My Neighbor Queen Elizabeth

Have I told y’all I’m royalty? I hope not, because it’s bullshit. But. Have I told you that I grew up on a manor? Well, that’s also kinda bullshit. But! I did grow up across the street from Queen Elizabeth. Fact. And we had conversations on the regular. Also fact.

true lies

Okay, but fo’ real, yo. I grew up on the South Side. That’s another fact, bitches. And Queen Elizabeth was my homegirl. Put that in your factpipe and smoke it. (Please don’t smoke Queen Elizabeth. That would be weird. And grody. And also kinda cannibalistic. And probably racist. And you know who likes cannibalistic racists? Nobody.)

SOUTH SIDE REPRESENT

I should probably stop vomiting crazy at you and get to the point, hm? Fine. Fuddy duddy. (Warning: I may have over-caffeinated just prior to writing this post. And since my coworkers already consider me the resident loony, I thought I’d take out my hyper on you instead of them.) (You’re welcome.) (Say thank you, damnit. It’s impolite to be ungrateful around the crazies.) (Why isn’t it ingrateful? I mean it’s “ingrate” not “ungrate,” hello.)

And now, boys and girls, for a rare happy tale from childhood. Grab your milk and cookies and gather round. Or your bong and soda. I’ll take the bong and cookies for $200, Alex. Anyway. Gather round, peoplleaneous.

Where was I? Oh yeah, I grew up on the South Side, in the ghetto. That’s not really relevant, except to give you a feel for the place. And our landlord was a total slum lord piece of shit. But this post isn’t about him, even though he was a giant walking turd. (Did you picture it? I hope you did, cuz that’s some funny shit. Literally.) The little ramshackle two-bedroom single family rental was situated immediately behind a nursing home/assisted living facility, “Southside Manor” or some shit. (See? I fucking told you I lived on the manor. Or at least manor-adjacent.)

There was this tiny strip of wannabe road stretching between our ditch and theirs. (Seriously, it was a sad little road. Kids flying into ditches when cars tried to go both directions at once. That may be an exaggeration. But only because kids don’t have wings. Unless they chug Redbull. Yeah.)

After school, we’d go outside. I didn’t do very well outside. I was a total bookwormy homebody. I just wanted to hide in some quiet corner and read. But when mom was home, she didn’t like having us inside. Underfoot. Talking. Needing. Being. The sister would fairly readily find something to occupy her time. As for me? I’d just kinda…stand there…bored and confused and wanting to go back inside and hide. Being, admittedly, really sad and also kinda pathetic. Shifting my weight from one foot to the other. Looking around. Totally out-of-place and not really knowing how to be a kid. Like, at all. (Unless I was making the sister eat a worm or something. That was kidlike. And disgusting. And fun. Ooo new word: fungusting! Except that sounds like you’re trying to suck fungus up a dirtbuster. Whatever. Let’s see you do better. Hmph.)

It was on a day such as this that I met Queen Elizabeth. There I was, shifting my weight back and forth, this side of the ditch. Just kinda staring. At nothing. At everything. At the road. At my crush’s house – is Mario home yet? At the nursing home. And here she came. Little did I know I was about to become a princess and marry a handsome prince who would whisk me away from every…wait. That’s definitely not true. Where was I?

All Hail the Queen!

Oh yes, there I am: standing on the edge of the ditch, facing the road and the back of the nursing home. And here she came. There were no trumpets, no royal cavalcade, no retinue. She was quite demure and down to earth. And she was beautiful. This plump woman in her late forties (that’s the best estimate I can give, looking back now) with warm brown skin and billowing skirts. But what she wore better than anything was that huge, friendly smile. She grinned and waved, waved and grinned, free hand tugging at her skirts.

“Hey, y’all! I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. So what’s your names?,” she called. The sister came rushing over, looking between me and our new friend. None of us crossing the street.

We volleyed our names across, and she volleyed back:

“Well, I am Queen Elizabeth, and you suppose ta bow.”

I can still feel the grin spreading across my face. “You mean, THE Queen Elizabeth? Of England?”

“Yes, the Queen Elizabeth. I had to sell my castle, but that’s okay!”

“It’s nice to meet you, Queen Elizabeth!” I bowed and smacked my sister on the arm, whispering furiously for her to bow, too. “But she’s NOT a queen…is she?” To which I replied, “Of course she is.” “How do you know?,” my sister asked.

“Because she said so.”

