I wish I could remember my childhood in chronological order so I could tell you a story from start to finish. But I can’t. I try, but it’s all jumbled up. I try thinking about it year by year, grade by grade, but we moved and I changed schools so much that some memories overlap and contradict each other and then I remember something else, long forgotten. Buried.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But let’s be real, this is a long and winding road, complete with pot holes and toll booths, and it might take us awhile to get there. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
I did 4th and 5th grade in the same year. I was in a split class, with Mrs. Mazon at Theodore Judah Elementary in Sacramento. She is the only teacher that I remember before middle school. The only one that has a name and a face and a feeling. She was my favorite teacher. I started the year as a 4th grader, but doing all the 5th grade work. Mrs. Mazon told my mom I should be moved up a grade, based on my test scores and performance in the classroom. This wasn’t a new idea. When I was in kindergarten they wanted to move me up to 1st grade but my mom wouldn’t let them. This time, my mom agreed. So I skipped a grade. Wise beyond my years and forced to grow up too fast.
By then I had been identified as Gifted. Smart. High IQ. I got to leave the classroom and go to GATE classes once or twice a week and play brain games with the other smart kids. My favorite was this Archeology kit, where we got to imagine we were Archeologists on a dig and we studied fossils and how to carefully chip away at the bullshit to get to the prize. In another lifetime I either was or will be an Archeologist. It just felt right.
We lived in an apartment on 22nd and F Street, on the first floor of a two story building. I had multiple Michael Jackson posters taped to the wall, next to C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, and Chachi. Tiger Beat Magazine decorated my room. My mom had bought me a beautiful cherry wood antique bedroom set at a garage sale and I still have those pieces in my home to this day. My daughter sits at the vanity to do her make-up and homework. My clothes fill the chest of drawers, even now. The bed is in the rafters, covered in dust and cobwebs, like my memories.
I remember Food Stamps and mac and cheese in the yellow box with black writing and canned green beans in the same color scheme. I remember both being poor and having nice things. My mom was a bargain shopper, Marshall’s for the win. I remember that she was a Medical Assistant, and yet we used Food Stamps? So maybe this part is jumbled. My mom challenged the FNP/PA program at UC Davis and applied as an MA. Not an RN, as required. She interviewed and they made an exception. They believed in her. She was the only Medical Assistant ever to be offered acceptance. Gifted. Smart. High IQ. Pull yourself out of poverty, mama.
She worked and she went to school and she studied and she dated and she partied. I was always a Latch Key Kid, house key on a chain around my neck. I remember one night, home alone, I fell asleep on the couch. My mom was working late that night. I woke up to sounds like someone was trying to break in. I had learned to convince myself that the sounds I heard that scared me were nothing at all, just the house settling, the wind blowing, all in my imagination. That’s survival. That’s battling anxiety and a life skill. Truthfully, I was terrified. I went to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife I could find and I went towards the sound. I was afraid, but I am no cowerer. Run into the fire. The sooner you deal with it, the sooner the feelings go away. I heard someone trying to open the slider in my mom’s room. I don’t know where I found the courage (or stupidity) to throw open the curtain, knife in hand, to see who was going to break in and kill me or be killed, but I did.
It was my mom’s friend, Keenie, trying any way she could to get in to check on me. My mom had been trying to call me, but I was sleeping, and didn’t answer. She was worried. She sent her friend to check on me. I was a 9 or 10 year old with a knife in my hand, ready to fight for my life. Seems like a useful life skill to me. My mom taught me lots of useful survival skills…lucky me.
At some point, we moved again, and again, and again. I’m having trouble with the timeline, but do you care? Does it really matter? Or can I just throw it all into this bucket and carry it around with me?
I think we lived in Alameda two separate times with Sacramento in between. This is where the sidewalk ends and where I met my friend Gioia. This is where we lived with Darius, the Songwriter. I remember living in two different places in Alameda. We lived in an apartment one block from the beach and we lived in a duplex next to a giant Victorian mansion…or at least that’s how I remember it. I was on the Alameda Alligators Swim Team. My coach made deals with us to buy us Jelly Bellies if we made our A times. Or at least I thought that applied to me, like it did the other kids. I didn’t fit in with the girls on the team, the ones that had been swimming together since they were 5, including the coach’s daughter. I was new. I didn’t count. The girls used to sing Tomorrow from the Annie musical in the locker room. I think some of them were auditioning for it. They told me to shut up when I tried to sing with them. I went to the meets and I made my A times. I even made some AA times. My mom would take me to the meet, set up my dome tent, leave me with snacks and my race cards and my moon boots, and then she would leave. She didn’t volunteer to be a timer. She didn’t work the snack bar. She rarely watched me race. And I never got those Jelly Bellies. I did jump off the high dive, just to prove that I was as good as everyone else. It sucks to always be the new kid. You can’t be an introvert and survive it. Fake it til you make it or at least until you move. Again, more life skills. Adaptation. Assimilation.
Gioia’s mom, Chloe, was an artist. A real artist with an attic studio. They lived in a Victorian house with secret stairwells and unlimited art supplies. Chloe made fresh pesto and they always had string cheese. Her dad was a lawyer and I thought they were rich. This was the era of rainbows and unicorns and sticker collections. There was a store called Great Stuff and it was a special day when Chloe would take us there. I wish I still had my sticker collection. I wish I lived in a Lisa Frank world. At Gioia’s house, we used our imagination and our brains and we did experiments and created. I spent so much time with them, and I wished it was my real life. After we moved away, Gioia came to visit me and spent some weekends with me. My mom took us roller skating in Capitol Park, before the skateboards took over and before they were outlawed. We wore our rainbow shirts and we went to the State Fair. My mom bought us rainbow feather roach clips and we wore them in our hair. We didn’t know what a roach clip was, but she did. I went with Gioia and Chloe to her grandparents house in Turlock. We played in the orchard and we ate sliced tomatoes with mayo and we played bumper pool. I didn’t know then who Chloe Fonda really was, or who Gioia Fonda would become. To me, they were a family that took me in and included me and exposed me to science and art and good food and what I thought was stability. Chloe was a mom I wanted to become. She is part of my own version of motherhood and I am so very grateful for her influence on my life. You should let her art influence yours.
I know this may not be as exciting as the drug dealer part of the story, but it’s where my heart wanted to go today. Bits and pieces, folks.
Nothing more than bits and pieces.