Heat Wave Woes

            When the temperature rises, when the sun beats down on city streets, people get grouchy. Children whine. Parents yell. Teachers lose patience. Workers stuck in sweltering shops make mistakes. Car drivers honk horns as they swerve in and out of traffic lanes.

            The longer it stays hot, the worse things get. Frustrations normally held in check surface. Old hatreds blossom. Minor complaints become major sources of ire.

            Environmental problems make matters worse. Fires erupt that, if the wind is blowing, sweep across the landscape, burning houses, schools and businesses. People die, not just because of wildfires, but also because of heat exhaustion.

            Crops can’t grow or are burned so badly that the fruit is destroyed. The aquifer, which supplies water to roots, dries up. Plants die. Yards turn brown.

            When the lows and highs intersect, tornadoes are born. The high number of fans running taxes the electrical grid. Rolling power cutoffs cause food to spoil. Machines that keep people alive falter.

            So many things happen that make life miserable that it’s sometimes hard to find a single positive about rising temperatures.

            Ask a kid, however, and you might learn a thing or two.

            Sometimes fire hydrants are opened and kids run gleefully through the spray. Backyard swimming pools are blown up. Perhaps it’s only enough water to sit in, but the magic works anyway.

            Footballs are put away: baseballs come out.  Outings to the beach or lake or river are planned. School is over for nearly three months. Television becomes a major source of entertainment. Kid-friendly movies proliferate.

            Cold drinks and frozen treats lift spirits. Water guns and filled balloons cause much running around and shrieking.

            Kids get to stay out well past dark. If they live where there are lightning bugs, they might catch one so as to hold the tiny on and off of light in their hands.

            Badminton and croquet sets come out. Volleyball, too.

            There seems to be so much more to do when it is warm than in the frost of winter.

            Just like any season, summer has its plusses and minuses. How you think about it makes the difference.

            You can bemoan the heat or step outside and watch the kids zip around, smiles on their faces.

            The heat can make us miserable, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just one more thing that nature gives us to deal with as best we can.

The Invitation

            I was not a popular kid. I never received a single card on Valentine’s Day even though we were supposed to give one to every classmate. I attended no birthday parties and was never invited over on a play date.

            I don’t blame the other kids. I was a deeply unhappy, troubled girl who couldn’t hide those feelings. My face was in a perpetual frown. My lips were thin white lines. My eyes fought to restrain the tears that poured seemingly on their own accord. I never smiled, laughed or even when on the playground, ran about as joyfully as others.

            At that time, I would have been labelled a sad-sack. I was Grumpy the Dwarf from Cinderella.  I was the cartoon character who went about with storm clouds overhead. I was Eeyore.

            Later when I became a teacher, I understood how my own teachers had failed me. In today’s world a miserable student like myself would have been referred to a school nurse or the psychologist or even Child Protective Services. The stories I could have told would most likely have landed me in a foster home. But that never happened.

            Instead, I moped my way through school, the kid no one invited to anything.

            Until one day in fourth grade a girl handed me a pretty card. She watched with bright eyes as I opened it and read. She wanted me to come to her house for a sleepover!

            I didn’t want to go but my mother insisted. She took me to the store to buy new underwear and pajamas, toothbrush and toothpaste. She made me call the girl and tell her I was coming, get the details as to what time to arrive and what time my mother was to pick me up the next day.

            As time drew near, I became increasingly anxious. I’d never slept anywhere but home. I was terrified about the logistics: where would I sleep, would I have to brush my teeth in front of others and what would happen when I had to go to the bathroom.

            I feigned illness when it was time to leave. My mother made me go.

            To my surprise there were four other girls there. None of them were friends as I had none, but all were in my class. I knew their names, but had never spoken to them.

            We gathered in the girl’s bedroom, clustered on her twin bed. Because I was the last, I got the foot of the bed. I barely fit.

            I don’t remember much about what happened that night, except for the magazine. The girl brought out one of her mother’s magazines. The girls passed around the magazine, taking turns ogling the models and the fashions. All went fairly well until they decided to read the stories.

