In families as large as mine, it’s typical to be labeled. I was (at least in my own mind) “the writer”. In 1971 our family moved from California to Oklahoma to a too-small-for-nine-people house on Palmer Drive. We lived there for only a few years but I wrote prolifically during that time.
After we moved from the house on Palmer Drive my books were never rediscovered. As with people gone too soon, my books soon became the stuff of legends. The build up of my genius over the years (mainly from my sister Joan “the one who loved kids”) had me believing myself to be a petit Proust.
This summer my mom found several moving boxes from Palmer Drive and inside one of them were my books. I sat on my mom’s floor while she and my sister Rebekah (the “pretty one”) talked. Their voices began to fade as I realized that proof of my genius lay before me!
Later in the privacy of my own home I grabbed myself a cuppa and sat down to read the Monkey Story. This one intrigued me because it had a moral that, to put simply, astounded me:
Though the moral drew me in, the story itself was achingly bad. In fact most of my books had intriguing titles but the body of my work—the corpus—was crap.
Alongside my books was a packet of homemade Get Well cards I had received from my fifth grade classmates. I had contracted Hepatitis A then—probably from the cockroaches that held up the very walls of the house on Palmer Drive. I was happy to read the many, “Get well we miss you!” cards. But there was one card that stood out:
Dear Alison, don’t come back to school. We’re having more fun without you. Plus if you come back we will all get hepatitis. Your [scribbled over], Terry Bradley
In the 5th grade boys are separated into two categories: cute or smart. Terry Bradley was beautiful yet hepatitis was spelled correctly. He must have received some assistance (from a Mr or Mrs Bradley? My teacher?) The stench of their snobbery encircled me like fog.
They say when you die your life flashes before your eyes. I saw myself as a well-liked talented child fly past me like Mrs. Gulch riding her bike outside Dorothy’s spinning house.
I wish now I would’ve let my own sister Dorothy (“the fierce one”) read Terry Bradley’s Don’t Get Well card back then. She would definitely have beaten up that little Bobby Brady doppelgänger. Then she would’ve lampooned me. That’s what fierce people do.
Dorothy is still “the fierce one”. I crave that now—the knowing how other people see you. If I’m not the “the writer” who then? Today when I was taking photos to insert into this story, I flipped Terry Bradley’s card over and saw this for the first time:
Oof. Just call me “the drinker”.