by Jane Doe
Shirley, in her young wisdom, suggested that if I wanted to meet boys I'd better start joining clubs. Armed with a bra, I felt eligible for my first boyfriend, whether he was shorter than I or not. So I joined.
I joined the Girl's Glee Club. I sang alto. That meant that I sang with those girls who sang some other tune than the familiar melody that I knew. At best, my alto was wobbly. When we had to stand to sing, I being the tallest alto had to stand next to the tallest soprano, in order to balance us geometrically. I learned to sing chords. I sang both parts at once.
The real object of my being in the Glee Club was to get into the Mixed Glee Club. That was where the boys were. I really wasn't good enough to sing with this group, but I was now learning to add the tenor parts to my chords. Miss Kenney, who was herself overweight and so close to being an old maid that it was spooky, let me in as she must have known I needed every second of minimal contact, if I was ever to snare
She was not a disciplinarian, but even I was amazed at how much tickling and pinching she let pass by unseen when we were all standing so close together on the scarred wooden risers. Maybe it wasn't all that unseen. Maybe in her way she enjoyed our group grope as much as we did.
The rumor went around the school that being in the band was where all the best opportunities where. Often the band marched and played at football half-times at other schools, there would be those long dark rides back home on the bus. Eddie joined. The cymbals were the extent of his talent. Shirley played the cornet better than anyone else. She could read music; something she learned from her piano lessons.
Band members had to provide their own instruments so I asked my folks
for one – any kind of instrument. Determined not to give out a cent on this project of mine, they unearthed Uncle Jim's clarinet that he had played in school fifteen years ago. The instrument always had a musty, metallic old spit taste that made my jaws tickle under my ears. The hope of getting into the marching unit, to get to wear that male-looking uniform, but especially to get on those dark busses, kept me squeaking away on the accursed thing. I felt it had a prior life as a banshee. Evidently the band director thought so, too. I got into the marching unit easily enough, but I never did learn to
The band did bring the long, dark rides home after games. Shirley and I would race for the bus as soon as the final whistle blew so we could get separate seats alone. Shirley knew Eddie, when he had he had helped pack up the uniforms and equipment, would come to sit with her. I sat there with one-half of my seat begging for company.
I joined the Camera Club. Here I finally got a bit further. There were only eight of us in the club – two girls and six boys. Those were the kind of odds I needed. Even without this incentive, I would have stayed in the Camera Club. At first, it was the thrill of learning to use the big army surplus Speed Graflex. I finally got all the knobs and buttons organized and learned to put the negative holder in right and remove the slide before snapping the shutter and remembering to put the metal sheet back in before removing the worn, wooden neg holder. I figured that to take one photo, there were 127 chances for me to make a mistake. That made every photo that much more precious. Precious also was the feeling I had when working with that camera. It filled some emptiness in me so that I no longer needed a boyfriend. Just thinking about what I wanted to shoot and how to do it occupied hours that formerly had been decorated with cheap movies in my mind of being
With the camera between me and a boy, I no longer sent out those desperate signal saying, "I wanna be loved by you!" that so frightened the sensitive ones on whom I was scheming.
By winter we were developing and printing our own pictures in the darkroom. Here I was at home as never before on this earth. In the dim red light no one could my funny clothes that never fully adjusted themselves to my growth rate. Bent over the reeking trays, I was not so tall. The close, moist, warm room became my womb room where all cares vanished.
Here I was in command of what was happening. I was soon the best souper, the one who dipped the papers in the chemical baths. Others requested me as assistant for my skill at souping, not my sex appeal. Only once, rather late at night, when working with Arthur and Paul in the darkroom trying to get out extra prints of the winning basketball team, which they planned to autograph to sell, there was some teasing, but none
One cold Friday afternoon, between four and five o'clock in January, it began to snow. It felt like the annual winter blizzard was in store for us. Farmers threw down more hay, brought the pregnant cows into special stalls, and made sure there was enough oil for the furnace.
By six o'clock the school had canceled the basketball game. Everyone who could, hurried home as the blowing snow snaked across the roads, filling the ditches to smear the trees with ragged white paint on one side. All evening the radio was on in the kitchen for the local notices.
We couldn't see any of our neighbors' lights. No headlight came down the road so we left the big yard light on so we could see if it was still snowing. It was, and blowing.
Saturday morning the air was full of snow.