            The only one I remember was a test to see if you were a lesbian. I didn’t know the term, so had no idea what it meant. As they took turns reading the “signs”, I realized that I fell into that category.

            I had no interest in boys (although, truth be told, I had none in girls either). I was a tomboy with muscles instead of a girly figure. And, worst of all, dark hair on my arms and legs.

            The girls began teasing me, calling me names and scooting as far away from me as possible. Although no one pushed me off the bed, I somehow ended up on the floor.

            The teasing was so bad, so insistent and so cruel that I ran downstairs and told the mother that I was ill and needed to go home. She must have called my mother.

            While I feared my mother and really didn’t like being with her, when her car pulled into that driveway, I was very happy to leave.

            Looking back, I wonder if the girls hadn’t set me up. If they hadn’t planned on taunting me. If that hadn’t been the only reason that they had invited me.

            After the disastrous party, the girls returned to treating me the way they had before. They never spoke to me, played with me, invited me to parties.

            That one invitation could have opened doors for me. Instead, it solidified my place in elementary school society. How sad!

The Great Inventor

            When I was a kid I learned about famous inventors in school. I was so intrigued that whenever I could get to the library, I’d check out the books that detailed their accomplishments. Many of them grew up poor, like me. Their discoveries lifted them out of poverty, giving them a financial cushion for a comfortable life.

            I wanted to join their ranks.

            The problem was that everything I thought of already existed.

            For example, I hated my clamp-on skates that I tightened with a key. They worked, but not well. They also frequently fell off, at inopportune times. Unbeknownst to me, shoe skates already existed. The first time I went to an indoor skating rink, my dreams were shattered.

            Like many kids back then, and even those today, my shoe strings refused to stay tied. Walking around with dangling laces led to severe punishment as well as a public dressing-down. I thought that if I could invent a string that stayed put, my name would find a place amongst the world’s greatest inventors.

            I put some time trying to think of different designs, but I was too young to come up with anything. Add to my inexperience was a lack of drawing skills that made it impossible for me to sketch anything workable.

            Imagine my surprise when, as an adult, spiral laces appeared on the market. They required no tying skills, only a twist or two and they’d stay put all day long.

            Just think, if I had had the skills and acumen back then, I would have achieved my goal. Not only would my name be added to the list of inventors, but I’d probably be wealthy today.

Winter Reflection


       

Summer’s games left unplayed, toys strewn,

swings empty, abandoned to winter’s joys.

Air crisp, clean, searing tender lungs

unused to Earth’s frosty chills.

Snow-encrusted gardens long buried

remnants of life lying dormant

until the god of spring caresses the earth,

renewing life once more

Footprints plowing stumbling paths

through unbroken fields of snow,

marking yesterday’s place,

a bookmark in time held captive.

Memories of joyous times romping,

fully clad in protective gear allowing

for frost-bit noses and rosy cheeks,

stiffly frozen fingers tingling with life.

Cloudy breath that turns to ice

covering faces in a death-like pall

gracing the earth with a white shroud

warning the careless of waiting woes.

Until spring finally comes,

the harbinger of rebirth,

rekindling fires of life-enriching

juices flowing.

The Poet

There once was a poet named Sue

Who struggled when words away flew

She wept salty tears

Which washed away fears

Until she knew what to do.

This poem was created during a writer’s group meeting. The prompt was to write a limerick. The pattern was given: AABBA along with how many syllables per line.

Writer’s Block Woes

            I developed a love of writing as a young teen. There was plenty of fodder since my family was not exactly pleasant to live with. My characters were all girls my age who felt unloved. All believed that they had either been kidnapped or adopted and yearned for escape. Some of them tried, actually made it one night away thanks to finding a culvert in which to shelter, but none of them got away.

            After awhile these stories only depressed me, so I quit writing.

            High school academics were so demanding that there was no time or energy for creative writing. I toyed with poetry, but nothing substantial developed. My poems were the same angst-filled “stories” dealing with feelings of abandonment, anger, frustration and sorrow.

