In honor of Turkey Day I've asked my old friend, Tony, to treat us to another sad tale from his tortured childhood. This one with a delightful Thanksgiving theme.
I give you Tony...
I stepped out from the stately front entrance of my grammar school on what, to any other person, would have been a beautiful but chilly fall afternoon. For me it was a day just like any other, filled with the taunts and jeers of my classmates (and teacher, at times). It was the day before Thanksgiving, though, and that meant four days without getting pushed around, laughed at, or robbed. If I could manage to avoid pissing my parents off to the point of a beating at home, the long weekend ahead held the promise of Isaac Asimov and Gilligan's Island -- you know, the good life.
It was just a matter of getting home without running into one of my many tormentors. I shrugged my backpack up and bowed my head to minimize the chance of making eye-contact as I began my walk.
I became aware that someone was walking beside me, and she smelled good. No matter, keep walking.
My heart jumped. It was Lauren, the most beautiful girl in fifth grade. The same girl I had a crush on in kindergarten where, in a moment that, in retrospect, would become a template for my future romantic track-record, I stole a kiss with the back of her head while she was finger-painting and found myself moments later sprawled on my back with hand prints of rejection emblazoned on my face and shirt; an indelible scarlet L-for-loser that was destined to somehow remain visible to every woman I would meet for the rest of my life.
Needless to say, in the years since she had become a Brahmin to my untouchable, and, on more than one occasion, had participated in or led the pitchfork-and-torch wielding mob that seemed to like nothing better than to shun and humiliate me.
And I was madly in love with her.
“Hi.” I said barely audibly, heart beating hard in my ears as fight-or-flight mingled with pre-teen arousal.
"You walk home this way, too? I never see you." She said matter-of-factly.
Well, that was puzzling. No, not the fact that I had been walking home this way forever and had seen her across the street or down the block hundreds of times but she claimed to never have seen me – I could buy that.
No, what seemed bizarre – otherworldly, even – was that she was being . . . what? Nice? Kind of. Not mean, at any rate.
She seemed to genuinely not despise me, and I started to relax.
I wish I could remember what we talked about the rest of the way to my house, but the truth is that I was barely paying attention. Whatever my mouth was saying, my brain had gotten way out ahead of it, essentially leaping from a not-too-unreasonable hope that this was the start of a kinder, gentler fifth grade for me, to, not ten minutes later, being convinced that I was going to marry this woman.
“Well, this is where I live” I said, thumbing behind me. “Happy Thanks—“
"What's that?" Her pale blue eyes and freckled nose squinted through dirty-blonde bangs as she nodded up over my shoulder.
"Huh?" I turned to look, smile still plastered on my face.
"Is that a . . ?"
Oh god. Oh no . . .
The pale carcass was hung on a hook over a pot and twisted slowly and stiffly in the cold breeze. For a moment, all I could hear was my own breathing. And then--
"There's a giant turkey hanging on your balcony!" She giggled behind me.
I said nothing, still staring at the bird thawing in the late afternoon sun, awed into silence by the stunning, elegant cruelty of destiny; a kind of cosmic Lucy yanking the football at the last second. You had to respect it, really.
“Don’t you have a refrigerator? Do you live on a farm or something, you weirdo!!"
Over the next few minutes she unloaded her vitriolic laughter on me until she got bored and walked away. On Monday when we got back to school, she shared what she saw; and continued to do so for the rest of fifth grade, at a minimum.
In retrospect, I don't blame Lauren. There was a dead turkey on my balcony. In the cold light of adulthood this seems like a non-event, but within the inexorable logic of elementary school this unusual placement of frozen fowl simply confirmed for her that I was weird, alien, other. I have no reason to think that she was not simply and sincerely trying to be nice to the biggest loser at school that day, but sometimes one is asked to accept too much, too fast. It was like handing someone a martini at their first AA meeting.
I don’t really blame my mother, either. She had done plenty to make sure I was despised in school, from buying me the gayest clothes imaginable, to refusing to allow me to perspire – lest I catch ‘the pneumonia’. And let us not forget the time she packed a full jar of mayonnaise with my lunch rather than putting a little on my sandwich and risk food poisoning. But thawing a turkey outdoors on a cool day is not crazy, and I know that she did not intend to ruin my life by doing that.
I guess she just got lucky that day.
Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
And I would like to give thanks for Tony having such a crap childhood and sharing it with us. Be sure to enjoy more of Tony's tragic recollections here and here.
Have a good one, guys.