Monday, May 05, 2003

As a writing exercise, I want to write about some time in my life when I felt most out of place. When I started writing that sentence I thought I'd not be able to think of one, but before the sentence was done a memory popped up.

It was a birthday party given by the parents of one of my junior high classmates, I'll label her D.F. She was beautiful in a Sophia Loren-ish way (if you like that sort of thing), and her parents were rich. They hosted all of us in D's homeroom class, plus some of her friends not in our homeroom. Maybe fifty 13-year-old kids.

I don't remember exactly where it was. It may have been in the Peony Park ballroom (I don't think so), or the Blackstone Hotel (maybe), or the downtown Brandeis if it had a banquet room. Wherever it was, it was lush.

The tables bore china, crystal, and more silverware than I'd ever seen in my life. I had no idea what to do with all that silverware. I don't remember who sat on either side of me but I don't think they were friends of mine (that would have been K.R., who was doing fine on the other side of the room).

So I felt very graceless and crude from Minute One. My hair stuck out funny, my clothes didn't feel right. Most of the other girls were stylish and expensive dressers. They all knew how to put on makeup--many of them already wore bras! They never emitting raucous barks of laughter, or bit their nails. They knew what to do with that extra silverware.

We were served sandwiches cut into four triangles and held together with toothpicks topped by colorful cellophane curlicues: red, blue, green, yellow. The bread was stuffed with about 20 layers of meats, cheeses, lettuce and condiments, so the triangles stood up about 5 inches high. I had a terrible time eating those adroitly -- in fact, I didn't. I managed one triangle, and the second deconstructed itself all over my plate and the surrounding (snow-white, of course) linen tablecloth. I left the rest untouched and yearned for dessert.

I vaguely remember sparklers, and a fabulous cake, so we must have had cake. I also remember a uniformed waitress bringing around a silver tray with a collection of chocolates, each one its own little marvel of sculpture. I wanted to take several, some to eat at home, but I at least knew better than that. I took ONE.

The afternoon dragged on, with everyone but me seeming to have a good time (there were, God help us, games). I was so miserable and self-conscious that I wanted to die. Probably others felt similarly, but I was too self-absorbed to notice. That was probably a good thing. I'm sure all I would have been able to do for small talk was make snide comments about the fanciness and how much this all was costing.

At long last, it was over. The Daddies rolled their cars up to the door and mine appeared and I threw myself into the passenger seat and he drove his little social butterfly home, hallelujah. I changed immediately into play clothes and shot outdoors looking for my fort-building, apple-grenade-throwing best buddy. It had rained that morning. There were gutter dams to build, mud to grind into our jeans.

I've learned a lot since then, most importantly what to do with all that extra silverware.

You bundle it up and jam it head-down into that extra crystal water glass.

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