“Want to play a game?” Mom would ask.
The game turned out to be us pinching and pulling the skin on the tops of our hands in a perpetual dog pile of claw hands. She’d pull/pinch the skin on the top of my right hand with her right hand. While she held the pinch, I put my left hand over her right hand to pinch her skin and hold it while she put her left hand over my left hand and pinched hard. I’d take my right hand from the bottom, and put it over her left hand to pinch, and so on. This game never lasted long, as Mom, smiling, would speed up the process until we ended with a big collapsed hand pile.
This game was not fun. It was painful. Mom pinched hard and enthusiastically. Maybe it was invented for bored Taiwanese schoolchildren trapped on public transit.
In Kansas, my parents liked to save energy by minimizing heat usage during the winter. We wore parkas around the house. If you poured yourself a cup of water, it was icy cold a while later.
On December 13th, our Norwegian teacher (who also loved gnomes) selected a girl in our second grade class to be Santa Lucia. She dressed Kerry in a white gown and arranged a candlelit wreath on her head. We gathered around and sang "Santa Lucia" as Kerry walked down the school hallway carrying Christmas cookies for the other classrooms. I liked the visual.
In grade school, I tried to figure out how women got pregnant.
I told Petra my theory one afternoon, when we had ventured upstairs to our parent’s room. We weren’t allowed there, but went occasionally anyway. I liked to bring a book because it was sunny and warm in winter, and light bounced off the yellow walls.
“I think that when the man puts the ring on the woman’s finger, there are chemicals in the ring that go into her body, and signify that she’s married, and then she becomes pregnant. But . . . some couples are married and they don’t have children . . . ”
“Emmie,” Petra said impatiently, “Dad put his penis into Mom’s vagina, and that’s how babies are made.”She turned her back and headed downstairs.
Every Saturday morning, Mom drove Petra and I to ballet. Petra’s class started first, so I sat in a small waiting room downstairs on a hard bench covered in a rectangle of cheap beige carpet.
One day, a brown-haired boy with a slightly rat-like face passed by in his ballet clothes. He glanced into the room and went on his way.
After a minute, he returned and stared me down from the doorway. Then he walked into the room, picked up the trash can and emptied its contents over my head. He seemed satisfied with his decision, so he repeated it every week.
My parents kept small amounts of snack food in the house, but it never felt like enough. Since I always craved it, I ate all art projects with edible parts. In kindergarten, we made owls on burlap with pretzel heads, Cheerio eyes, peanut beaks, walnut shell bodies and pretzel stick feet. I gnawed everything off except for the walnut shells.
For Lincoln’s birthday, we glued pretzel stick log cabins to construction paper and drew chimneys, smoke, and Abes. I'll let you guess what happened to the cabin.
We had a plastic container in the yellow bathroom that contained a chunk of rock salt from “The Great Salt Lake.” Whenever I felt a snack craving, I’d take the plastic container out from the cupboard (where it was stored along with hairtastic hairbrushes, unused blow dryer parts, dried and cracked soap bars, bobby pins, blue plastic hair curlers and random objects that should have been somewhere else in the house) and lick the rock several times. It was horribly salty, but mildly satisfying.
Petra arrived home, pissed off. Ballet rehearsals often upset her.
I hopped into the shower when I heard the garage door closing and Petra snapping at Mom, so that I could shower first.
When I came out of the bathroom, Petra was stretched out on her lavender carpet, glowering at me.
“How come you don't shower before I get back?" she said furiously. "Why do you wait until after I come home? You take forever!”
“Sorry,” I said. She was right. But I felt nice and clean.