            My college had a literary newspaper that accepted submissions. After reading the poetry of my peers, I believed that mine was as good, if not better. After revising a few, I bravely walked them over to the newspaper office. When the next edition of the paper came out, I was disappointed that none of my poems made the cut.

            I quit writing anything except for class reports.

            Years late I found myself teaching high school English to a variety of students. I had College Prep students in one class and then students with learning disabilities in all the others. I didn’t know what I was doing, so leaned into curriculum suggestions I found in books and at workshops.

            Before my students entered the room, I wrote a detailed prompt on the board. As soon as the bell rang, I reviewed the prompt with the class, then made them work quietly for about ten minutes.

At first, I used the time to deal with administrative tasks. Until I realized that I was not setting a good example. The next day, when my students wrote, so did I. After a few students shared what they had written, I’d share mine if there was time.

After about a week of this, I began to look forward to writing time. A particular character appeared in most of the stories. At that time her name was Mattie, short for Matilda.

Poor Mattie believed that she was unloved by her parents due to being obese, a topic familiar to my heart. She had a brilliant brother who could do no wrong, something I understood.

When I learned about NaNoWriMo, a month of writing in November, I realized that I could string together the Mattie stories into a novel.

I wrote her story during the day, then after work, added those bits to the novel. By the time November was over, I had a 40,000-word rough draft.

Over the next several years I revised and rewrote much of Mattie’s story, when I didn’t have classwork for the classes I was now taking at the university.

I also wrote my memories, painful reminders of what my life had been like growing up.

One professor loved my writing so much that she encouraged me to turn memories into a story. That work became the life of Marie Ray, a woman facing old age after a tumultuous life.

Periodically nothing inspirational came to me. I’d get stuck, no ideas springing forth. That’s called writer’s block, something I understood, knew how to move on, but still allowed it to steal words from my mind.

Sometimes after rather productive periods of writing stories, poems and essays, there’s be nothing. It was like trekking across the desert after being in a fertile valley.

Unless you’ve experienced writer’s block, you have no idea how devastating it is. You sit in front of your computer, waiting for inspiration. Perhaps you like to sit at a coffee shop and hand-write your stories. Picture yourself surrounded by busy people, a cup of your favorite brew before you, pen in hand, but there’s nothing.

Writer’s block makes you feel stupid, worthless, a reject. The longer it lasts, the deeper those feelings grow.

What makes it even more devastating is if you belong to a group of prolific writers who share work week after week. You enjoy reading their work, but it just makes you sadder and sadder when you are stuck.

The most important thing you can do when writer’s block steals your words is read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Not audio books, but actual books on paper. Savor the feel of the pages. Rejoice in the words. Think about the stories, the characters, the settings.

Soon something will come to you. It will be a germ of an idea at first, but if you allow it to dwell in your mind, it will blossom into a story, poem or essay.

The important thing it to not give up.

That’s what works for me.

Self-definition

Going back as far as my memory allows, my vision of myself was as the person I was told I was. If my parents said I was dumb, then I was. When my brother said I was fat, I was that as well. If a teacher placed me in the lowest group, then I was that as well.

I got to thinking about how we let others define ourselves. Sometimes looking back is a good thing, and in this instance, I believe that it allowed me to understand why I had such low self-esteem for much of my life.

As a young child I was called a whiner. I deserved that label for I could throw a whine-fest over just about anything. One of the few photos taken at that age shows me with fists clenched at my sides, head downcast and a huge pout.

 When I entered school, the teachers treated me as if I was stupid, although that wasn’t the term they used. I felt stupid even though there was no way for my teachers to know that no one had ever read to me, that there were no books in our house and that I’d never been to a library? I didn’t know colors, shapes, numbers or letters. I didn’t know how to cut, paste or trace lines.

While my classmates worked on reading I sat alone, tears streaming down my face doing what was probably extremely simple for everyone else.

In early elementary grades I was placed in the lowest reading group. Even there I was so far behind that I was still trying to learn letter sounds while they read out of books. I understood why I was there, but was too embarrassed to be seen with them. When the teacher called my group up, I slid down in my desk and hid.

