Essays and Memoirs
Words for Boys and Girls Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

boys(San Diego Writers' Monthly August 1993)

The thing I most feared in kindergarten was peeing in my pants. I was no bedwetter; nor was my bladder weak, requiring trips to the toilet every hour. My affliction was more complicated. In the first week of kindergarten I couldn’t yet read those separate words, carved into small brown rectangles high up on the bathroom doors:

 

BOYS                                                                       GIRLS

 

In those days—the 1950s—illiteracy wasn’t accommodated: There were no figures of thick-limbed stick people with and without a skirt to classify gender. Maybe I was slow (I had just turned five), but I could read very few words; cat was one, dog another. To choose the right bathroom, I simply followed the older boys. Recess made it easy. Everyone usually went then.

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When the Subject Is AIDS, No One Knows What to Say Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Hammershoi(San Diego Union-Tribune July 1, 1993)

I was startled to read recently that only 11 percent of Americans personally know someone who has been diagnosed with HIV, who has AIDS or who has died of AIDS-related causes.

Such personal contact is a blessing for victims and their friends.

However, as AIDS grows into new populations, people who have little practice with the uncivil ways AIDS strikes seldom know how to respond. This past year, Chris, a student in my college writing class, struggled with AIDS until he had to withdraw from school.

Before he left, Chris talked to the class about his experience.

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On My Father's Business Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

MC_Escher_single_lizard_tile(Great River Review Number 22, April 1993)

Newly dead, an old lizard lies on a napkin on my desk, just as I found it in the yard, on its back. I don’t know why I spotted the pale underbelly in the brown grass. At rest, its tiny forelegs are slackened, and its miniature webbed fins, bent ninety degrees at the wrists, seem poised. The forelegs thus cocked suggest that the lizard held something to itself as it died.

Turning it over to its familiar scaly back and prehistoric skin, I see what helped it thrive in the canyon below our house—an armor, formed by evolution and drought, which guaranteed no one except its kindred species got close.

Resignation in this animal is frozen within. The bumptious eyes once eager to spot danger are gone to glass. Before this moment, I would not have ruminated on a skittish lizard, which darted away at the first sight of me. To gaze at anything requires of the object some acquiescence—shyness is especially nice. This lizard, though, never knew anyone’s nearness and received no advantage for having been seen, studied, or admired.

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Goddess of the Sixties Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Brigitte_Bardot_Swinging_Sixties_7897874(Cimarron Review Number 103, April 1993)

During the flowering of the sixties, in my suburban Kirkwood, Missouri, high school, I was carried away with lust and devotion for my female classmate, Jan Will. Blessed with an invitation for a name, Jan was a stunningly gorgeous girl whom I discovered the first week of tenth grade. For most of my high school years, an uncontrollable passion for her occupied my body as intently as that Beatles’ anthem to male fantasy, “I Saw Her Standing There,” rocked my boot heels, spread to my loins, and settled inside to gestate like Rosemary’s Baby. “She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare.” Elvis Presley, our other idol, once said of rock-and-roll music, “I don’t know how to explain it, but when I hear that beat, I just got-tah move. I can’t help it.” Like the King, I couldn’t help it either. I had to have her.

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Autobiographies of the Present Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

frederick_douglass2(Boulevard Spring 1993)

If ever there was an autobiography whose focus is almost entirely given to the author’s past, it is Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of An American Slave. So irrevocable is the physical and psychological abuse he received as a slave that Douglass, writing as a free man, must continually describe that abuse as if his past were a nightmare from which he can never completely awaken. For example, in Chapter V, he writes of being kept, in summer and winter, "almost naked—no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees." On the coldest nights, he used a corn sack, stolen from the mill, to cover himself while he slept. He would crawl inside the sack and sleep, "with my head in and my feet out." But then, unexpectedly, his description seems to rouse another level of awareness: "My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes."

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The Sacred Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

sacredheart(Chicago Reader December 15, 1992)

I was ten years old the first time I protected my father from what had happened to him when he was a boy in his father’s house. Of course I know I wasn’t there to protect him during his boyhood as he was there to protect me during mine. But there was a time, and a place, when our separate, bitter lessons about growing up came together, when the pain he endured as a boy awakened a desire in me to save him from his past.

What happened takes me back, strangely, to the times my family was closest—the holidays. We were usually away from home on holidays, driving to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Easter, Thanksgiving, or Labor Day weekend. But those dates hardly compared to the biggest prize—one precious week when parents, grandparents, and children indulged each other and themselves at Christmas. Christmas for me was a long window onto a table of love dressed with gifts, darkness, surprises, ease; when the men stopped working and the women labored with few complaints.

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The Hollow Boy Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

boy(Cream City Review Volume 16, Number 2, Fall 1992)

My mother is cracking an egg on the rim of a bowl. The egg falls in, and its yolk breaks, streaming a curl of yellow. A cup of milk, a stick of butter, and Betty Crocker cake mix follow.

The bowl is made of clear, thick glass. On its bottom there is a metal base in which the big bowl can be set, turned, and locked in place. Once locked, the elliptical steel prongs, attached to the arm of the mixer, descend into the batter. On its top is a dial with settings—slow (bread dough), medium (cake batter), fast (frosting or whipping cream).

The mixer whirls, and my mother says, “There. Now.” Her hands stroke down on her apron. The appliance is called a Mix­master, and it runs while she pulls open the silver-handled door of the refrigerator and puts the milk and butter back in.

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