Queen Elizabeth was so tickled when we bowed. She even did that thing where you hold a hand over your mouth to giggle. Then she told us she wasn’t allowed to cross the street, but honey she had that royal wave down pat. So we stood there, on opposite sides of the road..of life..and waved regally to each other and taking turns bowing and curtsying.

After a short while, one of her guards (an orderly) would come out and take her by the elbow. “Now, Queen Elizabeth, you know you ain’t supposed to be out here.” And Queen Elizabeth would say something about having to greet her subjects. I don’t remember much about the orderlies, except they seemed nice. Frustrated but friendly. We’d wave goodbye, with the royal wave of course.

And suddenly, I found myself looking forward to the first few minutes outside after school. I wanted needed to see Queen Elizabeth. She would ask about my day, and I would ask about hers. Sometimes she would complain that people weren’t letting the Queen eat what she wanted or watch what she wanted.

“But Queens are supposed to make the rules,” she’d lament.

And sometimes I would complain, too, about someone making fun of me at school. And she would say nice things to me, that I was pretty or sweet or smart.

“Stay in school,” she’d admonish. “Be a good girl.”

She was always smiling. Always. Those pearly whites exposed in a giant happy grin.

One day we said something at the same time, and I laughed and called over: “Pinch, poke, you owe me a coke!” Oh my goodness, that threw her into a tizzy. “What?! What happened?! Oh no. Oh no.” So I explained to her what the little saying meant and told her I wasn’t serious. She was quite perplexed, so I tried really hard to convince her that it was just in fun. It didn’t really mean anything. But the next day, out she came, holding her skirt in one hand and a can of Cherry Coke in the other. She couldn’t even wave; that’s how important it was.

“Queens always keep their promises! But…I’m sorry I couldn’t get two. They wouldn’t let me get two. But y’all can share!”

Boy, did I feel guilty. I tried to protest, but she started getting upset. So I knew her feelings would be hurt if I didn’t accept.

None of us was supposed to cross the street. And I knew mom wouldn’t approve of me talking to the woman at all – I always worried about her catching us. But Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t dare consider breaking the rules, so I darted across the street for the soda. “Now Queen Elizabeth doesn’t owe you anymore!” Oh, that grin. How infectious it was. I remember she touched my hand. Just a fleeting touch, perhaps accidental, perhaps not. But I remember.¬† (And I also don’t remember saying “pinch poke, you owe me a coke” after that. I didn’t want anyone feeling obligated. It made me sad that Queen Elizabeth might have thought she was in trouble.)

I loved her, best I could. I loved her. And I thought about her a lot.

One day, Queen Elizabeth stopped coming outside. I started to worry, and I tried to explain to mom that I needed to check on Queen Elizabeth. She had unkind words to say about a woman she’d never met. Because of the color of her skin. Because of her mental illness. I begged. I pleaded. Please let me check on her. Or maybe you can check on her for me! But my pleas fell on deaf ears. I don’t know if they’d put my friend on lockdown so she’d stop going outside, but I imagined the worst.

I missed Queen Elizabeth so much. And I cried and mourned her absence for a long time. More than anything, I hope she knew she was loved. Truly loved. I’ll never forget her. And I wish I could fashion her a crown and tell her,

You may not be the Queen Elizabeth, but you’ll always be my Queen Elizabeth. And I hope that was enough.

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Letters from a Happy Asshole

Dear Mom,

Did you know it was you who taught me? I bet you don’t know that, even though I told you so. You taught me so much:

  • how to smile through abuse
  • how to laugh in spite of pain
  • how to remain gentle in stormy seas

You sent me out into the world believing that it was worth enduring misfortune and pain, poverty and abuse. And so I smiled. I was such a happy child, even when my heart was heavy and I was stricken with fear and doubt. I had such a gentle and giving spirit, a ready smile for anyone. Everyone. You remember, don’t you? How I had such a hard time steering clear of strangers? It took me a little while to learn that people don’t mean well after all.

But wait, you didn’t teach me any of that, did you? When did you smile? When did any smile ever reach your eyes? When were you ever playful or joyful or ebullient? You weren’t, were you? And I forever battled your demons because you wouldn’t. No, you gave up ages ago. Before you even had us, I suspect. You know what you taught me?

  • how to keep it all in
  • how to withdraw from the world
  • how to lose faith
  • how to criticize myself and everyone else
  • how to hide my ideas, my mind
  • how to deny myself
  • how to submit
  • how to give up

Why are you so damn happy all the time?

Mom?