My paperwork was filled with red. My writing was nothing but chicken scratches, strange combinations of letters that sometimes turned out to be words. I had no idea about capitals or punctuation. The sad thing was that my teacher didn’t help me.

I felt stupid and ashamed, so during recesses I found the darkest parts of campus and hid.

Add to that the unkind words coming from my parents and siblings that solidified that feeling of being dumber than everyone else.

Somewhere along that time continuum fat-shaming began. I accepted that definition even though it hurt. Classmates taunted me. My brother humiliated me. My dad insulted me. My mother fed me.

So now not only was I dumb but I was fat to go along with it.

In fourth grade I took things into my own hands and began teaching myself. I asked the teacher for extra work and night after night I went over the lessons. I’d fill in the blanks, erase, then do it again and again until I mastered the work. I forced myself to read even though it made me cry. I began with small words that I could memorize. I made flash cards with old paper so that I could add more and more words to my reading vocabulary.

My grades improved. My confidence grew. But I was still fat and getting fatter.

When we moved, I scored high enough on a placement test that I was no longer in the lowest groups. That giant step helped me to change my perception of myself.  I knew that I wasn’t stupid because I had taught myself to read, write and do math.

As time passed my academic accomplishments increased. I was placed in more difficult classes which I mastered. By the time I was in high school my entire class load was at the college prep level.

But I was still fat.

I joined the freshman basketball team. Now I was seen as an athlete. I was too short to score, but my hands were fast. I could strip a ball away any player that got near. I was feeling quite proud of myself. When the JV season ended I was moved to Varsity. I never got to play. Game after game I sat on the bench. I no longer felt like an athlete.

It was amazing how quickly my definition of myself changed. Athlete one week, not the next.

My dad told me I was ugly and I believed him. He said that no man would ever marry me and so I grew into an adult who felt unlovable. I was told that men would only want one thing of me and once they had that, they’d dump me.

When I began dating in college I felt somewhat better about myself, but nothing changed at home. My self-esteem was so low that when my brother’s friend attempted to rape me, I believed that I was only good for the one thing my dad had said. Men would only wanted sex from me, nothing more.

The man belonged to my brother’s fraternity. He must have told them what he’d done, for after that I had a date every weekend. I didn’t consider myself promiscuous, but others might have.

When my wonderful husband proposed, I was thrilled and flabbergasted. The unlovable person, the fat, stupid person was going to get married. So the next definition of myself was as a lovable wife.

I knew enough about marriage, from watching my mother, that I was the one who had to cook, clean and perform all those womanly duties. I hated them. I wanted to continue to work, read and write.Even so, I fulfilled the definition as best as I could.

Our house was clean enough. The laundry was done. Meals were cooked.

When children were born, I read magazines to learn how to parent.The knowledge I gained there helped me understand what I should be doing. Babies were not my thing, but once I could teach them things, I reveled in the definition of mother.

I had always dreamed of being a teacher despite how my instructors treated me. Sharing knowledge with my kids helped me see that I had the skills to be a teacher. I took classes at the community college to learn how to be a preschool teacher. When I was hired for the first job I applied for, my self-esteem shot up. I was a teacher! And I loved it.

But I saw myself as being something more than a snot-wiper and piss-cleaner.

I applied to a credential program, was interviewed and accepted. I was only able to take night and weekend classes, so it took years to finish my credential program. I was hired for the first t full time position that I applied for, a pleasant surprise.

I was a third-grade teacher at a Catholic elementary school. I offered my students the most educational program that I could do while still teaching the required curriculum. My students and parents loved me. I loved that definition of me.

In time, however, my principal’s idea of who I was changed. At first I was innovative and inspiring. But I kept getting older. She saw herself as a beloved principal, surrounded by young, cute teachers. She actually said that at a faculty meeting!

With that in mind, she chased away the older teachers, starting with Yvonne.After she left the principal hounded Marie until she resigned as well. She turned her focus on me, just as she had done them. I was told that my lessons weren’t good enough. She told me how to improve, then wrote negative evaluations when I did as she had said.

