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MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, October 29, 2012

Punk Rock Mexicana

Proving there wasn't just one white way down the middle of the road.
Props to Nathan Stephens and Jason Meigs for knowing that so early on.

         My angst about how I looked and the world really became clear to me on Saturday, May 28th, 1984 – the day I saw The Clash at the US festival in San Bernadino, California.  Before that day, everyone in Tuolumne made it clear that I didn't look like everyone else, and after that day, I began working really hard not to. But only thirteen years old, and already a Clash fan, I naively showed up to the US festival, my hair still feathered, wearing red terry-cloth shorts, with a draw string bow that cinched up each side, and some strappy-leather hippy-looking flip flops that had belonged to my mom. They were the first shoes of my mom’s that I could fit into and wear. I didn’t even have a Clash shirt yet.
         It was Memorial Day weekend, and Amelie's mom, who also loved the Clash because they sang about Latin America, drove me and Amelie all the way from Tuolumne to the San Bernadino Valley in her white compact Fiat station wagon that would only start when parked on a hill. A seven hour drive took us about ten in the dry valley heat through Fresno, Visalia, Tulare, Delano and Porterville. The dry valley heat blasted into the open windows all the way there because there was no air-conditioning just a fan, the heat making us simultaneously drowsy and unable to sleep, and when we weren't able to find a hill to park the car on, Amelie and I would have to get out and push the car. Her mom would push the car with one hand on the driver side door and the other on the steering wheel, and Amelie and I would push from the back. Just when she thought we got the car going fast enough with the ignition on and the car in second gear, Amelie’s mom would jump in and pop the clutch. When we could get the car going fast enough, it would start with jerk and a sputter. It was a bit of a hassle, and at one point I worried that we might get stuck out there in the hot valley forever.
Or maybe it was that I knew somehow that going back would be different – that I’d be different. But we didn’t mind having to push the car; we were determined to get to San Bernadino before noon on Saturday. In fact we left Tuolumne after school on Friday, arriving somewhere outside of San Bernadino and Glen Helen Park at around one or two in the morning. Amelie's mom, barely able to hold her eyes open a second longer parked the car on a hill, told us to go back to sleep before letting her head drop back on the seat. And so we all slept until I woke at around seven the next morning with a full bladder to find that we were surrounded by empty rolling hills filled with dry grass and weeds – somewhere between nowhere and having our minds blown wide open by Joe Strummer and The Clash.

         While waiting in line for the turnstiles of Glen Helen Park, Amelie and I, her mom too, watched all the people around us, a lot of young people, skater types, guys with Mohawks and leather jackets, women with pink, or, blue, or green, or purple hair, some with all four colors all at once; they were older and tougher and cooler looking than we were though Amelie, who was always a bit ahead of her time, wore baggy shorts, her Combat Rock t-shirt, and Converse.  When we finally got to the front of the line, we were stopped by a young man in a vest and pimples who was charged with looking through our bags for contraband or recording equipment. Our tickets stated that cassette recorders were not permitted, but Amelie’s mom brought hers anyway, and hiding it carefully under a newspaper, a sweatshirt, and a bottle of Mylanta which she drank to calm her ulcer, she successfully smuggled it past the young man who only peeked inside her backpack without bothering to move anything around. After closing up our bags and still holding our breath, Amelie and I pushed our way through the metal turnstiles and walked straight into our adolescence.
         Before the first act, the Divynals, took the stage, Amelie’s mom made us find a designated spot near the front of the stage for us to meet since Amelie and I wanted to walk around. People were milling about finding a place to stand or sit on blankets. We saw a group of older teens sitting in a circle playing telephone, girls with big hair, thick eye-liner, and guys with different versions of the Flock of Seagulls hair. Amelie and I stood watching them while we waited our turn in line for the porta-potties. I didn’t think that real teenagers still played children’s games, and I wondered what kind of word or phrase they were passing around the circle. There were people rinsing off in the outdoor showers, women in stripped bikinis and topless men in shorts, and people in lines at booths buying cold beer, and cold water, and US festival t-shirts.  There were people smoking joints out in the open – something I had already seen a lot of, and there were people already drunk, stumbling around and lost. After our turn in the bathroom, Amelie and I went straight to the t-shirt booth to buy t-shirts, and I put mine on immediately, happy to put on something cool over the top I was wearing and my terry-cloth shorts –relieved to be wearing something that declared the new me to the world.
