My parents are infuriating good ones. Infuriating because my Dad specifically wanted his daughter to be a writer and instead of teaming up with my mother to be unforgivably deranged and giving me some fucking material they just did stuff like support me and inspire me to be the best I could be and take a consistent, genuine interest in my projects. For instance I was reading David Sedariss’ Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim a few weeks ago. In one of his short stories he recounts how during a rare North Carolina blizzard his mother tired of her kids being home from school and thrust David and his siblings out in to the snow and locked the door. She then ignored them completely.
“That’s wonderful!” I thought at the time. “His mother completely neglected to consider her children’s well being for almost a full day! My mom made sure I was in the back yard during snow days and called me in for soup after four hours. This is why I’ll never be a best seller…”
Despite my parents tenacious refusal to have a terrifically bad divorce, neglect me or consistently be embarrassing every now and again they really came through.
See, my parents are not joiners. They don’t want to play on your team, join your cause or follow your rules. They don’t give a shit about what’s hip or what the Joneses are doing. It’s not that they don’t like parties it’s that they don’t generally like a lot of the people at them, also the chicken for the salad is done baking and they just opened the Shiraz.
Also NCIS is a new episode tonight.
So it follows that as an only child I also grew up with a fairly independent streak but in one regard I betrayed parents. I wanted friends. Not one or two. A lot of them. I wanted to be a social butterfly, loved and highly regarded by all.
And I wanted that really, really bad.
Of course this desire can only lead to a deeply traumatic recounting of a Sleepover. With all girls.
Now I said that my parents are almost insanely supportive and encouraging. Even in what I chose to wear they smiled wanly and let me leave the house dressed as a Little House on the Prairie style pioneer girl when I felt like it, Which I did, about twice a week for school. They didn’t mention maybe that it wouldn’t earn me the high social standing I craved but hey, let little Eliza dream. Actually there are only two sartorial crimes my mother directly committed against me as a child that resulted in trauma.
The first was an odd insistence on Dickies. If you just google “Dickies” as I just did you are directed to a website selling rather fashionable and durable uniforms and other sundry workwear. Silly me. I thought everyone had to wear dickies as a child. Then I googled “Dickies Turtlenecks”
Ahh…now there we are.
As you can see a Dicky is a turtleneck with just the neck bit and a bib that is thrust lumpily under your outer shirt. Why not just wear the whole shirt? I asked my mother one time. She looked at me, then the blue dicky she held in her hand and mumbled something about “Keeping your neck warm but…not getting hot everywhere else put your sweater on the bus is coming.” and shoved my head through the puff paint kitty sweatshirt I had to wear because my prairie dress was in the laundry.
So at school on dicky days inevitably I’d bend down to get something from my back pack and the front of the bib would fall out of the shirt front and flap sorrowfully in my face, a loose bibby reminder that I would not rule the Crestview elementary roost nor any roost at all.
But then, oh then there were the leotards.
Oh, Jesus the leotards. In begging to be put out amongst the thronging horde of other children so I could find someone to play with in the back yard TeePee I’d built with sticks and moss my parents thoughtfully enrolled me in a gymnastics program. This was the early 90’s so every one of us little girls were doing somersaults in what could only be a skin tight one piece representation of a Nam’ Veterans acid flash back.
And that was fine. Leotards were fine. In the context of where they should be worn, which is a gymnastics program and nothing else. However my mother, being a little over two decades away from elementary school figured it would be a perfect out fit for the slumber party I’d been invited too. The first one ever.
I had been invited by a girl in my class named Rochelle. There was something…not quite right with Rochelle. I could never entirely put my finger on it. Partly it was that she was…huge. I don’t mean that she was the fat kid in the class. I mean she had a bulk that came down to bone and muscle. She was 8 years old and had the physical bearing of a full grown Saint Bernard. She was gregarious and typically greeted you with a full on body check. That would be fine if she didn’t have a weird habit of climbing up the bathroom stall door and watching you pee. Or a predisposition to saying things while you were eating your sandwich like: “Did you know that flies eat poo and then throw up on your food?”
Also that little broad smelled. Sorry if that’s insensitive, but she was the goddamned smelly kid in our grade. It was a sort of a stale cornchips in dark urine smell. Faint at first…but then it would sneak up on you and when you fixed an accusatory look on her the scent would suddenly vanish. Only to return once you had looked away, a warning sign that she was hanging above the stall door watching you drop a deuce.
Still, creepy bathroom voyeurism and prepubescent miasma aside, everyone sat at Rochelles’ lunch table where as mine was conspicuously deserted.
“Can’t I get some PJ’s?” I asked over my Mac an’ Cheese. “Rainbow Brite ones?”
Mom looked over her shoulder from where she tossed ketchup covered hotdogs in parmesan cheese. “Just wear your leotard.”
“But… that’s not PJ’s.”
“I think it’s better.” She said definitively. “You can wear it under your clothes and then as a shirt when you take your sweater off and then you can sleep in it.” She spooned the hot dog surprise into a bowl and set it down on in front of me. “Just think, the other kids will see your leotard and want to know all about gymnastics!”
That made sense. Always good to have props for a conversations starter. Maybe I should put some of my teepee moss in my overnight bag and carry it around at the party. “What? Oh this? It’s just some of the moss I use to insulate my teepee. Yeah, I make my own teepees. I could totally show you sometime.”
I was packed into the car with my “My Little Pony” backpack and my leotard worn under my jeans and sweater.