I began to believe that she was right, that I wasn’t a good teacher. I left.

It took me two years of working as a substitute to get another job. During that time period I applied for job after job. With each rejection I felt more and more incompetent. I was told that I didn’t know how to teach students of different cultures. They were right, so I enrolled in workshops, at my expense, to learn.

Next I was told I couldn’t teach in public schools because I didn’t know how to teach students who learned differently. They were right. Once again I sought out information on disabilities.

During those years I believed that I couldn’t teach those students even though I had had students like them in my classes at the Catholic school. But, the administrators who rejected me were right, or so I thought, because they knew better than I who I was and what I could do.

My weight soared. I kept buying clothes at larger sizes, then outgrew them. I pretended to diet, but failed at that. In my mind those failures reinforced the earliest definitions of myself: I was dumb. Too dumb to eat less, too dumb to understand dieting.

I didn’t want to be fat and hid it the best way I knew how. No matter where I was going or what I was doing I dressed to hide my body’s faults. I knew that it didn’t work, but my clothes were stylish and clean.

What was interesting is that my husband continued to see me as the slender woman that he married.

During that same time period I was a soccer coach, referee and player. At church I was a reader and singer. At work I was a great teacher, nominated several times for Teacher of the Year.

All these positive definitions were reassuring, but never completely erased the years and years of being told that I was less-than.

When health forced me to change my behavior, I lost the weight. I had to buy smaller and smaller sized clothing. Even when I needed less fabric to cover me, I still saw an obese woman whenever I dared look in a mirror.

Today I know that I look awesome, that I am intelligent, that I am a good wife, friend, mother and grandmother.

I no longer allow others to define me. That power belongs to me and me alone.

Sometimes I slip and cower in self-doubt when another story gets rejected or something goes wrong in a friendship. Back in the early days I would have carried that like a mantle, weighing down my shoulders. Today I brush it off and move on, a smile on my face.

I had to turn sixty-eight before I seized that power. Better late than never, right?

Perhaps someone who reads my story will take charge right now. They’ll say, I get to define myself, not you or you or you.

 What a marvelous thing that would be.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is

One of the most exquisite beauties.

Standing in its grass covered valley,

Energized by roaring waterfalls,

My heart expands: incomparable,

Incredible vistas surround me.

Tremendous witnessed awesome power.

Escapist’s vacation location.

Nothing impresses me more than this

Admirable verdant valley, with its

Towering, tree-devoid mountain peaks,

Iconic, historic wood buildings,

On-rushing river, wilderness trails,

Newly blossomed colorful flowers.

All gathered into a preserved spot

Left for generations to enjoy.

Protected from all development.

Absolutely stunning to the eye.

Reminder of the glory of God

Kept as a witness to His power.

My First Paying Jobs

As a fourteen-year-old, back in the mid-sixties, I was expected to babysit. Considering that we lived out in the country, there were few options for any young person, let alone a girl. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but when my parents told me to do something, I had no choice.

My parents found me my first job. A family up the street from us had a baby. They needed a babysitter and I was volunteered. It made no difference that I knew nothing about babies: they hired me anyway. After a quick tour of the boy’s room, the parents left. As instructed, I fed him a bottle. Thankfully that went okay. Shortly, thereafter, however, things went wrong.

The stink began accompanied by a series of ominous-sounding gurgles. I understood that I had to change his diaper, so I toted him into his room and placed him on the changing table. When I undid the diaper, urine shot into the air. I covered him up, waited, then pulled the diaper away. More urine! And more. When I figured he was finished, I tackled the bigger issue, the poop.

It was awful. And, like the urine, just as I got him cleaned up and a new diaper in place, he squirted out more. And more and more until I’d used up every diaper.

Those parents never hired me again.

My next job had a much better beginning. The kids were in bed when I arrived. I was allowed to watch the color TV, something we didn’t have at home. The one problem was that the only programs I could find were horror shows. Every little creak of the house and scrape of a branch terrified me. I called home and begged my dad to come rescue me. They never asked me to come back.