         Being both musicians and edgy music fans, Amelie and knew the words to most of the songs, or at least the popular ones by the bands that played that day. We sang and pogoed along to Oingo Boingo and The English Beat. We swooned when Michael Hutchins from Inxs took the stage, swinging his wild long hair over his shoulder, and Amelie swooned over Stan Ridgway from Wall of Voodoo – she always liked the weird looking guys. We studied Terri Bozio of Missing Persons, knowing that neither of us would ever show that much skin, wear plastic wrap, or have blond hair, and we sang along in earnest to just about every Flock of Seagulls and “Down Under,” and “It’s a Mistake,” by Men at Work song, but when The Clash, the band that we were really there to see, the only band that really mattered, finally, after a controversial delay, stormed the stage around midnight we were transformed.
“All right then, here we are in the capital of the decadent U S of A,” Joe Strummer growled into the microphone. And right away, after a day of bands and people watching, hair cut at weird angles, assorted scissored band t-shirts, and leather jackets in 110 degree heat, we knew we needed new clothes, attitudes, and new haircuts, fast. But there was more to it than clothes and hair; and we got that too. The Clash took the stage and called us decadent straight away then launched into London Calling, its opening guitar riff, slicing its way through the air. We knew that it was true – technology and music and twenty dollar tickets while others were starving or being disappeared in countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador by death squads, and we wanted to be punished by the barrage of loud guitars and Joe Strummer's growl then soothed by the sounds of Mick Jones’ high sweet falsetto, seduced by Paul Simonon's swagger.
The Clash’s anti-American decadence stance spoke directly to us, both Mexican, and weird, and poor, and disenfranchised. Joe Strummer even mentioned East LA – a part of LA where he had probably never been, but where I had been born. It’s like he knew Amelie and I were there and put us under his spell, two Mexican-American weirdos, waiting to receive their message, our marching orders, and so we marched, singing every word to every song, slamming our fists in the air, and tearing up when Mick Jones sang “Somebody Got Murdered” because somebody had to care.
          When the song ended, Joe Stummer railed, You make, you buy, you die. That’s the motto of America.
All of it got me thinking something I had not understood before – the thing that I would never say, wouldn’t be able to articulate, even then. Amelie and I were different; we stood out because our skin was brown, and we did not come from money. None of this was going to change, and people would judge us, or try to make us feel like less, ugly even, undesirable.
“You get born to buy, and I’ll tell you those people out in East LA they ain’t going to stay there forever.”
And we hadn’t. I hadn’t stayed in East LA.
“If there’s anything going to be in the future it’s going to be all parts of everything.”
But we were all over, in Tuolumne even, a fact of life in America that wasn’t going to change.
         “It’s not going to be just one white way down the middle of the road.”
         Not just one white way down the middle of the road – not just one way, not just the white way; he was right. Joe Strummer was right about that.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Faking It

MCG sophomore year
MCG freshman year

Lolani Hawkins was popular, and she was Hawaiian. She wasn’t Me-wuk or Mexican, but she was popular anyway. Everybody knew Lolani Hawkins, but no one in Tuolumne knew that much about Hawaii apart from what we learned about leis and hula dancing from Lolani and her family. We certainly didn't know that most Hawaiians are a mixed-race people: Polynesian, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Portuguese, Malaysian, Korean, and white. Lolani had dark skin, long dark hair, and dark brown eyes. From elementary school to high school, everything about Lolani set her apart from the others and in a good way. Striking but not particularly feminine in the way she moved her athletic body, walking with purpose, her broad shoulders sturdy and her head held high, she was smart, did well in school, had friends, was close with her family, and she was proud to be Hawaiian.
