June 15, 2004
Don't Ask Alice....
Sitting here tonight eating my Celebrity luncheon meat (with $3.83 in the bank until my paycheck clears - it looked pretty darn good), I started down memory lane and strolled into the years around first grade.
First grade was when I started gaining weight. I don’t remember gaining the weight (my mother blames it on the 30+ snow days when I sat home and did nothing but eat and watch TV) but I do remember that the other kids fundamentally annoyed me. More than half of them did not know their alphabet, their silly games were of no interest and they were crass. I just didn’t seem to fit in with them. I read Madeline books and drew Wonder Woman cartoons when I completed my work early.
There was a girl in first grade, who was kinda slow and was prone to having epileptic seizures during gym or when they went around checking for head lice. She wasn’t the prettiest of girls, and I cannot say that she was sweet or even kind. She was just benign. And the other kids, while occasionally mean to me, were cruel beyond measure to Alice.
To begin with, Alice was kinda hard on the eyes and her awkward body language and lazy arm just added more gasoline to the insult fire. She looked like she was always in pain and she had no friends.
Alice had a birthday party one pretty spring Saturday. Now, I wasn’t mean to Alice, but I wasn’t particularly fond of her, either....nevertheless, when she passed out Birthday party invitations to everyone in the class, I accepted with glee. It rings as true then as it does now -- any chance to get out of the house and party on a Saturday, I’m there.
She invited all the kids in the class (there were 40 of us spread out among two first grades) and I remember going to the Ben Franklin that day and picking out her Barbie. I remember wrapping the present, signing the card and pulling up in front of her house where 5 picnic tables sat outside, covered in pink and white tablecloths – white party streamers floating in the breeze. Cake. Punch. Homemade ice cream. Matching plates and napkins. Pretty.
Steve Doom was there. He was a nice kid. Pharmacists son. And the only other person there besides me, Alice, her father and little sister, her mother, and our mothers. Half the class had called to say they’d be there and no one else showed.
It was set up to host at least 40 people. And 8 people sat there in awkward Southern Baptist party mode (i.e. Children smacked out on Kool-Aid, parents sober and bitter about it) until Alice’s mother said we’d better eat the ice cream, it was melting. It went from somber to funereal. Like a vigil, except with flapping crepe paper streamers. The grown ups tried to make small talk about how we all grow up so fast and while I usually tuned in to the adult conversations, I found myself staring at Alice, who was staring at me and Steve with hatred, embarrassment and gratitude all at once.
It was frankly horrible and the charade went on for maybe an hour….and then Alice’s mother asked us to leave. Alice’s knee was trembling and that was a sign she could have a seizure. And that would be just the worst thing to happy on this poor girl’s birthday. She’d been through enough today already.
Driving home, I remember talking to my mother about why people are so mean. Why didn’t people go to Alice’s party? Isn’t there some rule that you have to go to the party – even if she’s a kinda creepy looking little girl? What was going to happen to her Monday at school? Would everyone know? Do I admit that I went to the party? Or do I scandalize the classroom by letting everyone there know that no one showed up? Should I call Steve Doom and ask if he’d take an oath and we’d both deny we went there? Ya know – the usual party spy report.
Pondering all this now, I get mad for Alice. I get mad at fake lying RSVPers and unusually mean, crass people with no taste and no social skills. I get mad coz some days I feel like Alice, yet I act just as bad as the no-shows. A complicated mix of casualty and cruelty.
Eventually, though, I asked myself if Alice invited me to her party today, would I go?
If she’s not serving Celebrity Luncheon Meat, you bet!