Horror

On entering the supermarket, I abandoned my mom and made a detour to the in-store rental shop. We didn’t have cable, so this was where I gathered ideas for my mental watch list. The shop was often unattended so I hung out in Children’s and New Releases, flipping the boxes over and reading the descriptions. It helped if the supplemental movie stills captured just the right moments, something to make me hungry for more.

Then, along the back wall, there was the Horror section. Once bored of skimming my usual genres, I shuffled past the Horror movies, my peripheral vision doing a quick scan of the movie art. None of the films along that far wall were going into my mental list. It was just that my childish curiosity got the best of me. I had to know what these films were all about. And maybe repeated exposure to the scary imagery would dull the creep factor.

illustration of vhs boxes printed with horror titles

Avoiding the Horror section altogether might have been a wiser move. It was one thing to invent a plot line in my head based on the cover art. To satisfy my curiosity by reading the movie description…now a chilling story line and a couple choice movie stills were imprinted into my brain. I couldn’t unsee the death and suffering, caused by murderous, antique dolls or men with knives for fingers. I was already a kid with an overactive imagination. I just ended up feeding the beast.

Dogs

First we had fish. Then we had hamsters. It began as one hamster. One hamster gave birth to many. And then my brother and I were forced to give them all back to the pet store.

After the hamster debacle we weren’t allowed any more pets. Somehow we managed to acquire a parakeet. It was lonely, so we got another parakeet and they became fast friends. One parakeet was eventually found dead, stuck in an odd position in the food dish. The other parakeet died soon after, presumably due to aching sorrow and loneliness.

Through all of this, I longed for a dog. I wanted a small dog, because small dogs were cute. And I was a small child myself, so I guess I wanted something in proportion to my own size.

There was no way, with my history of animal ownership, my parents were going to let me have a dog.

Preparation was in order, for the day my parents would give in. I prepped myself for becoming a proud, new dog owner by reading about them at the local library. The book section that carried a volume for each dog breed became a routine stop during my library trips. Each book was rich with photos and information on canine temperament and care. I thumbed through many of those dog books, before realizing we were definitely not getting a dog. Eventually I bought a small guide book (with my own allowance) on common dog breeds and read it cover to cover. Identifying dog breeds while I was out and about grew to be a favorite pastime.

illustration of a dog

More than 20 years later, at long last, I have a dog of my own. His name is Bear. Bear is a shelter dog, likely a schnauzer-poodle mix, rescued from the mean streets of Long Beach when he was less than a year old. He’s still got youthful energy at about six years old. I must be doing something right.

Meticulous

My mom showed me how to look for blemish-free produce. She taught me to look for packaged meat that had the farthest sell-by date possible. She reminded me to double-check the expiration stamp on the milk. She made a show of examining every egg in the carton.

And after my mom watched every item ring up at the register, she scanned the receipt, line by line, making sure we paid the price as displayed on the shelf sticker. She remembered the exact price of every item she put into her cart. There were many trips up to the customer service counter to dispute an incorrect charge.

It was years later when I’d realize how little my parents took home from their blue-collar jobs. My mom did all the grocery shopping so it was logical that she would be meticulous about the items on her list. I cringe thinking about my poor attitude, every time we walked back into the store to point out mismatched dollars and cents. Sometimes I served as translator for my mom and did little to hide my irritation. 

illustration of grocery store shelf with regular price tag and sale price sticker

I’m not nearly as diligent of a grocery shopper as my mom was (and still is) but I do have a strange memory for price tags.

On the rare occasion that I do question an overcharge while in the checkout line, I think of my mom. I think of the petite, Asian woman, standing at the customer service counter of a suburban, Midwestern supermarket, pointing out the mistakes on her receipt. Her daughter stands beside her and watches, a little embarrassed, but also proud of her mother’s resolve.

Vomit

Inside my pink backpack rested a brand new pack of Fruit Stripes gum. I was eager to hand out the fragrant, fruity sticks to a select few classmates. The happy, little zebra printed on the packaging served as my little animal gum ambassador.