         PE teachers and coaches loved Lolani because she was good at sports. Growing long, powerful legs in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, she was best at basketball, easily dominating the court and intimidating the girls from neighboring schools, with the exception of Jamestown, whose team of girls we kindly referred to as amazons.  Lolani was the kind of player who made the teachers, doubling as coaches, feel their time after school coaching the Summerville team worth it, though it was hard to ever tell if Ms. Martz, who rarely smiled, unless it was to sneer like she was smiling, was ever glad about anything. I remember her barking orders from the sidelines of the court during games, always with a look of disappointment, in her weird beige loafers, beige polyester slacks, and shiny, white windbreaker. Maybe it was the school mascot that was getting her down, coaching a team of girls whose mascot was a beaver.
         Summerville teams were never viewed as much of a threat, didn't have a reputation for winning most of their games, or having whole squads of excellent players, largely because there were girls like me on the team, girls trying to find their way, sports being one uninspired stop on the journey to finding the one thing in which they truly excelled. But Lolani's tenure in school sports changed the Summerville reputation a bit. She became well known around the county --  a real stand out. Most girls were either intimidated by her, or in awe of her power -- usually a combination of both. And the boys thought she was cool. She was in with them too. Practically one of them, she could speak their language, copy their swagger, hold her own.
         In fifth grade, I went to a couple of basketball games to see some of my friends play and got it into my head that I could do that too, not remembering that I was only about 4'9, afraid of getting hit by any kind of ball, and usually picked last for any teams during PE. I played basketball with Lolani just one season in the sixth grade, but I was never any good on the court. With all the passing, dribbling, and running about, I couldn’t remember which way I was supposed to be running, which basket I was supposed to be taking the ball to. My best move was grabbing the ball at the toss, as it was coming down, and holding onto it in a tug-of-war, waiting for the referee to blow the whistle.  Of course, Lolani was the star of the team, and she would go on and be one of the stars of the high school team too. The court was her universe, and the rest of us on the team were just in it -- she had those she relied on for rebounds, like the super tall Emily Ames, but everyone knew to keep their eyes on Lolani; she was the girl to watch, and she never got too big-headed about it either. Making baskets and scoring points for the team was just a fact of life for her -- it's what she did. Everyone called her a jock and tomboy, which seemed just fine with her. Nothing seemed to phase Lolani, either, not even my terrible plays. In fact, she didn't come down on anybody for not holding her own. Cool under pressure, she did what she needed to do to score points for the team. 

         But for me, basketball was something that I was just trying on, and watching Lolani play down court, in possession of the ball, made me realize that it didn't fit. I was at middle court, waiting around, not really playing at all when Lolani stole the ball from Jamestown. A handful of friends and parents in the stands, were whooping wildly, when she made a run for it, a pack of black and red jerseys a ways behind, unable to catch her. Just south of the net, she shot the ball, and course, she scored. Her power was impressive, and it made me think two things: I was never going to be that good, no matter how hard I tried, and I didn't care enough about basketball to try. Lolani went on to become the star of the high school basketball team, and I began to find my way in the high school pep band, marching band, jazz band, and choir where my actual talents were put to good use.                  

