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It’s my party and I’ll glare if I want to

I don’t like surprises.

I have NEVER liked surprises.

I know most people say that, but they’re really ok with them. Like, if they woke up and found that their spouse had bought them a new car with one of those ridiculous huge bows on it, like in the Christmas car commercials, or if they showed up at work and right before lunch their coworkers threw a gigantic surprise baby shower for them, they’d maybe shriek a little, but deep down they’d think “oh, my. Am I ever loved” and they’d be secretly so happy.

Me? Nope. I’d shriek a little, then I’d furiously rearrange my face into what I think would pass for happiness because that’s what’s expected, then I’d go through the motions of whatever was required, like package-opening or little-meatball-eating and such, and when it was all over and I could escape from that, I would probably shake like my own private earthquake and be SO SO ANGRY.

"Do you think they know I'm mad? Do I look happy? I do, right?"

“Do you think they know I’m mad? Do I look happy? I do, right?”

I wouldn’t be thinking I was super-loved. I’d be thinking “THESE PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW ME AT ALL.”

This all sounds very petulant, doesn’t it? Yeah. Sorry. Can’t help it. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like people leaping out at me, and I don’t like people assuming they know what I’d like (unless they know me really well, in which case, they’d know me well enough to know NOT to leap out of a dark corner and trigger my PTSD) and I don’t like things I couldn’t think around corners about. I know that all seems very not-able-to-roll-with-the-punches of me. I’m not the kind of person that can’t go on a spur-of-the-moment trip, or something. I just don’t like that people were talking and planning and scheming behind my back and coming up with something.

This is a very long intro for what I can only deem THE WORST BIRTHDAY OF MY LIFE.

I don’t know how old I was. I’m thinking probably 6 or 7. Yes, it was a long time ago. Yes, I should probably be over this by now. No, I’m not.

It wasn’t my actual birthday. The weekend before, is my thought. I’m guessing a Saturday.

A thing you have to know about young-Amy is: there was nothing, nothing, NOTHING I loved more than running errands with my dad.

Running errands with my mom was a dull affair. You’d go buy groceries and she NEVER let you get a candy bar. You’d end up at K-Mart having to try on terrible dresses that were on clearance FOR A REASON and she got so mad if you hid in the middle of the clothes racks. (I had such a thing about hiding in the middle of those circular clothing racks. It was like my secret wonderland. Yeah, I don’t know, either.) You’d run into friends of hers and have to stand there and they’d talk about the MOST BORING THINGS. Like, clothes-shopping and grocery-shopping. WE JUST DID THAT. Can we go HOME now?

But! Running errands with Dad was the best best BEST. We went to the coolest places ever. Like NAPA Auto Parts which smelled like motor oil and had a gumball machine that he always gave me pennies for and the guys working there were always nice and funny and would cuss sometimes and say, “Sorry, kiddo!” Or to go buy a new car and we’d have to wear our old clothes and “act poor” so the guy would give us the lowest price. Or – possibly best – just driving around looking at things and and he’d tell me stories like “this is the bridge that your uncle told your grandmother I made him pee off, and he was so scared now he’s scared of all bridges, but if he ever tells you that, it’s not true. IT IS A LIE.”

That day, Dad said, “Amy! Do you want to go to the dump?”

DID I WANT TO GO TO THE DUMP? Boy howdy, did I want to go to the dump!

DUMP!!!

DUMP!!!

Now, the dump was AWESOME. Don’t even be turning up your nose. The dump smelled terrible, sure. This was long before you paid money and had to have things all neatly recycled. This was a pile of willy-nilly GARBAGE. Couches and dolls and food and dead animals and parts of cars and a million seagulls and everywhere you looked, there was a new thing. The dump was ADVENTURE. And Dad would drive in all fast and it was all hilly in there and the truck would bump all over and I would laugh and laugh.

Shush. I grew up in a small town. We took adventure where we could get it.

So Dad and I packed up into the dump-going truck and I put on my little red riding hood (it was the BEST red hoodie, so I was wearing hoodies before they were cool, yo) and we took off to the dump.

I don’t remember exactly what happened at the dump. I’m going to guess just dump-stuff. Dropping off garbage. Dad saying, “DON’T TOUCH THAT! IT IS FILTHY! WE DO NOT NEED THAT!” (I don’t know if I was ever really going to touch anything at the dump, but I wanted a closer look at it. It was like archaeology of castoffs. I was so fascinated.)

We went home. Now, the savvy grownup that I am would probably have picked up that something was going DOWN, you guys. But I was 6-or-7-year-old-Amy in my sassy red hoodie and a VERY successful trip to the dump on a happy October Saturday behind me, and I wasn’t much of a detective then.

I sincerely felt like Supergirl in my red hoodie. I need to get another one of these things.

I sincerely felt like Supergirl in my red hoodie. I need to get another one of these things.

Now, this is where, if I could find it, I would insert a photo that would make you laugh so, so hard, because it kind of perfectly sums up young-Amy in a single picture, but I have torn this place APART and it is not to be found. I have to assume that my mother has it, because I only have one album of young-Amy photos and it’s not in there.

