One day in third grade we had a substitute teacher. She was probably right out of college and was definitely very pretty. At recess she took our class to the playground. A few kids scattered to go play basketball, or climb on the jungle gym or do some other thing kids do at that age during recess, but most of us just followed her around the way your dog follows you when you're carrying a plate of food from the kitchen to your bedroom.

At one point we were all gathered near the swings, and, being the stupidly cute kid that I was I figured that I would impress her with a daring feat of skill and bravery, thus wining her heart forever (or at least until three o'clock). So, I ran over to one of the empty swings and started swinging as fast and as high as I could. With hope fueling my dreams a boatload of kinetic energy fueling my body, I jumped.

It would have been great. I would have flown a good seven feet, landing in a thick cloud of dust and gravel. I would have impressed not only our beautiful new substitute, but also all the girls in my class who had yet to fall for my coke-bottle glasses and third-grade wit. I would have been a legend... if my shirt hadn't gotten caught on the the swing. As it was, my shirt ripped in half, I lost my balance and landed flat on my face.

And that has been a metaphor for my love life ever since.

Funny, the memories that stick with us from childhood. I feel like the older I get, the harder it will be to recall them again, so I record them in the same little flashes that I remember them in.

I remember the damp, warm smell of moist earth. Warm sun, but in the shade, dirt felt cold and clammy. Lying on my back. In... some type of old pen on the farm. Looking to my left there is a wasp nest.

Walking with Cousin Amber; May May and I are the same age, we are holding hands, Amber puts us in the double stroller so that we don't have to walk as fast to keep up. She stops abruptly on the dirt path to what I remember as Camp Bell, and there is a rattlesnake in front of us. Amber backs up pulling May May and I in the stroller with her. She tells Daddy and Uncle Kevin and they go back with a shotgun and shoot off the snake's head. I remember Uncle Kevin holding the shotgun with the snake draped over it while it still wriggled. Daddy kept the rattler in a plastic cassette case in one of the stolen cars he drove. I remember sitting between him and Mama while they argued and he called her words I didn't understand yet.

In Gramma and Grampa's bathroom in the main house. (Even though I am not allowed to be in that bathroom.)
I sneak and open a drawer that screeches on its tracks and take a bite of out orange-coral colored lipstick. It tastes waxy and perfume-y and I spit it on Gramma's bathroom counter and wipe my hands off on Gramma's decorative towels. Before I leave, I pull a daddy-long-legs out of the the shower stall and let it climb up my arm. I like the way it tickles. I think later, I blamed the lipstick on May May.

Cousin Jessy and I sneaking into the fridge at the main house and eating cold, delicious butter. Grampa yelled and asked why it looked like little paws had dug chunks out of the butter. Jessy and I might have blamed it on Stacey, who was too little to say otherwise, and just big enough that it might have been her. On the farm, we spent most of our time unsupervised.

Helping Gramma fill up giant baby bottles for the little goats. It is cold outside, and Gramma whistles while we put the bottles upside-down in their holders and the little goats come running over to chew hungrily on the latex nipples. I whistle along with Gramma and we go back to the warmth of the house. I smell dry catfood as soon as we walk in the door.

Fishing with Daddy for the first time. I have a white, child-sized fishing pole. I am wearing a blue, one piece bathing suit and am barefoot; splashing my feet in the water when they get too hot from standing on the smooth rocks. I dump out all Daddy's little red balls of fishy-food, waiting forever for the fish to come, becoming anxious when I dip my feet by them-- I do not want them to get my toes, you see.
I caught a baby blue-gill that day, but Daddy said it was too little and threw it back. There were hot, salty tears on my face, and I pouted the whole way home in his stolen truck.

Swimming in the cold water on the fast side of the creek, water running over big rocks, gliding back and forth between Mom and Daddy. They perched me on a rock with an indention in the top; a small pool, and told me it was my own pond while they wrapped their arms around one another and Daddy told Mama he loved her.

Holding baby brother for the first time, sitting on Aunt Pauline's couch, scootched all the way back so that my feet are out in front of me. The couch is light blue, imitation velvet, maybe. I am obnoxiously opening and closing a card that plays music. I remember blue cursive writing on the front of a white card. Then Mama lays a heavy, awkward, fidgeting bundle into my tiny lap. When I peer inside, his little face is all red and he is screaming with shut-tight eyes. I tell Mama that I am 'all done' holding him. He smelled like breast milk.

Being barefoot, walking through Grampa's vegetable garden, carrying a coffee tin with a slit cut in the top; a home-made piggy bank. Being afraid of the scarecrow in the garden, running, tripping, cutting my hand on the rough metal slit in the top of the bank. I told the older kids the scarecrow knocked me down, so they went and tore him from his post in the garden and destroyed him. Grampa was mad. I was afraid the scarecrow might come back to get me for telling a fib. Craig and Darren Beau promised it would not. I cram a wad of steel wool into my tin-can bank and spend the rest of the day making elaborate tracks for marble games with Uncle AJ, who is 2 years older than me.

