Kirk was out from school on Tuesday too. I was worried. Was he really sick? What could have happened to him to be out for two whole days? Parents in Three Springs never let their kids take off two days of school in a row, unless, early morning belly ache attacks are really serious illnesses. A thermometer held under warm trickling water in the bathroom sink works well to convince parents that a stay home from school is warranted, but there are times when kids really get sick and I had a feeling something horrible had come over Kirk Talbot and he wasn’t just faking it.
Did he have the mumps? Kirk had the chicken pox already, when he was in third grade with Mr. Kaufmann as his teacher. Kirk took off two weeks that January and got homework assignments picked-up in a pick-up truck by Kirk’s grandfather, Joel. Mr. Kauffman told Joel to have Kirk read just this and that– whatever he could get through.
Kirk told me his medical history one day, out at recess when we were balancing on the sea-saw together. We were exactly the same weight– seventy-six. We could hover, without pushing off from a paved playground beneath our Chuck Taylor tennis shoes. We were like magicians. Our two skinny asses sat like indians; feet crossed under knees covered in plaid pants. We hung in mid-air, like clothes pinned to a line; just staring into eyes, remaining steady at the other end of a long board with metal handles.
“Did you get the chicken pox yet?” Kirk asked, hardly moving his lips, in fear that it may upset our balance. He was wearing a checkered blue, red and yellow pair of plaid pants. He could balance like a chicken when it sleeps at night. He was just waiting for me to make the first move on the ‘teet-or-taught her’!
“Yep. Just like you, Kirk,” I replied. “I got chicken pox in the third grade, too. I was in Mrs. Book’s, class that year, I didn’t know you then,” I explained to my friend as cotton- like clouds spun above us, appearing like the Muppets in a movie.
He sometimes winked after I answered his hardest questions about me. Like Miss Piggy, I appreciated the sincere interest and giggled tenderly as we continued to balance together.
I knew what the sudden flutters of Kirks bashful eyes on the other side of that splintered oak beam meant. His piercing hazel balls were covered with lashes similar to crow’s feet. The black threads hung over Kirks’ scorned eyes, in a most heart- wrenching flutter. I was helpless as a young, gay child with Kirk as my best friend.
Kirk asked me if he thought my mom would let me stay over at his place. I quickly uncrossed my legs, causing the sea-saw to unbalance, sending Kirk tumbling in his good school clothes.
He rolled into a metal swing-set that seated at least fifteen. Penny Chillcoat swung on the last chair and chains, next to us on the sea-saw. She flung herself hard with eyes fluttering at the patterened cotton balls in the heavens. Her anger was seen. A frown crossed her pudgy nose and heavy eyebrows. Here face bent like wet bales of hay in August as she watched me toy with Kirk– the other guy who might marry her some day. Penny’s dirty-blonde pony tails flew in the wind like spaghetti as she kicked her legs hard, propelling herself like a human NASA rocket. She appeared to want to jump at us when I tossed Kirk like a meatball from the balancing act that had remained in mid-air on the playground for well over twenty minutes.
“I’ll ask, Kirk, but my mom don’t like you.” I said loud enough for Penny to hear on the school swing set. Kirk got up and checked his clothes to be sure he didn’t get any holes in them from the rumble I had just caused on the hard, grade-school playground.
“Mom said you get me into trouble all the time and that I’m smarter than you, and that I have to start getting better grades or I’m gonna get whipped just like you are all the time, Kirk.”
“Everybody says that about me, Charlie. Everybody just hits me all the time. You’s the only one that h’aint hittin’ me all the time. I wish you could make them stop. I like you sittin’ behind me, Charlie. I know you ain’t gonna whip me like my Pap’s does, no matter what. You should have been a girl,” Kirk threatened.
“I know, Kirk.” I replied, feeling bad for taunting him as I was. “I can’t believe you get hit like that. I get hit too, but I never bleed like you do. Stop being bad all the time, Kirk. Try to be good sometimes, like I am. I know how you feel, though. You sit in front of me. I should know that you are not bad like everyone thinks you are.”
“So, tell your mom you want to stay at my place so we can use my telescope at night.”
“Alright. I’ll ask her tonight. Tell me something, Kirk– did you steal my radio wrist- watch from my desk? That’s the only reason Mom’s mad. If you give it back, I bet I can come over.”
“Nope,” Kirk replied, winking at me again from his side of the sea-saw. I hated him for being so coy, but his game of ‘balance’ challenged me, academically. Kirk was so smart in so many ways. How can a little kid be so bad all the time and know he’s being so bad, yet torments all the grown-ups all the time, even me, without fear of a good whippin’?
Kirk’s newly assigned desk was positioned at the back of the room now, sticking out like a sore thumb in a last ‘dumb’ row of hands. No longer would I be behind him. His new desk was next to a bulletin board. No longer would Kirk look out the window with me, wondering if it was going to snow at night so that we could have off school and go sled riding. I would miss sitting beside him, that was for sure, but it was early Spring and the attention I was getting from everyone else made letting him go easy. Like Penny Chillcoat once was to me, the Yingling Twins made it seem possible again that one day, I would marry a woman and not be one.
Fifth grade guys, many of which, were bad like Kirk, were sitting all around me and the Yingling twins now! There was so much to be learned before the school year ended.
My new seat in third place shocked the class. I was still in fourth grade. How could Mr. Holovika sit me in some sort of school racing system in front of all of them, even the fifth graders, especially when I flunked the second grade?
There wasn’t one fifth grader in the top five of the class. Fourth graders sat in the first five seats.
Suddenly, in a moment of youthful genius, I realized that someday, I wold have both a husband and a wife. I was so smart. I could take care of Kirk too, even if he was dumb.
My mother, at a PTA meeting, scolded my teacher. My very teacher. She must have said something that scared him to death, like she used to do to my poor old Dad when he drank.
I don’t know what happened exactly at the PTA meeting when Mom wore her gold, hooped earrings. The facts were: I came to school on Monday after that meeting of teachers and parents only to be moved away from Kirk Talbot, my alphabetized, best friend in grade school, and ranked at the top of the class.
Mom got her way. I couldn’t believe it. And now, the entire class had to suffer through a smart-dumb game of musical academic chairs, and there I was, one of the so-called, smart kids in class, winning at Mr. Holovika’s new grading system– the AG++.
I liked sitting beside the Yingling twins. So did my mom. She said they were very cute, but that I should not marry the red-headed one, Tonya. My mom said she didn’t want any ‘grand-boys’ with red hair.
“What about girls?”
“Oh yes, red-headed girls, like Tonya are pretty, but you stay away from her ‘cause I don’t want no grandson with red hair. A girl with red hair is pretty. I would love to have a little granddaughter with red hair, but a boy with red hair is the devil. I could never love him,” Mom explained. “Only God decides if it’s going to be a girl or a boy, and just look at all the boys I got! Thank God none of you came out with red hair like on your daddy’s side of the family.”
In the 40 years of this life, I have never had relations with a red head…