Childhood, In Three Pieces
I climbed out of bed and fumbled through the hallway to the bathroom,
rubbing my sleepy eyes with my tiny fists, even though Momma had told me not to.
I lifted the lid and lowered my Strawberry Shortcake Underoos to my ankles,
grabbing hold of the sink to help hoist my not-quite-three-year-old booty up on the potty.
As the golden stream started to ebb and flow, curiosity got the best of me,
as it so often does with children. I opened my eyes and looked in the bathtub to my right,
and screamed like the little girl that I was!
There was a dead man in my bathtub!!
Fully dressed in a plaid western shirt and faded jeans, he lay semi-sprawled about the tub,
his arms and legs dangling freely over the porcelain edges, head tilted back against the faucet,
eyes closed tight, mouth half open though no sound came out.
Momma rushed in and shook him back to life. Turns out, Clifton wasn’t dead,
Identical twin boys plagued Mrs. McCurdy, my kindergarten teacher.
Danny and Donny Barlow.
The school saw fit to separate them, leaving Danny in the morning class,
while Donny attended afternoons with us. Soon, he was my boyfriend.
We stole a kiss under the table when we thought no one could see us.
Summer passed, and another fall. Rain flooded the streets of our hometown,
leaving drainage ditches to look like swimming pools. Danny dove in…
and never came out.
Holding Momma’s hand as we stood at his gravesite, I wondered why I wasn’t crying
like everyone else around me. I overheard my mother talking to Ms. Barlow and learned the twins’
little brother Billy had been hit by a Mack truck and broken his little leg. Spotting a familiar face,
I turned loose of Momma’s grip and wandered across the grass where Mrs. McCurdy stood.
I noticed her eyes were dry like mine. She smiled down at me and hugged my neck.
“It’s okay not to cry,” she said softly, squeezing my hand as she answered my unasked question.
Momma always told us stories of what a wonderful woman Edna Earl, our great-Grandma Burden was.
But the woman we knew growing up was different. Stricken by dementia and confused and often angry,
we only saw the cranky grouchy side of her. She didn’t like it when we were loud, or had friends over.
Little girls weren’t supposed to play with little boys. We were supposed to be seen but not heard whenever our great-grandmother was awake. Saturday nights at 7pm were meant for Gunsmoke.
I remember Momma crying on the phone with Granny. I was ten, my baby sister was eight. Dad told Momma to do what she had to do. He dropped her off at the hospital while we waited in the car.
Then he drove us across town to Putt-Putt. We dumped roll after roll of quarters into Rampage as the three of us sat there playing Godzilla, King Kong, and a third mega monster I can’t recall, bouncing from city to cartoon city, smashing skyscrapers and helicopters and anything else in our paths.
Edna Earl was called home that night, but all I remember are screen shots of animated wreckage Dad and Rachel and I had left behind.
(This poem was inspired by prompt for hour 23, to create a poem about your childhood in one to five numbered parts.)