Stop smiling so much. There’s nothing to smile about.

But we’re alive, aren’t we?

Who cares if we’re alive? Everything hurts. My back hurts. My feet hurt.

At least you have feet. (I meant it so sincerely when I said things like that to you. But you you hated it. You said it was cruel. That I was being intentionally cruel. That it’s useless to try cheering you up. Remember?)

Whatever. I’m sick to death of cleaning up after you people. I sacrifice Everything, and Nobody cares.

I care.

Whatever. Leave me alone. I’m going to bed.

whatever

I followed you to bed, putting my sister on my lap. I’m a ventriloquist now, and she’s my dummy. I used your eyeliner and lipstick to draw on her face to make her look the part.

We put on a show for you. I’m in full form now, laughing, cutting up, being a smartass. Telling jokes and making faces.

You’re laughing! It’s working! You’re crying… Oh no, now you’re crying again.

You’re so sweet. You were always so sweet. And funny. How’d you get to be so funny?
Leave me alone now. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.

You better not have ruined my makeup. And wash your sister’s face.
(Rolling over in bed now, facing the wall.) Goodnight.

I hugged you and kissed you, anyway. And I begged you to be okay. Please cheer up, mom. We love you. Doesn’t that matter more than anything?

I’m sorry.
But I did tell you to leave me alone.
Wash your sister’s face.
Goodnight.

How many days and nights did we repeat some variation of this until I gave up? I couldn’t fight your demons alone. I needed your help. How many times did you watch me sobbing for you, begging you to talk to me. Play with me. Read with me. You said I’d be better off just forgetting about you. How could you say that?

And how dare you for getting angry when I did give up trying to fix you. And how dare you for abandoning me. Yes, you taught me much.

I was such a happy little asshole. That’s what I was to you, wasn’t it? The little asshole thorn in your side who just wouldn’t quit fucking smiling no matter what life threw at her. Did you ever stop to think that I smiled for you? It doesn’t matter anymore. I was always the happy little asshole to you. The one who had the nerve to smile in the face of adversity. The one who dared ask you to be a mother.

Just do me a favor, would ya? Don’t come back. Don’t. I can’t do it again.

~

Dear Classmates,

To the little girl that broke my heart and my nerve: do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve to approach you? You looked so lonely and sad. And I was so shy. But we were both alone at recess, and I wanted to help you. I needed to make you smile.

Do you know how long it took for me to work up the nerve? How difficult it was? How my heart lodged in my throat as I approached you? How much courage it took for me to ask five little words of you in the softest voice? Will you be my friend?

Do you know what it did to me when you replied,

No.

and walked away?

My little soul was crushed. I cried so very much. Do you want to know something else?

That was the last time I ever approached anyone. That was the last time I ever made the first move.

I know, now, that you were probably hurting at least as much as I was, if not more. But my little heart couldn’t see past the pain then.

To Marshall: I’m sorry I never worked up the nerve to approach you. To tell you that I knew it was you. I recognized your handwriting. On the Secret Admirer card. But I had already lost trust and faith in people. I thought it was a joke, you see. A scam. I learned later that I hurt your feelings, ignoring your gesture.

To the boy at the dance: I didn’t even want to be there. I had been forced to go. People were starting to worry…at my lack of friends and growing social anxiety. I had been made fun of far too much by now, and I couldn’t. I wanted to trust you, when you asked me to dance. But I couldn’t. I just knew it was a joke. So I went inside and stuffed my face until the party was over. That’s the first time I remember medicating with food.

~

Dear Marie,

Why did you ask me why I smile? Every day, at least once a day? You were a grownass woman in her forties. Why do you feel a need to rob a teenager of her smile?

Every day I smiled and greeted you with a happy countenance and hope for a good day. And every day, you shot me down. Confronting me in angry tones,

Why are you so happy?
I mean, really. Look at you. What do you have to be so happy about, anyway?

I woke up this morning.

Ugh.

Would you rather I told you, “This is my mask, and it helps me get through the day”? I suspect you would have liked that, to know that I shared a fraction of your misery. But no, I was too busy trying.

if_someone_is_too-48490

It took me a couple of years, but I finally stopped. Smiling at you. You didn’t deserve my smiles. But then, one day, I started smiling at you again. Out of spite. Because fuck you, that’s why.

And again, I was the Happy Asshole.

Thanks, Marie. For reminding me of her.

