Myrtle Neck, Part Two
Excerpt from I Know This Much is True
In our new rental house, I am so excited for the cherry turnovers my mom has bought for our first morning’s breakfast. I love new adventures of any kind. My brother and I each have our own rooms for the first time. We’ve lived in my grandparent’s house for well over 6 months, and now that my Grampa has passed away, I feel we’ve overstayed our welcome, especially since I blame myself for his death.
My brother and I had been our usual annoying selves, me ever the instigator. My Gramma is in the kitchen, cleaning, of course. I was sitting on my Grampa’s lap, my brother on the floor, when I look up at him and see his eyes closed. “Wake up, Grampa”, I say. It’s too early for bed. “Gramma!! Grampa is playing asleep and won’t wake up! Tell him to wake up!” I’m not concerned at all, I just think he’s playing a game to get us to be quiet. My Gramma comes running into the living room, and we are immediately sent to our room. My brother and I look at each other, completely confused, but we know that tone, and when it’s time to obey. There is a rush of energy that comes from the living room, and suddenly we hear sirens in the distance. Everything becomes a blur from that moment, but we remain hiding in our shared room. The paramedics come in and there is a lot of talking, but we can’t hear what’s going on. Grampa is taken to the hospital, a place that so far in my almost nine years, everyone returns from, so I’m not concerned.
But he never comes home.
Sitting in the kingdom hall at his service, I’m in the middle section, someplace I don’t usually sit. I tell myself that I’m supposed to be brave, and not cry. I’m supposed to be stoic and strong. My best friend, Sheila, sits next to me. Her eyes are filled with tears, and she holds my hand. I comfort her, still not completely grasping what all this means, how I’m supposed to act, and if anyone knows I killed my grandfather. If I hadn’t been so damn loud, if I didn’t talk so much, if I didn’t egg my brother on, he would still be here. I’m sure my grandmother has told everyone that if it weren’t for me, he would still be here. I decide then and there to just keep my big mouth shut.
My brother quickly makes friends in our new neighborhood, and I befriend our next door neighbor, Jolene. She’s younger than me, but she’s really the only girl to play with. We get along for the most part, but she’s such a girl, whiny and dramatic, and a big crybaby. I would much rather play with my brother and his friends, building tree forts and riding bikes, throwing rocks and sticks, and playing in the ditch. I watch them climb the roofs of the houses and jump off. They build fires and catch lizards. My brother is less interested in me now that he has friends, so I sit in the tree fort we built together and read books about girls who have great adventures like Trixie Belden, and girls who don’t quite fit in, like most of the girls in Judy Blume’s books.
At school, I want to play kickball and football with the boys, but by fourth grade, they just want to be my boyfriend. I agree to be Fat Boy’s girlfriend, just so I can run around with the boys, and then he tries to kiss me. I break up with him, and he is furious. He backs me up against a wall of one of the houses and yells at me. I strangely feel exhilarated. I shove him away from me, kicking him in the shin. We don’t speak again until he moves away and apologizes.
In fifth grade, Jacob Moody passes me notes in class. He wants to be my boyfriend, too. I tell him I’ll be his girlfriend if he lets me play kickball with them at recess. I had been shunned from playing with them before this, so when he agrees, I’m ecstatic. Finally. I can play outside and not sit against the wall or pick flowers with the girls. When it’s recess, I try not to show my excitement, and walk over to the kickball field. We start to play a game, and then the boys decide they want to play football instead. Since I’m now Jacob’s girlfriend, I assume I can play football with the boys. I catch the ball, and Jacob runs beside me, snatching the ball from my arms. He’s not supposed to do this because we are on the same team, and I was going to make the touchdown. I run after him, tackle him to the ground, and punch him in his face.
Jacob and I spend the rest of the school year breaking up when he won’t let me play with the boys, and getting back together when he promises to let me join. I’m already sick of the cat and mouse game that seems to be required of tomboys like me, and I’m sick of the women at the kingdom hall who are already expecting me to be ladylike and stop wanting to play. I get chastised weekly by one particular sister who has two perfect daughters. I get their hand me down clothes and toys, dolls and ruffles, and she tries to bribe me with a manicure set if I stop picking my nails. I can’t stop. I’m a nervous wreck now that my father has moved from Connecticut to be with us.
After the incident with my father, I decide that apparently all boys want is one thing. It’s ridiculous, and I’m both heartbroken and angry. All I want to do is play and have fun. Why, at age ten, am I already expected to be a lady? And who decided that being a lady entails dresses, ruffles, lipstick and nail polish? I start reading my mother’s Women’s Day magazines, to figure out how I’m supposed to be a girl. One of them has a test you can take to determine what kind of woman you are. Unquestionably, my results come back as “guy’s girl”.