As writers, we have to listen to and observe human behaviour. I’ve spent hours sitting in cafes watching the world go by, I’ve tried new things for the experience and listen carefully to how people express themselves. They say that you should write what you know. I’m not saying you need to kill someone to write a crime thriller. That requires a combination of imagination and research on criminology, the law, etc. What I mean is that most of the time I’ve looked outwards for material.
It’s rare that I write about the simple, sometimes difficult things that I know and understand from my life. It’s hard. It’s hard to look back at parts of ones life and write plainly and openly about personal experience. Some people don’t want to leave themselves so vulnerable to the world. That’s fair enough. Some things maybe aren’t meant to be shared. But consider this, when you write about your life, it gives you the opportunity to revisit experiences, emotions, maybe even people in your life long forgotten. It doesn’t mean you have to share it, but sometimes just the act of putting something down on paper allows you understand life a little better and that can only be a good thing in writing.
Well, this isn’t the most startling revelation, but I was getting some Ben & Jerry’s (Cherry Garcia is my favourite) from the freezer the other day and it reminded me of something.
When I was 10 years old, I went to Jefferson Hunt Elementary School. I can still remember the tiny wood and metal desks that opened from the top. Inside I kept my school books, library books, my lined paper and coloured pencils. The windows of the room faced the play ground where we had a jungle gym, some tether ball poles, and squares drawn on the asphalt covered ground where we played dodge ball. Further out there was a field where we played tag and on occasion, ran races.
I was a bit of a tomboy. My hair, which up to third grade had been long with pigtails, was cut short in preparation for the summer. Our summer vacations were short as were most of our holidays throughout the year. We were compensated for their brevity with the frequency of time off. A week here and there every other month cushioned the blow of such short spells and staved off boredom.
One afternoon, I went out to the field where a collection of boys were preparing to run some races. Jason, Mike, Brad and Lewis were out there. I approached and offered to race with them. I had known these boys for years, so including me didn’t bother them too much. I can’t remember what had started it, but there had been some animosity between me and Brad since we were six. As I search my memory for some insult or argument that could have prompted it, I remember nothing and am left to assume that it was some word between us that seemed important in a way that it only can when you’re a kid.
In any case, he and I stood side by side on the line we had agreed would be our starting point and Jason stood at the far end of the field marking the finish. It was a boiling day. The sun was high and straight over our heads. The sticky sweat that can only be produced by a child shined on a layer that covered each of us. Before we began, I started to unzip the pink and purple reversible jacket that had been popular in the 80’s. I stopped. Suddenly I realised that I was only wearing a turquoise and pink stripped tank top and no bra. Only a few days before I realised that my breasts were coming in and I hadn’t mentioned getting a training bra to mother yet. The heat and sweat had made the cotton shirt stick to my small frame and suddenly, I was embarrassed.
I dropped my hands to my side and prepared to run. Jason raised his arms at the far end of the field preparing to signal for us to start. I looked over at Brad who stared straight ahead. His pudgy face was already pink. Jason shouted, “On your marks, get set, Go!”.
We launched ourselves forward and I ran with all my might. I drove forward and holding my breath as I ran, sprinted. I pushed my muscles harder and harder and could feel Brad right beside me. I glanced over at him and the thought of this little annoying butterball beating me forced me to push harder. I could feel the hot sun on my back, penetrating my jacket and I felt like I was slowing cooking myself beneath the layers of nylon material. As Jason grew larger in my field of vision, I felt the surge of excitement that came with the realisation that I was going to win.
Jason extended his arm in front of me with his hand open, waiting for me to slap it as I crossed the finish line. Brad, right on my heels, crossed behind me. He looked at me and shook his head, the two of us doubled over, panting. The other boys offered congratulations just as the bell rang for us to go back into the classroom. As I wandered back, I felt faint. There was a long line of thirsty children at the drinking fountain and I could barely stand. I went straight to my desk, still too ashamed to take off my jacket and unzipped it just enough to let some air in. The air conditioning in the room was mercifully high and cool.
When I had recovered enough to stand and the line had died down, I went to the drinking fountain at the back of the room and stood there lapping up the cool water for about five minutes.
When class was dismissed, I was picked up by my mother in our huge, silver Buick. I told her about my day and she suggested a trip to the drug store for ice cream. She always treated me like this, knowing exactly what to do to make me feel good. We went to the counter and I ordered a double cone, mint and chocolate chip and strawberry. As I gobbled up the cone, my mother flicked through the racks trying to work out the appropriate size for my first bra. I left her to it, not really interested in being caught in the underwear department.
When I finished my cone, I looked down and realised that my shoelaces were undone. I knelt down to tie them and was bumped and knocked over by a woman who hadn’t seen me with her shopping cart. “Oh, I’m so sorry young man. Are you ok?” I looked up at her, the blood rushing to my cheeks. As the realisation of what she said dawned on both of us, she stammered an apology and moved away. I stayed where I was on the ground and said nothing.
I pulled myself together and went to my mother who had an armful of bras and knickers she was trying to sift through. “Let’s go, Mom.” I said.
She tried to get me to choose some items. “I don’t care which ones, Mom. Let’s just go.” She selected a few things and we went to the tills. It was the first time I realised that I was in-between my tomboy years and choosing to be a proper girl.
It’s funny, when I think back, there wasn’t much that Mom didn’t talk to me over a treat of some kind. Whether it was a lunch out at a diner, a shopping trip or something as simple as a double scoop. I still think back to those ice cream days and suddenly, I’m dying for some Chunky Monkey.
Writing Prompt: Ice Cream Days