Chapter 3 - The Muddy River
There was a dove on a wire giving me the side-eye.
There was a river of mud outside my front door.
I first noticed the bird while I was swimming in my backyard pool. I try to get 15-20 minutes worth of sunlight everyday. I saw the bird hop away from a small pile of leaves when I first walked out of the door. I felt that it was trying to distract me from a nest or something.
I knew right away that it was a female bird. I mean it didn't have breasts or nothing, but there was something about it that said it was female. She flew up to a telephone wire and perched there with her back toward me. Every now and then it would turn and look at me like she was checking me out. It was novel at first, but I quickly grew annoyed at her suspicious nature.
"Fuck you, lady bird. I don't care if you got a nest over there. Go on and do your thing."
The mud river was from my past. We lived on a dirt road when I was growing up, and in the winter when it rained the road turned into a quagmire worthy of Siberia. Sometimes, us kids, would have to help push cars out of the mudholes, and once my dad had to hook a chain to pull a car out up of the mess.
We lived one house in on Eustace Street, one house or about sixty feet from the paved road that ran by the school. The neighborhood kids would all have to cling tightly to our next door neighbor's wooden fence in order to navigate a tiny ledge of solid ground so as not to get our shoes and pants muddy.
While we attended Samuel Clemens Elementary School on the southside of Concord, it wasn't that bad if you came to class a little muddied. All the kids there were the same, and we had issues with clothes for the most part. However, when we had to cross over Branson Avenue to attend Theodore Roosevelt Jr. High on the northside of town it became a bit more problematic. Clothing seem to matter a whole lot more when you had to compare yours to kids whose families had more money.
While I was swimming, I saw two male birds suddenly land about thirty feet away from the ladybird on the same wire. It was weird like they were checking me out and checking her out like we had something going on. I admit I got a little protective; I didn't like how those two sumbitches flew in out of nowhere like two dumbass hillbillies wearing mullets in a disco bar. They outnumbered her, and I didn't like the implications of that. Then one of the male birds starting scratching his nuts. I don't know if birds have actually have testicles, but it sure looked like that's what he was doing.
I started looking around for something to throw but didn't see anything but a tattered copy of Tropic of Capricorn that I had taken out to read under the umbrella once I got out of the pool. I decided to wait, and if them birds got too damned rude, to go and fetch my pellet gun out of my closet and plant a pellet in their asses.
Crossing Branson Avenue to go to junior high was one of the major moments in my life. On the other side of the street, you entered into Concord proper. The streets were paved, lined, cleaned and curbed and all of the lawns looked manicured.
Seventh grade was a trip too. There were a lot more cute girls and guys with impeccable clothing and gleaming white smiles. Them dudes thought they were the shit too. It took me years and years to understand that they were really no different from me, but at the time, I looked at them like they were a different species.
The day after sixth grade had ended my best friend Billy drown while swimming in an irrigation ditch. He had asked the day before if I wanted to go with him. I told him my mom wouldn't allow it.
He dove into the ditch and struck his head on a rock and panic. He nearly drowned another kid by trying to grab onto the kid and pulling him down too.
I was hiding under a pickup truck when I heard the news. We were playing hide and seek when a kid rode up on his bike and told my friends to tell me the news. That night, I dreamed Billy was still there and woke up in the morning and cried.
I felt even then, that it had something to do with something bigger. The transition to junior high was a major event for the kids from my side of town. I couldn't help feeling that Billy's death and the transition were related, kind of like a price that had to be paid. The Southside was a warm security blanket, a womb, and the time had come for us to leave and find out who we really were.
The female bird finally flew off giving me one long last glance before she did. You could it made the two male birds upset; they anxiously chattered amongst themselves for a bit, and then started preening.
I wanted to yell at them, "Maybe if you two had combed your head before you got here, she might have stayed dumbasses. What kind of idiots fixes their part after they pull up on a chick?"
Six grade was when I cheated for the first time too. The state of California decided that some of us needed to learn algebra that year. There were two of us, the girl who lived next door and me who our teacher deemed ready. The girl happened to be Mr. Molinari's pet, and he always brought her up front to the chalkboard and helped her telling me to correct my own papers. One day, I cheated to keep up. I remember standing there and thinking about what I'd done and knowing that I made a big mistake.
I read somewhere that Madame Blavatsky, the theosophist, had told someone that the only way to detach yourself from God was via a criminal act. For a few days, I felt that it was the one crime that I had committed at the that age. Later, I remembered all the other mean spirited things I had done, like sneaking out the bathroom window at church and stealing penny candy at the store next door, sneaking back into church, and eating it during Sunday school class.
There were all kinds of little deeds like that, each small minded act causing me to drift a little further from God. By the time I graduated from high school, I was pretty much a heathen by all objective standards and even by my own subjective metrics, I knew that my soul was fairly crawling with lice.
You know that you ain't connected to God when looking in the mirrors causes you to blush. I kept looking over my shoulder all the while, and it would be years before I admitted to myself that becoming a total fuckhead was a far too heavy price to pay for cheating on a sixth grade math problem.
Come to think about it, a life of a close friend is also a pretty heavy sacrifice to pay for entrance into the world of adults.
I have learned an awful lot since those sixth grade years. But apparently not enough to keep from screaming at and flipping off a couple preening gigolos with shabby feathers.