Freedom Candy – Part 2 of 2

Big Rock Candy MountainThe trek to the man’s store was less about the candy for her, and more about the limited freedom it afforded.  A sheltered, smothered little girl, she felt like fine China that never came off the shelf.  While her parents tried to protect her from bullying and the less savory aspects life, the result of their loving efforts was a much too shiny innocence that attracted the attention of the most insecure brats, both on the block and in the halls at school.  She often felt helpless and brittle, caged and uncertain of herself.  The walk into the little town was practice for the walk she longed to take into a world she could own and dominate, away from the rules and control of her over-bearing parents.

Past the bank, past the bakery, the phone company and the library, past the church where her parents took her for exposure, they walked.  No one questioned a gaggle of children in those days, in the small little towns, making their way down the center of everything.  They stopped here and there for sidewalk treasures:  rocks that fit their youthful hands, uniquely bent nails, bugs and frogs.  Rounded stones and undamaged bottle caps clicked against each other in their pockets.  Broken glass they weren’t supposed to touch was defiantly scooped up and tossed into trash cans, proving to each other they weren’t concerned with the dangers.

In time, as the only girl along for the trip, she became one of the boys.  She spit and cussed along with the others in a show of solidarity, and because it made her feel empowered.  In time, the brittleness shattered from her core, and what she found there was an angry but strong, confused but determined individual.  She didn’t want to wear dresses or jewelry like the other girls because it reminded her of that frail little China doll that she wasn’t allowed to play with, for fear of breaking it.  She didn’t care what kind of candy stick the man sold her, as long as it wasn’t green apple.

The candy store, with all it’s choices, was the world in vivid splashes of truth and facades, twists of choices and obligations.  She wasn’t yet ready to map out her future, but she knew she could not let anyone draw that landscape for her.

In high school, years later, Al put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.  It had nothing to do with her.  Anyway, that’s what she told herself.  He had proposed to her the year before, much to his brother’s dismay.  She had been kind but firm, but suddenly, it was as if the last six years disappeared and they were right back at that bus stop.  She was a “dyke,” and much worse, he’d said, and he would let everyone know.  The bully of her childhood had fallen in love, and then betrayed that sentiment when she declined another prison of protection and sheltering.  With his putrid words of anger and a faulty, broken heart – he’d voiced her worst fear.

She’d hugged Benny when the news of Al’s suicide made the rounds.  She remembered his gift of courage on the school bus, and would later cherish his brother’s gift of self-discovery.

(Read Part 1, edited)

 


I cannot get this story “just so.”  I can’t figure out how to tie all the ends.  As is, it gets out the points fine – but I cannot help but think there must be a better, more lyrical way to transmit the story.  Please – I would great appreciate any feedback fellow writers or avid readers provide.

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Freedom Candy – Part 1 of 2

Candy sticksThere was a man who sold candy.  Thirty years past its prime, his store held rows and rows of jars with different flavors of stick candy for ten cents a piece.  I’m sure there were other things for sale, but a dime was something a kid could come by easier than a dollar.

Weeks were full of restless drama with the neighborhood kids, crowded buses with seats, sticky from dirty hands and snot, bustling hallways separating the sanctuaries of classrooms, and the after school, latch-key scenario – she wasn’t allowed to go out and play until one of her working parents came home.  Such weeks had this one thing, this occasional adventure, to look forward to.  If the rain let up long enough, she could convince her folks the ground wouldn’t be muddy.  If the sun was glowing and their spirits less taxed, she’d get to go with some friends into to town, and buy a candy stick or two.

The field between the newly developing housing complex and the road into town was flat and low.  She and her friends would walk, skip, or run across its mowed green carpet, and then climb the embankment to the fortified road four feet up.

Cal, her next door neighbor, awkward and lanky with little muscle on his growing frame, was always along for the trip.  They were in fourth grade together and yet, strangely they rarely spoke at school despite their “best friend” status in the neighborhood.  Her parents probably wouldn’t have allowed her to go if he hadn’t been present.

