During recess on the playground, I played with my best friend Lisa, a quiet girl with the straightest, longest brown hair in our grade. We sat in a tunnel and played Outer Space, which meant we named ourselves after planets.
“Do you like New Kids on the Block?” she asked me.
“What’s that, Mercury?”
“A music group. Everyone loves them.”
I shook my head. “I never heard of it.” At my house we only listened to Sesame Street and Disney.
“Oh,” Lisa said. “Hey Jupiter, let’s go to the tower.” I liked being called Jupiter. I played it over and over in my head as we walked across the wooden playground. I wanted to be someone else.
“Ewww!” yelled Awful Andy as we passed by his group of boys on our way to the tower. “Everyone get away! We’ll get Chrys germs!” The boys scattered and shrieked. One of them stopped running, turned and asked, “How many fingers am I holding up?” in a taunting voice. I could see the blurry shape of his hand, but it was too far away for me to make out individual fingers. I would never admit that I couldn't see well enough to know. It would prove they were right in their teasing, and give them more to use against me. Instead of answering, I ran after the boys as they dove away in horror. “I do not have any germs!” I screamed.
They were too fast for me to chase. “You can't catch us, Grandma!” yelled Lance. I knew it was him by his voice, and because he always called me Grandma, for my white hair. “Grandma's too slow,” he said to one of the other boys in the group. They were about ten feet away, and it was hard for me to distinguish their faces, especially because they were boys. Girls were easier to tell from far away because their clothes, backpacks and hairstyles were more unique and distinct. The boys all wore dark colors and had similar short haircuts, so I would've had to be closer to discern the details and separate them by names.
Lisa caught up to me as I made mean faces at the boys in the distance. We could still hear them talking. “She's a ghost,” said one, and I cringed. I hated when they called me that. “It's good we didn't catch her germs,” said another, kicking at the gravel and stirring up clouds of dust I could see. “Did you ever notice,” asked yet another boy in the huddle, “that every time she sharpens a pencil, she puts it so close to her eye and stares at it?” That must've been Kurt, because he always laughed at me after I came away from the pencil sharpener in our classroom and studied the tip of my pencil to make sure it was sharp. “She's a freak,” he said.
“Come on, Jupiter,” Lisa said quietly. “Let's go to the tower and play Outer Space some more.” We walked back to the castle but I kept looking back at the boys, my mouth slightly open. I wanted to run after them, prove that I wasn't a freak or a grandma and it wasn't my fault I had to look close at things like pencils to see if they were sharp, or hands to see how many fingers they were holding up. And that I didn't have germs.
Deep down though, I felt like a ghost, a weirdo beyond weirdos, and even though I wanted to, I felt like I had no solid grounds to defend myself. I sat in the tower with Lisa, and felt more like a mealworm than a celestial body.
Lisa came over my house that afternoon. “Well, how was school?” Mom asked as we settled in with my brother Randy for an afternoon snack. It had to be healthy so we had peanut butter crackers. Mom sat down at the table with us.
“They did the ‘Chrys germs’ thing again,” I said and bit into my cracker.
“Did you provoke it?” She was across the table so it was hard for me to see her features, but her voice made it sound like they must be hard.
“No,” I said right away. “They’re mean, Mom.”
“It’s really stupid,” Lisa chimed in my defense. “I mean, they’re just so dumb. You don’t have germs. And even, let’s say you really did, it’s not like you catch them just like that.” She tapped me quick on the shoulder. “Boop!”
“Right,” I said. Even Randy, who was two years younger and probably didn’t know what germs were, nodded his head.
“Actually,” said Mom, “germs do jump that fast.”
I couldn’t finish my crackers. I was crushed. Sometimes it felt like she thought I had germs too. She didn't ever touch me. I had the strong feeling that she was ashamed of my albinism, of having a child who was such a freak. It was a topic we never touched. That shame seeped into me like osmosis.
This is my second #FridayFlash - short pieces of writing posted every Friday, so keep reading! This is an excerpt from the very beginning of my memoir, Moonchild, a memoir about being a freshman in college with albinism.
Before the bulk of the book is a section called Eclipses, four chapters about my childhood and adolescence before college that really shaped that experience. This one is from the first chapter, Constant Eclipse, which is about my life when I was in elementary school.
Some names have been changed.
Another excerpt from the same area of the memoir:
Constant Eclipse - Flash One
"American Cowboy" - Jada - I can't believe I'm publicly admitting to listening to this song, b/c it's soooo not my style, and it's pretty stupid (and I'm not into cowboys, lol), but I blame House for getting me stuck on this song - for anyone who watched Season 5, it's the song from Chase's bachelor party. It's infuriatingly addicting and strangely, I like it, kind of a lot. So there!