Yesterday it was talking about bad teachers in dreams and all the crap I went through it fourth grade–not a pleasant recollection. The thing is, that recollection didn’t stay long, because by mid-day yesterday my mind was on something else, and it was a far better time than I had in that lousy dream.
What I’m talking about is the next year, and fifth grade.
Fifth grade was completely different from the year before, because my teacher then was a great guy whose name is, unfortunately, lost to me. I want to say “Mr. Haney,” but I don’t think that’s right, though his name started with an H, so I’ll just call him Mr. H.
Mr. H was one of those teachers who didn’t dumb things down. He knew which kids were good and wanted to learn, and which didn’t give a single shit if they made it through the year. He loved reading and he loved science, and that was good with me. He’d lived in Japan for a while, and while he was there he’d recorded an interview with someone who’d been a school boy in Hiroshima, and who survived the atom bombing by hiding in a cave being used as a bomb shelter. Though he spoke English well, when he tried describing how the mouth of the cave lit up from the blast he completely lost it and started crying and mumbling in Japanese. It was a pretty powerful moment for me, considering I’d already done my own reading on what happened then. (And believe it or not I eventually dated a Japanese woman whose mother also survived the Hiroshima bombing.)
Mr. H pushed me in history and geography, because he knew I loved the subjects, and that I wasn’t content to stop at a certain point and look no further. One class assignment we had was to do a report on a country, and the country I chose was Macau. This was 1967 to 1968, and when you said “Macau” the majority of adults went, “Whu?” No one in the class knew where my country was, nor if it was even real, but I was given extra points because just about everyone else went with stuff in Europe, or if they did Asia it was Japan and China.
The best thing Mr. H ever did was tell the Daughters of the American Revolution about my grades, and they came into class and gave me an award for “Excellence in American History”. I was given a book, which for me, at the time, was better than money.
But I’m not here to rap on about Mr. H. No, I’m here to talk about someone else.
I’m here to talk about Kim.
Kim was in my class. She was about my height, she had long dark blond hair, and she wore glasses. I also wore glasses, so it was always a bit comforting to be around someone who also had crappy eyesight. Kim introduced herself to me in a rather unique way: she walked up to me on the playground during recess and said, “Hey: you’re the kid who knows all about flying saucers, right?” Indeed I did, because since I was reading a lot of science fiction then, I was also reading everything I could get my hands on about flying saucers and the paranormal and what we know call cyptozoology. If there was strange crap out there, I knew about it. Kim was asking me about a story she’d heard where a horse had its head burned off, and I instantly told her about Skippy, the horse that had all the flesh on it’s head burn away–some say by a portable vat of acid, some say by aliens with a death laser!
Whatever. That’s how Kim and I met, and we were good after that.
I don’t remember Kim hanging out with girls a lot. Back then we called her a “tomboy” because she liked wearing jeans and button-down shirts and tennis shoes. But she never came across like that to me. She wasn’t rough and tumble; she always wanted to talk. She liked horses and the mountains, and she liked math and history, too, so we had stuff in common there. She also liked reading, but she found the stuff I was reading then to be amazing. She was a smart girl, which back then meant she was different.
Then again, so was I.
It wasn’t just headless horses and flying saucers over which we bonded. There was something else, and for that I have to go tap-dancing back into all those little corners of my past that I’d rather not exist, but are just waiting to jump me the first chance I get. So here we go:
Every summer, right after school was out, my father would take me down to the barber shop and basically have all my hair cut off, so that when it was over, I looked like Ellen Ripley from Alien 3. I hated this, because as a young child suffering with Gender Identity Disorder, I wanted my hair to grow out, and it was that summer between fourth and fifth grade when I started having arguments with my parents about getting my hair cut. Maybe that was one of the reasons I never left my room those summers and just stayed in and read, but I do remember it was the last time I let my parent do that to me.
My hair grew fast, so usually by Halloween it was longer than most of the boy’s hair in the class, which again made me stand out a little. This led to “getting picked on,” which led to getting bullied and called a freak and crazy and a lot of other shit, but I spent that school year avoiding a lot of those idiots and staying to myself.
Kim, however . . . I do remember one point in the fall when we were walking and talking on the playground, and she turned to me and said, “You’re hair is so . . . pretty! It’s so curly! I wish mine was like that.” Which was true: I had curly brown hair and long eyelashes, something my mother was always going on about . . .
I told Kim that I wished my hair was nice and straight–leaving off that, “and long like yours” because you just couldn’t talk that shit then–and bam! I bonded with her over hair, because we weren’t like all the other people on the playground. At that moment I felt there was something special between us, because not only did we talk, but we didn’t seem to care about what others thought of us when we were together.
“Seriously, you have lovely hair–and if I can use an expression that won’t become popular for another twenty years, your parents are being total dicks. But you know about time travel, so there.”
The moment I remember the most, because it was just so damn strange, was of Kim and I on the swing sets all alone, with there appearing to be no one else on the playground–or if there were, they were sticking close to the building because the sky that afternoon was a rather strange gray and blackish color that appeared as if it was about to unleash Hell at any moment, but if you live in the Midwest and you’re afraid of a stormy-looking sky, you best move the hell out ’cause that’s pretty normal.
We were alone, and swinging like mad, talking, laughing, going higher and higher all the time . . . it was one of those magical moments that you don’t ever forget, and there was a timeless quality to what we were doing, because it did seem to go on for a long time, though we were probably only on the swings twenty to thirty minutes. But it has become a fixed point in time, one that I flash back on now and then, and though I can’t remember everything that was said in those minutes together, it doesn’t matter: we were together, and it was fun. That’s what’s important.
Kim moved away after the school year was finished. I knew this was coming, as she’d told me months before. The last day of school we found a spot out by some of the trees at the edge of the playground and talked for a few minutes. I told her I’d miss her, and she told me she’d miss me back. We didn’t exchange addressed and say we’d write, probably because deep down we knew we’d never do that–though I wish I had, because I would have totally done so. Before we parted, she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek: that was the first time anyone outside of my family had ever done something like that, and it made my eyes mist up. Then she was off, back to class, and so was I a moment later. She left class as soon as the bell rang, headed for her bus, and was gone–off to Colorado, if I remember correctly.
I, too, was off to my bus and back home. The summer sucked, I stayed inside a lot, and sixth grade blew chunks. I wouldn’t talk to another girl until I was a senior in high school–I literally mean this, because people avoided me, or I avoided them, not really sure on this point. I had a few friends, but for the most part I was always that weird kid who read a lot and didn’t want to do any sports.
I also missed my friend, but I didn’t talk about that much.
These days I kind of realize that Kim was probably my first girlfriend, but not the “I’m dating her” kind of girlfriend, but rather “My BFF besty” kind of girlfriend. She didn’t think it strange to talk about the thing we talked about, and neither did I. She saw nothing wrong with complementing my hair, and didn’t consider it strange that I did the same for her. If she’d hung around I wonder what would have happened; would we have spent sixth grade continuing to talk about the things we did, and would we have expanded the conversation to include us?
I can’t say: that’s all speculation. I leave that for my writing.
I have no idea where she is now, or if she’s even alive, but if she is I’ve been sending her positive thoughts for years, and I hope they’ve helped. I don’t dwell on her, or those moments together, because they are far off in the past, and as my Phoenix spirit told Kerry in The Foundation Chronicles, “That chapter’s over; it’s time to write some new ones, kid.”
You were one of the few good chapters in the story of my life then, Kim.
I wish you well in yours.