It is the summer after second grade and I am in love with Robbie Hillis. I do drawings of pony-newscasters for him. He thinks they are so funny even though I can’t draw. He just finished first grade, but I figure it’s okay to love him because we were in the same class.
I don’t know if they do this now, but I was in a combined first and second grade class. Robbie was one of the younger class members. He had a stuffed dog that he brought everywhere with him. He loved horses as much as I did. We made up stories about them that we would act out during recess. He was skinny and nice and he had shaggy, light brown hair. I was excited for my birthday party because Robbie said he’d come.
My family still lived in New Jersey. In less than six months that would change. My parents probably already knew that, but I didn’t. In the fall of that year my mom and dad would announce that we were moving to Providence, Rhode Island. My mom and my sister and my brother and I will join hands and we’ll skip around in a circle while my dad looks on. We’re just young enough to think it’s an adventure.
My mom seemed happy about it then, but I wonder what she was actually thinking. I think about how, in a couple of years, she and I will be blasting the Animals, bellowing along as Eric Burdon expressed his desperation to get out of this place with a painful sort of earnestness.
None of that’s happened yet. It’s the summer. It’s my birthday. It’s my last birthday in New Jersey. I am turning eight. I wake up and my head is at the foot of my bed. It used to be this was a private annual tradition of mine -- sleeping backwards the night before my birthday. I don’t know what inspired it, and I haven’t thought about it for years. It seems counterintuitive -- like, shouldn’t I have been doing everything I could to set the year off right? Instead I went for upending custom. I was a proud and unwitting member of outsider culture at age eight. You go, Glen Coco.
It was the best birthday party of my life. My mom planned it, and every once in a while I still bring it up. The party was legendary. There was a keg. Ha ha, no there wasn’t. I should preface this by saying that at age eight, in addition to horses, I was obsessed with lemurs. I feel this needs no explanation as lemurs are awesome.
My mom wrote a script for the day. Not in a control freak way -- she wrote a literal script. Each guest got to become their favorite animal. We made masks and tails (where tails were needed). Then she led us all into my backyard, an acre of green and a small babbling creek. My mom narrated our adventures, and they were awesome. I was in a fit of nerves the whole time.
That’s because my mom knew I liked Robbie. She knew because I told her every passing thought and feeling that glanced off my brain. Exhibit A, when I told her that I was in love with Fred Savage. Did she keep that close to her vest? No. She told my dad. He said nothing for days. Then, one night at dinner, with a wicked gleam in his eye he looked at me and remarked, “SAVAGE weather we’re having, isn’t it?” I wanted to die. I settled for screaming and storming out of the room.
Being who she is, my mom told my teacher because she wanted to find out if Robbie was worthy. My second grade teacher, the woman who inspired me to write, is also the first woman to ever -- before or since -- say this about my choice in men: “If she likes Robbie, she’s got very good taste.” This was all my mother needed to hear. I had worried in vain.
When it came to my “big scene” with Robbie, my mother had basically invented both LARPing and Fan Fic by having Robbie’s character become trapped in the creek. The only one who could save him? AN EXCEPTIONALLY BEAUTIFUL LEMUR OF COURSE. I stomped into the brook and I grabbed his hand and I led him to him safety. Later we ate cake.
After that summer I never saw him again, but I think about that birthday party and the blood rushing to my ears as I grabbed his hand way more often than I should. Even more than that I think of my mom, sitting at my dad’s computer, typing up a script late at night while I slept, so deftly making my dreams come true.