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Chapter Two

When I took hold of the doorknob, it was like an electric shock ran from my hand straight into my head. Images flashed as if in fast forward, instead, the images went in reverse. The vivid images were of the first events in my life.

The first image was of an exceptionally pleasant crystal clear, sun-drenched morning with crocus and daffodils in full bloom. I was in first grade, everyone was enjoying themselves, romping on the playground during morning recess. Birds chirped in the sweet, clean air, it was springtime.

The girls in their dresses, petticoats and patent mary janes sat in the shade of the awning overhanging the concrete patio, playing jacks. Colored rubber balls bounced rhythmically in the air above lightning fast hands scooping up handfuls of colored jacks.

On the sidewalk, in the warm sun, other girls played hopscotch through caulk markings carefully drawn on the cement, while another group of girls jumped rope. In the area beyond the sidewalk, where the brown ground was beginning to turn a lush green as the new grass blades awoke from winter, boys tossed baseballs to one another. Giggles, laughter and the sounds of children playing rippled through the air.

I stood apart from all the other children as I watched the activity around me. I had no interest in tossing balls around, nor playing jacks, jumping rope or hopping through a chalked hopscotch pattern. Instead, I was kind of watching one little girl. My heart fluttered and I was confused by the sensations I experienced, it was like nothing I'd felt before. It wasn't unpleasant in the least, just scrambled my brain where I couldn't think straight.

The object of my attention was Diane Erwin, the most beautiful girl in all of the first-grade class. Well, that statement is probably subjective, depending on who one talks to. But, to me, she was a vision of beauty to behold. I could've watched her flick her straight auburn hair all day. There was something about the red highlights that sparkled in the morning light. And her smile, the gap where her two front baby teeth once were gave her smile an impish quality, it just made me want to melt. When she batted her big brown eyes with twinkling gold flecks, I could feel my face grow hot. Her rosy cheeks made her seem to be in a constant state of blushing. I liked Diane more than any of the other girls in my class, but if I had to explain why, I wouldn't have had any idea of how to put it in words.

One of the boys who always tossed a ball of some sort during every day at recess, a boy who I didn't think even knew I existed suddenly, without explanation, put his arm over my shoulder and pulled me toward him as if we were long lost buddies or something. I didn't know what to think of his behavior.

"Hey, 'ol chap," he said as his eye followed my line of vision."Diane's a real looker, don't ya think? Huh?"

"I don't know what yer talkin' about," I said, immediately looking away from my heart's desire.

"If you like her, you gotta let her know."

"I don't know what your talking' 'bout." I studied the tops of my brown leather oxfords. I'd wanted slip-ons, but Momma said 'tie-up loafers looked dressier'.

"I've been seein' the way you look at her."

I shrugged my shoulders pretending to be uninterested.

"You gotta kiss her, so she knows you like her."

I turned to look at my new adviser. I was totally inexperienced when it came to anything about girls, but this boy seemed to understand just how things worked.

"Take her by the hand and go behind those bushes over there and kiss her."

"Oh, no. I couldn't do that. I wouldn't know what to say or do."

"You don't have to say anything, just kiss her, that's all."

"Are you sure about this?"

"Trust me, would a bud like me steer you wrong?"

I thought about what he'd said, my head spun like crazy and all I could think about was kissing Diane. Something snapped inside and I mustered the courage to walk right straight over to her. I forcefully took her hand and lead her to the bushes. Once we were behind the row of neatly trimmed holly bushes, I leaned into her and planted a quick peck on her soft cheek. Then I ran out from behind the bushes, back onto the open playground. All the kids had gathered around, they laughed and pointed at me. My face was so hot, I swear it was on fire. I wanted to disappear and never come back again, then the recess bell rang and we scrambled to return to class. The entire time, the girls snickered and the boys laughed and made fun of me. I didn't say a word. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me, but I wasn't lucky enough to find a crack big enough to fall into.

Back at our desks, Miss Kimball, our teacher, a young woman, very nice and always friendly. She told us to read our reading book. I opened my book and began reading about a girl named Jane and a boy named Dick and they had this dog named Spot. I liked Spot, I'd always thought it would be fun to own a dog, but Momma had said no, time and time again. I'd heard 'no' so many times, I just gave up on asking any longer.

Miss Kimball called my name. I looked up from my book.

"Yes? Miss Kimball." I managed to squeak.

"Will you come with me, please?" Miss Kimball said as she moved toward the classroom door which lead into the hallway.

I looked around the classroom. The whole class was snickering, one of the girls whispered "You're in big trouble", as I got up from my desk. I swallowed real hard. I was scared to death. I followed Miss Kimball to the hall. Well, hells bells, I'd never been in trouble, not at school anyway, at home, yes, but that was all different, so I didn't know what was about to happen. I'd heard about this particular wood paddle kept in the principal's office. It had sharp nails sticking out all over it and once a person got paddled with it, they wouldn't be able to sit for a whole month.

