It’s almost my birthday. I realize I’ve been waiting for more than half a century to get better, to get smarter, to get happier. That’s a long time to not be somebody you want to be. I mistrust myself. I defer. Even if a rattlesnake was about to bite, I’d ask for advice.
I had a friend once named Valerie Roth. She was the youngest from a big family. Her older brothers had bunk beds and posters on their walls. We became fast friends in first grade. By second I had a problem. Most days, I’d arrive in class to find all the girls huddled in a group, whispering. She had them raise their hand if they hated me.
I tried to tell my mother.
We sat across the kitchen table. I wept, mouth quivering. My mother pursed her lips in frustration as if I were the one doing something wrong. “Those who have confidence get ahead.” She said. A mantra that permeated my childhood like the dim haze through the yellow ombré curtains. You could never tell if it was swirling dust or spots in your eyes and a migraine coming on. I realized my my mother would never hall light for me. She was just another Valerie.
Third grade came. I had a moment of marvelousness as star of the school play. But back in the classroom Valerie continued her reign. At conference, the teacher told my mother I was mediocre. This became impossible to outlive. My brother, a few years back, had already designed a laser in first grade.
At recess, Valerie and I hunted for dandelions and four leaf clovers, avoiding the back fence where one of the girls pulled down her underwear for the boys and bent over a seesaw bar. Truth is I really wanted to go back and have a peek myself. Or maybe copy the girl if I had the guts. It seemed exhilarating to be that bad. But I couldn’t get away from Valerie. I hated recess. It’s amazing I still like flowers.
The last day of third grade came. We were graduating to Pasadena, across town. “What wonderful friends you are!” said the teacher. “Can you make sure we are in the same class next year?” Valerie asked. We stood in the hallway in double file waiting for the doors to open. I was wearing blue Danskin shorts. They stuck to my crotch in the heat. We were wearing matching buster browns. A small green booger was rolled between my thumb and forefinger. The chrome banister was cold. My hands were sweating. A sense of dread filled me. My heart pounded in my ears. I side eyed Valerie and tried to dog the teachers attention. “No,” I said in a hushed tone, pleading. “Please don’t put me with her”. I shook my head, tears in my eyes. It felt like I was falling off a cliff. The teacher looked down at me, as if seeing me for the first time.
Elise Lerner has a BA from Brandeis University and studied Fiber Art at Massachusetts College of Art. Her writing has been published in Lilith Magazine and Literary Yard. Her interests also include bookbinding and songwriting. She is passionate about integrating vision, language and sound by breaking the boundaries of what a book is and can be.