Rochelles mother greeted us at the door and after exchanging pleasantries with my mother, ushered me downstairs into the basement where the slumber party was being held. The party was…well…it didn’t…it didn’t go very well….
I had nothing in common with these girls. They all watched full house and played soccer. None of them liked books except for Rochelle but even that was limited to Babysitters Club and the Boxcar Children. They didn’t like marine biology or DIY teepees or tree climbing. So I sat there awkwardly drinking my pepsi on my sleeping bag while one of the other girls told a vaguely racist joke that I can’t remember very well except that the punch line involved a bunch of nuns singing “I’ve never seen a black man with a white asshole.”
I drank four more Pepsis as all the other girls crowded around to watch Family Matters and then Full House on TV. I had to pee like a bastard so I snuck into the bathroom. Now the issue with a one piece is that obviously you can’t just pull the thing down and go. You have to take the whole fucking thing off and then put it back on. Twenty minutes later I emerged from the bathroom to be jump tackled by Rochelle.
“My mom says it’s time for bed!” She shook me like a rag doll. Thank god I’d managed to pee. “I moved your sleeping bag over near me and Sarah.”
Well, bless her heart, she had. In the process all of the contents of my backpack had become strewn across the floor. I gathered up my crap and had only partially shoved it back in when Rochelles mother flipped off all of the lights and demanded utter silence and immediate sleeping. She would be sleeping with us on the floor to ensure no “monkey business”. I stripped to just my leotard. All of the girls had their PJ’s on for about an hour before bed but I was too embarrassed to wander around half naked swilling Pepsi waiting for some one to ask me how good I was on the balance beam.
Don’t worry I got over that feeling to experience it in university.
I lay in the dark and wondered if her mother had any idea about Rochelles bathroom peepery.
I’ve never slept well or been able to sleep quickly so I laid in the dark for hours staring at the ceiling and wishing to god I could pick my way out of the minefield of 8 year old girls in sleeping bags to go read my book in the bathroom. Oh I tried, but got caught by Rochelles mother while trying to tip toe though the maze.
“Do you have to go to the bathroom?” She shined an honest to god mag light on my skinny ass, like a night watchman.
“Get back in your sleeping bag and sleep in it please, Leia.”
After an hour of fidgeting sleep, finally, mercifully, came.
When I awoke in the morning to Rochelle throwing her self across me and screaming “Squishy, Squishy!” I decided I was over it. I didn’t want to be a social butterfly anymore. I just wanted to go home to my quiet house, have mommy make me a coffee and milk with four sugars and watch Darkwing Duck.
And more than anything I wanted out of that fucking leotard.
extricating myself from under my clydesdale of a childhood friend I made a dash into the bathroom as soon as the door opened to let our another sleepy little girl. I shut the door behind me and locked it. Gratefully I removed my leotard, sticky with the nights sweat and came to the wretched realization….
I had left my bag with my change of clothes out in the basement den.
I unlocked the door and poked my head out cautiously.
“Rochelle? Rochelle.” I called to her from the door. Rochelles head poked up from a cluster of girls.
“Can you, uh…can you hand me my backpack?”
“Why? What are you hiding in there?” She stood up and barrels towards the door and my frightened face. “Did you start your PEEEERIIIOOOOOOD???”
The next thing I knew she had me by my bony wrist that had poked through the door. The next, next thing I knew I was being hauled into the room, chock full of my now very interested in me classmates, buck nekkid.
“No! No! Leggo!” I struggled to get away but to no avail. Rochelles grip was like steel and fighting her only wound her up further. She began to whirl me around in a circle all the while screaming “Naked woman! Naked Woman! Naked Woman! Naked Woman!”
I was utterly powerless.
With a final whoop of “NAKED WOMAN!” Rochelle straight up shotput me across the den and into a table stand with a lamp sitting atop it where I crumpled upside down. The lamp teetered and came crashing to the floor just as Rochelles mother came back down the stairs.
“What the hell…” She started.
And there I was. Laying dazed, ass over teacups on the shag carpet among broken lamp bits.
“Jesus. Ok, Girls…uh…go upstairs. There are scrambled eggs…” Everyone just stared at her for a moment.
The other girls all filed upstairs quietly, including an innocent looking Rochelle while he mother picked me up from the shattered ceramic.
“So what’s all this about?”
I weaved a bit and could only say: “Could I… Could I please have my back pack now?”
Wordlessly Rochelles mother handed me my back pack and I clutched it and sidled back into the bathroom to dress myself behind a locked door. A locked door which I could not be persuaded to open again until my mother arrived to get me.
Rochelles mother must have said something to mine because when I climbed into the passenger side she asked:
“Now, what was this about you being naked?”
I explained what had transpired. My mother listened and made a terrifically good point.
“Why didn’t you just put your leotard back on and go get your backpack?”
What I wanted to say was that normally you would have the reasonable expectation that your friend would just hand you the damn back pack and not hurl you like a nude javelin in front of the female population of your 3rd grade class but instead I just shoved my face into the screen printed pony and was silent.
Mom did made me my milk coffee when we got home when I quietly asked for it. I sat in a ring of sympathetic stuffed animals and watched cartoons. It would be a few years before I slept over at another girls house again.
It may not be as good as being neglected in the snow or anything Augusten Burroughs went through but damn it, it’s all I have to show for trauma. It may not get me on the NYT bestsellers list but can I at least have some fucking retweets?