Here be overarching themes! ~ Devotion and displays thereof; the power of language; women who are good at what they do; women who grok me; athletes; empaths; honesty; justice; humor; ability to put legs over head. What else is there?
1976-1977, inclusive: Every morning at six, I pad into the living room to see Yoga Lady on TV. Yoga Lady has a long, dark braid, and she can put her legs above her head. “Hello, class,” she says. I steeple my hands; bow my head: “Hewwo, cwass.” I understand about TV not being real; still, Yoga Lady and I are doing this bendy thing together. I don’t yet have the words, “She looks into my soul,” but that’s what Yoga Lady does. “Namaste,” she says. “Namaste,” I reply.
May, 1978: Last day of preschool. My mother is standing over me, explaining that it’s summertime, and we’re going to swim and go to the zoo and do all kinds of fun things; won’t they be fun? but I don’t care because I’m having a meltdown over leaving my teacher, Ms. Howe. My snotty face is buried in her lap, and she’s stroking my hair. I love Ms. Howe because she understands things, like why I always choose a cot instead of a mat at nap time. I don’t yet have the word “contempt,” but that’s what I feel towards the kids who choose a mat. Who would sleep on flat sweaty plastic when they could have a cot? From a cot, I am three inches off the ground and can watch everyone else sleeping. I don’t yet know the word “suckers,” but that’s what I feel towards the kids who choose a mat (and the ones who fall asleep when they could stay awake). Ms. Howe understands this, and I love her. I want to make a case for living here at preschool forever, but I am three-and-a-half and my language is unequal to the task. I shut my eyes tight so nobody can see me.
June, 1983: I’m obsessed with Mrs. L., my third-grade teacher. I want to be near her and I also want to be her, which is confusing. Why I am so into her is this: She is hilarious; tells jokes and stories just a little bit above our heads, and often I’m the only one who gets them. She talks to me with a frankness that I appreciate, because it means she takes me seriously. Also, Mrs. L. calls me on obnoxious behavior such as stomping around the classroom when I’m in a bad mood. Those times, she refers to me as “Lucy” — the tough, butchy Charlie Brown character — which I love, but I also get the message. Also, Mrs. L. is good-looking — not pretty exactly, but with interesting bones and kinetic energy. Sometimes she takes us outside to show us different birds. One day I see a red one and ask her what it is. “It’s a cardinal,” she tells me. She knows everything! I don’t yet have the words, “Goddamn, it’s amazing to know a woman of your caliber,”so what I say is, “Let’s name it ‘Frank.'” On the last day of school, I hand her a letter on my best blue stationary. It says “I love you,” hidden in the middle of lots of other words thanking her for everything. I am a little freaked out about giving it to her, but I do. Fourth grade stinks from start to finish. I watch the third graders with obsessive jealousy.
August, 1984: My camp counselor is named Sandy. Big-boned and blonde, she coaches all the team sports, which I hate, but she also has a special talent: She can tie a string around a Junebug so it flies in circles around her head. I’ve never seen anything cooler or more brave: Junebugs are huge, click when they fly, and smell like dungeons. Sandy is also in charge of the camp newspaper, so I try out for the editorship. She chooses a blond, athletic, adult-sucky-up boy over me. He’s a big fake and I hate his stupid guts, so I ask Sandy how come he got picked. She tells me she evaluated us “on a point system,” and he got more points than me. I am crushed. Betrayed. I don’t yet have the words, but what I think is, “Fuck your bullshit point system.” After that, whenever I see her on the softball field, I don’t know whether to start crying and run away — would she come after me and comfort me and maybe pet my head? — or to be tough and cold, like I don’t care. When camp ends I go home, immediately take over the elementary school newspaper and start bossing everyone around. I write a lot of nascent pop-culture articles about Madonna.
September, 1985-August, 1992: Every time it comes up, I smoosh it down. No one can know. There are a couple more teachers in here; a friend’s sister; a Young Life advisor who looks just like Amy Grant, etc.
Next, in Part 2: My across-the-hall freshman dorm neighbor has eyes like…like big pools of eyes.