Things I DId in Middle School

Tonight at the bar the subject somehow came up – I think it was somewhere in between the possibility of quantum universes and who should keep the dog in any given breakup – of how, when I was 12 or possibly 13, a crow dropped half a bloody dead rabbit on me in the woods. By which I mean to say that I brought it up, because obviously, nobody else knew about this. Well, one would hope not. I was alone that summer afternoon, except for a maladaptive springer spaniel, and since I was already more than half insane with hormones and fantasy novels and a kind of deeply dysfunctional family situation, nobody else ever knew except my best friend. I told her in hushed whispers, because I thought that it meant I was a Witch, and soon More Signs Would Follow. This was before Harry Potter, or I would have spent a lot of time waiting for an owl. My best friend ended up hospitalized for schizophrenia when she was 17 and I’m not sure if she ever really got out. She did, once, and took a Greyhound bus south to visit me in Charleston and it went, well, not well. And Signs did not Follow.

It was the back half of the rabbit and it came down through the pine woods with considerable force and there was a lot of bird shouting. There was a riot of crows, or perhaps a murder, and the branches shook and blam, not quite on me but almost, smack, was half a rabbit with the guts and muscles and so on hanging out among the gray fur.

My friend Jodi said, on hearing this story, that she thought this was the incident that had shaped me into who I was forever, that that half a rabbit had made me forever akin to the absurd. “You knew,” she said, “After that, that anything could happen at any time and there was no sense to the universe.”

“On the contrary,” I said, “It seemed to me that it meant there was tremendous sense to the universe. I thought it meant that I was Chosen.”

It was just later that I figured out I wasn’t. And, yes, that the universe does tend to run to dead rabbits, except when you really need one.

“What did you do with it?” asked a more practical member of our party.

“Nothing,” I said, “I was afraid to touch it. I mean, it was bloody and gross and there it was. I think I poked it with a stick once or twice, because it occurred to me that I should bring it home and keep it forever, or melt off the flesh and keep the bones or something – I had read my fantasy – but I couldn’t quite bring myself to pick it up. And I wouldn’t let the dog touch it and I could just imagine my mother’s response to this appearing in her kitchen and it was not good. So in the end I left it there.”

Actually I continued on my walk and I thought then and kind of think now that I then went through a small time portal and wandered briefly into the edge of a future Lincoln, Massachusetts (that was where we were living that year) but everything was strange and filled with McMansions, another term that hadn’t yet been coined, and buzzing (literally buzzing, like cicadas or downed power lines, not me, it would be another year or so before I discovered drugs) so I went back and through the hissing twilight and the frogs and home again, 12, or 13 or actually now that I think about it even maybe 14, surly, uncommunicative and filled with loathing. And heading into adolescence, full tilt.

Dead rabbits fell on me, yes, but there are other, somewhat less dramatic but just as weird, things I also did when I was in middle school and here, on no particular order, they are.

felicity in the south of france 1975 maybe1. I ate the same lunch every day for my entire 8th grade year. Ham and swiss on rye with mustard, an apple, a bag of Fritos and a Coke.

2. I also wore the same outfit, basically, I had it codified: jeans (I had 3 identical pairs, so one was always clean, all flair, even though that was out and people gave me shit for it) and one of my four turtleneck bodysuits (this was a terrible 70s thing, they snapped at the crotch like leotards and mine were, fashion gods forgive me, ribbed. I had a mustard one, a dark red one, a dark green one and I think a navy one. Even then I would have died rather than worn pastels. The orange pants in this picture were a terrible thing of my mothers and long since banished.) and either clogs or Frye boots, depending on the weather. Remember that I was already 5’10”, weighed about 105 pounds, had neither boobs nor butt nor hips but instead was not unlike a young tree or 2′ by 4″. I had outsize bottle bottom glasses and thick not quite curly not quite blonde not quite brown not quite red hair that my mother was forever attempting and failing to contain with a variety of red rubber bands and barrettes and haircuts that just kept on getting progressively worse until we all gave up and left my hair the hell alone.*

