The New Kid

A few weeks ago, I mentioned my desire to write a memoir about sisterhood and sanity. The concept isn’t well-developed but I imagine it as a series of essays, some from childhood and some current day, that as a whole illustrate the complicated relationship which exists between sisters. Here’s a sample. This is a little lengthier than what I typically post. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated!

The doorbell rings and Jerri and I race Fluffy to the front door. He jumps up, propping himself against one of the skinny windows that frames it. On his hind legs, he is bigger than me. Mom has shaved his face, paws and a section of his tail leaving a Pom-Pom of white hair at the end. He looks ridiculous, like a sissy, like we ought to call him Jacque or Pierre la Poo. Jerri shoves him aside and opens the door a crack. She plugs it with the left side of her body so I have to stand on tippy toes to see who is out there.

Fluffy, back on all fours, tries to wedge his face between her waist and the door frame. I grab his collar and dig in my heels. Fluffy is a runner and with us in control of the door, he can practically taste freedom.

Uncertainty flashes across the face of the kid standing on the other side. He is short and barefoot with a snotty nose and a scab about the size of a silver dollar on his left knee. His blonde hair is in a buzz cut. He stands on our porch with his feet apart and his hands on his hips. He lifts his chin and squints at us.

“I’m Michael Nadifer. That there is my house,” he points to the house on the corner where the “For Sale” sign used to be. “My daddy is a police officer.” He puffs out his chest.

Crap. I wanted a girl. One my age. This neighborhood already has too many boys and Jerri has claimed Dottie and Martha as her own.

“Whoop de doo,” Jerri stretches to her full height and looks down on him. “Whaddya want?”

“I said my daddy is a police officer. What’s your’un do?”

“None of your bees wax.” (Which is to say neither of us actually know.) “Why don’t you run along home now?”

“I can stay if I want. My daddy owns this here house–he’s a police officer. He owns this whole neighborhood.”

“Your daddy does NOT own this house. My daddy does. Just ’cause he’s a police officer – don’t mean squat.” Jerri crosses her arms and gives him the evil eye. Fluffy senses an opportunity and tugs harder.

“How old are you?” I holler from behind the dog.

He ignores me and raises up on tippy toes, eye-to-eye with my sister. “Does too! He has a gun.”

“Then why don’t you go home and play with it?” Jerri slams the door in his face. I let go of Fluffy and massage the palm of my hand.

“Who was it?” Mom yells from the kitchen.

“The new kid from the house on the corner,” Jerri hollers back.

“Does he want a Popsicle?”

“No!” She opens the door a crack to see if he’s still there. He is and sitting on the steps as if he lives here. She closes the door again.

“Snot-nosed brat!” It takes me a minute to realize she doesn’t mean me.

I walk into the kitchen. The counter tops are covered with foil-wrapped food, condiments, and stacks of tupperware. Mom, in her orange rubber gloves, is scrubbing the inside of the avocado green refrigerator which stands completely empty.

“Mom, that kid says his dad owns our house because he’s a police officer and now he’s sitting on our porch and he won’t leave.”

“Oh, well, just ignore him, honey. He’ll go away eventually.” Her voice emanates from the bowels of the vegetable crisper.

I walk back into the hall. Jerri is sitting in the bay window in the living room which overlooks the porch.

“Mom says ignore him.”

She doesn’t look at me. I climb up beside her and peer out the window. Michael Nadifer stands up and walks off across our front yard to his house. Jerri goes to her room and returns with a notebook and a pencil in hand and her binoculars strung around her neck. She’s been reading Harriet the Spy. She climbs back onto the window seat, lifts the binoculars and scribbles in the notebook. I try to read over her shoulder and she hunches up, covering it with her other arm.

Michael Nadifer walks back across our yard. He’s carrying an armful of stuffed animals which he positions on our porch. He sets the Hamburgler and Ronald McDonald on the floweredy plastic cushions of the wrought iron love seat. He places a big, dirty Snoopy and a yellow dump truck on the glass topped table. He disappears across the yard again.

Jerri jumps up and and out the front door. I watch from the bay window as she picks up the Hamburgler and examines its face. She sets it back down and surveys the rest with hands on hips. Glancing across the yard, she comes back in the house.

