Before I started Kindergarten, my whole world was entirely under the beyond-rigid control of my parents, more specifically, my prison matron mother. Once I turned five years old, I got a swimming pool that covered the better part of the small patio underneath my older brother’s and my bedroom window. It was not one of those inexpensive inflatable plastic tube things, but a metal framed one with bright yellow seats in each corner. Kids had to come into my back yard to play in it, which was the reason it was there, keeping me a prisoner of my yard so that my mother could keep her hawk eyes on me. At this time I was only able to travel three houses up the sidewalk and three houses down in the other direction. I was not allowed to cross our quiet, narrow road without my mother’s assistance and she was usually reluctant to let me trek so far away from home.
The next door neighbors to our left, the Schmidts, had two kids, Jeanie, a year younger than me and her baby brother. She was a regular playmate, especially since our backyards connected and there wasn’t any fence dividing us. The next house over belonged to the Barkers, with two daughters, Mary Jane, who was my age exactly and her younger sister Kathy. They had a tall, old-fashioned swing set in their back yard that I loved playing on, plus lots of great old clothes and shoes for dress up. Of course they were all women’s clothes, but that didn’t phase me. By summer’s end I could prance my skinny little ass up and down their driveway in oversized high-heeled pumps better than Mary Jane, Kathy or even Mrs. Barker.
The Hartmans were our next door neighbors to the right, an older couple with only one son, already a teenager several years my brother’s senior. Further down, in the remaining two houses in my perimeter, there were no other kids. The only boy nearby was a kid catty-corner across the street named Joey. He had a neat pedal fire truck with a bell. I had a red tractor. We often raced from our own prospective sides of the street. It got boring though, because Joey had none of the restrictive street boundaries that I did. He could race all the way down to the last two houses at the very end, where there were three or fours boys our same age. And I was left alone in my own dust with only my gang of gals. So it was pretty much Mary Jane, Jeanie and Kathy who I spent playtime with – until the new family moved in five houses up from ours.
They were a young couple, probably neither of them even thirty, thinking back on their faces today. They had two kids: a daughter, Donna, a year older than me and a recent Kindergarten graduate and an infant ( boy or girl I cannot recall). I remember the baby only because the police came to their house shortly after they moved in, when Donna’s mother threatened to throw it out the window when it was only weeks old. She didn’t go through with it, but it was the first time we ever saw the cops on our quiet street. Another time, I don’t remember if it was just before or after the baby incident, Donna’s father accused his young wife of trying to poison him. The particulars of that story I was way too young to be privy to – “little pitchers have big ears” was one of my mother’s favorite expressions to keep us ignorant of interesting grownup things and I despised hearing that ridiculously trite saying even at five years old. Whoever these people were, they surely got everyone’s attention in our humdrum neighborhood soon after arriving. No one on the street could have been more fascinated with the family than little me. Donna and her mother were unlike any womankind I had ever before seen.
For starters, moms could be pretty; I knew a few who were. They could wear lipstick and make-up and do their hair to go out somewhere special after supper or on the weekend. Donna’s mother always wore lipstick and all sorts of make-up and always had brightly painted finger nails and toenails, then she wore shoes so that her brazenly coated, naked toes stuck out for all the world to see. Something about that bothered me at five. And her dyed black hair (which my mother had detected instantly and reported to all who gossiped about them) was done as though she were going to a wedding every day of the week. She usually wore tight, tight ass-crack-hugging Capri pants even on Sundays or short-shorts. She smoked filtered cigarettes and most times I had been lucky enough to spy her, she either had a coffee cup or tall glass with a suspect iced drink in her hand in broad daylight. And as if all this didn’t make the poor woman not fit into the mom-mold, she drove a car! A woman behind the wheel was nearly unheard of at this time in our neighborhood.
It was obvious that Donna wanted to be just like her mother (or perhaps her mother wanted Donna to be just like her?). Every time I saw her, safely staring from my three house distance as she got off the morning Kindergarten bus, she was in pants – never a dress or skirt like all the other little girls in the world. She wore pastel colored pedal-pushers or girly pants outfits and always with grownup painted fingernails. I shuddered to myself, knowing that under her frilly socks and shoes her toenails most probably matched. Mary Jane told me she had been invited over to play at her house a few times. That was how I learned her name was Donna. I was curious and grilled her about their time together.