Squatting in the barn, hay under my naked toes; it is sharp and warm and itchy on the bottoms of my feet. Jenny is standing above me with plastic safety scissors, and I am very, very still while she gives us all haircuts. It smelled hot and humid; the smell of straw is suffocatingly thick. Sunshine through a broken board. Mama cried when she saw me and Uncle Mark picked up all my curls and put them in a baggie. There were pieces of hay in it. I remember holding the baggie and wondering why everyone was making such a big deal. For a long time, my curls didn't grow back. Mama watched them return in 5th grade.

In Dobbins, playing outside with Darren Beau. We climbed up a steep hill, using an exposed tree root to heave ourselves up. Very loud growling, but I couldn't see where it was coming from, Darren Beau hid in a tree. I ran back to the the big, red cabin and scraped my knee on the wooden steps. Daddy came to visit that night, and I let him take the splinters out. I watched Batman with Brother on a tiny portable TV/VCR combo while Mama and Daddy fought and made up and fought some more in the bedroom.

Dobbins; its raining, we are in the big cabin with the fireplace, but the electricity is off, as usual. Aunt Colleen made apple pie with apples from our orchard. I am in the games' room, rolling the cue ball back and forth between my feet and wearing sea foam-green tights that I remember wearing on Easter. Sitting in front of the hearth with Darren Beau and Nicky while Aunt Colleen and Mom talk about something in hushed, hurried voices. I didn't know what was going on, but I didn't like the tone in the room. I remember being uncertain. Grandpa showed up with a U-Haul the next day and gave me a teddy bear that looked like the bear on the Snuggle commercials.

Driving from Up North (as all us little kids called it) to Huntington Beach with Mom and Brother and Grandpa in the U-Haul. I slept most of the drive with my head on Mama's lap. I was awake some of the trip and Grandpa was lecturing Mama. He said something about a body in our apple orchards, and I thought they were talking about a lake, since I'd just learned they were called bodies of water. Mama told Grampa I found it, but I didn't remember seeing any water.
Grandpa swore at Mama, "Goddammit, Andrea!"

We got to Gramma and Grampa's late, but Gramma was up watching TV on the couch when we got in; the living room was cast with silvery blue light. The next day Mom showed me our new apartment, I got to have my own room (sharing with brother, of course). I ran around the empty room in a circle, bare feet sliding on new carpet. We went and visited Aunt Vicki the next day and she asked me some funny questions about the man I saw sleeping in Dobbins who would not wake up.
"What was he doing?" she asked, placing crayons side by side in front of me, chromatically arranged from red to purple to black.
I shrugged my little shoulders. "Sleeping, probably."
"What did he look like?" She said patiently, as I selected a green crayon and wrote my name at the top of the activity page.
I shrugged again. "I dunno, he was all dirty, and there was so much dirt that it was covering part of his legs up." I connected the dots on my activity page.
"Honey?" Auntie paused for so long that I set my crayon down and looked up at her.
She pursed her lips and frowned while she gazed out the window for a long time.

Mom didn't say anything about it to me until I was 17. We were in the car, waiting for Gramma and she asked me if I remembered telling Auntie about the body. As soon as she said it, I remembered his ashen skin, the dirt in his eyelashes, and the smell of him. The only other time I'd smelled that was when we'd dissected fetal pigs in Mr. Arnold's 8th grade science class, day 2 of the dissection. The boy's cold, stiff skin. Everything went quiet when I saw him. I didn't understand he was dead. I don't think I understood that concept just yet.
"Did I tell her that?" I asked, looking out the window. My heart felt sick.
"Yeah." She lit a cigarette and exhaled slowly.
"I don't remember that," I lied. I took my own pack of cigarettes out as a distraction and clicked my lighter twice before the tip of my cigarette glowed.
She was quiet then, "Did you?"
"No," I exhaled blue smoke through my nose. "It was probably something I saw on TV or something."

She knew I'd seen it. She'd seen it, Aunt Colleen had seen it. Darren Beau had probably told them about my sleeping boy. He'd made me show him; dared me to lay next to him in the dirt. I'd done it. Mama asked why I had leaves in my hair. I just stared at her.

Sometimes, when Uncle Mark is drinking he talks about the dead body that was found on my grandparent's property. But never about the boy I saw in Dobbins. He talks about the man his Uncle Bill may or may not have killed, but not about my boy. Until this exact second, no one else knew about my boy. He's been my best secret. I might have told Valoree about it drunkenly, while I was in Vegas, (with pizza-throw up and rum Slushee in my hair). But it isn't my secret anymore. I don't remember him the same. I don't know if anyone else found him, or if anything was done about him.

Maybe forensics found one of my hairs in the dirt next to him, or the plastic barrette I put in the front pocket of his dirty flannel shirt, (I'd wanted him to have something pretty). Or maybe the mountain lions had him, and the bugs took the leftovers. Either way, he's long gone, he's not mine.

I'm giving him up, I'm starting over.

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