Michael Nadifer crosses the yard with another armful. This time there’s a GI Joe in full camouflage, a sock monkey, and a green alligator with mouth open and a full set of white felt teeth. He disappears again.

“Mom! He’s putting all his toys on our porch!”

“Just ignore him, dear!”

Jerri’s mouth is a grim line. What’s wrong with Mom anyway? Doesn’t she know anything about kids? Doesn’t she know this means war?

Michael Nadifer makes two more trips. Jerri nibbles the eraser then scribbles furiously in her notebook.

“What are we gonna do?” I ask her.

“Follow me.”

Out on the front porch, she fills my arms with Michael’s stuff and then fills her own. I follow her across the yard and then across the dirt road that runs between our house and his, which is Lancelot Drive, a name almost as ridiculous as Fluffy’s haircut. We dump the stuff at his front door.

The screen door slams on the house next door and Nathan walks over laughing his guts out. He points to his front porch and cracks up all over again. There are toys covering the rockers and sitting on the front steps. Tears squeeze out of the corner of his eyes. He falls to his knees and holds onto his sides.

Honestly. How much crap does this kid own?

“He says,” Nathan gasps for breath, “he says his Dad–his Daddy is a police officer and he, and he owns my, he owns my house!” Nathan collapses on his back in another spasm and wipes at his eyes with the back of his sleeve.

We spend the next hour launching toy bombs from Nathan’s porch into Michael Nadifer’s yard.

We hate him, Jerri and me. It’s the first time we’ve been united in hate. It’s the first time we’ve been united in anything besides our mutual dislike of each other. Jerri is the kind of sister that makes you wish you were an only child.

Jerri tells Dottie about Michael Nadifer. Dottie hasn’t yet had the pleasure. She lives down the hill at the end of Malabar Drive. We are riding our bikes up and down Lancelot. At Sheraton Park, we make a u-turn, peddle fast to Michael Nadifer’s house and then coast down the hill to Malabar. We make a u-turn and climb the hill peddling standing up. Jerri, Dottie, and me. I get to ride bikes with them now. Since Michael Nadifer moved into the neighborhood.

Every summer, Mom pays some men in a big truck to spray oil on Lancelot. She says the cars driving back and forth stir up the dust and it seeps into our house and coats the furniture. She tries to enlist the neighbors support to finance the oil coat. Some years she’s successful and Lancelot gets oiled all the way to Martha’s house. This year, the oil stops at the left edge of our lawn, right before Michael’s house. The Nadifer’s did not want to chip in.

I plop back down on the groovy yellow and green flowered banana seat of my Sear’s bike and raise my feet off the pedals as I cross the oil line. Michael Nadifer’s head pops up from the ditch between his house and Lancelot and he pummels us with gravel. Standing up, we pedal hard to Sheraton Park where we make a u-turn. As we near his house again, Michael Nadifer rushes up and out of the ditch in an ambush, brandishing a stick like a blade. He pokes it into the spokes of Dottie’s front wheel. Jerri and I slam the brakes and skid to a stop as Dottie’s bike flies end over end in slow motion. Dottie crashes onto the un-oiled portion of Lancelot. When she stands, the entire side of her left leg is bloody and encrusted with gravel. Her face is smeared with dirt. Tears well up as her lip starts to quiver. There ain’t nothing Dottie hates worse than to cry like a girl.

20121209-121042.jpgWe throw down the bikes and dive into the ditch in front of our house. The bikes lay on their sides between Michael and us like metallic road kill, the back wheel on mine still slowly spinning.

We pelt Michael with dirt clods and gravel, anything we can get our hands on. It’s three against one, he’s losing and he knows it. Desperation makes him bolder.

“Aghhhhhhhhhhhh!” Like a Kamikaze, he lifts a melon-sized boulder overhead and attacks. Just yards from us, he hurls it and hits me square in the gut, knocking me over like a bowling pin. Jerri and Dottie nail him with gravel until he cries like a baby, tucks tail, and runs home to Mommy.

