The summer before fifth grade. I was very proud of this shirt. Rad dude. Rad.
I think I can attribute the majority of trouble I got myself into as a child to the bad influence of Nick at Nite. Shows like Leave it to Beaver, I Love Lucy, and The Little Rascals--riddled with rascally characters getting into all kinds of shenanigans. If you were going to take life advice from any Nick at Nite show, The Patty Duke Show was not one of them.
I changed schools twice in the fifth grade--the first time was at the start of the year when my mother decided the bullying situation at my current school was untenable, and the second was when we moved towns.
Second grade through fourth grade at Centennial Elementary in Littleton was at best a waking nightmare. My walks to and from school was like playing Super Mario Brothers--you never knew was was lurking around the corner wanting to throw things at your face. Things weren't any better in the school either. The kids were pretty bold when it came to their bullying, even going so far as attacking me in class--in front of the teacher. With little change and repercussion from the principal my mother pulled me out of Centennial at the end of fourth grade.
Peabody Elementary was full of promise. The staff and my teacher knew the situation I was coming from, and they were warm and welcoming. The kids didn't really pick on me so much as they ignored me.
One day a pair of girls in my class took me aside and said they wanted to talk to me. The reason that nobody really wanted to talk to me was because my clothes weren't really cool. Up until that point it never really occurred to me that clothes were supposed to be cool--I just wore what my mother bought me: jeans, corduroys, my Simpsons t-shirt, overalls--stuff kids wear. One of the girls offered to bring in clothes for me the next day, just so I could experience what wearing cool clothes would be like.
The next day she brought me a pair of black stirrup stretch pants, push-down tube socks, a cream colored turtle neck and a beautiful green long baggy sweater. They were the nicest clothes I'd ever put on. I went to the bathroom before our first recess to change. I stepped on to the playground and was met with all-around approval from the girls who dressed me up.
"See! This is how you should dress!" She was so proud of herself.
They invited me to participate in a swing race with them. We played together again after lunch.
For a day I felt like I belonged. Why only a day? Well, I brought myself down this time, with my big imagination and my big mouth.
As we sat together on the jungle gym I had an idea. How can I make my stock go up? Make up a fantastic, improbable lie, obviously!
I told the kids I wasn't going to be in class the next day because I had a doctor appointment, but my cousin is visiting and she was going to be allowed to sit in class for me. Oh and by the way, my cousin is from England! Oh, and she's British! Also,she's--wait for it--my twin!
Any of this sound familiar? That's because it's the plot to The Patty Duke Show.
In summary, my genius plan was to show up at school the next day posing as my own English twin cousin. Sounds pretty cool, right? The kids clearly didn't watch nearly as much Nick at Nite as I did because they seemed to believe me, they even started telling other kids in the class. It occurred to me at the end of the day as I packed up my bag that my plot had many holes in it. If I was going to pull this off, I was going to have to tell my teacher.
I was the last to leave class and she was already at her desk grading papers.
Mrs. Fleming, was sweet but no-nonsense, with a darling pixie cut and she always wore red lipstick--I even still think of her when I wear red lipstick. I approached her at her desk and she looked up at me over her reading glasses.
I stumbled through my story--her stare was killing my confidence--but I walked away assuring myself that she believed me.
As I climbed into the car with my mom I became overcome with guilt. I told a pretty big lie. The absurdity of the lie didn't occur to me, just the fact that I lied. I was still doing time in my evening prayers asking for forgiveness for stealing a lip-gloss, I should be adding lying to my list of sins.
As I buckled myself in I told my mother, "I think I did something bad."
"What did you do?" She asked. Her voice sound strained--like I was about to drop a pretty big bomb.
I felt that I needed to diffuse what could potentially be a huge problem for me. If I acted like it's not that big a deal, then she would definitely find her chill.
"Well, it's not that big a deal. I told the kids in my class that I have an English twin cousin and that she's coming to school for me tomorrow. I told Mrs. Fleming too...but it's not that big of a deal! It's silly!"
The look on her face was not at all filled with amusement the way I hoped it would be. Her mouth was just stuck in a pursed "O" shape.
"Summer Jean, this is a very big deal. That's a huge lie, and it's not funny."
Yes it is, I thought to myself.
"Yes it is!", I said--out loud. Stupid.
"You are going to turn around and go back in there and tell your teacher the truth."
It wasn't rational, but I couldn't believe she wasn't on my side. I couldn't believe she was going to make me actually face my lie so boldly. I could feel my cheeks get hot and I began to cry.