          However, in high school, my talents didn't get me cheers, trophies, or accolades, or popularity, which I tended to look down on. What they got me was a snowball with a rock inside upside my head. I thought I was just being myself, but to everyone else, choosing to be a punk girl and a band geek, I was just asking for it. One snowy, winter day, sophomore year, Jeremy Fong, the school counselor's son came after me more viciously than he had before. He had been taunting me for weeks, calling me a freak, and purposefully crashing into me in front of my locker. I was leaving pre-Algebra which took place in a classroom in the same building as the administration office. Passing in front of the flag pole and the school mascot statue, a giant black bear, when whap, a snowball nailed me in the temple. Breaking apart on impact, icy snow skidded across my face, and I could feel a lump forming, where something harder than a snowball had hit. Jeremy was ahead of me, laughing and carrying on -- the only Chinese guy in the whole school, not particularly tall with thick, dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, had assaulted me, to make himself look cool, and he would get away with it. Holding my head, and trying not to cry, I turned, and stomped through the snow-covered grass toward the school's office. I busted through the door and demanded to speak with Mr. Fong. I was prepared to be greeted by his snide smile; he had a way of making you feel like he never took you or anything you said seriously. He wasn't there.
         "I want to speak with Mr. Fong, right now," I shouted, startling the office assistant behind the counter.
         "Is there something that I can help you with?" her voice light and airy and without urgency.
         "I want to speak with Mr. Fong," I repeated, holding my head.
         "Michelle, I don't believe that Mr. Fong is even your counselor."
         "I need to speak with him."  By this time another office assistant had come out of the back room to see what all the commotion was about.
         "Mr. Fong is not in," the second office assistant announced. "Is there something we can help you with?"
         "Mr. Fong's son just hit me in the head with a snowball, and it had a rock in it. Look at this, look at my head," I said turning my face in their direction. They both looked at my head from their place behind the counter, not bothering to move too close.
         "We will let Mr. Fong know about this incident," said the first assistant, "as soon as he gets in." They didn't even offer me an ice pack.
         I didn't understand it. I didn’t want to be popular for things that the popular kids were known for, like sports, having an upperclassman for a boyfriend, for being a cheerleader, but how did Jeremy Fong rate? How could someone like Jeremy Fong be popular? Was it simply because his dad was the school counselor? I got it with Lolani, for the most part, and I understood why I wasn't. I was a weirdo, and she had great athletic prowess, a great personality, and she was Hawaiian, which seemed somehow cooler than being Me-Wuk or Mexican, and maybe the hula dancing helped too, but I didn't think so.
         Lolani had literally sweat a lot for her popularity, but maybe she was just doing what came natural. Maybe this is what made her a standout. I was doing what came natural to me too, the weird clothes that I could afford because I bought them from second-hand stores, the short hair because I was tired of people pointing out that I was a Mexican girl, and the heavy dark eye-liner just in case anyone didn’t get the point that I was trying to make. I just wanted to be noticed for something other than my skin color and my last name, the stuff that made me visible and invisible all at the same time.
I had seen what happened to many of the other dark-skinned kids. Many of the native kids who lived on the Me-Wuk reservation and not in town had dropped out of school already. School didn't seem to fit them at all, and it certainly didn't support them being there, not like elementary school had, or attempted to, at least. The curvy and quick-tempered Rhonda Kerzer who always wore a folded navy blue bandana on her forehead to hold down her full, thick mane, Jimbo and Louis, who I slapped once for whacking me on the head on the back of the bus, and several others, who I had shared teachers with in elementary school had long dropped out and been forgotten. The Maria sisters, the few only bilingual Mexicanas were practically invisible too until the older Maria got on the yearbook committee and made sure there were lots of pictures of her and her sisters in it that year. And during my four years at Summerville High, there were only three African American kids: Mona, Jay, and Lloyd. The best we could do for them was to pretend that we didn't notice that they were black.
         But for all I know, Lolani could have been pretending too. I remember watching her perform with her petite and beautiful mom and older sister at the high school. To see her swiveling her hips in her grass skirt and bikini top seemed wrong somehow. Each time I saw the act, I never quite bought it. Nonetheless, she, her mom, and her older sister continued performing here and there around the county, a kind of exotic novelty act. Instead of her face serious with sweat and determination, she smiled awkwardly with a gardenia behind her ear, her thick muscular legs fouling up her attempt at femininity but getting her noticed just the same.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Abusing Authority

The real life "Ms. Flanigan" eyeing me, in stripes, to make sure I don't talk
In sixth grade, Ms. Flanagan said I talked too much. In September, she called me loquacious. By April, she had to resort to a different approach to shut me up.