When I get really scared, my eyes get all watery, damn eyes always gave away my feelings.

Once in the hall and the closed door separated us from the classroom. Miss Kimball proceeded to tell me it wasn't appropriate (what a big fuckin' word for a first grader to comprehend) to kiss a girl. I figured that long word she'd spoken, and by the tone of her voice, meant I'd not a good thing. She instructed me to stand in the hall, all alone, and think about what I'd done wrong. Then she went back into the classroom. She'd left me all alone in the hall. The empty hall seemed larger when it wasn't packed with kids. It just made everything seem all that much scarier.

I did what Miss Kimball had told me. The more I thought, the more confused I became. I just couldn't fathom why it was ok to kiss my grandma on the cheek, but it wasn't ok to kiss a girl I like? I liked Diane a whole lot, almost as much as grandma. I just wanted Diane to know I liked her and I'd hoped she liked me just as much as I liked her. My thoughts got all discombobulated, I also thought about how that boy had set me up to get me in trouble. He wasn't my friend. He'd never once spoken to me, not before that day, anyway. The more I thought, the madder I got at myself. How could I've been so stupid to trust that boy? It was real shitty of him, you know? I guess, that's when I first started having trust issues with people. The more I thought about the whole thing, the madder and more confused I got. I finally decided to not be so trusting of others and that it was wrong to kiss girls. I promised myself. I'd never ever kiss a girl, ever again. I swore I'd never again be embarrassed like on that particular spring morning. Finally, everything had just become too much to think about, so I just sat there in that empty hall and cried.

The second 'first' happened two years later, when I was in the third grade. I'd been invited to my first ever birthday party. Sure, I'd gone to cousin's birthday parties when all the guests were my relatives, you know like aunts, uncles, cousins, I think you get my drift. The party I'd been invited to was for my classmates, no relatives, that's what made that party invite so special. It was exciting and intimidating, all at the same time. Momma made this huge fuss over the whole affair, you'd think I was going to meet the President or someone just as important. Momma had gone out and purchased a gift and even had it gift wrapped at the store. Momma never got all that fancy before. Since the gift was already wrapped, I didn't even know what was inside the expensive wrapping paper and curly ribbons. Momma fussed over the clothes I'd wear. She starched my Sunday go-to-church shirt, the collar was all stiff and scratchy. She even pressed my Sunday suit and polished my leather dressy shoes. I even had to get a haircut and take an extra bath. Momma primped over me until I'd nearly changed my mind about going. I almost wished I'd not been invited, had I'd known all of this was necessary for one damned birthday party. Finally, I was all dressed and Momma handed me the prettiest wrapped gift I'd ever seen and then she sent me on my way.

The party was for Judith Lohmann, the most popular girl in the third grade. I could hardly believe she'd invited ME to her party. It made me giddy just thinking about it. The Lohmann's lived a little over four blocks away. I'd never been to Judy's house before, but I kind of knew which house she lived in cause someone had once pointed out her house from the school playground. Judith preferred to go by Judy maybe because I'd heard her favorite movie was the Wizard of Oz, it was my favorite too. I didn't much care for the mean old witch, but everything else was okay.

Momma had written the Lohmann's street address on a piece of paper and had slipped it into one of my pockets. On the way to Judy's party, I tugged at the stiff collar, it was buttoned all the way to the top and I wore a clip-on necktie, you see, I didn't know how to tie a real necktie yet. Daddy tried to show me once, but my tie didn't look like anything like it was supposed to, so I wore clip-ons.

My feet propelled me onward down the street Judy lived on. I searched all my pockets for the piece of paper with Judy's address. I kinda panicked when I couldn't find it.I gasped for air that wouldn't come, and my chest got tight, I started to get lightheaded and sweat beaded on my forehead while sweat trickled down my back. Those damn sneaky tears welled in my eyes, they do that when I get upset too. I stopped in my tracks. I searched every single pocket, but the paper wasn't there. Had the paper fallen from my pocket?

Judy's party was too important to miss. What would the kids say at school when I didn't show up? I'd told everyone I was going, even Judy. Momma would've been disappointed in me after she'd gone to all that trouble to get me ready - then, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't turn around and go back home. But how would I find Judy's house? I just stood there having an emotional meltdown while I carried on a debate in my head. It seemed, no matter what decision I'd make, I'd have ended up disappointing someone. I didn't want to disappoint anyone.

Out of the blue, I thought I heard my name. It came again, I searched in the direction from where it had come. Through a blur of tears, I saw what looked like Judy, just two houses in front of me.

"The party's over here," Judy waved her arms in the air, "we're in the backyard."

My mood quickly lightened, I wiped my tears with the back of my hand and rushed to Judy's house. Together, we walked around the house to the backyard. The yard was decorated with colored balloons, crepe paper streamers and there was a long table filled with nearly every kind of chips and dips.