~

Dear James and Everyone Else I hurt in Jr. High & High School,

You told me one day, later on in high school, that I had been a bitch to you. I’m sorry. I really am.

I was afraid of you. I didn’t trust you. I never did. And I still didn’t. Hell, I still wouldn’t. Even now. I had been bitten so many times by then, that I used meanness as a defense mechanism. To keep people as far away from me as possible.

But at least I started smiling again. Greeting you. Refusing to take my pain and inner turmoil out on you and everyone else.

Thank you, for being so honest with me that day. I needed that dose of awareness. It hurt to know that I’d been hurtful. I’ll never forget it.

~

Dear You,

Please allow me – and anyone else – the right to be down sometimes. Please don’t beat me with your happy stick and try to force your idea of happiness on me.

You see, I’m fighting really hard. No, I mean it. Really fucking hard. To lift myself out of this funk. It’s a daily battle, and a tough one. And while I’m thankful for words of encouragement and positivity, it hurts when you’re dismissive. As though I don’t have the right to be down because it offends you.

I understand now, why it hurt my mother for me to say things like, “well, at least you have legs!” But I was a child, and I didn’t realize it was dismissive of her pain. I thought I was being encouraging, but all she heard was “your pain isn’t valid.”

So be encouraging of each other. Be positive. But try not to be so fucking militant about it. Just as my depression isn’t an attack on you, your positivity shouldn’t be an attack on me.

Live and let live and Kumbaya, and all that.

~

Dear Me,

You’re at risk of no longer being the Happy Asshole, but instead just an asshole. And if that happens, they win. Is that what you want?

So keep smiling at work. Keep saying goodmorning to the world and all its inhabitants. Keep telling off-color jokes and being a raging smartass. It’s fun. It makes people laugh, and it cheers you up to do it.

Don’t let them destroy the last remaining vestiges of you.

Cling to life. Cling to joy, even if you can only find scraps of moments here and there. Those scraps count. Those scraps matter. Those scraps are what keep you coming back for more.

You matter. You probably won’t think so in the morning. Or even an hour from writing this.

So keep reminding yourself. And try to believe people when they say nice things about you.

Don’t be an asshole. It’s no fun without the happy.

~

Signed,
The Happy Asshole

I Just Called to Say…Oh No He Didn’t!

What up, Peopleaneous! What do y’all think of your new spelling: Peopleaneous? Does it sound too much like People Anus? I’m thinking the extra l in peoplleaneous may draw our eyes away from the anus part. In other news, welcome to my brain. Because this is the kinda shit that I get preoccupied with.

I don’t particularly feel much better today. In fact, I feel like steamed shit with a side of mashed shitatoes. But for some reason, this memory popped into my head. A good one. From a few years ago. And I’m gonna share it with ya, peopleaneous. (There is an “e” in there that should make it clear I’m not saying anus. I’ve just ruined it forever, haven’t I?)

Raised by the Streets

A couple of you are aware that I was a teacher for a brief time. It’s been mentioned once or twice in comments, but I don’t think I’ve ever brought it up in a post. I may speak to that more in depth later, but for now it’s only important to lay the groundwork for this delightful little episode in my life.

At the time of this incident, I was teaching third grade. This was in a ghetto school in a ghetto neighborhood in a ghetto town in a ghetto parish (yes parish, not county…Louisiana, remember?). And no, I’m not using the word “ghetto” loosely. I went to teach there on purpose, because I spent a large chunk of my childhood raised in the ghetto. And I know, first hand, that it’s those kids that need people who give a fuck about them in their lives. The ones in privileged areas (or any area that isn’t in abject poverty)? Their chances of having people give a shit about them are exponentially higher than those raised in the hood.

sesame

So yeah. That’s where I was. And fuckin’ hell, I loved those kids to death. Talk about spirit and will. It takes boatloads of that to survive in that environment. And man, you can learn a thing or ten from kids like that. Those little people remain some of the best people I’ve encountered in all of my thirty-something years.

Some most of my colleagues openly gave Not One Fuck about those kids. They were there for the paychecks and the summers off. And believe me, the kids know which teachers respect them and which ones don’t. And I have not one ounce of pity for the teachers that give not one fuck. They deserve the hell they’re put through. Yeah, I said it. They fucking deserve the absolute shitstorm those kids subject them to.

You have to give respect to get it. Earn it. Fucking earn it. You want kids to respect you? Then you sure as hell better start by respecting them. You’re a fucking teacher: teach respect. I don’t care if teaching is your profession or not…all adults model behavior for children, wittingly or no. Teach them respect.

