9/12/2005

I get it my way

I found out later that Mom and Dad had talked it over and decided that if I was that dead set on going to class it was better to let me than have me sulking through the funeral. 12 year old sulks and the 11, 10 , 9, and 6 year old tears were just more than they wanted to deal with.

On the big morning I got up and was already bummed because there were no lovely chocolate cupcakes to go to school with me. I got washed up, brushed my teeth and hair, told my sisters thank you when they wished me subdued happy birthday's and got dressed in my favorite jeans and blouse. By the time I was tying my shoes I had almost cheered up because they were all going to have to wear dresses and I wouldn't.

I knew it was late when I went to bed the night before but Mom had said she would get me a treat and when I walked into the kitchen and there was nothing set out by the single lunch bag on the counter I started to panic again.

Mom was in curlers and wearing her slip and nylons under her pink robe, already at the stove and flipping eggs for the rest of the family. I had cereal because I had to get to school. "Mom, where's my treats?" I asked. Not hello, not good morning, not what is the plan for later when I get out of school but where's the treats. Cold, child, cold.

"The stores were closed last night, Val. I am going to give you five dollars and you will have to pick them up on the way to school."

I put the milk back in the fridge and sat silently in my chair. There was nothing else to say. I was so low in rank that I had to buy my own birthday treats. The fact that five bucks back then would buy 50 good candy bars and was a lot of money to a girl who got twenty five cents for an allowance every week went right on by me. I was all "woe is me" and depressed. I wasn't supposed to have to do anything on my birthday, especially a trip to the store which was a regular chore for me as the oldest.

Nobody loved me. Not one person cared that my birthday was ruined. Grama was dead and I would never see her again and my birthday was ruined and it was all her fault and I was a big girl now and shouldn't be such a cry baby, but the tears were dribbling down my chin and into my cereal. I made Eyor the donkey look cheerful, let me tell you!

And, of course, I had already bragged to my friends about the yummy cupcakes. So now I was a welsh or a liar, too. I didn't know how I was going to work things out with them.

Mom sat the platter of eggs on the table and ran to butter the next batch of toast as it popped out. She had seen I was crying and over her shoulder she asked, "Are you sure you don't want to stay home and go to the funeral with us? I think you are too sad to go to school."

"No," I mumbled through cereal and tears, "I wanna go to school." I wasn't rude, just firm that that was my decision and it had not changed.

She slipped the toast into the oven and onto the warm plate then came over to stand behind me. I laid my spoon down and she wrapped her arms around me, gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered, "Happy Birthday" in my ear. Then we both started crying again. She gave me another hug and went over to the sink.

I snuffled to a stop, joined her at the sink and washed my hands and face, then went to the counter, picked up my lunch bag, found the five dollar bill under it, crumpled it up and shoved it in the pocket of my jeans, grabbed my winter coat and hat and went out the door, still buttoning up.

The snow wasn't heavy but it was cold and cooled my face off, lowering the swelling of my eyes and nose to an almost normal level before I got done with the first block. I slogged along, ho huming and poor me-ing, watching my feet, all the way to the store. I must have been a pitiful site. I was trying to be, anyway.

When I got to the store the heat hit me in the face as I opened the door and sweat started running down my neck. I was in this store probably at least once a day on errands for Mom. I knew it like the back of my hand and I knew the prices as well as the grocer did. It still took me ten minutes to decide to buy forty one bags of M & M's. A whole bag of regular sized was better than the mini bags in a big bag, I decided, and I still had change to give Mom. That gave me 36 for the class, one for the teacher and four to take home to the sibs.

The nice man behind the counter, Mr. M, commented on how much candy I was buying. I was still watching my feet but answered,"It's my birthday," politely. He wished me a happy birthday as I took the bag he pushed across the counter and headed for the door. I called thank you over my shoulder and kept moving. I was going to be late if I didn't get a move on.

School sucked. I was so depressed about everything that it was all I could to to be nice to my friends and classmates, much less be all happy happy joy joy about turning twelve. We did our work. My hand went up for the answers, same as always. The teacher wouldn't pick me because she knew I did the work, same as always. Blah. The bag of treats sat under my desk, taunting me because it wasn't cupcakes every time my foot bumped it.