Instead, I am going to include this very-well-executed internet drawing. YOU ARE WELCOME.

I'm pretty sure I'm the next Warhol, yo. Look right out.

I’m pretty sure I’m the next Warhol, yo. I especially like my red hoodie. It’s perplexingly terrible.

I opened the front door of my house and there was a deafening “SURPRISE!” and my whole family was crammed in there – I mean, all my cousins and aunts and uncles and my mom and my dad was all laughing behind me and you would THINK that would be such a happy surprise for a 6-or-7-year-old kiddo.

Nope.

I did the same thing I do now, when surprised. I froze, then I made the most fake smile ever, and ever single photo of me from that party – every one – is me with this terrible false frozen party-face on, but with gritted teeth and flared nostrils. I did not want to come home to a house full of people (albeit people I did then, and do now, love.) I did not want this terrible surprise. I did not want this thing that had been plotted behind my back.

My parents are totally apologetic now (even though they still think I’m weird.) They know better than to ever, ever have any sort of surprise function for me ever again, as long as I live, up to and including my funeral. (I have that planned to the LETTER. I just have to hope I die before my parents.)

And just so you know, it’s gotten worse – now, when people jump out at me from behind things, my first reaction has become to protect myself with whatever’s handy. Once it was a painbrush, pointy-side out. Once it was a pen. Once it was a cast-iron fireplace poker. So if you need further proof that maybe you should announce yourself before you get into my general vicinity, there’s that. I really don’t want to stab and/or bludgeon you. I have this fight-or-flight reaction…and it’s totally fighty.

So! Yes. I love birthdays. And Christmas. And, in general, all the holidays. And I will always be happy if you think of me!

Just please, for the love of Pete (and your own well-being) DO NOT LEAP OUT FROM BEHIND SOMETHING SHOUTING SURPRISE AT ME.

Thanks. Love your faces.

 

(This post was written for the lovely Emily’s Remember the Time blog hop! Have you visited Emily’s amazingness lately? You should! She’s one of my favorite humans!)


The leader of the children of the damned

Through most of my teen years, I was a fairly quiet, bullied kid.

Except for the time I bullied someone myself.

And, because I have always been a go-big-or-go-home person, I didn’t choose a kid to bully. Oh, no, not me.

I chose a TEACHER.

Mr. P was fresh out of teachers’ college when he showed up in our seventh grade classroom. He looked like a J. Crew model. He was all preppy cashmere sweaters and perfectly blowdried blonde hair and way too many very-white teeth. He laughed heartily. He had pink cheeks and sparkly eyes.

Immediately, my class decided they must destroy him.

Why we came to this decision, I’m not sure. We were a small school in a farm town. Did he represent the other, and we feared that? Was he too gung-ho? Was he trying too hard? Was he just TOO DAMN BLONDE?

I’m not sure why the rest of the class didn’t like him, but my dislike of him was twofold.

First, historically, teachers had been my only safe place. Especially English teachers. They praised my writing and they called on me when no one else would answer their questions because they knew I’d done the reading (hell, I’d probably finished the book on the first day) and they were kind when the kids weren’t.

Mr. P. wasn’t. For whatever reason, he had no time to be kind to the quiet, bullied kid. He graded me more harshly than I thought I deserved (whether or not I was right, I’m not sure – I was twelve, what the hell did I know) and snapped at me quite often in class. He also forced me to participate in things that other teachers would let slide – things where I had to talk in front of the class. Which was my biggest fear. And when I asked him, as I always did, if there was a way I could get around such a thing, he SNEERED at me.

This didn’t fly with the shy, but snotty about her intelligence, kid that I was.

The second reason was a lot more selfish.

All of the other kids were doing it. Dammit, I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be cool SO BADLY. Even though I knew, on some level, I never would be, this seemed like a way to be cool.

It was hard to be cool when you were the school's Napoleon Dynamite, yo.

It was hard to be cool when you were the school’s Napoleon Dynamite, yo.

So I led the class in a campaign of terror against Mr. P.

See, I was quiet, and I was shy…but I was smart as hell. And I read. A lot. I had ideas about how to be cruel to people that the other kids hadn’t even THOUGHT of. (Mostly because they’d taught them to me by being cruel to me all those years.)

Things we did to Mr. P. over the two years we tormented him, that I can remember:

  • all brought apples back from lunch and, one at a time, loudly rolled them up the aisles at his desk when his back was turned and pretended we didn’t know where they came from
  • he brought in an “heirloom mug” to teach us the meaning of the word heirloom (I’m pretty sure seventh graders don’t need an object lesson for such a thing) and one of my classmates broke it (this was NOT on me, I’d just like to make that clear, but I did laugh along with everyone else)
  • we refused to answer any questions in class, raise our hands, etc., until he instituted “participation points” and we were FORCED to, but then we’d answer briefly and in snotty tones
  • we had a class spelling bee, and he was SO EXCITED, and I knew I could win, but just didn’t give a shit, so when it was down to me and another kid I refused to continue spelling and he was all “BUT THE PRIZE IS A CANDY BAR!” all sad-eyed and I laughed like he’d offered me a mudpie and said “you can’t do better than that?” and sat down
  • and, our coup de grace, another student and I took the musical thingy out of a musical birthday card and hid it under his desk, so there was this tinny “happy birthday” music playing all day, and he was all “WHAT IS THAT MUSIC” and everyone pretended they couldn’t hear it and we walked past on a free period and saw that he’d torn all the drawers out of his desk and was sitting in his chair and he was CRYING.

