Other Kinds of Girls
“The free soul is rare, but you know it when you see it. Basically, because you feel good, very good, when you are near them.”
I now had a friend, but it was a tentative beginning to feeling like a ‘regular’ kid. Yes, Ellie’s family were generous in their inclusion, but Ellie was so inward, as was I, that our time together was more a function of two bodies sharing a space or activity with no energy. More importantly, this entry into being, or appearing to be like other children, gave me a hunger for more.
I had begun to understand that there was more than one kind of child in the world. Ellie and I were quiet, her brother Johnny a bit more social, but I saw children at school who were constantly in motion, voices always at full strength, with energy that seemed to me like a constant source of pure fireballs. I didn’t want to spend time next to those entities for fear of getting singed by their heat, but I liked noticing children different than Ellie and myself. Now, rather than being in a cage on the sidelines, it was more like living in a zoo where I had a view of species similar to me, but wilder and more unpredictable. I was now the timid little monkey in the corner, spending all day fascinated by the baboons.
In the lineup of houses on our street, accented by primrose trees that bloomed quietly and gracefully next to the sidewalk, Ellie’s house was the last one on the block. My parent’s home was three or four houses from the other end of the block. We had quiet neighbors, one couple with a Dalmatian named Sam who appeared to have no interest in anything or anyone in life. Not cats, other dogs, and certainly not children. I was disappointed to have an animal so close with such little appeal.
In the middle of the block were friends of my parents who would remain in both of their lives long after they were divorced. Two houses down from them were the O’Malleys (*names have been changed). This was a family of four children, a population that astounded me. If I felt the Jones house was active and cozy, the O’Malley home was pure chaos, filled with abandon on all fronts, whether it was allowed behavior or access to food in the kitchen. There was an older sister, Sarah, who was so consistently rude to any child who walked into the home I learned to scurry past her as quickly as possible. She was four or five years older than the next girl, Gail, who was followed in age by her brother Tom, just a year younger than she. And then there was Katie. I was six or seven when I met her; she a year younger.
I can’t say that Katie was a friend, but she had a lot of impact. In my only child emotional vernacular, for years I wondered if Katie and Ellie were sisters, even though they lived in different households. They had the exact same color of hair and eyes. Gail had red hair, Tom brown, and mean Sarah a blend of the two. Yet Katie, the youngest, sported the same wispy, flaxen hair that Ellie had, but the similarity ended there. Where Ellie was round, Katie was scrawny. Ellie was quiet, Katie was prone to wild laughter and unpredictable behavior.
This is how Katie formed me:
My ‘friend’ experiences were clearly limited thus far in my young life. Ellie. That was it. One afternoon, she led me into the O’Malley home, resulting in occasional tagalong visits when Ellie or her brother ventured into that wild territory. One tremendous appeal of this jungle-like environment, with children sometimes literally hanging from various tops of doors like wild monkeys, was the free-for-all in their kitchen.
I was introduced to a whole new level of gustatory pleasure in the O’Malley kitchen. Where the Jones home offered plentiful candy, in the center of the O’Malley kitchen, the kids, visitors included, were allowed to open a bag of Wonder Bread (we only had whole wheat at our house), select as many pieces as they wished, then proceed to slather the heavenly offering with a generous layer of butter. That was topped with a dip into the sugar container, often with hands, occasionally a large tablespoon, to complete the heavenly offering. Sugar! On top of butter! On top of Wonder Bread! I was agog.
One afternoon – it must have been a Saturday morning, as I wasn’t allowed much wandering license in the neighborhood, after we’d all had our fill of the de rigueur house offering, Katie led us upstairs to a large attic room. She was still in her nightgown, and that casual mode of apparel for entertaining guests really impressed me.
“Line up there,” Katie instructed, and four or five of us, including Ellie and myself, obediently sat on the wood floor as Katie put a record on a small record player in the corner of the room. “I will now,” she pronounced royally, “do a Can Can for you.” I had no idea what that would involve, but was quickly and shockingly educated.
Katie proceeded to kick her legs up in the air, a la a six-year-old with no dance training. That was impressive enough, but the most astounding piece of her presentation was that she wasn’t wearing any underwear.
Well! At that point in my life, I don’t think I’d seen my own region of that particular and newly exposed body part, and I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility I might be introduced, in the most thrilling and shocking manner, to anyone else’s. It was the first time in my childhood I remember getting that uneasy feeling of “Uh oh. I shouldn’t be doing this.”
Ellie and I exited fairly quickly. I’m sure she was as embarrassed as I, but of course we didn’t talk about it. Later, I came to regard Katie as a pioneer, a wild and willful spirit, and a hint of what a girl could choose to be.
Katie’s contribution to my development was just that. Though I didn’t have the guts or inclination to act as she had, that Can Can established for me what would always be a fascination with wild girls and women completely different than I. If I couldn’t be like that, I wanted to be in the same room, to watch and observe and somehow inhale the cellular discharge of those beings. I wanted to get a hit of that energy and abandonment, always hoping some of it would be somehow digested into my diet of proper and prim.
As it turns out, I had a few Katie’s in my life, and I am grateful for each one. But Can Can Katie was my first and most memorable.
Next Week: Jean, A Generational Friend
Art by Lisa Jensen.
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