snake on a plain
I moved a lot when I was a kid. If you moved a couple times you might think to yourself that it was a lot but it wasn’t. A lot is ten times or more.
My tally before the end of high school sat at 14.
Each move was gut wrenching and dramatic and inflicted the type of scars that have the ‘self help’ section of most bookstores jammed with helpful advice from shiny men and women who appear on the covers with undisguised avarice.
Every move but one.
I believe I was in first or second grade. If this were a movie instead of a short story the screen would be slowly dissolving into a small, dusty Texas town. Alas, this is in fact a short story so you’ll have to dissolve for yourself.
I’ll give you a minute. And just because I said dusty and Texas don’t be dissolving into some Old West scenario. Think cars, not horses.
Texas. The perfect place for a first or second grader. Dust devils and horny toads. A cornucopia of things that can permanently injure a growing boy.
And yes, even at that tender age, the most dangerous of these things was a first or second grade girl.
For me, it was Debbie Ward. Equal parts dust devil and horny toad.
My first love.
My first heartbreak.
At first everything was going smoothly in my courtship of Debbie Ward. I’d made all the right moves in the last few weeks of school, even managing to splash on a little of my Dad’s aftershave on the last day of classes, so when the first day of summer arrived I was ready for romance.
That morning I awoke to find that my jar full of diving beetles, fished out of my neighbor’s pool the previous afternoon and left next to the garage overnight, had magically transformed itself into a jar crammed with formerly-hungry toads who couldn’t escape their glass prison. If that didn’t show that all the stars were aligned then nothing ever would.
I wasted no time in tracking down the effervescent Debbie Ward.
I found her at what passed for a park back in those days. It was more like an abandoned lot. There were a lot of places in that town that when described would started with the word abandoned. Sometimes it felt like a ghost town waiting to happen. A town waiting for the last few people to move on so the ghosts could finally claim it as their own. I realize by saying “move on” you could infer death so there would be a certain irony if the only thing standing between a town becoming a ghost town is a resident who ends up moving from the former to the latter.
But I was still there and so was Debbie Ward and between the two of us there was enough life to push back the ghosts for another hundred years (or so I thought at the time).
I approached her in the manner befitting a dust devil and she stood there with the unflinching demeanor of a horny toad. I think everyone know what happens when the unstoppable dust devil meets the unmovable toad.
Chemistry! Exactly right.
I do wonder how many of you are at this very moment going “I didn’t say chemistry!” or “Chemistry makes no sense!”
“Please Mr. Author don’t speak for me.”
Be that as it may… when I started across the abandoned lot it was clear to all in attendance that romance was in the air. I wasn’t exactly sure what that entailed at my tender age but I was only yards away from finding out.
And that’s when fate interceded in the form of a snake. Sitting in a puddle directly between myself and the love of my young life. I’m not sure why but the words “All coiled up and hissing” from the REO Speedwagon song Keep On Loving You suddenly popped into my head despite the fact that I don’t remember it hissing. My apologies for mentioning it. REO Speedwagon has absolutely nothing to do with this story.
To this day I’m not sure why but I saw the snake as an opportunity to prove myself to Debbie Ward. What first or second grade girl wouldn’t be impressed with a boy who casually picks up a venomous reptile on her behalf?
So I approached the snake in a manner that would have had Perseus nodding his approval. Thing is, if my memory is correct, at no time during Perseus’s battle with Medusa did his grandfather scoop him up at the last possible second and carry him to safety.
Which is exactly what happened to me. I reacted like any hero in the same position would have done; I began to cry hysterically. There was kicking and screaming and bursts of the closest thing to profanity that I had available to me at the time. Had Zeus been my father I would have no doubt been imploring him for a little of the ol’ lightning bolt remedy.
But alas I was mortal and when the dust finally settled, or as close as it ever seemed to settle in that perpetually dusty town, I realized that I could never show my face again.
I will stop briefly to note that when I looked for another word for dusty in that last sentence there really wasn’t one. It was neither grimy nor filthy. It, the town, was simply dusty.
When I tried to limit this memory to just the word embarrassing though about a dozen other words fought to be included, not limited to humiliating, upsetting, mortifying, degrading … I think you get the picture … as dusty as it might be.
I was done in that town. Finished.
Two weeks later when my parents announced that we would once again be pulling up roots and heading across the country they braced for the usual waterworks but instead found me grinning ear to ear, packed and ready to hightail it to the next locale.
I often wonder what would have happened if my grandfather had been in the Garden with Adam and Eve.
I don’t really wonder about Debbie Ward. I just assume she never forgot our time together and still pines for me to this day.
I know my grandfather didn’t wonder much about anything a few years afterwards as he had several strokes and developed alzheimer’s.
He would have preferred the lightning bolt.
As for me?
I realized what I was really saying during my meltdown was “If I stayed here with you, girl. Things just couldn’t be the same. Cause I’m as free as a bird now. And this bird you’ll never change.”
My delivery got better as the years passed.