The morning I brought the gum to school, though, something was off. With the gum tucked into my locker, the fruity scent wafted into my nostrils every time I approached, causing my stomach to do flip flops.

After another nauseating trip to my locker, I lined up with the rest of the first graders in preparation for our next class. A little bit of vomit rose up in my throat and out of my mouth. Gravity took care of the rest, using my right shoe as the landing pad.

My face said it all. The student behind me took one look and alerted our teacher, who sent me straight to the nurse’s office.

While sitting on the vinyl-covered bed, holding a kidney-shaped bowl, the urge to throw up came back. The nurse was occupied, chatting away with another faculty member. Seeing as she was distracted, I went to the bathroom next door. It was in use. I couldn’t bear the thought of letting loose into the shallow, plastic bowl so I made a beeline for the girls’ bathroom, a good 30 seconds away.

illustration of girls bathroom, door closed, vomit oozing out of threshold, pack of striped gum to the right of the door

As I hurried to my destination, my body took over, causing me to vomit in the main corridor where the two major wings of the school intersected. The entrance to the girls’ bathroom was several feet away. Almost there. I made it to the doorway and threw up again, right on the threshold. A passing staff member immediately came to my aid. We stepped over the puddle and entered one of the stalls where I kept puking. Where it all came from, I did not know.

The staff member guided me back to the nurse’s office where I received a look of disapproval. I overheard the nurse asking the staff member why I didn’t just use the bathroom next to her office. I was too weak to tell her that it was occupied. I was also dehydrated from multiple barf sessions. I began to feel unsure of myself. To also have doubt cast upon me by the school nurse in my time of need felt further damning.

The Fruit Stripes gum was eventually revealed as the catalyst to my vomit spree. My first grade teacher went to my locker for me and extracted the gum for disposal. Even in the absence of the offensive gum, the odor persisted. We took out all of my saturated books and papers to help the smell further dissipate. The janitor gave my locker a good spray and wipe down, after which I was able to return some of my belongings.

For awhile afterwards, I replayed a particular moment in my mind: the look of disapproval from the nurse who didn’t believe me. I was a pretty sincere little kid and had no reason to lie or manipulate the situation. My honesty was put into question and this bothered me more than the fact that I got sick all over the school hallways. 

Sensible

Mrs. Waltz wore sensible clothes and sensible shoes. She always had on a light-colored blouse with a conservative print, usually with a bow collar. Her skirts were mid-calf length in a muted tan or forest green. She wore nude nylons down to her practical, sturdy-heeled shoes, probably Clarks or some other brand that centered itself on practicality. Her hair was always tightly curled, suggesting that she slept in small curlers and a hair net. She likely had a diligent evening routine that involved setting her hair just so.

illustration of Mrs. Waltz with tight curly hair and a pair of sensible shoes

Mrs. Waltz’ personality was stern, but fair. She gave equal treatment to all of us in our second grade class. I didn’t get into any more trouble than any of the other kids.

There was one instance, though, where I found myself needing to go to the bathroom several times throughout the day. It was unusual, as I don’t remember ever having to go to the bathroom as frequently as I did that day. As an eight-year-old child, I was especially self-conscious about my personal business. I had to raise my hand, wait to be called upon and then ask Mrs. Waltz for a bathroom hall pass every single time.

After the third or fourth trip to the girls’ room, Mrs. Waltz asked me in front of the whole class why on earth I needed to go to the bathroom so often. But that was Mrs. Waltz. She was used to a certain bathroom cadence from the children in her classroom. When the pattern broke, she was going to notice. She was simply being sensible.

Glare

A friend and I were sitting at the front of the school bus. We were right behind the first row, where two parent chaperones sat. Our first grade class was getting ready for a field trip. We were all in high spirits, chattering away, laughing and giggling at each other’s little kid jokes.

One of the chaperones, Mrs. K – the mother of my first elementary school crush – stood at the front of the bus, looking back at all of us, doing a head count. She then attempted to shush us in order to give us instructions for what to do when we arrived at our destination. Her attempts went unnoticed.