Just before first recess the teacher announced the birthdays. I shared mine with one other student. Guess what they brought? No chocolate stars on top but cupcakes all the same. We handed out treats out to each desk and went back to our seats. Then everyone sang the happy birthday song. It was all I could do not to break into sobs of despair looking at that cupcake.

As we went out to play, treats in hand, all the "cool" kids joined the other birthday kid. I went to sit on the entry way flower box with my neighbor kids, the not so cool. Everyone ate their cupcake first. I was hurt again by the rejection from my peers off my treat. It was the best I could do but it wasn't good enough for them. (hard lesson to learn).

Then I realized that when we stashed our treats that were not so appealing in our desks for later or to give away because we wouldn't eat them that we were hurting the birthday kids feelings. It was the best they could do, too. So then I felt bad for doing that to other kids on top of my crappy birthday and crappy treats and my grama and aunt being gone forever.

It was just too big a load of grief and too many epiphanies for a just turned twelve girl. I left without saying good bye to my friends and ran back to the class room. The tears started well before I got there. I went straight to the teacher's desk and managed to gasp out that I needed to go home - before I couldn't talk anymore. My teacher was a man. He came out from behind the desk and said, "I think you should see Nurse first," took me by the hand and led me down the hall to the Nurse's office.

They all knew my Grama had died. He left me with the nurse. She had me lay down on the sofa, gave me a baby asprin and then put a cold rag on my head over my eyes and told me to just lay there a few minutes. I could go home when I was calmer.

It was quiet in there and she turned off the overhead lights as she went back to her desk. I got myself calmed down. I reached up and flipped the rag over to the cool side and lay there a little longer. When I could see again, through my swollen eyes, I put the cloth on the sink and went over to her desk. She smiled up at me. "May I go home now?", I asked.

"Is there someone there right now?"

I was stumped. It was about eleven o'clock by now. They would all be at the funeral. Usually when Mom and Dad were gone Grama was there for us. I teared up again but repressed it as hard as I could. "No," I told her truthfully, "But I babysit now and I can be home alone until they get back. I'm twelve now."

"I shouldn't let you go home to be alone when you are so sad but I think you would like to be by yourself for awhile, wouldn't you?" She was a nurse who could see more than visible wounds.

"I really need to go home, I can't stop crying today. I got my school work all done. I will be ok by myself."

She finally let me go but I had to call her when I got there and then call her again when my folks got home.

I got my coat from the hook in the hall and went out the front. It was strange to walk the empty hall and go out the door alone. Usually there were hundreds of us trying to get through. It was weirdly quiet walking home, too. No other kids to play with or pick on me, no little sibs to watch over.

I walked on the forbidden wall, stopped at the store and got myself some Fizzies with my last dollar, mom was only getting .80 cents back now. I had left the treats for the kids in my desk. I would have to get them tomorrow.

The house was quiet, too. No radio, TV or noisy sibs. No Grama. I quick, called the nurse and, using a very grown up voice, let her know I was home ok. I hung up as soon as I could and ran over to the chair where Grama used to sit and darn our sock and flung myself in it, curled up in a ball and bawled like a calf taken from it's mother. If I sniffed really hard at the back of the chair I could still smell the lavendar she kept in her closets that scented her dresses. I got up on my knees and I hugged the back of the chair like she was sitting there and I was on her lap. Then I cried all over her shoulder.

I know this whole post was filled with tears but you should have seen this batch. This is when it was real to me that there was NO MORE GRAMA. I wasn't loud for long because my throat was sore from so much crying the last several days. But the quantity of fluid I shed actually left me thirsty.

The funeral was no better. Our family mostly likes each other and lots of people liked Aunt Mary and Grama. They cried buckets. Then they went to the dinner. It was 4:30 before they came home.

No one remembered my birthday until they were getting ready to go home. They sent someone to the store for icing sugar and ice cream. They wrote Happy Birthday on one of the cakes that didn't get eaten and brought that home with them.

We put the candles in it and they sang happy birthday to me and my other grand parents gave me a card with money in it. I pretended I was having fun but I don't think anyone was tricked. They were all pretending that a birthday was as important as a dying day and I wasn't fooled, either.

I always think of my eleventh birthday as my last good one. This is my beloved Grama and Grampa and my sibs with me after the 11th cake and ice cream. We were watching whatever I wanted to on TV. You can see my choice didn't agree with everyone.

I love them all.

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