Leaking a Little Bit of Shrapnel

That’s right, I was about to take a portion of my book and tweak it into a small, 1500-word piece of prose and maybe send it into a contest. Then I realized I should save myself the fees and just leak it on my blog! I wouldn’t win the contest anyway. I’m sure they are looking for “real” writers.

So here it is, a rough portion called, Hargas Street: 

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Hargas Street, where I remember all the fighting. It’s where I shared a room with my brother, Mike. Where I retain vivid memories of the room, my blankets and sheets, my Flintsones pillowcase, and even the potty by my bed before I used the “grown-up” toilet.

Some people think I have a screw loose – that I can remember so far back, but I remember. My eight year-old brother caring for me, a kid himself, because of feckless parenting. It was Mike who helped me in the middle of the night when I needed to use that potty in the dark.

We more or less hid out in that room and created our own world. It was our attempt to get away from the hell going on outside of it. Mike took on the job of protecting me from future traumas, however futile, but he tried to distract me with playing “Army,” or making me laugh into an undeniable belly pain. A lot of times it worked, but just outside our hollow wooden door, there was another war unfolding, with bombs dropping, plates breaking, doors slamming. A battle of screaming profanities. Oh, the sacred proverbs I learned from behind that door.

Peace would come when my dad would finally clomp across the lawn towards his little yellow Fiat. We’d peek out the window, affirming the end, and watch him peel off for a few hours.

Quiet stretches were when they’d make up and take a trip somewhere. We’d have a babysitter named Mrs. Shealty. She was an elderly lady, somewhat conservative, and strict – more than my own parents anyway, though, anyone would be. She set bed times and rules, and I’d merrily mind them, anxious to please. I felt safe when she was there. Although a grizzly bear could have broken into the house and she would only be armed with knitting needles.

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However, I came to hate Mrs. Shealty one afternoon when my brother and his friends were playing in the backyard. The four of them came into the house through the back door, one by one, and into the bathroom. Each came out of the bathroom with extremely soapy hands. They used a slightly wet bar of soap so their hands were all white and cakey. As they exited the back door, they left soap smears on the walls and all the doorknobs.

I spied all this from the hallway while playing with my dolls, and of course, it gave me ideas. Perhaps if I soaped up my hands like theirs, they would let me play with them in the backyard?

No such luck. Mrs. Shelty caught me coming out of the bathroom with my white, pasty hands and scolded me to rinse them immediately. When I told her that the boys in the yard did it, she told me, straightforward, that it was different because they were boys!

Now, I might have only been five years old, and knew not of the Suffragettes, but I knew that was an unacceptable reason to rinse my hands. I thought she was going to tell me that we all needed to rinse our hands, but all this taught me was that boys get away with whatever they want.

Just like Alex, the kid who lived down the street on the corner of Hargas. He used to turn his eyelids inside out. We were in the same class at Castle Heights Elementary, and he’d freak out all the girls in class, including me. We ran away from him – screaming – so that we didn’t have to look at his face, but he’d run right after us, pushing his face into us, grunting like a zombie.

This traumatized me enough that I would increase my pace past his house during my walk home from school.  I worried he would be sitting on his porch with his eyelids inside out, waiting for me.

In fact, Alex was such an asshole, that one day he was trapping younger kids under a wooden crate on his lawn. To make matters worse, he sat on top of the crate, so they really couldn’t escape.

I ran home and told my brother and older cousin about this horrible injustice. I thought they should do something about it! But do you know what they did? They tricked me into getting myself trapped under that crate, telling me how they would come and save me, but they never did. Instead, they crouched behind a hedge, peeking, while laughing their asses off.

I stayed under the crate for hours, as Alex would not let me out unless I showed my bare butt. I stayed until it got dark, and once my mother came home, I screamed “Mommy!” so loud, that she heard me four houses down. Thankfully, my bare butt was saved.

Hargas Street is also where my mother met her best friend Nina, and that was all because of my brother. At eight years old, he decided to steal the fruit out of our own refrigerator, then go door to door trying to sell it for cash.

Once he got to Nina’s house, she was on to him. She invited him in for some milk and cookies and called my mother, telling her to have a look in her fridge. With four boys herself, she knew all too well what he was up to and the two of them had a laugh over the phone which sparked a life-long friendship.

The friendship actually consisted of a core group of three women, my mother, Nina, and Nina’s sister, Phyllis. The extended group included my mom’s sister, Susan and my nana, Evelyn – plus Nina and Phyllis’ mother, Faye.  All these women and their husbands, including my dad, were really into “bowlding.” That’s bowling for any normal human being other than my dad.

My father had a third grade education. He was born before the Great Depression and had a profoundly sad, complex upbringing. Nevertheless, this did not stop all of the women from making fun of how dumb he was. And my dad never said a word. He’d just chuckle along with them.

My mother had an interesting friendship with Nina. I think about my current friendships and they seem utterly paradoxical.

Nina had a strong influence on my mom to be ballsy, to take charge. Basically, to be a bitch in life. I’d say that Nina slightly bullied her, and if my mom failed to stand tall, she’d beat herself up – and that’s something I tend do to myself without a Nina.

All in all, they were both were strong, Jewish women and I looked up to them. But together, they were trouble. Both ruled their households – Nina with an iron fist, and my mother with manipulative guilt trips that stemmed from her mental illness and suicide threats. It was the only way she knew how to get her way, and she did – from the clothes she got, to houses my father would later purchase.

My mom felt insecure around Nina. It was hard to watch. Nina was very confident. She and Phyllis had, what seemed to be, a harmonious relationship with their mother, Faye, and this made my mom sad and jealous. My mom’s relationship with my nana was strained, to put it lightly, since Nana mentally abused her as a kid.

Phyllis had two children, a younger boy, and a girl, Tracey, close to my brother’s age. I remember how in love I was with how Tracey wore her hair.

Tracey’s hair was nothing like mine, and, it never would be. It was very straight. It had no wave and no frizz. It was as if she wasn’t even Jewish. She’d push it behind both of her ears – ears that rather stuck out a bit.

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I would try desperately to make my hair like hers – wetting it, putting Vaseline in it. I even stopped washing it to try to thin it out. I tried to comb out all the wave and frizz, push and pull it behind my ears – ears that also stuck out, but it never looked like hers, ever.

Then one day I saw Tracey, she was probably 12, and her ears were different!  They didn’t stick out anymore. That was when my mother began insisting I have my ears pinned back.

After years and years of Mom haranguing me about “fixing” my nose, ears were added to the list. I figured, sooner or later, it would be my whole face. Might as well. Noses take up a lot of real estate, and it’s not easy to invent clever ways for why your fingers would be naturally lingering below your eye area. Forget it.

On Hargas Street, I didn’t try to hide my nose so much, not yet anyway. Although seeds were planted, only prickly leaves of truthful flowers grew. And my memories, like weeds caught in a wildfire, lit a clear path to the potty by my bed.


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