After a minute or two, her head turned towards me and my giggling counterpart. Her eyes were as dark as coal, focused only on me. Her lips were a thin, tight line. I held her gaze for a good few seconds. She was clearly unhappy…but with me? Just me? Out of all the happy, shouting kids, all of whom were ignoring her attempts to quiet us down, why did she single me out with her cold glare?

Equal

We were in the second grade, lining up at our classroom door to make the trek through our narrow halls, single file, to gym class. Somewhere in line, Gregory – the kid whose head was shaped like the Panic Pete stress toy – tossed out some snide comments about girls. Another classmate, Christopher, overheard the comments and responded with, “I think boys and girls can do everything equally.”

illustration of little me smiling

I remember smiling at this kid who I didn’t know very well. He was one of the nicer kids in class. All of a sudden, I had a newfound respect for him, because I began writing a story in my head about how Christopher was the kind of kid who would stand up for what was right. It must have been a very short story because I don’t recall any other memories of him after that day.

Efficient

In the third grade, there was a period of time where I helped out in the copy room. I ran basic copy jobs and refilled paper when necessary. My third grade self took great pride in my work. I loved the smell of freshly printed paper. I also found great satisfaction in bringing a gigantic machine roaring to life by pushing just a few buttons.

I remember teachers giving me praise for my work, on two separate occasions. A teacher would come to the secretary’s office and describe a copy job to be done. I responded by refilling the paper tray and pushing the requisite buttons. Each time, with the kind of enthusiasm teachers reserved for little kids, I was given a compliment.

“How efficient!” they exclaimed in a syrupy tone.

When I recall this memory now, I wonder why the details are so clear in my mind. Perhaps there was an inflection in the teachers’ voices that struck me as odd. Or maybe it’s my secret calling to duplicate grayscale images in a suburban Chicago elementary school.

Comfort

illustration of a bloody nose trailing blood into an empty soda can

When I was in the fourth grade, my nose started bleeding and I had to go to the nurse’s office. It was wintertime in Chicago. The air was dry and I was prone to the occasional nose bleed.

In the nurse’s office, I was soaking up tissues upon tissues with bright, red blood. I was mildly alarmed, but I liked our nurse enough and was comforted by her presence. Her name was Paula. Her dry humor made me laugh. She was also the mother of the class clown.

We tried all the medical and personal home remedies Paula could think of: a small wad of tissue under my upper lip, an ice pack on the nape of my neck…even laying me on my back, which caused me to swallow more blood than I ever cared for. Eventually, we sat me back up with yet another fresh wad of tissue pressed against my gushing nose.

After almost an hour of sitting in her office, Paula held up a soda* can and, in her thick Chicago accent, said, “Look. The most you’re gonna bleed is about as much as this soda can.” Her reassurance was a bit alarming, but in a way, put me at ease. At least then I knew the bleeding was going to stop at some point, just not until I bled enough to fill a 12 ounce soda can. There was an end in sight. Knowing it helped me feel a little bit better.

My nose finally let up a half an hour later. Paula sat with me through it all.

*Note: I went back and forth on “pop” versus “soda”. I grew up in Chicago saying “pop” but since I’ve lived in different areas and have had the argument too many times to count, I decided to use the term I currently adopt in my everyday speech: soda. 

Laughter

illustration of fifth grade portrait angle of christine, long hair and bangs, with red flushed cheeks

We were talking amongst ourselves in my fifth grade class when my friend said something hilarious, causing me to burst out laughing. I even startled myself with my sudden laughter. I stole a glance at Mrs. Mink and made eye contact with her for a split second.

It took Mrs. Mink a few minutes to get the classroom’s attention. When we all quieted down after a few minutes, she made her frustration quite clear. She then said to us, “You know, sometimes when people laugh loudest it’s because they are looking for attention.”

I was sure Mrs. Mink was directing her comment to me. Just me. 

Today, I think about Mrs. Mink’s remark on occasion. It really left a mark on me. I get a tiny feeling of glee, though, when I laugh aloud. I delight in knowing I can enjoy playfulness and laughter. My fifth grade teacher, on the other hand, found ulterior motives in it. How sad for her.