Once school was over for the bigger kids, my new pool was filled and summer officially began. One sunny day we were all playing in Mary Jane’s backyard when the elusive Donna appeared in the driveway. I nearly fell off my swing mid-air. “My mom said I could play if it was all right with your mom”, she said to the girls while I clung to her every word. I didn’t wait for Mary Jane to ask anybody’s permission. “Sure it’s okay”, I chimed instantly, “Wanna’ swing race to see who can go highest?”, as I nearly shoved little two-year-old Kathy from her swing to make room next to me. I remember studying her tiny little girl fingers as she grasped her chain. Though mine were no bigger, hers were tipped with a sultry, deep 1950s rocket red and suddenly, now that I saw her up close, she seemed the coolest thing on the planet. We all played together for a long time. Donna asked us all if we wanted to go to her house. She would have her mother make us some Kool Aid. Mary Jane, Kathy and Jeanie automatically started to take off with her. I hesitated, knowing that to follow my growing gang of gals would jeopardize my boundary restrictions. “I better not”, I dejectedly offered, “I’m not allowed to go that far up the street”. Admitting my mother’s asinine rule out loud instantly proved how ridiculous it truly was and I had begun to feel exactly like the nerdy little asshole that my mother was trying to turn me into. Even little Kathy didn’t suffer the constraints I did and I was old enough to be her big brother.
“It’s the house right after the vacant lot”, this Pied Piper beckoned. I explained I knew where she lived, but my mother didn’t want me going that far. I think she offered to ask my mom for me, or said something to show she really wanted me to come along. I simply could not resist and took the chance, doubting that my mother would ever find out about my transgression. So the group of us headed up the street. I remember the feeling of intrigue, climbing up the three steps from the side door into Donna’s mother’s kitchen, seeing her at the table in the corner, reading a magazine, surrounded by a thick cloud of Winston or Marlboro smoke, her painted long red nails and matching lips nearly the only things visible through the haze. It was like seeing a movie star in the flesh - my first face-to-face with our street’s crazy lady/floozy. She actually was kind of pretty, I remember thinking to myself, in an overdone, clownish sort of way. Her house was not the pig sty that Mom and the other ladies had predicted. She shood us out the door into the back yard and said she’d fix something to drink.
After a few minutes playing in Donna’s rather uninteresting yet forbidden backyard, her mom came out with a tray of paper party cups and served each of us like a waitress. All the while I did everything I could to not look down at her nude feet strapped into sandals. We were thirsty from a hard morning of play so it went down quickly. Tipping my cup to get the last bit of Kool Aid I noticed, all too late, some mysterious white crystals as they instantly went down my throat at the exact moment I heard my mother calling my name from our house. I remembered to say “thank you” and ran like the wind, knowing there would be hell to pay for all of this. If my mother didn’t kill me for disobeying her, I would surely die from the poison that I was now convinced the demented neighbor had slipped into my drink. I was in big trouble either way and the tears began flooding my face as I ran up the driveway and into my house.
“Where were you?”, my mother asked, more worried than angry, “and why are you crying?”. I explained through sobs (because now I could concentrate both of our concerns over my poisoning) all that had transpired. She consoled me firmly, explaining this was what happened when “you don’t do what Mommy says blah blah blah”. She assured me that the poison was only sugar that hadn’t dissolved, but still she didn’t want me “eating or drinking anything in that house again”. That said, she began firing questions about Donna’s house and “that poor baby”. I reported all I’d seen, then admitted Donna’s mother didn’t seem like a bad person at all. It was left that, with her permission, my mother would allow me to play there. Suddenly my world was rosy.
