There wasn’t much in my room that wasn’t blue. The walls were a soft shade of sky blue. The carpet had, at one time, been a deep, plush shag of royal blue, but had deformed into a matted, dreadlocks looking pathetic attempt at a shade of blue. There were spots in the carpet that were nearly as smooth as the concrete in the garage. My window curtains were blue. The duvet was blue. And then there was the fish tank which made the entire room ripple as though I was living in some dank undersea universe. It was my universe. I told stories to the walls, created fantastic world with my toys and populated them with the only friends I knew–the ones living in my head. I spent a great deal of my time in that little sanctuary, often just sitting indian-style on my bed in dead silence, staring at the fish lazily swimming in their tank as though they were moving in jello.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that the room color wasn’t an accident. It was that way when my parents purchased the house. And then they left it that way. Sure, I liked the color blue. But an entire room, floor to ceiling? No, it was their way of subduing me as though my room was the “calm room” in the psychiatric ward.
And I had spent a great deal of time in that room, and most of it because I was in trouble. Most of my trouble came from school. Attending a private Christian school had a myriad of drawbacks, but the biggest one was that your peer group was extremely limited. I had been in the same class with Caroline and Heidi since pre-school. My people meeting skills had peaked by the first grade and by the third grade my social sphere had been firmly established. This made making friends in the neighborhood difficult and once Adam and Billy moved, there really wasn’t anyone to play with. So, I retreated to my silent room; my opalescent world where I was keeper and king.
The other issue with being in such a small social sphere was that our reputations had been established and perpetuated by the teachers in the school. I was constantly getting in trouble. Talking when I wasn’t supposed to. Not in line straight enough. Forgetting Bible verses–a sin tantamount to cannibalism in my school. When we forgot our verses, we had to rewrite Exodus 20:12 some twenty times. “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your GOD has given you.” Nothing like an implied threat! Honor your father–GOD–by memorizing verses or he’ll smite you from earth. By ’83 we were no longer learning simple verses; we had the joy of learning entire chapters. I didn’t want to recite “The Lord is my shephard…” or “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….” I got it. God loves me and he died for my sins. I figured that one out sometime in the first grade. I’d sang enough songs to beat that fact into my head. I wanted to read about the things that Delilah was doing with Sampson. I wanted to see the face of Mr. Swift–our hipster, before hipster was a thing, teacher–when child after child walked up to him and said: “Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her.” Then had to answer the question that everyone would have: “What does it mean that he went in to her?”
Other than my spending time reading chapters of the Bible I wasn’t supposed to be and rewriting the Fifth Commandment when I should have been learning math, my reputation had been firmly established as a child that needed punishment in those rebellious years called Kindergarten.
One day, while playing with Hot Wheel cars beside the green corrugated metal shed where the church school bus was stored, I got my foot caught between the bottom of a chain link fence and the asphalt. Of course I was screaming and crying. What five-year-old wouldn’t be as the sharp points at the bottom of the fence cut into their ankle? But I was also crying because we weren’t supposed to be playing on the side of the bus shed. I knew I would be in trouble and that scared me. I’d seen second graders get paddled and I knew it would be my turn. You’d think that that trauma would have sufficed, but, no, I had to be made an example of. In class, Mrs. Gaston–the daughter of the pastor of our school’s church–made sure to give me a good swing of her yardstick in front of all my classmates. From that day, I was a bad student. If Mrs. Gaston says your are bad, you stay that way until you leave Foothill Christian. When you are ten and that’s your reputation with the teachers, you might as well live up to it. Who could imagine with so many tropes of doom, I’d find a malicious portent in Getting Foot Stuck Under Fence? So, I read about harlots and daughters who were thought to be harlots and, of course, boobies. Thank God for the Song of Solomon. Had I been more astute, I’d have memorized every line from the Song of Solomon and used them to woo women. Unfortunately, social skills was one part of the curriculum lacking in my school.
My bad boy reputation firmly established, I was in constant trouble both at school and at home. If I had to serve detention after school, I would then be punished twice the detention time at home because I had to make my mother wait for me. And then when I’d question where a homemaker had to go, what could possibly demand her immediate attention at home, I was certain to my second swatting of the day. But therein lie the problem: How do you punish a kid with no social skills and spends all his time sitting quietly on his bed indian-style? “Go to your room!” wasn’t so much a threat as a privilage. “Don’t play with any toys!” was about as firm a threat as a yapping chihuahua. I’d shuffle off to my room and sit quietly staring at nothing, memorizing the distorted and faded colors of blue on the floor. Eventually, my father, probably out of desperation and a reluctance to admit defeat, realized that just sending me to my room was not a punishment. So, I started standing in the corner opposite my bedroom door. I’d stand there, staring at the corner, lost in my mind.
There I stood. Nose into the wall like so many other children before me. Standing like a silent sentinel in honor of Nemesis. I’d think about Niki. I’d tell myself stories where I wasn’t standing in the corner. I’d watch the darkness in my mind stretch into a tiny corner and feel myself falling away from it as though I was being ripped from a vacuum; heads of people I knew would shrink into ridiculously tiny bobbles atop their shoulders. I would tell myself the story of Lot and his daughters. And then I’d ask myself why something as lurid as that would be in the Bible. I’d stand for hours. I never made a sound. And, once, I fell asleep standing in my corner.
If Getting Foot Stuck Under Fence was an ominous portent, there was also a little wrinkle of wonder to it. Without it, I wouldn’t have found my corner and there I would never have ventured into the world of my imagination where all these stories come from now. So, I suppose I should thank Mrs. Gaston… but really. No. Seriously? Who paddles a five-year-old?
Read more stories from the ’83 series here