         “Michelle, you’re being much too loquacious.”
She said it just like that, one hand suspended in mid-air, holding a piece of chalk, the other on her waist -- she had been writing on the board and stopped because I was talking, turned in my seat to face Amelie who sat near the back of the room because she was tall, taller than most of the boys. We must have been in the middle of an English lesson.
         “Do you know what loquacious means?” she turned back to the board to write the word for us all to see. Ms. Flanagan was a petite woman with black hair, a little nose, a little mouth, and big brown eyes. The chalk snapped as she dotted the ‘i’.
         I shifted in my seat, trying not to giggle.
         She continued talking, not really waiting for anyone in the room to answer the question, “Loquacious means talkative, as in excessively talkative,” she faced the classroom, looking me in the eye, and smiling wide.
         I sat in the front row because I, being well under five feet tall, couldn’t see over the others’ heads otherwise. We were in one of the new classrooms on the backside of the playground, the ones that had been finished over the summer. They still smelled like fresh building materials and paint. There was a window at the back of the class that looked onto an old oak tree, under which lay a huge tractor meant for climbing, the hole covered by a piece of heavy plywood. The bathrooms in the new building smelled new too, all the faucets and toilets worked, and there were shiny chrome boxes on the walls in the stalls of the girls’ bathrooms, shiny chrome boxes for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade girls who might be having a period. During recess, we had to walk around younger kids who played jacks on the brand new black top in front of the classroom.
         “Loads of loquacious laughter,” said Amelie, as Ms. Flanagan went back to writing on the board. She said it quiet enough so Ms. Flanagan wouldn’t know who was speaking out of turn but quiet enough so I could hear. Amelie and I, and couple of others, started laughing. Ms. Flanagan turned quickly around, her super straight curtain of black hair swung around with her.
         “Okay, girls, that’s quite enough,” her smile gone, her eyes narrow. Her hair was mostly all black, but there were a couple of wiry grey hairs that sprouted at the crown. I could see them sticking out when the light hit her hair in just the right way or when standing up close.
         Ms. Flanagan was hip in her own way. We all liked her a lot at first and wanted her approval because she was petite and pretty and because she was our teacher. Besides my music teacher, Mr. Lark, I had only had female teachers up to that point and they had all been dowdy in some way. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Robinson, was remarkably fat. I always marveled when she lead us in PE on the black top, singing “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes,” coming very close to touching her toes every time. Ms. Flanagan seemed younger and more hip than many of the others who wore heavy shoes and tent sized dresses that made them look older and heavier than they probably were. Ms. Flanigan wore blouses and slacks rather than dresses and her slacks weren’t made of 100% polyester.
         But during the second half of the year, the boys and the girls were separated for sex ed. All the sixth grade girls came to Ms. Flanagan’s class to watch the sex ed movie from which we learned the anatomical names for the different parts of the male and female genitalia. Several weeks before, we all had to get permission slips signed by our parents to even participate or we’d be sent to the library where we might have been able to find a book that covered the same material. We learned about semen, or sperm, and how it got from the male body into the female body, and how it can fertilize an egg, which would result in a pregnancy. On a separate day, so as not to scare the total crap out of us all at once, we watched a video about VD. The movie was full of graphic examples of people with hideous rashes on their hands and feet, stories of people who went insane because their diseases went untreated. We learned words like discharge, chancre, testes, and clitoris. Sometimes poor Ms. Flanagan would use the terms like “balls” and “crotch” to clarify what she meant, and she did it with straight face. I didn’t dare look at Amelie.
Once the movie was over, Ms. Flanagan got even more serious than she had been. The lights were back on, the move projector was pushed to the side of the room, and she was standing at the board.
         “Now girls, it’s important that you understand that if you have sex, you will get pregnant.”