Where the wind caught the snow, bare, frozen ground lay exposed. Along the fence by the lane snow was already piling into long, graceful droops of lace that dragged out into the fields like ragged twill skirts. Our Saturday cleaning went on as usual, except that dad emptied the trash for me. Usually Saturday afternoon was brightened by a shopping trip for groceries. Not today. Mother just brought up from the cellar more of the canned goods she had stuffed down there all summer. Our personalities spread like mucilage through the rooms. We each stared outdoors into the swirling white to avoid each other's eyes. We were in no danger, even when the telephone went dead. But, we titillated ourselves with dangerous thoughts. My fantasies all had brave, handsome men rescuing me. Saturday night we listened to The Lone Ranger" and Suspense Theater (welcome to the creaking door) and didn't bother to leave on the yard light. One could hear the snow hitting the house.
Sunday morning the wind had died, after howling in death throes all night, but it was still snowing. Now the bare patches of ground were being decently decked and I felt better. I felt even better when dad said there was no sense trying to get to church. I stayed in bed and read. By noon, my eyes, back and book-holding arm were numb. The sun tried to lighten the scene as the snow stopped falling.
By two o'clock the sky was clear and the snow storm was definitely over. I asked for and surprisingly enough, got permission to walk over to Shirley's. My folks were as tired of me as I of them. Besides the joy of friendship, Shirley's house had another charm. Her dad was brother to Mr. French, who had just gotten the license to sell Philco televisions, so one of the biggest sets in the area shown forth in Shirley's living room.
As I walked over, I was suddenly scared of snow and to shut my mind to it's whiteness, I hoped the Molly Goldburg show, letting my desire to see it pull me out of the drifts when I sank in up to my thighs.
I wasn't the only one who had come to watch TV. Shirley's cousin, Ron, who was a freshman had driven over by tractor. He claimed he had come to make sure that everyone was okay, but he seemed more interested in the TV. The four of us, (Shirley had a younger brother who barely existed for us), sat on the couch to stare at the blue flickering picture.
Ron draped his arm around my shoulders. I was afraid to move for fear he'd take this tiny sign of affection away. Then I was afraid Shirley, or her brother would notice. Molly Goldberg did appear and I never saw a thing. I could only hear the pounding of my heart and the voice inside of me urging me to lean a bit more on this manly chest. I watched with dismay as it began getting dark. I knew I should start walking home before it got completely dark or I'd be scared silly the whole way home. Finally, fear of darkness ruled, and I started to move out of the clutches of the couch and Ron.
"Where ya goin'?" he whispered.
"I gotta get home. I can't walk through the woods in the dark."
"Never mind," he said, pulling me back down against him, "I'll take you home on the tractor. Reassured, I settled back down into my rightful place.
At the end of the program we put on our many layers of coats, sweaters and gloves. We were sweating before we got them all on and out the door. It was scary riding on the tractor with the two pole-yellow streams of light to guide us through the blue purple clefts of snow. The big wheels lurked and churned through the bigger drifts. I hung on to every bit of metal I could with my slippery woolen gloves.
Moist warm lips were pressed against my cheek. As I turned my head to see where they came from, I moved into my first real kiss. The tractor chugged on all by itself. The snow lay 'round about. I soared. I was transformed. I knew now how a frog could really turn into a prince with a kiss. That was no longer a fairy tale.
Ron turned off the tractor's noisy engine. Silent and alone on the deserted road Ron kissed me again and again. He knew what he was doing with these things, I thought. I felt secure in this experienced freshman's arms. I have a boyfriend I rejoiced. About then he started up the tractor to continue down the road, around the corner and up our lane. In our yard he didn't even turn off the engine, so there was nothing worth shouting about.
I walked into the house, wondering if my folks could see the difference in their frog. I dared not look in the direction of the diminishing tractor for certain the movement would sing out all kinds of hymns.
Saying I had eaten at Shirley's, I went directly to bed. There I laid, rubbing the corner of the pillowcase across my cheek until it reached my lips. A hundred times I must have repeated that one movement. The pillowcase got wet and soggy. My cheek got chapped from the wear and tear. When the touch was dulled with pain, I slept.
Before my eyes were open the next morning I knew something important had happened to me. My cheek reminded me. Again I tried the corner of the pillowcase trick in the cold early morning winter darkness. Gradually across my heavy breathing and the imaginary sound of the tractor's motor, I heard the radio downstairs announcing which schools were closed and which lucky ones got to have the opportunity of education.
