Tuesday, November 20, 2012


One summer afternoon, I was playing with some neighborhood kids in our backyard. We lived in a large, L-shaped two flat building that must have had something like ten apartments in it.  This made for a long backyard with ample playspace.

It was the summer of Wayne's World, which put me at about seven, and my mom had rigged a record player up outside so we kids could listen to old Queen albums and lipsynch our way through Bohemian Rhapsody. This had been the name of the game for days, and we still weren't tired of it.

That particular day, #1 dad had done something for which he expected accolades; he took the baby for a walk in the stroller. When they returned to the backyard, my baby brother was asleep in his stroller. My father sneered at the other kids and me to be quiet, so we left our makeshift Queen stage and retreated to the steps of the porch. Being kids, we continued to be giggly even while we tried to be whispery.

My dad looked at me with eyes that still cause involuntary shuddering when they're remembered.  He ordered me inside. No more giggles. I was frightened. I climbed over the other kids up the rest of the stairs to the back door of our first floor apartment. The screen door looked into the kitchen, where my mom was making dinner. Panicked, I pulled on the door to get inside. It must have been locked, and each pull caused wind chimes hung on the door clink. Mom, let me in. She didn't know what had happened and wasn't picking up on the urgency of the situation. I was told to wait a minute. After a quick glance over my shoulder back towards my father, I pulled on the door again, scared of what would happen I didn't get inside quickly. The pull caused the chimes to clink and clatter again.

The clink and clatter woke the baby. At which point my father stood up, grabbed a lawn chair, and whipped it in our direction; not just mine, but the rest of the now baffled and scared kids that had been sitting on the steps. They scattered, and finally I was let in to burrow into my bed, humiliated and terrified, as I listened to every word of the fight that unfolded outside of my bedroom door.

I knew I was bad.  If I had been better--or even the best--maybe the nightmare of that day wouldn't have happened.

I never really thought I carried that sense with me. I didn't think I had ever seen myself as the cause of things at home, but I suppose that's an almost automatic internalization for a child to make in that situation.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for an editing class at University of Chicago to keep my brain occupied while out on leave. It felt really good to be tackling something new in a rigorous environment. Too good. Like, Tracy-Flick-winning-an-election good. I was back in my element.

And do you know what felt best? This:

attaining perfection

Isn't that stupid? I know it is.

But I also can tell you that it was immensely gratifying to see that word next to my name. With less enthusiasm, I can also tell you that on some level it made me feel more whole than I've felt in a really long time...

Which tells me I still have so much more work to do.