Whew. I got really. Really worked up just then. Seriously, I can feel my heart racing. I’m gonna hop down off that soapbox…for now…and get to the tale. I just wanted¬† you to know that this kid I’m about to tell you about is a straight up street kid, raised by drug-addicted criminals and bounced from crowded shack to crowded shack. Little sleep, malnourished, serious anger problems, semi-violent tendencies…this is the nine year old I’m talking about. And damnit, I loved him. And you would have, too.

Class Clown

Because he wasn’t just those things. Yes, those were part of the shaping forces in his life. But you know what else he was? He was curious, clever, mischievous (in non-sinister ways), and damn did that boy love attention. Positive attention. He was my class clown, by a landslide. And I loved it. He was great comic relief and brightened the kids’ moods so many times.

Sometimes it was disruptive, yes, and we would have one-on-one talks about his behavior. And he always knew I respected him. They all knew that.

So this one particular day, I had just finished up a lesson and was moving on to the next subject when Jamal (made-up name but similar to his own) raised his hand. I ignored it. (Dude, kids raise their hands all the fucking time. Sometimes you gotta ignore that shit, or you’ll never get anything done. Also, the class’ behavior had been particularly difficult, and I was not in the best of moods.) After a bit, he started waving it. I gave him the look, and he stopped. But it wasn’t long before he got going again – then he added a little whine to it and lurched forward, plopping his upper body across his desk and pathetically waving his hand over the edge. It was so fucking dramatic…I was annoyed but also amused. I had to fight to hide my amusement.

~

It had gotten so disruptive at this point that I had to address it:

Me: Jamal, now is the time to sit up and knock it off if this isn’t important.

Jamal: It’s really really important.

Me: *gives him the look*

Jamal: I swear! It’s for real this time! (His eyebrows are raised and his face all scrunched up in that pathetic little “I’m about to start bawling” look.)

Me: *sigh* Alright, what is it? Do we need to talk at my desk?

Jamal: *shakes his head and slowly begins to extend his arm toward me* Ms. _____?

Me: Jamal… (I’m being all stern, but he’s winning. And he knows it.)

Jamal: I just called (he’s singing, y’all…he’s singing)….*slowly rises from his seat and fully extends his arm out to me*….to say, I love youuuuuuuu.

The class erupts in laughter and applause, which fuels Jamal’s fire. His smirk has been growing, and now it’s a full-on grin.

I’m screwing up my face, trying So. Fucking. Hard. To keep a straight face and not burst out laughing. But I suck at that. They know it, too. I like them too much.

Jamal: And I mean it…from the bottom…of myyyy hearrrrrrt.

And then I lost it. I’m simultaneously laughing and crying, doubled over and shaking my head. The class has lost it, too.

“Oh no he didn’t!”
“Jamal! You better sit yo ass down!”
“Jamal! You made her cry!”
“Naw, she laughin’!”
“Boy you ain’t no Stevie Wonder! Sit DOWN!”
“Shhhh SHHHHHHH she’s gonna get us!”
“Boy if you make us lose party points, I’m whoopin’ yo ass after school!”

Meanwhile, he’s gotten up from his desk and moved toward the front of the class to continue his crooning. Then he hugs me.

~

It all happened really fast, and it took a few minutes for everything to calm down and get back to lessons. But everyone’s mood improved beyond that point. (Hell, the fact that they knew Stevie Wonder was a marvel in itself.) Yes, Jamal and I had our umpteenth talk about appropriate classroom behavior. And yes, I had to give him a mark on his conduct, because if you don’t stick to your classroom rules, the kids own you. And once that happens, good luck reverting the classroom dynamics.

Anyway. He told me I looked sad. And he knew I was mad at them for being intentionally difficult that day. And he said, “Ms ____, when you upset, we all upset. I had to fix it.”

This little boy, written off by so many because “he’s ghetto” made such an impact on me that I will never forget him. I’m tearing up now, just thinking about him. He’s one of the ones that my principal – I wish I were joking – said “we just holdin’ ’em for prison. Stop tryin’ so hard. He ghetto. They all ghetto.”

Fuck you, bitch. He’s not ghetto. He’s human. He’s a little boy who the universe won’t stop shitting on, and he needs his fellow humans to love him. To show him it’s not all a worthless pile of shit. To show him he’s not a worthless pile of shit.

~

And you know what happens when we do that? When we teach them love and respect?

They sing.

~