         It sounded like something adults say just to scare kids out of doing something they might want to do, and I knew it wasn’t true. It wasn’t true according to the first sex ed movie that explained how a women could only get pregnant during a certain time of the month, sometime after she had her period. And I knew it wasn’t true because our house was small, and my mom was loud, and I had heard my mom have sex plenty of times, way more than three times, but I kept my mouth shut. I knew this wasn’t the time to talk out of turn or contradict, but I really wanted to. I wanted to expose the lie.

         By April, Ms. Flanigan had had it with all my talking, and I was tired of her too -- tired of her posing as a hip, modern female teacher when she wasn’t one at all.
One day in April, after a particularly loquacious morning, Mrs. Flanagan, interrupted my talking, and held up a roll of invisible tape.
“Michelle, come up here. Come here and take a piece of this tape and put it over your mouth.”
         I didn’t move or get up. I stared at her, thinking at first that she was making a joke.
         “Michelle, come and get a piece of tape, she said again, shaking the roll of tape in her hand.
         I got out of my seat and walked the length of waxed floor from my desk to hers. I took some tape off the roll and went back to my seat. A few students were watching, and the others were pretending to be focused on Ms. Flanagan’s lesson on the board. I had been given no other orders. I didn’t know for how long I was supposed to wear the invisible tape, but I didn’t want her telling me to do it again, so I pressed my lips together and covered them with two pieces of tape. I had to breathe through my nose, and I was aware that some others were still watching me. Amelie was quiet. And now, so was I.
         Just before lunchtime Ms. Flanagan remembered that I had the tape over my lips and told me to remove.
         “Oh, Michelle, it’s been so quiet. I almost forgot. You can take the tape off now,” she looked at me and shifted quickly back to her lesson.
         I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if I should remove the invisible tape slowly or all at once. It didn’t matter either way. As I pulled up and over, a layer of my skin came off with it. I winced and spoke, my voice a bit scratchy at first.
         “My lips are bleeding,” I rasped loudly, making a scene. “ Ms. Flanagan, my lips were chapped – the tape ripped off my skin.” I held up the tape for affect.
A flash of worry lit up her face, not for me, but like she didn't quite know what to do -- then the bell rang. Without looking at me again, she found her lanyard of keys, put it around her neck and excused us all for lunch. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

First Dance

         At twelve, school dances were an awkward way to spend two hours. I spent most of them sitting on a cold metal chair around the perimeter of the cafeteria, waiting for someone to ask me to slow dance to “Theme From Greatest American Hero," or waiting to hear The Police. Still dances were better than sitting home with my brother and sister, while my mom got stoned and her live-in boyfriend Danny drank beer and watched TV.
My first dance ever was by far the worst. My best friend Amelie and her mom had gone to live in Carson City, so I had no one to dance or sing along with to our favorite songs like, "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," or "Jessie's Girl," by Rick Springfield. And no one really danced. Some kids stood around in small clumps, or sat around the perimeter, waiting for some kind of sign telling them what to do. The cafeteria looked different: big and sort of empty.  The long lunch tables on wheels that folded in half upright were stowed away at one side of the room and the lunch counter was covered by its sliding cold metal shade.
         As he always did, along with one seventh and one eighth grade teacher, Mr. Lark chaperoned the dance. While uncomfortable in my hand-sewn dress, I always felt safe around Mr. Lark, the school's double-duty music teacher and vice-principal. I had been one of his admirers since second grade when he gave me the solo in the Christmas program, and I had since learned to play the flute under his tutelage then joined the elementary school band.