I met a mother when out delivering papers who asked me tie sit her three boys. Her regular sitter wasn’t available. I was too inexperienced to understand the coded message. The boys were perfect angels until the parents left. All hell broke loose! They refused to comply with anything I told them to do. They threw food, stripped, then ran around the house. When I finally got them into the bath, they splashed water all over the floor, making huge puddles that later I had to sop up. The boys were still up, well past bedtime, when the parents returned. I refused any future job offers.

My last assignment was with a sweet toddler. She was easy to take care of and did everything I asked. She fell asleep almost as soon as I got her in bed. The parents had given me another job: ironing. They had an entire basket full of clothes that were badly wrinkled. I finished around eleven, the time the parents were supposed to have returned.

I turned on the TV and tried to stay awake, but I was exhausted. I woke up with the father looming over me with a scowl on his face. He drove me home without a word until it was time to pay. Instead of giving me the agreed-upon amount, his shorted me by about five dollars, a huge difference in those days. And he never said thanks, even though I had done everything they asked.

That ended my career as a babysitter.

Wished-for Treasure

            My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. We always had a clean place to live, even if it wasn’t in the best of neighborhoods. We always had a car, although never a new one. My mom was a frugal cook, so there was food on the table and while you might feel a bit hungry, you never starved.

            When we got our first television when I was twelve, I was exposed to commercials for the first time. That’s when I became aware of all that I was missing. There were dolls and soldiers, board games and sports equipment. Sweets of all kinds and varieties of cold cereals that made my mouth water just dreaming about that first bite.

            We watched about an hour of television a day, but it was enough for me to notice what people wore and didn’t wear. They didn’t dress like me in hand-me-down threadbare clothes. They didn’t wear conservative clothes that covered a body from head to foot.

            When a commercial came on for a Barbie doll, I salivated. Oh, how I wanted one! The girl across the street who sometimes played with me had one. It was so beautiful! So fashionable! So desirable!

            One time when we were going to the local five-and-dime, I brought my saved allowance. The store sold Barbie dolls! But they were too expensive. There was a cheap replica which I could afford, so I bought that one. I understood that it was a fake, but it looked enough like a Barbie that I could use the patterns for the real thing to make clothes for this one.

            Every afternoon I carried my sewing supplies out to the backyard where there was a shady place along the back fence. I made my doll skirts, blouses, pants and dresses. When I had what could have been considered an ensemble, I worked up the courage to carry it across the street to the girl’s house.

            I was pretty proud of what I had done. She destroyed me when she laughed at my cheap plastic replica.

            When Christmas rolled around a few months later, all I asked for was a real Barbie. I didn’t get one. But my younger sister did. My parents explained, as I wiped away the tears of disappointment that streamed down my cheeks, that I was too old for a doll.

            I didn’t dream of owning anything else again for a long time.

            A television program came on with a doctor in the lead role. It was a good show, one that was popular with not just my parents, but with my peers.

            One time when we went shopping, a “doctor” blouse hung on a rack. Oh, how I wanted one! School had started by now and many of my peers had them. I knew that I had almost enough saved up to buy one for myself. My mom wouldn’t buy it then even though I promised to pay her back when we returned home. Instead she made me wait until the next trip to the store.

            I don’t recall how much time passed between trips, but when we did return to the store, the blouses had been marked down. I was so happy! I finally got my “doctor” blouse.

            Imagine how proud I was to wear it to school! I pictured my peers recognizing that I was finally wearing something that was popular. But, oh, that did not happen. You see, styles had changed. The other girls had moved on to whatever the newest fad was. That’s when I discovered that things on a clearance rack were there for a reason.

            Around that same time my dad learned of a bargain store a good hour’s drive from home. I had little expectations of finding anything there of interest. I was right. There were car and bike tires, car parts, miscellaneous household goods and clothing that a worker would wear, such as overalls and jumpsuits.