“Dorotheeeeeeeey!” From the bottom of the hill, comes the high-pitched yodel of Virginia, Dottie’s mom. She limps over to her bike, mounts it, and picks out a few pieces of gravel from her leg. “Gotta go,” she says wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

Tears run down my dirt streaked cheeks as I lift my striped tank to watch the purple bruise spread cross my tummy. Jerri leans over to get a closer look.

“C’mon,” she says. “We’re telling Mom.”

Inside, we find Mom in the kitchen with a sink full of green beans floating in water. She’s snapping off the ends and breaking the beans into sections which she tosses into a pot.

“Momma, look what Michael Nadifer did.” Jerri lifts my shirt. Mom dries her hands on her apron and squats down on her knees to take a look. She looks at me and then at Jerri. Slowly she rises and returns to the sink.

“I see, ” she says. “And what, may I ask, did you do to provoke him?”

We are out on the front porch, on the cast-iron loveseat, swinging our feet which don’t quite reach the ground, incredulous that Mom will do nothing. I am crying in earnest now, heartbroken at being so wrongfully accused.

“Come with me,” Jerri says. I know she means business because she takes my hand. We cross the yard and then Lancelot. We take a right on King’s Court and then into Michael Nadifer’s driveway. Jerri marches resolutely, chin held high. I lag behind, feeling bashful, head down and thumb in my mouth. The police car is in the drive. Jerri tugs me up the steps behind her and rings the doorbell. Michael’s mom opens the door.

“M’am, we were riding our bikes back and forth on Lancelot and your son picked up a big ole rock and threw it at my sister.” She lifts my shirt. “See?”

Michael’s mom’s eyes narrow. She turns and hollers back into the house, “Michael did you hit this here girl with a rock?”

“No, Momma,” he snivels.

She turns back. “He says he didn’t do it.”

My sister sweeps her hand toward my stomach. “Clearly, he did.”

Mr. Nadifer, still in uniform, appears behind her. “What’s this?” he asks.

Jerri repeats her story. Mrs. Nadifer silently excuses herself and vaporizes back into the house. Mr. Nadifer examines my bruise, studies our faces, and begins unbuckling his belt.

“MICHAEEELL” he thunders and shuts the door. Just before it closes, we hear Michael wailing in the background. “I didn’t do it, Daddy. I didn’t!”

Jerri bounces as we walk back over to our yard. “Boy, is he gonna get IT!”

She tousles my hair and scoops up her bike which has been lying in the road all this time. With a running start, she hops on, giving a three-finger salute over her shoulder as she coasts down the road toward Dottie’s house.

Uprighting my own bike, I pause for a second to watch my big sister ride off into the sunset.

Photo credit: lord the air smells good today / Foter /CC BY-NC-ND


2 Comments on “The New Kid”

  1. Terri, this is a wonderful essay, and it brought back so many memories, Jerri and I pretending to be spies like Harriet – and Jerri and I deciding I could learn to ride a bike without training wheels in your driveway. Of course, I ended up doing a face plant in that deep, rock-lined ditch at the end of it, and had to start the school year with half of my face looking like some mad science experiment gone bad. Good times, man, good times 🙂 It’s funny. I can remember your house as well as my own at the time.

    • Lynne – it’s so funny, I can remember your house too and I wasn’t there nearly as often as Jerri. I should have known you were in on the whole Harriet the Spy thing.

      I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the memoir and my plan at this point is to write a series of seemingly independent essays describing key memories that illustrate our relationship as sisters at different moments in time. When taken as a whole, the collection will hopefully shed some light on the evolution of mental illness and the importance of family support. Unfortunately, much of it will be a testimony of what NOT to do, but if I can pull it off, it could be insightful to families going through similar experiences and perhaps even interesting to a much broader audience.

      This particular essay is a time I remember Jerri standing up for me when no one else would. She has referred back to this in recent years when the roles have been reversed and I’ve been the one standing up for her. I think that in itself is something universal to which most sisters can relate.

      If you have any suggestions on how to improve this, please chime in. I’ve been told by other writers that sometimes I don’t give enough visual cues or describe the scene with enough detail. Working on that but not sure I’m there yet. Thanks for commenting. When I don’t get comments I wonder if I’ve just totally missed the mark.

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