When I was first learning to play the flute, Mr. Lark pulled me out of class once a week for a private lesson in a small room off of the cafeteria in which sat only two chairs, a music stand, and sheet music. Being raised by a single mom, Mr. Lark, was for many years, the only man in my life. I practiced the flute everyday for at least fifteen minutes, as he suggested, because I loved music, but also because I wanted to hear Mr. Lark say how much I had improved on "Merrily We Roll Along," which, to his delight, I had recognized as "Mary Had A Little Lamb." When I asked, he told me that "Mary Had A Little Lamb" had been renamed "Merrily We Roll Along" because the publishers thought we might feel childish playing a song they sang over and over again in nursery school. Like we wouldn't notice. I sure noticed “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and the alphabet song. Those were kind of the same too.  When I mentioned these other songs, Mr. Lark smiled and said that I had a good ear.
         Before seventh grade dances, our K-8 "socialized" boys and girls in PE by implementing the infamous square dancing unit -- only to be outdone by the Chicken Fat record we exercised to on rainy days. While I liked boys a great deal and had already been kissed, I didn't especially like holding sweaty boy hands. I would have rather been playing music instead of dancing to it, or waiting for some boy with sweaty hands to ask me to dance or not ask. After the first dance of the year, us girls realized we could simply dance together to our favorite songs, rather than waiting for Ian Dresner or Brett Harding to ask us. Noel Lark, Mr. Lark's younger daughter, would often lead the girls to the floor in a flurry of wild dance moves -- she didn't seem to care at all that her dad was there watching.
         This night, I sat waiting on a metal chair, with a couple of other girls who weren't dancing, thinking I shouldn't have worn the stiff purple dress that my mother had spent several days making for me, hunched over her sewing machine. It had a stiff, floral, quilted belt that never lay quite right. It was already getting late, and I hadn't really danced at all. I had watched others slow dance, spotting horny eighth graders about to get too close, expecting Mr. Lark, Mr. Roundell, or Ms. Martz to tap them on the shoulder and a make a "separate" command with their hands. I only got up from my chair once and it was to walk to the refreshment table. I had a cup of punch served by someone’s mom and wandered back to my seat glad to be up at least walking in time with the music.

         The dance ended at 9:00 PM sharp, and before I left the house that night, I made my mother promise she'd be in the lot waiting for me when the dance got out. Since I had no reason to hang around once the dance was over, I made my way to the parking lot in my stiff dress.
         She wasn't there.
         Trying not to appear too concerned, I sat down on the cement wall, just off the half-circle drop off zone in front of the school. I watched as the Twain Harte and Ponderosa Hills kids got into their parents' over-sized, newer model, sedans, usually American made. The hills kids always seemed to get picked up first. A few eighth graders who lived between one and three blocks from the school, slowly made their way home on foot, savoring their last moments of freedom, reliving their favorite moments of the dance. I strained my ears to see if I could hear who they were talking about. All the while, I kept my eyes on the parking lot, trying to match the headlights on the car coming my way with the shape of the headlights on my mother's 70's model Nova. The town kids’ parents' cars were easy to spot. They were loud, usually with a bad muffler, or strange pinging sounds coming from the engines, and maybe even a whiskey burn on the side. I was getting pretty huffy after about the fifteenth car -- my mom had promised to be there right at 9:00, to arrive just as the dance had ended. It's not like she was doing anything important. She probably wasn't doing anything at all. I could feel the angry red flush spread from my cheeks to my ears. I squeezed my eyes closed to shut off the throbbing behind them. I didn't know what I was waiting for.
         "Michelle," I heard Mr. Lark's voice coming down the walk behind me, "your still waiting for your mom?"
         He was on his way home. There was no one else around -- no cars had pulled into the school’s loading zone for several minutes. It was probably 9:30.
         "Yeah, I'm still waiting," I said trying to sound hopeful and confident, only my voiced thinned and trailed off at the end of the sentence.
         I wondered if Mr. Lark wanted to look over at his house, which was practically across the street from the school. I had watched Noel walk home by herself ahead of her dad who was still busy with his vice-principal duties. She had stopped and waved and did silly dance moves until she had to cross the street. In his music teacher role, Mr. Lark was silly and irreverent; Noel had certainly inherited his personality. Mrs. Lark who I didn't see often even though she lived just across the street was an elegant woman, known for being beautiful and selling Avon. I knew some people in town thought she was stuck up, but I had seen her smile at Mr. Lark in a sweet shy way a couple of times. I thought that was nice.
