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  • *a fictionalized story based on true events.

    The summer I turned twelve, my father sent me to clown camp. It was during dinnertime, the holy hour between his arrival home and his departure immediately after, and my sister Ellie had spilt her milk into the bowl of peas. I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. My father hated my laugh; he called me hyena.

    He had animal names for all of us. Ellie with her long neck and skinny body was weasel. Which later served her well, she became a lingerie model at a mall in Queens. And Sam was called chimp, because dad said he walked funny. It might have had something to do with his disability, but when I remember back no one was particularly politically correct in the ‘70’s. Way to build confidence dad. And mom, well sometimes he called her giraffe and sometimes he called her hippo. I never did understand the hippo name, because mom was naturally skinny and graceful but she did have sleepy golden brown eyes with really long eyelashes. So I guess she should have taken the name giraffe as a compliment.

    He turned to me his eyes cold. I froze, the whooshing noise started in my head and I wished I could pick up the moment and shake it back to before I started laughing, shake it until all the lines were gone, the screen back to slate grey, no milk in the peas and no laughter. Snot and snorted milk were running down my face. Mom looked at me and then passed the potatoes to Sam. She wasn’t going to rescue me this time.

    “You think that’s funny, do you hyena?” He kicked me hard under the table and pinched my forearm between his big fingers. I knew later there would be a circle of bruises around my arm. My face burned. Sam, Ellie, and mom looked down at their plates. He pointed towards the stairs, saying nothing. I was happy to leave.

    My room was tiny, more like a big closet. It sat under the eaves of the roof but it was cozy with light brown paneling. Warm and brown. Like cinnamon toast or grilled bran muffins at the diner.
    That was my usual punishment for ruining the sanctity of smothered pork chops, mashed potatoes and peas. Spending the night without dinner in my cinnamon toast room.

    I lay on my bed, listening to the Doors and staring at my Jim Morrison poster. It was the coolest thing I owned, Jim in black velvet against multi-colored flames. I idolized Jim; mom said he was a drug addict and an alcoholic. But she didn’t say anything when I unrolled the poster from Ellie on my 12th birthday. Ellie even went into Lifestyles and bought it, we weren’t allowed to go in there. They sold pot paraphernalia and other stuff I didn’t know much about back then. She also got mom to buy me the Dynamite 8 in explosion yellow, so I could take my music anywhere I wanted. When I listened to Riders on the Storm, I felt loved. There was rain on the album and it always made me feel like crying. It was seven o’clock when I heard the door slam. I left my room to find mom.

    I found her organizing the linen closet. All the sheets and towels were in perfect rows, color coordinated, from the palest shade of ivory to dark blue.
    “Why does dad hate me so much?” I asked, helping her fold the pillowcases into perfect squares.
    She looked tired.
    “He doesn’t hate you, he just wants quiet, he just wants one hour of quiet every night at dinner.” she sighed deeply.

    “I’m sorry, Missy about this...” and then she hugged me. She smelled like bleach and clothes- line dried sheets.
    “Your father left this for you” she put down the sheets and gave me a one-armed hug. “It doesn’t have anything to do with tonight, he’s been planning this for some time.”
    She handed me a brightly colored pamphlet with lots of happy kids and balloons on it. It was a camp brochure for a clown camp in upstate New York.

    After three weeks of camp I had learned how to juggle, perfected my clown face and won a blue ribbon for my skit on closing night of camp. I didn't ever want to go home.

    The next morning Mom picked me up in the old blue wagon; as usual she was 30 minutes late. She was alone, her hair was down, and she was wearing a paisley dress I’ve never seen before. Before I could ask any questions or show off my clown handshakes she held me close and said “he left.” Before you start thinking that my dad was the tyrant and my mom was a victim, think again. They both were pretty bad parents, young, selfish and completely not interested in being parents. Dad was just more honest. Ellie told me the end was pretty boring. He just walked into her room, turned down her radio and said, “I’m tired of being your father, you kids are driving me crazy and I’m bored with your mother.” He then told her to clean up her room, turned back up the radio, and left. I actually respected him more after I heard that.
    Once a month dad picked us up for dinner. He took us to Mr. Steak. I ordered off the children’s menu, even though the menu clearly stated 11 and under only. I wanted the waitress to challenge me, but she never did. I always ordered Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was a chicken breast and seven fried shrimp. It came with fries and coleslaw too. Dad always ordered me a Shirley Temple with extra maraschino cherries. Ellie talked a lot during our dinners, I didn’t talk at all.
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