image of a pair of green eyes      

Becoming a Writer


            It’s the end of a lunch hour in early May. I’m standing in the sunny, blacktopped area between the Old School and the New School. My fourth grade classroom is in the Old School, whose two ancient halls, smelling of crayons and lemon wax, flank St. Patrick’s Church. Next year, I’ll be in the New School. I’ll sit at a desk whose top lifts up, and I’ll get to change classrooms during the day, like a high school student.
            I’m feeling grown-up as it is in my flowered shift with red trimming that matches my red shoulder-strap purse. At the age of nine, I have no need for a purse, but Mom, who I secretly still want to call Mama, lets me carry one on those rare days we are not required to wear our green plaid uniforms. The dress and the purse are hand-me-downs from my next-oldest sister, Claire, but I don’t mind. Claire takes good care of her clothes.
            I notice Trudi DiTavio and two other girls walking toward me. Trudi DiTavio is the coolest girl in fourth grade. She has light green cat’s eyes and shoulder-length brown hair that is glossy and straight like the teen models that appear in Sears and Montgomery Wards catalogs. Trudi has never said hello to me, much less sought me out on the playground. I try to act nonchalant when she and her two friends walk up to me, inches too close.
            “Hey, look at Tolf’s outfit.”
            Trudi’s mascots titter obediently. Their leader gives me the once-over. “It’s cute. You look cute.”
            “Thanks! You – you do, too.” Trudi’s wearing a miniskirt and white go-go boots, the kind of clothes my mother would never buy for me. Her hair isn’t tied back with a big bow the way mine is, a bow tied and fluffed out by my mother every morning in the dining room after she has brushed my blond hair until it crackles.
            “Thanks!” It’s a perfect imitation of how I said it. I don’t know how to react to Trudi’s mimicry, so I smile stupidly, hating her.
            “Let’s see your purse.”
            I shrug off my almost-new red shoulder strap purse and hold it out so the three girls blocking my way can get a better look at it.
            Trudi’s eyes are a dazzling jade because of the sun, which creates diamonds in the blacktop we are standing on. She shakes her head, brown bangs swinging perfectly. “No, Tolf, I mean, give it to me.”
            I hesitate just long enough for her to know I don’t want to. Then, I hand over my purse.
            She unsnaps the clasp and begins removing its contents, one by one. “A pink comb. A Holy Card. Hey, look, Tolf has a hanky, with a bunch of cherries embroidered in one corner. Ooh, how sweet! Did your mommy give it to you?”
            As a matter of fact, my mother had given me that lace-trimmed hanky, along with a blue quilted-satin hanky box. My mother is older than most mothers. She calls me Francine Marie as if it were the most beautiful name in the world. She gives me gifts that are not cool but are wonderful. I make what I hope is a pained look. “Yeah. I carry it around so I won’t hurt her feelings.”
            After a few more comments, a few more titters, the examination is over. Trudi thrusts hanky and comb and whatever else I had in my purse that bright day forty years ago and hands it back to me. She is bored with this game. I am hugely relieved I was not carrying anything too embarrassing. Relieved the most popular girl in our fourth grade class did not make a bigger deal about the hanky with cherries on it.
            If she had scrawled with a ballpoint pen on that precious hanky, then let it flutter to blacktop, all the while watching me with those dazzling jade-green eyes, would I have called her a bitch, given her a bloody nose? I want to say yes, but that’s never what happened. Not in grammar school. Not in high school.
            I smiled wider. I hated deeper.


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