         "I could call someone," Mr. Lark offered, now standing beside me watching the parking lot as I had been.
         "Um, you don't need to do," I said, "She'll be here any minute, " as I said this I thought of the previous summer while camping when we saw Mr. Lark and the kids. They had a campsite near ours, and my mom and her friends from town, who also knew Mr. Lark, invited him over to stand around our campfire. My mom was giggling with her girlfriend. They had just smoked a joint in the bushes, and the smell lingered in the air.
         "I told her not to come right at 9:00." I didn't look him in the eye when I said this last part. I looked down at his sturdy brown leather shoes.
         "Are you sure?"
         "Yeah, I'm sure. You don't have to wait, she'll be here."
         "Only if you're sure," he said, nodding and turning to face me directly. I always thought he looked a bit like John Denver – the same glasses, a similar shaped face, the same haircut.
Later in 8th grade, he would ask me how I got the large bruise that covered the left side of my face, and I lied then too -- only that time, I don't think that he believed me.
         "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine. She'll be here soon, I'm sure of it."
         Before he turned on his comfortable shoes and walked home, he told me to come and knock on his door if my mom didn't come soon after all, and I agreed that I would. He probably even poked his head out of his front room window to see if I was there. Knowing that he would, I decided to leave after only a few more minutes. My face turned hot again at the thought of Mr. Lark seeing me wait there for my mother who wasn't coming at all.
I walked with no rush down Elm, the last lit street in town. I was still hoping to match her headlights with the ones from my memory, and once I turned down Oak street and walked past the last row of lit houses, I would have to make my way down the long stretch of road in the dark -- no sidewalks, no street lamps, nothing but the cold night air and the sound of crickets, and the occasional heart racing rustle in the blackberry bushes that lined one side of the road. It's only a little field mouse, I told myself each time I jumped at a sound. As I rounded the bend on Oak Street, the light from the houses faded behind me. My breath caught in my throat as my eyes worked hard to adjust to the darkness. It wasn't until I exhaled that I realized I had been holding my breath for several paces. Still hoping my mom might remember that she was supposed to pick me up, thinking that she might have a good explanation for being late, I looked for headlights coming my way from down the road, but not a single car passed by on the long, dark stretch. Now more scared than anything, I tried not to think about the rustling sounds of the tall grasses and trees on the hillside along the road, and kept my eyes focused on the streetlight at the end of the long stretch of unlit road -- the corner of Oak and Bodenhammer Lane. My house on Box Factory Road was just beyond that lit corner. I worried about tripping over large rocks or dirt clods, or turning my ankle in an uneven dip in the shoulder. I worried that something would jump from the blackberry bushes to get me. But if I kept up my quick and steady pace, I would be there in about three or four minutes.
         Once at Box Factory Road, I was no longer scared or ashamed that I been left to walk home alone in the dark. I was angry. Trudging up the driveway to my house, I had no idea what I was going to say or do, once I got inside.
         My mom was in the kitchen at the sink getting a glass of water.
         "Michelle!" she said, looking very surprised to see me.
         "You were supposed to pick me up and hour ago," I said, pushing the door hard behind me.
         "Oh, Michelle," she said, smiling stupidly.
         "What's so funny?" I shouted and marched to my room.
         I let the trap door to the attic bedroom that I shared with my sister drop with a thud. My sister, asleep in her bed, on her side of the A-frame, stirred from the noise but didn't open her eyes. I stood frozen in place, watching, not daring to make another sound.
My throat tight, I exhaled, glad to not have woken or disturbed her dreaming, her long blond brown hair a mess over her pillow, her innocence. But I wanted to go to her and touch her cheek, to pull the blankets up to her chin and lay down beside her.
I went to my side of the room instead.