My mother says that the first kindergarten I attended was run like a fascist regime. My mother says they were mean and they forced too many naps. She says they marched us to the bathroom at set times and didn't allow us to go when a natural urge called in our little bodies. My mother says that when the director of the school called her into the office because I had smeared my own shit on the bathroom walls for the second time, he suggested that I had severe psychological problems.
I remember only two things about the school: I remember that if my hair was unkept and falling into my face -- often -- then my teacher, an older woman that crouched over her desk as if almost crawling atop of it, would yank my hair back and tie it up in wide, pure-rubber rubber bands that were scuffed with dark smudges. My rubber-tied ponytail would leave large arches of hair on top of my head, and strands strayed near my ears, but at least it was out of my face. My eyes teared, not in humiliation, but because small allotments of hairs ripped against the rubber causing my eyes to well without my control. I wanted my mother to keep in the ponytail for days; removing the band was worse. When the rubber band was finally out, a small mass was usually attached from which long hairs sprayed. The other thing I remember about this school was the darkness of naptime. Lying on unfolded blue vinyl mats, the other kids seemed to sleep as soon as heavy blinds were drawn, but I stayed awake marveling the mid-day darkness of the room, churing in heavy five-year old thoughts. During naptime, I would sneak off to the bathroom.
Had my mother been a conventional one, she might've bought (more) into the notion of the suggested emotional problems. But she told them that I was probably trying to tell them something and that they could go fuck themselves. She pulled me out of school the day of the conference.
Here's the fork in the road of this story. I think my 23-year old mother, weighted by her own inescapable darkness, secretly wondered if maybe some genetic emotional damage had actually seeped into me too. Smearing shit is drastic, isn't it? But she retells the story full of pride because her five-year old daughter stuck it to the fascists. I acted out drastically in rebellion though we all knew I was not an acter-outter; I am not a boisterous rebel. In my present memory, this part of the story has been blacked out.
I saw my uncle and my grandfather for the first time in fifteen years a couple weeks ago. My grandfather, a rectangle of a man from Irish Canadian stock, has soften in nature but not in stature over the years. He's still over six feet. He still has neat and thick iron hair. He still drinks scotch that burns and smokes thick cigars. I see my (my mother's, my girls') prominent chin in his. He was a sergeant in the Marines, 1st division. He can't say Marines without 1st Division trailing, but that means he was present at Iwo Jima. It means he received two purple hearts, one for the mast that still protrudes from his shoulder blade; one for having his bottom teeth shot out. The amount of Marine and Iwo Jima paraphernalia has multiplied a ton-fold since I've last seen him. There is not one inch of his small house that does not remind you that he was a Marine, 1st Division at Iwo Jima. It is a life-sized collage. At 82, he is sharp, but nicer. He met Maya and Mina for the first time and he told Maya stories of a Korean TaeKwonDo grand master that he had befriended over the years. He scrawled out a contribution towards Maya's tournament fees. He commented about how polite they were and how much they look like me.
We drove to my uncle's house. It only occured to me that night that he's only eleven years older than me. He is a clown. A shyster, a hustler. He yelled my childhood name and danced around, his thick silver-red hair waving, his prominent chin guiding to a shit-eating smile. He seemed to be on speed. The girls went bananas for him because he's a clown. He told the girls about how he used to unscrew by bottles when I was a baby so the milk would dump on me. He said, "Yea, me and my mom had to care for her a lot because my sister was off ---" he paused for a momentary click of respect for the girls' Nana -- "screwing around." Later, he asked me if I had contracted the family curse. He was still smile-laughing. "Huh?" I said. "How many times have you been married? You're not on your fourth or anything, are you?" No. "Good, good. This one's it for me too. Last time I said that though I went to jail for beating that Russian bitch off of me." He laughed. "She shows up at my house with three goons and when I swung, I clocked her instead. Whoops." Laugh, laugh. Off to play ball in the back with the girls. My grandfather and uncle spoke often of my grandmother, surprisingly. That was the best part of the visit because usually I keep her locked down in the part of me that is equally a dungeon and an altar. My uncle whined, "Oh, you were her favorite. She fucking loved you the best. You were her baby." "I loved her best too," I said, but he didn't hear me. "This is all I have left of hers." He slapped a concrete garden ball that I realized contain some of her ashes. "I told that fucker husband of hers off after she died." I had heard that story where my uncle had gone to my grandmother's house months after the funeral to retrieve some things and the husband was holed up in the bedroom with another woman already. My uncle left $5 on the table with a note that read, "For your next piece of ass." My uncle can be likable. But days after my visit my mother asked, "He wasn't mean, was he?" He hadn't been, but I know he's the type to laugh and joke and then punch you in the face. They all are, on that side.