A tiny skeleton of a child with a big head misnamed Mike usually wanted to go.  He was only in the first grade, and lived across from her in the biggest house on the block.  Although he was an annoyance in their daily play adventures, he was always welcome when they went to the candy store, because he always had enough to buy extra for everyone.  Little Mike was either too generous to consider what other candy he could have purchased with his two or three dollars, or else they maneuvered him away from the possibilities to protect their sugar striped interests.

Al and Benny, usually her tormentors at the isolated morning bus stop, were also allowed to go.  Such enemies in the desolate frontiers where parents were typically absent, were not recognized for their evil in the presence of adults.  Not if you wanted to live to tell the story.  Adults clouded the dynamics of power when it came to bullies, and while Al and Benny might cease their abuse for a time (when her father visited their house and spoke with their parents), eventually their anger over being “ratted out” would come to a head.  They brought an actual rope as their threat one morning after.

A year later, Benny would walk off the school bus with a bloody nose.  Confused at his childhood crush on her, he would express himself with fists that bounced harmlessly off her bulky snowsuit.  Realizing her worst fears were coming true, no one was coming to her aid as he pummeled her with this assault, she pulled back and straightened her arm – right into his face.  The motion of the bus may have helped the outcome, and the bus driver was relieved to watch the age of tormenting the girl come to an end.  On that day, Benny gave her the best gift any boy (aside from his brother) would ever offer – his actions opened her eyes to her capacity for courage.

(Read Part 2)

Cruel Cruel Summer

When I was a kid I escaped into a fuzzy box that measured about a foot and a half by a foot and a half called our television.  It was black and white and usually the picture included those reception flurries, but I was young and had imagination on my side.  One particular show that got stuck in my psyche had to do with some bratty kids (older than me at the time I first watched) who played a very mean trick on a girl by locking her in a closet during the only day of that decade that they could go out and play in the sunlight.  Even then I was hypnotized by sci-fi stories.

The story reached into my little heart and squeezed any chance that I would develop a hope for humanity until long into my adult years.  Given that I was often the brunt of childhood bullying and cruelty, I could identify with the theme.  A group of children prepared for the one time they might get to see the sun, play in the warmth of its rays, and soak up its infusion of happy reprieve from a dark and rainy world that enveloped them for every ten years of their lives.  This is how I remember it.  And to the best of my recollection, without provocation these children turned on one little girl and thought it would be funny to lock her in a closet and taunt her.  But in the midst of their cruel joke, a bell or whistle summoned them for their outdoor adventure.  As each child peeled away, the ones left, one-by-one, faced one of those split-second conundrums we find so regular in life.  If they let the girl out, they’d be in trouble.  If they ran, the children left would have to deal with it.  And of of course, the last few children ran faster to avoid making the decision.

100_1616.JPGThey rushed to answer the call, forgetting the girl they had bullied.  They frolicked and had their rings around the rosies, their hide and seek; they had their flower picking tree climbing sport.  Music played in the background as the show transported the viewer into their little hearts and minds, muscles and motivation awakening, depression sloughing off, and a Spring rebirth set of emotions were solicited.

Then the music changed and the sky darkened, as if reminding us (the children and the viewer) of the evil deed we had almost forgotten.  As the rain cried it’s sadness for the condemned little brats, they returned to the building with its fake sun lamps and confining walls.  And, I remember this the most, they suddenly balked at what they had done.  It was as if they had just been joking and meant to let her out before they all went outside, but had been overcome with excitement and forgotten.  I think that is what stuck with me the most.  They regretted what they had done, but my little mind realized for the first time that “sorry” and regret don’t change cruelty and hurt.

The television production of this story tried to end in resolution.  They let the little girl out with timidness and quiet, gathered in a little circle of trepidation and sensitivity … even gave her the treasures they had plundered while outside.  Showered with flowers and such, she smiled and apparently forgave them.  But even at four years old, I didn’t buy any of it.

