I could just die. I wish I was dead! You wish that too, don’t you?”
I stunned her.
“Well don’t you??” I screeched.
She locked the door of Sheri’s haven, slammed it shut, and marched over to me, seemingly scared to get too close, afraid that not only had her baby almost been stolen but that her first-born was threatening her own elimination.
“Don’t you EVER say that again!” Her voice cracked. “I NEVER want to hear anything like that come out of your mouth again, you hear me?? You don’t want to be dead and don’t you ever wish that upon yourself!”
We both attempted to hide tears, both upset for same and different reasons. She walked to the driver’s door and I pulled the locked handle of the sliding door on the passenger’s side, waiting to hear the familiar unlocking. I climbed in and found my designated seat in the back row next to the left-side window. Buckled my seat belt. My sister remained in her car seat, still in the middle row. The three of us rode home in silence, Sheri never understanding what happened, yet somehow able to escape from the car seat on her own for the first time when we arrived back in our garage fifteen minutes later.

(the photo is of me at the zoo, probably trying to talk to the bear....taken by my dad around the time when both of these stories occured.)

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