After Fall came and went, Christmas arrived. It was my first Christmas at school and I was super excited. We learned a whole slew of songs, made construction paper trees and toy soldiers, learned a whole lot of math that I quickly forgot and glued many a piece of macaroni to some terribly crafted gifts and cards. I remember making my Nana (Grandma on Dad's side) a card that said "I Love You!" and my Mama (Grandma on Mom's side) this stupid paper plate noisemaker.
Now, I don't want to say that I have a photographic memory because that would be a lie, but I would go as far as saying that I have a semi-photographic memory. A lot of times when I tell people a story they look at me like I'm crazy and tell me that I couldn't possibly remember that much detail from so long ago, but I can. I remember being a toddler and being pushed through the park in a stroller while the sun beat down on my face as I ate french fries from a Happy Meal. I remember sitting on a giant rock in the middle of the creek at my dad's ranch drinking out of a bottle of Sunny D when I was a pre-schooler. I remember staying with Mama at her house when the huge earthquake hit in '89 and hiding under a table while everything in the house fell around me. I even remember my very first nightmare vividly: I don't remember when I had it, but I remember in the dream it was my first day of kindergarten and the Beagle Boys from Duck Tales kidnapped me and forced me to rob a bank with them. It scared me so much that I woke up crying. Now, like most of these stories, I'm able to have a good laugh about it.
Anyway, I'd say my favorite part of school was learning all of the songs for our Holiday Recital. I remember all of the songs verbatim to this very day. There are still nights when I try to drift off to sleep and my head is crowded with thoughts of "L-O-double-L-Y-P-O-P spells lollypop!" or "Fifty, Nifty, United States from thirteen original colonies!" I loved singing. I still do and probably always will. A few weeks before the recital our teacher announced that there were going to be some solo parts available for people to sing and that we would be doing try-outs after lunch. I was so excited! I was finally going to be able to show people that I was good at something and maybe someone would come up to me afterwards and tell me that they liked me.
The whole recital was based on it being Christmas and some of the toys came to life and were talking about how awesome it was to be a toy that everyone would play with and blah, blah, blah. If you weren't featured as a toy, you were put in the chorus that just wore a cardboard cutout bell around their neck and sang some retarded bell song. I wanted to be the toy doll so badly! I practiced with Mama for a week (because she would always watch me after school) and drove everyone crazy singing the song at home. I had it down pat.
The day of the audition I went up to sing the part and I sang it perfectly. The group of teachers looked a little shocked. I didn't realize it then, but the other expression that I saw on their face was that of guilt, because what I didn't know before I went up to sing was that they already told that preppy bitch Kendell that she got the part that I wanted. And yes, you can identify preppy bitches even in kindergarten. I remember my teacher telling me, "You know, you sang that really well, but you were a little bit quiet. And Kendell's mom already has the perfect costume for it. I think you'd make a really great bell though!"
I was devastated. I was sure that if I worked hard enough that I would get that part. But I didn't. My mom told me that I wasn't going to get everything in life that I wanted, and that sometimes there were just people out there who were better than we were. I conceded. If this other girl would be better, then so be it. I put on my stupid bell costume and went through the recital. It wasn't until we had a full rehearsal that I actually got to see Kendell sing the song. And she was fucking terrible. She couldn't carry a tune in a damn bucket. It was then that I realized that she didn't get it because she was good, she got it because she was pretty. And everyone kept saying how pretty and cute she was over and over again.
My six-year-old brain didn't exactly know how to process this. I was jealous and angry and confused and I didn't know what to do. So, I started crying in the middle of rehearsal. It was embarrassing. And of course I couldn't tell anyone why I was crying because I couldn't process it myself. I told my Uncle Warren (who was my favorite relative back then) about it and he said that unfortunately some people in life get things handed to them that others don't and that all I could do was go up there and be the best bell that I could be. So I did. It was painful, but I went through the whole thing and belted out my bell song at the recital and didn't cry once.
After the performance we had punch and cookies and my teacher came up and talked to my family. I remember her saying to my mom as though I was an idiot kid who couldn't understand adult things, "Vindi is really not very outgoing at school. I'd like to see her do more things to shine. She's so smart, but she isn't very social." I got angry again and I remember dropping cookies all over the ground when I heard her say that. It was bullshit. Maybe if I had some back-up and support from school I would have been more social. You can't force kids to like other kids, but you can at least tell them to stop picking on the ones who are different.
We were outside in the little play area that connected to the classroom after the play and this boy in my class named Loren came up to me in front of my family and said something like, "Eww! It's the Cootie Girl and her Cootie Family!" I didn't know what to say because this was the first time that someone had openly done something like that in front of my family. It was like they got to see what I was putting up with at school for the first time. I tried ignoring it, but just stood there and blushed like crazy, but my mom had already seen and it was too late. She told the boy that he had to apologize and he did, but he didn't mean it.
