Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Life in Pink - Part 3

The next couple of years, I became increasingly aware that I wasn’t being invited to the sleepovers and birthday parties and so on the girls in my class were invited to, and when it came time for the boys to choose teams for sports, I suddenly became invisible. I can’t remember a single time I was actually picked for a team, rather than the teacher saying something like, “And so Chris will be on [So-and-So’s] team,” after all the boys in class had been chosen. Once the game started, I would resume being invisible.

It was all right, though. It wasn’t as though I took any great pleasure from boys’ games. I’d have very much preferred to play with the girls, or for me and another girl to brush each other’s hair. But the girls were hardly more welcoming than the boys. It wasn’t until fourth grade that I made a really good friend, Shanika. I’d never seen anyone who was so happy all the time, and there wasn’t a single person in class she wasn’t nice to. When she phoned one night to invite me for a sleepover at her house with two girls from our class that weekend, I actually burst into tears of happiness, which in turn made Mother burst into tears of her own. By this time, Pop had joined AA. When neither at one of his two jobs nor asleep, he was at one of his meetings.

My tears of happiness soon turned into a more traditional type of tear. I could tell from the look on Shanika’s dad’s face when Mother walked me to their front door that there was going to be trouble. He asked Mother if the two of them could speak in private while I went into Shanika’s room to play. Not very long thereafter, Mom knocked on Shanika’s door. She couldn’t have looked more unhappy. She said she had to take me home. I must have looked pretty heartbroken. She explained that Shanika’s dad was concerned because Mother had had the flu recently, and was worried that I might give it to Shanika. That didn’t make sense to me — I couldn’t even remember Mother’s having been ill, and I was the healthiest kid on the planet — but I could see there was no use arguing. Mother could barely speak on the drive home. All she could say was how sorry she was.

By the time I was in fourth grade, both my brothers had gone onto middle school, Pop had had a stroke that left him unable to speak — which is to say slightly less expressive than he’d always been — and the latent sadism in a few of my classmates had begun bubbling inexorably back to the surface. But I’d been become a sort of honorary member of the little clique to which the three most desired girls in sixth grade belonged, and they made clear that anyone who wanted to get close to them had better be nice to me. I trusted no farther than I could have thrown them the boys who’d earlier seemed so intent on shaming me, but I appreciated not being taunted at every turn.

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