I handed the wrapped gift to Judy, "Here, this is for you." My hands were sweaty, and my tongue and mouth wouldn't work. I couldn't get the words to come out. I wanted to wish Judy a happy birthday, but the words just didn't make it from my brain to my mouth. I just stood there like a complete nincompoop with my mouth moving, but nothing coming out.

Judy smiled. "Thank you, it's lovely."

All I could manage from that point was a return smile.

Being the first real birthday party I'd ever attended, I was sorta wondered as to why the girls stood on one side of the yard, in party dresses and hair ribbons. While the boys, nervously posed on the opposite side of the yard against the fence. I felt out of place, in my Sunday clothes when the other boys wore their regular school clothes. Momma always laid out my clothes for me, she said it was important to always look one's best. I had to be careful not to get my clothes dirty, cause I'd have to wear the same clothes the next day to Church. But not the same socks and underwear, cause Momma made me change them each day. Personally, I couldn't see the point, why put on new underwear and socks when they weren't dirty. I guess Momma just liked to do laundry.

Upbeat music played from records on a portable phonograph player set up on the back patio. Mrs. Lohmann made sure the food never ran out. There was cake, ice cream, and cokes in short green glass bottles in a galvanized bin, filled with lots of ice. I felt like a real grownup, but I wasn't sure how to act and what to say to others. I spent most of my time by myself and watched the party like I was watching a TV program, but without the commercials. When the party came to an end, and parents arrived to pick up their kids, that's when I quietly slipped away and walked back home.

On the walk home, I realized I'd forgotten to thank Mrs. Lohmann or even Judy for inviting me. Before I'd left for the party, Momma had told me to be sure to thank Mrs. Lohmann. How was I to remember all that stuff? I was just a kid. That party stuff had a lot of rules. I couldn't be expected to remember all of them. Besides, I just wanted to get away from the party as discretely as possible. I'd had a horrible time. I didn't see what all the fuss was about, I'd had more fun at my cousins birthday parties than I'd had at Judy's party. I decided right then and there, parties were boring and that I'd never go to another birthday party that wasn't for a relative. Oh, did I mention I finally found the lost piece of paper with the street address written on it? I'd forgotten Momma had slipped that paper in the suit jacket breast coat pocket the only pocket I hadn't checked. How dumb was that, right?

The third 'first' happened one year later when Diane Erwin invited me to her Halloween party. Yup, we were still friends, even after that whole messy kiss fiasco. I still liked Diane and she seemed to like me back, but just as friends. I never tried to kiss her again, after all, I'd made a promise to myself and I'm not one to intentionally go against my word, ever, well, pretty much. Momma always said, "once you make a promise, you should never break it." Momma had a lot to say about life, I guess she'd know, after all, she was a whole lot older than me.

I had my reservations about going to Diane's party. The memories of Judy's Birthday Party were still quite vivid in my mind. I just didn't know if I was prepared to go through all that disappointment once again. But, Momma, in all her wisdom convinced me that "going to the Halloween party would be good for my social development. Besides, Mr. Erwin and Daddy worked together at the Post Office, and it would be a nice gesture to accept the invitation." I suppose I didn't have much choice in the matter, Momma had made up her mind, I was going period.

The invitation stated that the party was a costume party and there'd be a prize for the best costume. For nearly a week I racked my brain to come up with a costume, I wanted to win the prize, a plastic golden loving cup. I'd never won a prize like that and I wanted it real bad. I'd even reserved a special place on my dresser to display the prize. I just had to win the contest.

A couple of days before the party I'd finally decided my costume, I would go dressed like a girl. Of course, Daddy just rolled his eyes and humphed, but Momma was like all encouraging. She dug through her old clothes and found some from the olden days when she was younger. Surprisingly, the clothes almost fit, you see, Momma wasn't all that tall of a woman, she was kind of compact. I, on the other hand, had gone through several growth spurts. I was almost the tallest boy in my class and I was really skinny. Momma said, "you'll eventually grow into my body." I had serious doubts that would ever happen. Anyways, Momma made a few alterations here and there on my costume and the clothes fit real good. In the mirror and I looked a whole lot like Annette Funicello on the Mouseketeer TV program, except I had boy hair.

The evening of the party, Daddy came home from work carrying a brown paper grocery bag. He handed me the bag. His expression was hard to read, but there appeared to be a mischievous look about him. I opened the bag. Inside was a red curly wig, just like Little Orphan Annie in the Sunday newspaper comics. I put on the wig. Momma combed it out and it looked good. I'd decided not to wear a mask, instead, I wore a pair of jeweled cat-eye sunglasses like a famous movie star. Momma rubbed some rough on my cheeks and fire red lipstick on my lips. When I looked at my reflection, I couldn't believe how pretty I was. I was all set to win that plastic golden loving cup.