"You can't make me go back in there!" If I cried maybe she'll take pity.
"We're not leaving until you go back in there and tell your teacher the truth." She put the van in park and turned off the engine.
I sat, slack-jawed, for what felt like minutes. I felt numb. I felt stupid. The absurdity of the lie was starting to wash over me. What a genuinely stupid lie.
I climbed out of the mini-van and started what felt like a death march towards the school. I could have done the honorable thing and just fess up. I could have done that. I didn't do that.
As I slowly paced down the polished school linoleum I kicked my brain into gear. Fessing up to lies is the worst. Why should I fess up to a lie when I could just come up with another lie? I can get through this relatively unscathed if I can come up with a really good cover for myself.
Mrs. Fleming was still sitting at her desk grading papers. I approached her desk and she peered up at me over her reading glasses once more.
"Yes, Summer?" Clearly I was encroaching on her time.
"Um, Mrs. Fleming? I just wanted to let you know--" Light-bulb."--that my cousin won't be able to make it tomorrow. She never made it out here. She's sick. She has pneumonia. She actually got sick on the plane. They had to turn it around and take her back to England. I don't know if she's going to make it. A-a-a-a-ny-way...she won't be here tomorrow. I'll be here though! My doctor appointment was canceled. See you tomorrow?"
I don't know what I expected. "Oh sure, no problem! Hope your cousin makes it! See you tomorrow!" Her face registered as utterly un-amused.
She just sighed. "Fine Summer. Good night."
I said good night and left her with her papers. Half of me thought she bought it. The other half knew she didn't, but it didn't matter. I had made myself look like an idiot at my new school--it was over before it could even begin.
The fun wasn't over. My mother demanded to know if I told her the truth, and in the spirit of maintaining an honest relationship with her, I told her that I lied again. She was aghast. She couldn't believe that I had lied again. We went home and I spent the rest of the night alone in my room.
The next day at school I spouted the same lie to the kids. Whether or not they bought it didn't matter. I was relegated to the same obscurity from which I came--not because I couldn't come up with an English twin cousin, but because my clothes looked poor.
Six months later we moved to Castle Rock. My parents were tired of renting in a bad neighborhood, and Castle Rock had better schools.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson. A couple days before I started school at Rock Ridge Elementary I sneak-watched Dirty Dancing. I was obsessed with the dancing in it and practiced in my bedroom wearing my mother's leotard.
On my second day of class I found out the two most popular girls took dance lessons. I boasted to them that I taught lessons, specializing in the dancing from Dirty Dancing.
Lindsey, the most popular of the two, sneered through her braced teeth. "Our parents would never let us watch that, and I don't need lessons from you." I noted her response and quietly went about my business, once again relegating myself to friendless obscurity.
As I walked home from school that day I noticed another girl from my class walking the same path home as me. I asked if I could walk with her. She said yes, but this doesn't mean we're friends. She also pointed out that my cowboy boots looked ridiculous. They were my dad's boots and I loved them, even if they were too big for me.
That night my mother came into my room to say good night to me. I'll never forget that night, because the room was dark but still bright from the light of a full moon.
She asked me if I wanted to pray. I began to cry.
She wiped the tears from my cheeks. "Why are you crying baby?"
I felt bereft. "I just feel like I'm never going to have a friend. I'm never going to fit in. I don't know how to make friends."
She took my hands and told me to pray about it. I looked at the full moon and squeezed my eyes tight.
"Dear God, I don't have any friends. Please let me make a friend tomorrow."
My mother kissed me good night. I fell asleep crying that night, faithless in my prayer.
The next day as I sat alone on the playground a girl came up and started talking to me. Her name was Shiloy. I told her where I was from, where I lived in the neighborhood. She actually seemed interested in me. After school she walked me to the rain run-off tunnel that I walked through to get to my house. She said we should sit together at lunch the next day.
As I walked through the tunnel I heard the sparrows flapping around, building their spring nests. I smiled as I saw my house walking out of the dark tunnel. I ran the rest of the way home and breathlessly hugged my mother.
To be honest, 25 years later I still struggle with making friends and I still struggle with relating to people. I've stopped telling lies, and I always try to be myself. There's a gap that I struggle crossing--that gap that prevents me from connecting. Maybe it's fear, Maybe I'm a little bit broken.
That day though, I didn't feel broken. I didn't need a fantastic lie. I didn't need Patty Duke or Dirty Dancing.
As I hugged my mother, I looked up at her through tears in my eyes and said, "Jesus answered my prayer. I made a friend today."