I still played with all my gals in the morning, but after lunch and my nap, Donna and I hung out most afternoons. We all ran around barefoot and in swimsuits. Sometimes my regular gals wore sun dresses, but Donna always wore her signature two-piece swim suits. I never understood the point of her top, since I knew girls didn’t have chests, like ladies did. This might be a good time to apprise you of the extent of my knowledge concerning the birds and the bees at age five:
1. Babies grew in ladies’ stomachs from seeds and they went to the hospital so doctors could operate to get them out.
2. Ladies had chests that they kept in their brassieres. Men only had hairs.
3. Ladies sat down to pee. They did not stand like men and boys because, well…they were ladies and they always sat when men might stand because they were ladies and very polite.
4. Men and boys carefully shook their wieners after they peed. Ladies wiped their wieners with toilet paper to clean them off, again because they were ladies, of course.
One morning, well into that summer, Donna announced at Mary Jane’s that they were having their driveway paved and that men had delivered dirt and sand to her backyard and did we want to come over to play in it. We bee-lined over and began sliding down the tall sand pile on our butts and digging with our hands and feet. Her mother looked out at us from her kitchen window and half-heartedly cautioned Donna not to make a mess. We took that to mean we could do whatever we wanted because she really didn’t care, so of course we did. After lunch I went back and the concrete men had arrived earlier and our sand pile was now reduced to only a few handfuls.
There was still a ton of dirt left unused, so Donna and I switched our medium. The men had several hoses connected with water trickling out of them. It didn’t take us long to begin making mud from our dirt pile. Standing in the muck and looking down at our feet, one of us remarked that we looked like negroes. I suggested we smear it all over ourselves and surprise our moms who would think we had turned into African kids. We giggled as we plastered our arms and legs in the sludge. The hot afternoon sun was causing the mud to dry soon after contact, so we were caked with beige-grey skin like elephants at the water hole. We lightly sprinkled our bodies again with a hose but it still looked less than perfect. I decided we run to my house to show my mother before we dried anymore.
Of course we barely made it up our driveway before my mother began squawking that we were filthy and needed to go into the pool to wash the mud off at once. We were disappointed, but the cool water felt good on our clay-baked bodies. We had both played in my pool together many times before, but this was the first for just the two of us alone. I honestly cannot say whose suggestion it first was, but inevitably our dirt washing frenzy changed into the you-show-me-yours-I’ll-show-you-mine routine. The exhibitionist in me admits I was the first to pull down my swimsuit to show off my wiener. Donna checked me out and in seconds, down came her bottoms. I couldn’t see her wiener. When I asked her where it was, she said she didn’t have a wiener, only boys did. She had a “?” whatever the word was for vagina in her family I don’t remember what. I was so shocked by her missing penis, I came in for a closer look, sure that she was mistaken. Spotting her clitoris, I suggested I had found hers, as I knew from experience that when it was very cold, a wiener often might pull up inside. All she needed to do was give it a little tug and her wiener would appear I was certain.
Before Donna even had a chance to refute my theory, I heard my mother’s voice overhead, booming imperiously from my open bedroom window “Donna you go home RIGHT NOW. And you, Mister, get in this house this minute!” Looking up, I saw not only my enraged mother, but my older brother smirking like the demon child he was, enjoying this all way too much. Donna pulled up her bottoms and was gone in seconds, leaving me, swimsuit around my ankles and dick out for all the world to see. I was beyond shamed and way past embarrassed – I was über humiliated. I pulled up my swimsuit, not that it mattered anymore, but only so I wouldn’t trip and fall on my walk of shame into the house. My mother finger-shook and chastised me, berating me like you would a puppy that had peed, pooped and then barfed on a carpet in the Whitehouse. Her tirade seemed to go on for hours and it finished with: “and don’t you ever ever EVER do that again! Do you hear me? Do you hear me?”.
I was not allowed to play with Donna anymore. I could not leave my yard for weeks nor could anyone come to play with me. I didn’t go near the pool the remainder of that summer. I now had good reason to hate my brother with all my heart and soul. I know he must have heard us first, then brought my mother to the window to listen. But all my mother’s rantings didn’t halt my curiosity. I just knew I was not allowed to play that game with girls. She hadn’t said a word about boys. And wieners seemed a lot more interesting to me than the alternative.