Friday, August 20, 2010

Into Focus

Prompt: From The Domesticated Bohemian

I know that memory leaves us with a version of our history. It's one version. Seen through spectacles rosy or dark. Its not wrong and its not right.

It seems to me that I don't have enough memories of my childhood. Reminiscing with friends, I rarely recall the events they excitedly clamor on about.

"You wore those red suede boots you had, remember?" We were sitting at her dining room table. My hand was wrapped around my coffee mug, my forearm sticking to the plastic tablecloth. A friend was describing a time we performed for a summer camp talent event. I remembered attending the camp; that was easy. It was right behind my house, really. My brother had run away in the trails surrounding it once. I remember my mother checking the tall brown weeds and the underbrush. But the boots? Those weren't me.

"You're definitely thinking of someone else. I never had red boots."

But she persisted, annoyed. She offered a description of silver embellishments and fringe. She was scolding me and it felt deserved. Eventually I stopped shaking my head and, slowly, the memory came into my mind and pulled at my mouth to create a frail smile. My friend rolled her eyes and tapped her foot to the pace of her words. I stared at the table cloth and noticed where the ink had smeared in the pattern. I wanted to see my boots just as clearly. The scuffs, the worn bits of leather, and the way they jumped about the grass on my feet. At first, I saw only a solitary image, as if a store display. But then there was the hallway of one of my childhood apartments. My clothing dresser was here, outside my bedroom, at this house, and I was sitting beside it, tugging my boots onto my feet. My hair kept dropping over my eyes with the force of my efforts and I'd pause only briefly to shove it back. My socks were too thick, maybe. Or maybe I should just stand up and stomp them on. Regardless, I'm pretty sure they don't fit anymore. But I didn't care. I shove my foot down and bunch my eyebrows at the pain. My friend pauses only briefly at my absent minded twitching, and continues talking about something pressing. I adjust in my seat and nod in her direction. But the large chunk of my childhood that was humming through my mind was still clicking like an old projection reel. I did own red suede boots, and they were one of my most prized possessions. Why wouldn't I remember that?

What I do remember mostly is shame. Thinking of my childhood is like remembering a young girl that I used to know. She feels only vaguely familiar, and I'm left feeling like I should've visited her more. That poor girl. That scared, sad, chubby, lovely, lovely girl. I feel guilty for not knowing her. I can't even see her face.


I enjoyed school so much. I loved the readings, the lined handwriting paper, and the essay booklets: the productivity of it all filled and enlivened me. I enjoyed my wooden desk with the useful slots for holding wayward pencils. Pencils that I kept dangerously fine with the cranking pencil sharpener. I remember the smell of those shavings and that lead. The inside of my desk had a gob of aged gum that had turned to tar. I spent minutes every day arranging my books around the mess so they wouldn't get sullied. I'd check on them occasionally mid-lesson to make sure nothing had slid out of place.

Around my desk were other desks with other students. I remember some of them, but not as clearly as my desk. As the pencil sharpener. As the brown paper that covered my books. But, now, one girl and one teacher come to mind as I scan the fifth grade classroom. We had come back from lunch or gym or art or something, and the still air is sent aflutter with giggles and chatter and shuffling feet. Some hover around one desk to see the glittery pen. Others run about, expending energy with a sudden fury. I think I am invisible. I'm certain I am.

But now this classmate vividly snaps into focus and suddenly I'm aware of my presence as much as she. She is shorter than I am, but I view her as someone years older. She knows things I don't. Things I'm certain I'd rather not learn. She has just reapplied her lipstick and smacks it disgustedly back into her leather patchwork purse. She crosses her legs, maybe, places her chin in her hand and announces to everyone and no one in particular, "I'm so stressed out. I haven't had sex in over a week!" Now she runs that small hand through her thick black hair and her scowl lands on me. I am frozen, sick and terrified. "What are you looking at?" She taunts. I think she is chewing gum. Her scowl turns to a grin, then to a deep, knowing laugh that reminds me of a distant relative. Now she shifts in her seat and starts to trace the carvings on her desk. The teacher is in the front of the room, a few feet away from this classmate. I watch for the teacher's reaction, wait for her to look away from the window and back at this pile of children unraveling here in her room. Delayed, her hand reaches up to her short, graying hair to reposition her curls and, eventually, to adjust her glasses. She turns to the girl absentmindedly, as if she's thinking she's heard her name. The teacher compliments her lipstick.

I blink my eyes purposefully and rub the cool tablecloth with my fingertips. I look back to my friend and use a smile to rejoin the conversation. But I don't really want to shake this young girl and her bright boots nor the classmate with black hair. It's ridiculous, but I'm feeling guilty for abandoning them. I rub my eyes and stand to pour my cold coffee into the sink. They don't need me, I tell myself. Not now.


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  1. I loved this and I loved The Domesticated Bohemian's as well.. . Jeremiah and I have conversations about memories of childhood and how much is manufactured by others memories and thoughts.

    Great job Kristine.

  2. Thanks Erin :) Means a whole lot to me.

  3. It's nice to see the different facets of such a hilarious writer.
    I WISH I had some red boots. Man.

  4. The way you wrote about it, those memories could have been my own. Wow. I never realized . . . just wow.

  5. I really like this, you.
    I don't even know if it's fiction, or real memory, or both. Any writing exercise like this is valuable. And this is a great, complete, compact piece of work.
    You're reminding me that I'm a fiction writer that hasn't written or sent out any new fiction in six months. I may have to check out these prompts for myself...

  6. Stephanie: Right? WITH FRINGE.

    Darkside: Thank you!

    DP: Thanks, teach. It was a bit of both. You need to join in. You can pick your own prompt and post whenever, if you'd like. I'm thinking of getting an email list compiled to give people advance notice.

  7. It's great. I loved it. I think DP has hit it on the head: complete and compact. And, it very much rings true for me. Thanks for this!

  8. The way you wrote about it, those memories could have been my own. Wow. I never realized . . . just wow.

  9. I loved this and I loved The Domesticated Bohemian's as well.. . Jeremiah and I have conversations about memories of childhood and how much is manufactured by others memories and thoughts.

    Great job Kristine.