3. A couple years before the above, before the rote sandwiches and jeans, we lived in Connecticut. Every day at 5:00 Star Trek (the original one, the only one, really) came on TV. I kept a Star Trek Diary that year, and in it I wrote down the title of the episode playing that day, so I HAD to get home just before 5:00 because they would only flash the title up on the screen one time, just at the very beginning. I couldn’t miss it. I rode my bike to school and back again, or to a friends’ house, or where ever, nobody much cared where I was or if I was home or, well, I think my mother would have noticed if I hadn’t turned up for dinner, maybe. But that year, I got myself home at 5:00, because the one or two times I tried to get a friend to turn on Star Trek so I could at least catch the title, I was relentlessly mocked. Star Trek was already only for nerds by the early mid 70s. And here I truly out myself: I had a book, a paperback that had the history of Star Trek, a bio of Gene Roddenberry and a synopsis for every single episode ever made (they were long done making new ones by this point) and I checked off each episode. Yes. Since I’m confessing, here, I also read some Star Trek novels. Yup. I did.

4. And then, the next year or so, I wrote a Star Trek episode myself which featured every single person in my grade, which is to say seven of us: it was a small, Anglophiliac and rapidly dying girl’s school with a jaw droppingly beautiful Edwardian campus and a headmistress, a good friend of my mother, who would later go on to shoot the Scarsdale diet doctor. My Star Trek story was well received. Everybody liked hearing about themselves on a starship having adventures.

5. Jean Harris told my mother that it was okay and even normal that I had stolen Fear of Flying off her bedside table and that I would probably survive and not become a nymphomaniac.

6. At a point equidistant between the ones above, when I was attending a different all girls school in a different Connecticut suburb, a math teacher told us about a a googol and a googolplex, which are numbers that are so large, nobody can count up to them or even write them out. They have a million million zeroes, or something like that, I can no longer remember and I don’t want to google the googol and find something everyday and real. I want to hold onto the image of the unattainable that I grasped that afternoon in math class, because I immediately started to try to make it attainable. For the rest of the school year, I filled a succession of marble notebooks with zeroes. The first one had a 1 at the beginning and the rest just had zeroes. I wrote them every time I was bored, which was most of the time in that school, except when there was horrible drama, which was the rest of the time because it was 7th grade in a girls school. I kept on filling my notebooks.

7. Years later, when I saw a Jonathan Borofsky exhibition at the Whitney, I felt like I had come home.

8. That same year we went on an overnight trip, or it might even have been several days, to Cape Cod. On the bus I took a plastic cup and cut it into vertical strips – not all the way but so that it was still holding together – and put it down and it walked like an octopus from the back to the front of the bus and briefly, very briefly, I was cool.

felicity on block island maybe 19779. On that same bus trip I had to sit next to the most unpopular, uncool, loathed girl in the school and she told me that she was okay with being hated because she knew her parents loved her and that maybe we could be friends? And I felt like the lowest pond scum on earth, because all I wanted was to get the hell away before I caught her pariah germs. And I fled as soon as I could and didn’t look back. But I never did say anything mean to or about her again.

10. The summer this picture was taken, on Block Island, I found a strange hidden place behind the dunes that was full, I mean full, of bird bones, like a silent, bleached, hot, sandy graveyard of hollow white bones. I spent a lot of time there. I brought bags and bags of them home, and my mother thought we would all get lice, or scabies, or something, but eventually she relented. It was a difficult summer familywise.  I wish I still had the bones.

11. I was a weird kid. But all kids, you know, are weird.

*This state of affairs has essentially persisted although I have more or less dyed it into submission.

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One Response to Things I DId in Middle School

  1. Jessica says:

    This took me over 3 days to read through because of all of the incredible links and rabbit holes. Jean Harris! What? All girl schools, Edwardian era, Oscar Wilde and why I’ve never read The Picture of Dorian Gray, your marbled notebook of zeros… I mean this is awesome. I have 4 wiki tabs open with things I need to research. Thank you.

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