That night when we got back to our house, I had a conversation with my mom that I will never forget. I never had many life-lesson conversations with her, so maybe that is why this one stuck out so drastically. We were sitting on my bed in the room that I shared with my little brother and she told me, "You know, you should just ignore boys like that at school. Boys only do that for two reasons: Either they are overcompensating because they feel bad about something that they have going on in their lives, or they are doing it because they like you and want to get your attention but don't know how else to get it. That boy Loren looks like he's the shortest boy in your class. He probably just has a bad case of little-man syndrome." And yes, I swear to God, she called it that. I asked her what that was and she told me that it was something that makes short guys angry that they are so short and they are mean to everyone else in the world because of it. And yes, looking back at this, I see the irony in her telling me to think poorly of someone who was different just like me. But I was unclear of what she meant by boys liking me and when I asked her what she meant I got yet another convoluted story that I didn't really grasp the meaning of at my age.
"Boys are usually mean to you because they like you. It's like... pigtails in an inkwell. A long time ago when kids went to school, you had to fill up your pen in a jar of ink that you kept at your desk. Naughty little boys who tried to get good little girls' attention would take their hair and dip it in the inkwell when they weren't looking. That was their weird way of showing the girl that they liked her. So every time that this Loren boy calls you a name or pokes you, he is probably just trying to get your attention because he wants to be your little boyfriend." I understand that she was saying all of this to me to try and help me feel better about my situation at school, but parents, please don't tell your impressionable, stupid young children things like that. Because if you do, bad things can happen as a result.
After my talk with my mom I had it in my head that this kid, Loren, really liked me, but just didn't know how to say it, because if he was angry about being short he would have been mean to everyone. At least that's how I rationalized it to myself. So at snack time I went up to him when he was alone and told him that I knew he liked me and that he didn't have to be mean to me because I understood. He looked at me like I was crazy and proceeded to punch me in the arm. I remember feeling really lost at that point and just kept thinking back to what my mom had told me. He obviously must have punched me because he really liked me. Right? Yeah, that must have been it. So as everyone in class started lining up to go back into the classroom I grabbed Loren by the shirt and kissed him on the cheek. And everyone saw.
Kids were gasping and laughing and there were even a few screamers still. "Oh my God! The Cootie Girl kissed Loren! That means that now he's the Cootie Boy! Ewww!" Loren was mortified and pushed me to the ground. I still remember the feel of asphalt hitting the palms of my hand and digging into my skin. It hurt, but at the same time there was something very satisfying about hearing everyone call someone else the same thing that they were calling me. I think it made me feel a little less alone. Unfortunately, that led to my first conflict-resolution conference.
Conflict-resolution was something that was really big at my elementary school because my school was yuppie-kid central. You were never, ever supposed to fight with words or fists or call each other names or even ignore the problem. All through elementary school I was facing conflict-resolution sessions and they got more intense as I got older, but this first one that I had was between me and Loren and my teacher. And it was awkward. Basically we had to sit there and listen to our teacher say, "Kissing boys is not appropriate and pushing girls is also not appropriate." At the end we had to apologize to each other and promise to never do anything like that ever again. We did and then for good measure they called our parents.
You would think that if you had a kid and they kissed another kid in their class based on some bad advice that you gave them, you would talk to your kid and clarify things so that they didn't go on thinking that this was appropriate behavior. But no. Not my mom. The teacher told her what happened when she picked me up from school and when we got in the car she turned to me and said, "See? I told you he liked you. He's just not as mature as you are yet." And so she filled my tiny little heart with hope that a boy liked me.
Eventually, after staying within my teacher's rule parameters and trying my best to feed on Loren's short-lived outcast status as a fellow Cootie Person, I realized that he did not in fact like me. In fact it was quite the opposite. He pretty much bullied me through the rest of the year. I remember trying to get back at him with stupid jokes about his height, but it didn't really work out too well. I should have just tried ignoring him and fading into the background, but because I was trying to be a spiteful little kindergarten bitch, I just upset him even more. Unlike me, he had friends, and he got his friends (along with several other people) to pick on me mercilessly.
On Valentine's Day I got the least amount of cards out of anyone in the class. It was pretty sad. I was excited because the next day was my birthday and I would get to be the popular kid who brought in cupcakes for the whole class, but then I found out after class that I had the fucking chickenpox and I was out of school for a week. There went that social opportunity. There were a few other plays and class parties, but I can't remember anything else super eventful happening in school that year. Unfortunately, that summer would not be much better.