Daddy drove me to the party 'cause it was starting to get dark outside. I didn't know what to think when he parked the car a block away from the Erwin's. "Why are we stopping here?" I asked.

"You don't want anyone to know who you are, right?"

"Yeah." I agreed.

"Get out of the car, walk to the Erwin's and no one will see the car and they won't know who is in the costume."

I wasn't sure if Daddy was embarrassed to be seen with his son dressed like a girl or if he was helping to hide my identity so I might win the prize. Just as I got out of the car Daddy had one bit of advice, "Don't say too much at the party, you don't want any one to recognize your voice. Good luck, son." The plan sounded logical. I climbed out of the car and started walking toward the house. I paused to look over my shoulder expecting to see Daddy once again, but there was only an empty space where the car had been, he'd already driven away.

Mr. Erwin ushered me inside their house, then Mrs. Erwin directed me to the den where the party was being held. I took Daddy's advice, and I didn't say a single solitary word, I kept my lips sealed, I only nodded yes and no when I was asked a question, but I didn't utter a word. I perched myself on a bar stool where I could take in the entire room, yet remain out of the way.

The costume contest began. One by one each guest's identity was revealed, all but one - me. No one could even guess who I was under that costume. I suppose, being an invisible wallflower at school had it's advantages because no one even brought up my name when they tried to guess who was under the red curly wig. Finally, the guests were stumped, and Mr. Erwin gave the plastic golden loving cup to me for the best costume. I could've kissed that loving cup, it was so beautiful and shiny. I continued to play the charade and I didn't reveal myself to anyone. I was elated that I'd won, but at a cost, I knew for sure my Daddy was ashamed of me for dressing like a girl. I didn't feel much like joining the others, I wasn't interested in the party any longer. Behind the jeweled sunglasses, no one knew the pain I was experiencing nor able to see my damn leaking eyes.

Not long after the costume contest, the party began to wrap up, and parents arrived to pick up their kids. Within a few minutes, all of the kids had been claimed - all but me. I sat quietly on the bar stool, never uttering a damned word.

I kinda figured Mr. and Mrs. Erwin had grown concerned about my identity. I heard them say they were afraid maybe the mystery girl had accidentally wandered into the wrong Halloween party. There had been three additional parties all happening on the same night in just that one residential block. While the Erwin's discussed what they should do about me, I thought maybe I should begin to walk home, it didn't appear I'd have a ride home. I was thoroughly convinced Daddy wouldn't come back for me.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. Mr. Erwin answered the door. It was my Daddy. "I'm here to pick up my son."

"I'm terribly sorry, but Shane never made it to the party," said Mr. Erwin. "But we do have an extra little girl we don't know who she belongs to."

"By any chance, does your mystery girl have fiery red hair?" Daddy asked.

"Why yes, how did you know?"

I pulled off my wig and sunglasses. "It's me. Mr. Erwin."

Daddy and the Erwin's had a good laugh. But, after that night things just weren't ever quite the same between Daddy and me. My decision to wear a dress and pretend to be a girl drove a wedge between the two of us. If only I'd had a crystal ball to have seen what would have come from wearing a curly wig and poodle skirt, things might have ended differently. As far as I was concerned, that Halloween Party cost me dearly. I decided I'd never go to another Halloween Party or dress up for Halloween ever again.

First time for things just didn't seem to work out for me. There were many more firsts, but I think those were most likely the top three firsts that began to shape my future. Now in present day, I was about to begin another first - the first day of High School. I knew the moment I'd step across the threshold, that would be yet another first of my life, would it end tragically like so many other firsts in my life? I hoped not.


* * * * DISCLAIMER * * * *

Language and terms used in this work of fiction may not be suitable for all ages. If you are an individual subject to sensitive literature, be warned.

The above provided complementary chapters are offered on an "as is" basis. This sample read was taken directly from the UNEDITED first draft. The final published chapters may not appear as herein written, due to future edits and rewrites before the full manuscript goes to printing.

This is a work of literary fiction loosely inspired by actual events. Some written events, locales, businesses, individuals, and dialogue may coincide with actual events, locales, businesses, individuals, and dialogue. In order to maintain anonymity in some instances the names of events, locales, businesses, individuals, and dialogue have been changed or modified to protect the privacy of actual individuals, living or dead. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner to enhance the storyline.

This is a period work of southern coming-of-age fiction told from the perspective of an eighteen-year-old male, set between the years of 1971 - 1974, along with memory flashbacks from the 1950s and 60s. In keeping with the true integrity of the southern genre; regional terms, words and common slang of the specified time period have been used in the telling of this tale and should not be construed as politically incorrect, derogatory, demeaning, or to belittle or insult persons in any fashion by today's social standards.

Copyright © 2018 Dale Thele


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