Denton, Texas. 1982
There are two pair though I was only promised one. The pair I was promised are tiny figures of Tweety Bird lined in what the label calls 14 Carat Gold. The second pair are tiny green emeralds, shining in such a way that reflects the light in white geometric patterns when I twist the tiny posts back and forth in my fingertips. The emeralds came in a velvet box, the Tweety Birds in a cardboard box. The emeralds are the fanciest things I’ve ever seen.
If I made straight As on my report card, our neighbor, Miss Rhonda would give me a new pair of earrings. Miss Rhonda, with the round face and full pink cheeks. Miss Rhonda who loves the Lord. Miss Rhonda, Miss Rhonda.
How’s school, sweetheart? Are you trying your best?
I think so.
I nod my head yes. Her arms wrap around me and give me a squeeze — for a moment is too tight, and I feel I might snap in half. But as soon as her arms release, I want that moment again. I look into her happy face, she is proud of me for reasons I don’t understand. She loves me for reasons I don’t understand. I accept them anyway and hide them away in my heart to take out later and roll around in my mind.
The weeks march on and she checks in, giving me tiny trinkets to keep me working hard. A coloring book of bible stories. A deck of cards. A kite from the dollar store. A yellow ribbon for my hair. And that rib crushing embrace every time. I eat it up with a fork and spoon, famished for seconds. Starving for more.
We share a driveway in the trailer park. I become attuned to when she will arrive home. I wait at the window, hoping to catch her eye. We wave back and forth. Her face, looking up into mine in the late afternoon sun, shadows long and dancing behind her across the pavement.
Sometimes, I don’t want her eye. I’m happy to just watch her. Carrying groceries, baby on her hip, toddler in tow. She is a mama.
My report card arrives in the mail. A mint green envelope. School secretary perfect penmanship of my name and address. The day arrives and I beam in her attention. Straight As. Two pairs of earrings instead of one. One earned, one just because. I wrap arms around her, hoping to crush her with that same love I feel. But my strength fails and I fall into those sweet arms, her long hair cascading around my head.
I wear the Tweety Birds first. And save the emeralds for a special time.
I pull my hair behind my ears and rush to the bathroom mirror. On tip toes I strain to bend over the vanity sink and lean in to get a closer look. I want to see my ears twinkling with the big-head yellow bird. I hope she sees me wearing them. I hope she is proud. My heart sinks with the realization that the dance is over. The music has already changed melody. Summer is outside. Waiting. Panting with hot breath and promises of swimming pools and bike rides.
I already miss the dance with Rhonda. Thinking how I would trade in those As for that crippling squeeze, those check ins, those moments when someone stopped by to see me. That mama with baby on her hip waving up to me in my window.
Chelsea Schott is a teacher and writer living in Texas. She holds a bachelor’s in American Literature and a Master’s of Liberal Studies from Rice University where she is President of the MLS Writer’s Group. You can find her works in upcoming issues of Under the Gum Tree and Winter Tangerine Review and of course, Germ.