••• Saturday, September 16, 2006

Right on Q. 

Q is for The Quiet Child

This picture was taken at my church, when I graduated from the nursery/pre-school program into Kindergarten Sunday School. They called it The Cradle Roll and the pictures of all the graduates were displayed in the lobby of the church through the summer.

The following story was not the one I planned on telling with this picture, although I can now see that it is a better fit, in a contexually immediate kind of way. In fact, the other story was already about half done. But this one seemed to need to be told today, for some reason. So here it is.

When I picture myself as a young girl, I see a quiet, watchful thing. And more than a little anxious. I never much took to hanging with large groups of kids and that's still my social preference, as an adult. While I had a handful of trusted playmates in my childhood years, I mostly played alone, wandering the neighborhood and exploring. ::This was to be the jumping off point for my original story. I'm just laying some referential groundwork in the event I ever get back to telling that one.::

At home I was pretty quiet too. There are many reasons for this, most of them are unpleasant to speak of. I know that my parents loved me, but times were different then. Where I came from, kids weren't treated as precious treasures to be nurtured and protected. Where I came from, children were: 1) Things that happened to you. 2) To be ruled.

It didn't take me long to figure out that in my family, the louder the child, the more likely he or she would be sought and ruled by a parent or teased/smacked/terrorized without mercy by a sibling.

So I took to being quiet. And I watched. And listened. And for the most part, this M.O. served me well. But there was one drawback I hadn't anticipated. If you're so quiet that your family often forgets you're there, it's not a huge leap to just forget you, period. Which is exactly what happened to me when I was about 7 years old, when my big sister walked home from Sunday School without me.

At first I wasn't worried. We attended one of the largest churches in the area (it has now grown to what they call a mega church, with its own traffic light.) and it was hard to get through the crowds of people milling about, so it was a safe assumption, at first, that my big sister was trying her best to get to me.

The place my sister and I were supposed to meet was near the hall where all the old ladies, with their leathered skin and feathered hats, gathered to gossip and cluck at one another. For some odd reason, I found the sight, sound and smell of those ladies, oddly comforting, as I waited.

When that crowd thinned out, I relocated to stand by the doors in the front lobby, through which a steady stream of families flowed. After several minutes there, I developed a sick feeling in my stomach and a thickness in my throat, like I couldn't breathe real good. A couple of kids from my Sunday School class passed by with their parents' and stopped to ask if I needed a ride. I was so mortified at the mere thought of the possibility of having been left behind, I could only shake my head no. Accepting a ride home would be an admission that I had really been forgotten, and even worse, that I was forgettable.

Besides, as my fear grew, I still believed in my heart of hearts that someone was coming for me, any minute. How could they not? And if I wasn't here waiting when they arrived, there'd be hell to pay. Even on a Sunday.

Family by family, I watched the lobby empty out completely, until there was nobody left but me and the janitor/church photographer who was waiting to lock up. My eyes were now aching from fighting back tears, while scrutinizing traffic for our white Buick station wagon.

And then I started to cry, which caused the janitor/photographer to come over and see what was wrong. Through slobbery snot blobs and hiccups I somehow managed to tell the guy that I was just waiting to be picked up, any minute. He wasn't convinced, and insisted on giving me a ride home. While I'm sure he was concerned for me, I imagine he mostly wanted to get home. To his wife. And her Sunday rump. Roast.

Truth is, the guy was kind of creepy. And smelled of mothballs. But with his being an adult and all, he was an automatic authority figure and it would have been wrong for me to disobey and stand my post. ::This was the mid 60's, times were different. All adults had dominion.::

As we rode the few blocks to my house, I scoured the sidewalks for any sign or evidence of an ensuing family rescue effort. I'm not really sure what evidence I was looking for, maybe a trail of tears, or a path of discarded clothing, freshly rent in despair. Some blood would've been nice. Just a few little splatters, from grief- induced, self-mutilation. Nothing much.

Ahh, no.

I saw nothing but Crazy-Guy-Cussing-On-The-Freeway-Overpass. This was a local who would stand for hours every day on the overpass, swearing and staring at the traffic below, while obsessively wiping the inside of his bottom lip on his coat lapel, an average of 37 times per minute. Between cuss words. ::Yes, this was actually a fairly scientific study performed by me and my friend Eddie Tipton. I counted the swipes and swears, while he counted to 60, a la Mississippi.::

After getting dropped off in front my house, I braced myself for The House of Hysteria, and went so far as to envision my poor mother, sobbing on the floor in a heap, while the rest of the family fell on me with hugs and kisses and tears of joy, at my safe deliverance. And maybe there would even be presents.

Ahh, no.

I walked into the house to find the entire family just sitting down to Sunday dinner. When my mom saw me come through the door, she initially looked confused and quickly took a head count around the table, as if to figure out what the hell was going on.

Her confusion quickly turned to compensatory anger. "Where've you been?" She demanded, acting as though she knew all along I wasn't here and all along she had been truly miffed.

"S-s-someone left me at Sunday School," I blubbered. We all knew who that someone was, as that someone nervously glanced at mom and dad.

During those several seconds of silence, I waited for the mighty sword of my father's vengenance to smite my sister well into next week. But it never came. The next thing I heard was my mother snap, "Wash your hands and come to dinner. And you can clear the dishes for your punishment."

I knew better than to argue at this point, but it was the gleeful snort of a brother that drove home the reality that no one would be stepping forward to comfort or defend. Or be happy I was okay.

This incident was not discussed again until I was in high school. Somehow it came up in conversation, which caused my sister to apologize and give me a hug. To this day, my mom swears it never happened and that I imagined the whole thing.

I know my parents did the best they could with what they had. And lawd knows I've made my share of parenting goofs*. So I'm not writing this to blame.

So I'll just leave you with this:
Your Kids always count.
Always count your kids.
*In the event my son ever writes his memoirs, I want to go on record to say that under no circumstances did I ever leave my three year old boy at Blockbuster Video. While leaving the store, my son and I were separated by the exit door. He was in, I was out. Because it was the exit door, it was locked from the outside, so to get back into the store, I had to run out the second exit door and run to the In door, to fetch him. He seems to blank on the "fetching him" part, and all he remembers is seeing the bottoms of my pink Reebok high tops, running away. I. Did. Not.


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