I grew up, of course.   As often happens, some event or happenstance tripped my mind and I recalled the captivating show in my adulthood.  For years I searched and searched for a title or series, tried to find that show online or for purchase since it had such an impact on me.  I finally discovered it in a Ray Bradbury short called “All Summer in a Day.”   It’s found in Bradbury’s collection “A Medicine for Melancholy” lately published by HarperCollins e-books on pages 88 – 93.  What a treasure.  It was like finding a twenty in a pocket or book you haven’t checked in months!  Frankly, finding the story in print is the only reason I can describe my faint memories of the television show with such clarity.

There it was – the evidence of those little demons and their evil-dripping doings.  I read with passion, dug in and wrapped the words around me like a security blanket.  Now I would be able to dissect my skepticism in human beings.  Now I would be able to start unpacking my lack of trust in my fellow earthlings.   Then it hit me.  The ending.

“Then one of them gave a little cry.
‘Margot!’
‘What?’
‘She’s still in the closet where we locked her.’
‘Margot.’
They stood as if someone had driven them, like so many stakes, into the floor.  They looked at each other and then looked away.  They glanced out at the world that was raining now and raining and raining steadily.  They could not meet each other’s glances.  Their faces were solemn and pale.  They looked at their hands and feet, their faces down.
‘Margot.’
One of the girls said, ‘Well …?’
No one moved.
‘Go on,’ whispered the girl.
They walked slowly down the hall in the sound of cold rain.  They turned through the doorway to the room in the sound of the storm and thunder, lightning on their faces, blue and terrible.  They walked over to the closet door slowly and stood by it.
Behind the closet door was only silence.
They unlocked the door, even more slowly, and let Margot out.”

Bradbury didn’t sugarcoat it.  He didn’t explain it away as a childhood foolishness, a resolvable conflict.  Unlike the producers of the television adaptation, he allowed the full frontal nakedness of the situation to take hold of the reader.  His ending plunged me into the hollow, vacant hole that bullying  and cruelty leave in their wake.  It drew attention to the deadening of the heart and a thickening of the skin, requiring years of positives to undo the single negative done in a child’s development stages.  There is NOTHING after they open the door and let their victim out.

I work with youth, teenagers actually.  And I’m amazed when I see a group of broken, hurting, “struggling to find themselves in others” teenagers begin to form groups and target someone among them.  I don’t care about all I’ve read – touting human nature, the us/them and group-think.  I can appreciate the one time we all fall into that muck, and afterward seeing the fruits of our insecurities and mean spiritedness, resolving to never be the cause of such pain and hurt again.  Yet I still find it hard to understand how a thinking being, having had the chance to see  or analyze their bullying aftermath, can continue with that behavior.

In war, it’s “kill or be killed.”  I get that.  And as a teenager, it can sometimes feel like that in the war on self-esteem and confidence, battling to fit in and/or stand out in a good way.  But I think we’ve devolved when it comes to youth development in this country.  Telling your child to fight back used to be promoted as the best practice for parents, fearfully raising their children to be good people who weren’t taken advantage of by others.  But that didn’t always work with some children.

Those were, and sometimes still are, the children society doesn’t want to acknowledge.  So the “fight back” strategy was deployed full force, and those children that couldn’t were looked upon with pity and, yes, disdain.

Nowadays there are new tactics and different strategies to handle bullying.  Training and educating kids about bullying and it’s components is important.  But when training kids results in a boy claiming he is being bullied because another kid called him a name after he passed gas in the lunch line … I mean really?!

Getting the adults involved is key.  Yes, this detracts from youth developing coping skills in some cases, but it also demands that all children are treated with respect and dignity and raises the seriousness of bullying to a higher level.  Still – we can’t catch them all.

I’m still left with a longing for them to wake-up and GET IT.  Care for your fellow human.  On a microscopic level you are destroying the planet before the next big weapon is even developed.  Photo by inturruptingcowGet over your little developing selves and think about the little developing pal next to you.  Because at the end of the day, I’m still left with an emptiness – wondering, fearing what happens after they let Margot out?