When I was in fifth grade, my friend Debbie had everything I wished for: a big brass bed with a velvet comforter that was big enough for three; her own bathroom with white, clean tile; and a playhouse that had everything a regular house had, only smaller. She had a maid and a jet-setting stylish mother who looked like she walked out of a magazine and smoked slender cigarettes. She also didn’t have four sisters.
I would spend weekends with Debbie and the housekeeper, Margaret, playing in her life and escaping mine. I was taken on extravagant weekend trips along with her mother and beau, an oil man from Texas. There were ringside seats at Barnum and Bailey Circus in Phoenix after a trip in a private plane. Another in Colorado where we had a chuckwagon weekend on a dude ranch.
I remember the private plane with it’s tins of English hard candy that I could have as many as I wanted. We sat in the front row at the circus and I watched Debbie ride around the tent with the circus players waving at me as she went by in a wagon drawn by horses.
Sweet memories of honey-filled sopapillas in Espanola, NM on our way north to the ranch. We stayed at a round Kiva with hardwood floors and every room was a different color of the rainbow.
Other memories sneak in.
The pinched look of contained anger on her mother’s face when those fried sopapilla pillows burst, covering us in a sticky mess we quickly cleaned up in a cramped bathroom before getting back in the car.
Margaret rushing in to tell us to hush because her mother had a headache.
Walking around on tiptoes as I smelled her mom’s perfume mixed with cigarette smoke.
The wig brush with metal bristles sitting on the bedside table next to her stuffed animals. A silent threat.
Did I know?
Maybe I did, but I’m sure my need to keep my privileges as her friend probably won out. I mean, that playhouse…
I remember we were on the playground during P.E. doing the President’s Physical Fitness Test. We had to do pull-ups. Debbie reached up for the pull up bar and her dress lifted, revealing mottled purple bruises peeking from beneath her skirt.
The wig brush.
Did everyone know?
After fifth grade it was announced that she was moving. Her mother and her Texan beau were tying the knot and Debbie would be going back east to boarding school. My jealousy was thicker than my tears (an only child and boarding school!). We wrote letters for a year or so and eventually lost touch.
I think about Debbie and all of the teachers and parents who may have known what was going on and did nothing. I think her friends knew, but we didn’t have the tools or knowledge or maturity to say anything. It was also the 1970s—a different time. We expected the adults would do something.
In sixth grade, my homeroom teacher was known to take students into the small bathroom at the back of our classroom and use the ping-pong paddle to punish. One day, a friend who was very small and a target of his bullying ended up with bruises halfway up her spine. A group of us girls sought out a tough teacher and told her, knowing something must be done. He was put on leave and finally resigned. It was a big scandal. We couldn’t ignore the cries coming from behind that door. We were forced to listen.
I would like to think that today, Debbie would have been taken care of in a different way. I may have said something. Intervention might have happened. There is more awareness, there is information available with every click of the mouse. People to help her. Professionals.
I am an adult now and I find myself sitting ringside watching a new circus. One that travels to me on a daily basis. But these clowns are scary. Especially the one with the orange hair. A Twitter account instead of a wig brush leaves indelible marks.
A narcissistic sociopath. A not so silent threat. Obvious signs of abuse of power. A bully. A system on the brink of collapsing.
And yet, the representatives of the populace who should be doing something, say nothing, do nothing. They whisper among themselves and make gestures. Maybe, like a 10-year old girl, they don’t want to give up their privilege.
We gather in groups and seek out those who we think should be able to do something. We can no longer ignore the danger he represents.
They have to know.
Perhaps we should bring back the Presidential Fitness Test.
And, maybe, years from now, this will just be another unbelievable story when I remember the week that the Boy Scouts had to apologize for the behavior of the President of the United States.
©2017 J.L.Jasper All Rights Reserved