Back in the dark ages, I heard somewhere that someone asked Marilyn Monroe what she wore in her shoot for Playboy, and she said “Chanel no. 5.” (MEANING THAT WAS ALL SHE WORE, which didn’t register with me at first.) I didn’t know very much about Marilyn Monroe at the time – I just knew she was supposed to be the Queen of the Harlots, and I figured whatever perfume SHE wore had to be amazingly seductive and sexy. I imagined it for years!
Well, not long ago I finally ordered a big old bottle off Amazon and was so excited to smell it. I figured I would get 5 entire OUNCES and then I could be sexy until the wrinkles hit. And I slowly took out the stopper and… it turns out that Chanel no. 5 is “The Grandma Smell” that has filled my Grandma X’s bathroom and bedroom ever since I can remember.
(My dear Grandma. Bless her heart. I know she knew something was strange about the way we were all being raised, and I remember she used to take me aside and give me these boxes from Kohl’s and JC Penney and say “Here, I thought you would like this.” Bless her heart, she thought she was giving me some nice clothes for a change, and they were, but they were nice GRANDMA clothes. Loose, creased mid-length capris, pastel-colored cashmere cardigan sets. They were the newest and most modern-looking things in my closet and I was happy to have them! I wore some of those sweater sets for YEARS.)
Anyway, I told The Beast that I had just ordered some Chanel no. 5 and he immediately wrinkled up his nose and said “That’s a Grandma perfume.” It turns out that he likes it when I use Jessica Simpson Fancy, which smells like cotton candy. So anyway. On with the story! We are now up to the beginning of 2000.
I was 11 during Y2K. We were still living in the Lake Orion house. We were staying at Grandma’s when the ball dropped though – I forget if this was for power or sewage. (Mom made Grandma turn off the sound on her TV so we could see the ball, but not hear the evil rock music.) I expected the entire world to go dark when the sparkly ball hit the bottom of the pole, but nothing happened and I was a little disappointed. However, I’d been afraid that the Rapture would come and I would be left behind, so I was glad THAT didn’t happen.
The Orcs stored up a lot of beans for Y2K. Their whole basement was full of beans.
Sometime that winter, I saw a newspaper ad with a really beautiful woman. She was wearing a strapless gown, leaning back on a man’s arm and laughing with a glass of champagne in her hand. This picture made me feel weird – it was like I was looking through a window at some completely different world. I wondered if I would ever get to be in that world. It looked like such a lovely place.
February: I had my appendix out and I got to eat a lot of ice cream in the hospital. I also got my hair so badly tangled there that when I came home I asked mom to cut it all off. It started shoulder length, and as the years went on it got shorter and shorter and wider and wider until I looked like a mushroom. This was entirely my own choice. Nobody ever told me what to do with my hair, and I think I felt like it was the one thing I could control.
When I was on the operating table for the appendectomy, just before I fell asleep, the doctor said, “You sure have pretty brown eyes. You’re going to drive the boys crazy one day.” That was the last nice thing anybody said about my appearance for years and I remembered it when I felt ugly.
March or April: There was a sewage explosion and we went to live at Grandma’s for about 2 weeks. I took the light-up Polly Pocket houses with me and lit them up at night in bed. We could have ONE piece of Grandma’s turkey bacon with breakfast but we had to mainly eat oatmeal and honeydew melon.
While we were at Grandma’s, we went to a thrift store and I saw a red book called “Crime of Passion.” On the cover, a man was kissing a woman who was wearing just a bra and underwear. This picture made me feel really, really weird, too. I knew I probably shouldn’t think about it because the book cover clearly said passion was a crime. I looked away, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it for a long time.
When we came back from Grandma’s, the yard was full of straw and the grass was growing back so we couldn’t step on it. Also, all of our stuffed animals in the basement were ruined with sewage water. At that point my parents started seriously house shopping. We looked at one house that had cool shag carpeting, but it turned out it had dry rot. Then we found the Clarkston house and that was even better because it had lights in the kitchen cabinets.
Sam Gamgee, the neighbor boy, who I raced bicycles with, started coming over and asking to play clarinet and violin duets from the Suzuki book with me. We had to play on the porch because neighbors weren’t allowed in the house. I wondered if I was getting a crush on Sam and I ground a little red metal heart into the pavement with my bicycle wheel and told myself NO. I knew it was very, very wrong to think about liking a boy. That was why all those things were blacked out of our books.
April: We were moving out of the Lake Orion house into the Clarkston house. We moved so fast that we had to use the cardboard boxes from my Ping Pong table dollhouse. I remember packing books into the yellow bathroom box and the blue master bedroom box, which was a weird feeling. One of the brown ceiling beams came off the den ceiling while we were moving and I discovered that it was Styrofoam, which was also weird. There were many Cheerios under the carpet from the days when it was all right to eat Cheerios and we had to lift up the carpet and vacuum them all out.
I threw out the cardboard dollhouse furniture I’d made and saved a box of the few best things for my next dollhouse: the white metal bunk bed, the little wicker laundry hamper, the eraser shaped like a music book, the metal coffee pot, the teeny-tiny glass jar of peppermint sticks I’d found at a yard sale. I figured I’d start over again at the new house, and maybe get a real dollhouse family this time.
We slipped up with our diet while we were moving and ate a lot of turkey and Muenster cheese and Casey’s chicken that dad picked up from the corner store. Casey’s came in greasy paper cartons with an interlocking green and white houndstooth pattern, and they had incredible onion rings. This was kind of our last hurrah of eating normal food. It was so good.
The Easter sermon at Lothlorien was about homosexuality. I think that was kind of the last straw and we left shortly after that and started going to Máhanaxar.
The Orcs were already there…the first thing I saw when we got there was the backs of their red heads in the back pew. We were their automatic built in super conservative friends at Máhanaxar and they snookered us completely into their Hallelujah Diet pretty shortly after this. My period had started, but it stopped and I didn’t get it back for two more years.
It became increasingly sinful to wear pants out of the house. If the ladies of our family were going to go anywhere, we had to have skirts on. Mom went through her closet and threw out a lot of her old clothes in plastic garbage bags. I remembered the day she went so happily to get her driver’s license in the green slacks and I felt sad. She would never do something like that now. And she looked so saggy and baggy in her big jean jumpers, just like Mrs. Orc. I remember thinking “I should have appreciated the old days.”
When the Orcs were going to come over, if we happened to have pants on, we had to scramble and change into skirts before they got there. Instead of pants, we generally had to wear either skirts or culottes. Mom found some women’s size culottes in a catalog and ordered them for me. (It is easier to find culottes for short girls than for tall girls.) She was ecstatic when they arrived, and I pretended to like them. Nobody else at Máhanaxar Awana had to wear culottes.
At Máhanaxar Awana, one of the other girls whispered to me that “the boy in the grey shirt” liked me. I cut my eyes back as far as I could and saw that he was a very fat boy in a sweaty grey shirt. I said I wasn’t interested in boys thank you very much.
The night before we moved, Sam Gamgee came over and stood at the end of the driveway and said solemnly “It’s been nice having you here.” He was a Catholic so I couldn’t have married him anyhow.
The first day of May: We moved to the house in Clarkston. I remember going up the steps of the Clarkston house and remembering the rhyme about “the fair maid who the first of May/Washes in dew from the hawthorn tree/Shall ever after handsome be.” So I grabbed the apple blossom tree and shook some of the rain off it so I would be handsome.
To be continued!