After that, it wasn’t as much fun anymore. I mean, seriously, we made this guy CRY. We BROKE an ADULT.

The worst part, though (I KNOW, there’s a WORSE THING) was that he’d started a junior-high drama club. He actually got me into acting. I should be thanking the poor guy for this, you know? So in seventh grade, we did Heidi. I was Heidi’s bitchy aunt. I sprained my ankle so badly the day before the show I couldn’t perform and my understudy had to go on for me and I was HEARTBROKEN.

In eighth grade, we did The Diary of Anne Frank (I know, this guy was really optimistic about our talent – well, until we got through with him) and I was Anne’s mother. (Yes, I always got cast in the parent roles, or the bitchy roles. I apparently have always looked old and always read bitchy.) In news of ZOMG, my crush was in the play, too (but I didn’t know at the time he was only in the show because HIS crush was playing his wife. Sigh.) At this point, we had bullied Mr. P. to a point of constant nerves. He was no longer cashmere sweaters and perfect hair; he was more often greasy and sweaty, he’d grown a weird, patchy beard, and he had this constant thousand-yard stare.

I’m not sure what, exactly, happened, the night he had the nervous breakdown. We were acting jerky, I’m sure…but keep in mind we were 13- and 14-year-olds. That’s how those kids act, usually. They’re bundles of hormones and jackassery.

I just remember him screaming “THIS PLAY IS CANCELLED!” and it was an hour before the afterschool bus was coming, and he stormed out of the auditorium, and we kind of whispered and then crept out into the lobby to use the pay phone to call our parents to see if they could pick us up early and he was sitting in the lobby, looking furiously through a phone book and rocking.

“What are you doing, Mr. P.?” one of the kids asked him.

“I AM LOOKING FOR BICYCLE STORES,” he said. “I’m going to RIDE a BIKE across the COUNTRY and eat nothing but BEANS for the rest of my LIFE.”

The kids we were thought this was HYSTERICAL. The woman I am now is HORRIFIED. (Seriously, though, we were kids. The word “beans” made us think of “farts” and “farts” was SO FUNNY. Come on, it still kind of is.)

This was near the end of the school year. He did finish out the school year, but the play didn’t happen, and he didn’t come back the following year (his tormentors – us – had moved onto high school at that point, so he’d have probably been safe, but I can’t blame him that he wanted nothing more to do with my school.)

I seriously think back on this time and cringe.

I was TERRIBLE. I wasn’t the only one – we were all little sharks who had scented blood – but a lot of these things wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t said “hey, why don’t we try…” because THOSE KIDS WOULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF THEM. I had no empathy for this poor man, who was new in town, new to his job, and probably trying really hard. And who knows why he was (what I perceived to be) dickish to me? Maybe he was trying to get me to work harder; maybe he wanted me to be able to talk in front of people, and thought this was the best way to go about it. Who knows.

I know. I was twelve, and I was a lonely bullied kid. I did a lot of things that were, in retrospect, not good choices. (I also made some brave choices, but the bad ones probably equaled those out.) But this poor guy, sincerely. And he talked me into acting! Which changed the whole course of my life! And my actions (well, mine and others, but I totally egged those other kids on) MADE THE MAN QUIT TEACHING!

I still feel terrible about this. I’ve totally tried to find him on Facebook and on Google and I cannot. I sadly imagine he is still riding solo across the country on his bike, subsisting on nothing but legumes, like a Forrest Gump without a Jenny to come home to. He’s probably about 50 now. Still pedaling. Trying to escape the mean kids and the tinkling “happy birthday” that won’t leave him alone and just…won’t…stop.

Mr. P., it’s too late, and it won’t fix anything now, but I am very, very sorry for the time I decided the best way to deal with an adult was to bully him into a nervous breakdown and to make him quit his job. As an adult now, I know how mean children can be, and I sincerely cringe at that child I used to be. You have no reason to forgive me (and I am quite sure you’re probably never going to read this – what are the odds, right?) but I do hope you’re well, and you found your happiness somewhere, and you were able to forget about those two terrible years in the late 80s when the children of the damned of upstate New York used you as a punching bag.

(I promise I’m doing penance for this on the regular, now. I’m nice to old people AND animals AND children and one time I found a lost kid in the Target and totally brought him up to the customer service desk so he wasn’t stolen by a pervert and his dad tried to give me money and cried. I REALLY AM TRYING TO MAKE UP FOR MY PAST TRANSGRESSIONS.)


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