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)

Grady’s Childhood Inspiration

Cowboy profile artGrady did Western art.  The way she explained it – her childhood hero was Clint Eastwood.  She was entranced with his imagery on the screen and the “cowboy motif,” based on his example.  “I used to walk around chewing the end of a beef jerky stick, like the outlaw, Josie Wales, and his cigarillo.  I ate beans right from the skillet with a wooden spoon, wore button down shirts and threadbare trousers, and Jack scolded me more than once for smudging dirt on my face to achieve that rough shaven look.”

“So you were a cross-dresser before you knew you were gay?”  I joked.

“Hush your mouth!” she teased, “All kids play around with costumes and characters.  I just couldn’t get over the walk, you know?  I didn’t think of that stance or walk as manly.  I was just fascinated to walk as if all life fulfilling chi originated and radiated from a bulge in my crotch,” she giggled.

“I am not going to ask.” I said.

“It’s probably best you don’t.”

1977

I feel the sweet, warm candy juice escape my mouth and drip from my chin as my lips instinctively tighten their grip on the candy necklace.  I’m 41, but the feel of the candy beads on my tongue, the taste of sugar with the hint of sour rubber band that holds them together, floods me with nostalgia.  I can feel the textured dashboard and feel the warm rays coming through the windshield of that 1972 Chevy Nova my mom used to drive.  I named her “Suzy” after a cartoon on TV where the boy discovers a junkyard car and fixes her up.

Through the windshield

Those were the days when seat belts weren’t required – carseats either.  At five years old, I stood – feet on the vinyl bench seat, hands braced on the sloping dashboard, and sang harmony to all the great songs of the 70’s while mom drove me to a magical world called “pre-school.”  I faced the sky and the future in lyrical fashion long before Leonardo and Kate did on the bow of the Titanic.  Our favorite on the radio dial was an AM channel at 1190; their call sign was WOWO and they played top 40 hits for the time.  We especially liked their morning school delay or cancelation announcements.  If school was delayed I got to have a much nicer breakfast and spend some morning nap time with mom.  If it was cancelled I got to go spend the day with one of my grandparents.

We also liked what I referred to as, “Little Red Barn.”  That was the song they played for the Bob Sievers daily talk show.  His voice made me feel like words were special, not just things a person (my father) spewed out in anger or let fall carelessly.  Sievers’ voice gave me hope for men-folk.

WOWO and Suzy were my healing balms, my post-war era after my early childhood jungles.  Before mom packed me and our meager belongings to a small but nice place (an old church converted to apartments), I lived in the attic room of a run-down house with a creaky screen door.

English: The Pomeranian it is known as a Pom, ...

There among the hand-me-down everythings and peeling linoleum, I stuffed my little Pomeranian  dog in the handlebar-basket of my tricycle.  I pedaled him in tight little circles on the living room floor.  He would occasionally topple out and stagger his way (as fast as he could) to the orange upholstered sofa covered in cigarette burns.  Poor Toby could never escape.  Even if he made it to the subterranean sofa caves, I’d grab his tail and pull him out yelping.  Children are cruel; I was no exception.  In fairness, boys and girls who grow up in war zones tend to be desensitized to death and explosions.  Likewise, I was immune to the sounds of protest and pain.  He never bit me.  I love him more in hindsight than I ever could have as a child.

When I wasn’t abusing Toby, I was busy watching TV, shutting out the yelling and things shattering around me.  An invisible cocoon warped the air around me as a clay pot hit the door frame to the kitchen.  The local newscaster told me that Elvis was dead.  A beer can retaliated as daddy spit words at mommy that made me blush instinctively.  Later, when the front door had slammed, tires had squealed red streaks across the thin curtains, and mommy was crying in a ball on the floor, the comforting voice of Walter Cronkite told me, “That’s the way it is.”  He never was one to sugarcoat things.