I ran down the steps, hoping against hope that the snowplows had been out enough so we could have school. I needed to see Ron. No one else. As the announcer rattled off the list of schools that were closed, I shivered with anticipation and cold. Then he played "The Tennessee Waltz" as he promised more listings of closed schools. Ours was one of them. I trudged back to bed, unable to sleep or get up. On the wings of morning came the plan how best to worship Ron on this day I would not see him unless he came by on the tractor or I went to Shirley’s again.
I got up, dressed with unusual care for a non-school day, pushed aside the stuff already piling up on my dressing table to make room to write a poem. If I wrote it now, no matter when saw Ron, I would be ready to give it to him. I thought and thought. Poems never come when you call them.
I thought while I waited for the poem I might as well eat breakfast. It was turning into a big affair today because dad couldn't get the car out of the lane to go to work either. Ron's tractor tracks had drifted over again in the night wind. We had no plow to open our lane as many of the real farmers did. Still, we could eat well. There were pancakes with maple syrup – real maple syrup one of the firms always gave us for a Christmas gift. It even tasted good on the crisp bacon. I remembered reading in stories of lovesick girls; how they could never eat. I doubted this was truly my condition in the face of the monstrous appetite I had this morning. Then I remembered I had missed supper last night. So I had been, perhaps only briefly, lovesick. Pushing the last piece of pancake through the syrup lake, the words I had sought came together in my head.
Across the virgin snow
Suddenly I was kissed.
Now in sarrow I know
What all my life I've missed.
Across the virgin snow
Spring suddenly came.
After the touch of your lips
I'll never be the same.
I had to copy it several times, trying out different pens and papers. I settled with using the purple ink on the blue lined notebook paper. As I was folding it my eye was attracted to the word "sarrow." I suspected others didn't spell it that way. Right. Close call. I copied it once more.
With this precious paper in my pocket I went to Shirley's full of hope. At the door I was met by Shirley's mother. "I am sorry you walked all the way over here, Jane, but Shirl is sick. I am pretty sure she has the measles. Have you had them?"
I nodded my unknowing.
"You had better tell your mother, as you were most certainly exposed to Shirl yesterday. She became ill already last evening. "
"Oh." I wanted to come in to wait for Ron to come and watch TV. I'd brave even measles for that. It seemed from the way Mrs. Badacher stood in the doorway, that I was not being invited in. "When the phone lines are hooked up again and Shirley feels a little better you two can talk on the phone." The word phone shut the door.
Before they got the school opened I, too, had come down with measles. For two weeks I bemoaned my confinement. Loud and long.
Mother became increasingly despondent, A relationship which had started to crack with the bra affair, crumbled under the pressure of me, measles and the unread poem.
For the first day back in school I prepared myself, mentally, spiritually, and physically by wearing everything absolutely clean and fresh even my heart on my sleeve. In my pocket was the same folded poem for Ron. I had added his name on the outside so there would be no mistaking for whom it was intended.
The only time there would be to see him was when the busses unloaded and one mass headed for the junior high building and the better, brighter stream flowed into the high school part. Every kid got on that bus that morning with maddening slowness. I was certain ours would be the last and latest bus in.
We weren't. Ron and I casually passed by each other, missing only by inches, so it was the easiest thing in the world to hand him the bit of paper. He seemed surprised at my gesture. That pleased me that I could surprise him with a pleasure. Either the weakness from the measles or the thought of Ron reading my poem, made my head spin. Not one iota of knowledge sifted in.
At noon I had no hunger but went, because I had forgotten my lunch, into the cafeteria. A bunch of guys were standing around Ron. They were laughing and grabbing at a bit of paper. Disbelieving the recognition of my poem paper, I continued forward in the lunch line.
"Across the virgin snow!" one boy squealed between laughter.
"Sh, don't let old man Briggs hear you say that word." another cautioned.
So it was my poem they were reading. They were all hung up on the word "virgin." Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Would they know I had written it? I searched my memory trying to remember the day I had added Ron's name outside. I don't think I signed my name. There was no reason to. I was the only one he kissed that snowy day.
"Hey, Jane, want to read some poetry?"
"I ignored them."
"What does he mean?" asked Shirley.
"I don't know, I haven't been here for weeks. I have no idea what's going on."
"Hey, Jane, do you write poetry?"
"Or use purple ink?"
Shirley looked at me. I shrugged as I walked to the farthest table in the room.
Later I threw my favorite pen with the fancy ink in the paper towel container in the girls' restroom.
Copyright © the Estate of Jane Doe 2010