            We returned several weeks later. I remember that it had snowed but the roads were clear. Mounds of snow were piled along the sides of roads and along the perimeter of the store’s parking lot. Once again I knew there would be nothing there that I would want.

            Imagine my surprise when just inside the doors of the store was a circular rack holding a variety of white and black “leather” coats. When I touched the sleeve of one, it felt so soft that I found myself salivating at the thought of wearing it.

            When I showed them to my mom, she informed me that they were not made of real leather. They were fakes. I didn’t care. I still wanted one.

            She told me that I’d only get it dirty, that I’d ruin it by spilling something on it and it was be a complete and total waste of money.

            I didn’t care. I still wanted one.

            My mom refused to buy it for me even when I begged. I promised to work jobs around the house to earn enough money to reimburse her if she bought it right then. She refused.

            I cried all the way home.

            I had never had a new coat or one that mirrored what other girls wore. I had seen girls wearing similar coats, so in my mind I pictured myself walking the halls of my high school wearing that jacket, feeling proud as all eyes smiled with appreciation.

            No matter how much I begged or tried to finagle a way to pay for it, my parents refused to take me back to the store.

            Dreams of that coat haunted me. It was all that I cold think of, all I wanted. My hopes for popularity depended upon having that coat. I sensed its power deep inside.

            The next time we went to the store, the coats were still on the same circular rack, but there were none left in my size. I walked about the store with tear-filled eyes.

            Christmas arrived a few weeks later. My gifts were needed, but boring: underwear, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a new comb and other necessities. Nothing frivolous. Nothing fun.

            After all gifts had been unwrapped, my family gathered around the television to watch a Christmas show. I don’t recall what it was because I was heartbroken.

            We ate dinner. Don’t ask me what it was.

            It was time for bed. I changed into my pajamas, brushed my teeth and came out to tell my parents goodnight.

            My parents demanded hugs, which by then I felt too old for. I hated being wrapped in my mother’s arms, but it was even worse being hugged by my dad. He had a way of giving me the creeps.

            This time, when I approached my dad, he pulled a large present out from behind his chair. He said he’d found it in his closet.

            I sat on the floor, wishing upon wish that it was that which I most wanted. I wanted to rip the paper to shreds, but that would have been a sin. Every bow, every piece of ribbon and paper had to be saved for the next Christmas.

            I carefully slid my fingers under the ribbon until it came undone. I rolled the ribbon up into a ball, an expected action that had to happen before moving on. I used a pair of scissors to cut the tape on the paper. When it fell off the plain white box, I folded the paper along its creases.

            The box was taped shut. Once again the scissors broke the tape.

            I slowly removed the lid. Pulled aside the tissue paper.

            It was there! The coat of my dreams was inside that box. I didn’t believe my eyes at first, thinking it was a mirage.

            When reality hit, I pulled the coat out of the box and put it on. It fit over my fat body! I could button it all the way from top to bottom. The sleeves were the right length. It was as soft as I remembered. I was speechless.

            I wore that coat until bedtime. When it was time to take it off, I hung it in my half of the closet.

            Every day I wore that coat, even if we never left the house. I stood taller, held my shoulders squarer and my head higher. I knew that when school began, people would see me for the first time. Instead of being the fat girl who wore hand-me-downs and homemade clothes, I’d be the girl in the white leather (fake leather) coat.

            When school began in January, I wore that coat even though it was well below zero and too cold for a thin jacket. I didn’t care even though I was shivering when the school bus finally arrived.

            I smiled as I climbed the three steps into the bus. I nodded to the students already on board. No one returned my smile.

            At school when I walked the halls, I was still smiling. Not a single student or teacher acknowledged my new coat. As each class ended with no change in my status, I seemed to shrink a little bit more.

            By the time I boarded the bus to go home, my new-found confidence was shattered.

            To make things worse, sometime during the course of the day I had encountered something that left a mark on the sleeve of my coat. My mom was right: I wouldn’t be able to keep it clean.

            I had learned important lessons: don’t ask for things, don’t dream of having things, don’t think that owning something would improve my social status.