July 15, 2007

Did It Happen?

I was in the first grade, so I was six or seven years old, depending on the time of year.

A tall man in a suit came to our classroom, and spoke to our teacher, Mrs. Berger, for a few minutes. I'd never seen him before; he wasn't one of the parents, one of the teachers, nor was he the principal.

Mrs. Berger asked John Doria and me to go out into the hall with the man.

The man spoke nicely to us. He must have told us his name, but I don't remember. He asked us our names.



"Do you want to marry her?"

"Nooooo!" (Giggles from both of us.)

"Do you want to marry him?"

"Nooooo!" (More giggles.) (I probably would have answered "yes" if John hadn't answered "no." He was smart, super-cute, and already knew now to play the guitar.)

I don't remember what else he asked us before thanking us, shaking our little hands, and sending us back to class.

I never asked our teacher what that was all about (most likely I was too busy learning how to read and such)...I never told my parents about it (I had bigger fish to fry, such as whining for a pair of "go-go" boots)...but I never forgot the incident either. Years later, I had lots of thoughts about this brief, enigmatic encounter.

-We were being auditioned for the TV show, "Candid Camera."
-The man was a school psychologist, and our teacher thought John and I were "troubled."
-He was a researcher, tallying first-graders' responses to the question, "Do you want to marry her/him?"
-They should have asked our parents' permission to speak to a strange man.
-John and I were special.

It's amazing how the mind travels for years around something seemingly insignificant, lasting no longer than five minutes, more than 40 years ago.

Then, there's the nature of memory and it's unreliability. Did this happen? Did it happen as I remember it? Why, out of millions of five-minute scenarios in my life, do I remember and focus on this one? What's unresolved about it for me?

We could say I missed my chance at TV stardom...if in fact there had ever been a chance. Or, that if I'd been on TV, it would have made me a "star." Does anyone today—other than their families—remember any of those little cuties saying and doing wonderfully bright or outrageous things on Candid Camera? (If not, it could be a huge relief to those 50 to 60-year-old children today!)

"John didn't love me." Now there's a stressful thought! Sigh...the story of my life, "The men I like don't like me." But I've only believed it for 49 years.

It could be that my teacher thought I was troubled. So what? She wouldn't be the first, or only one, to believe this. My mother kept me out of school a lot that year, initially because of an intense and lengthy allergic reaction I had to a gamma globulin shot...later because she didn't have the energy to make sure I went to school. There was plenty of drama at home, and in my head.

The real question is, did I think I was troubled? I remember feeling scared of some adults, being insecure around other children my age, and getting very angry with my parents for infractions "real" and imagined. I was sassy, headstrong, bratty, and funny; by five or six I was already a great mimic, doing impressions of my grandfather snoring, and of characters from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. I was very interested in reading books, play-acting, singing, watching television, playing with my older cousins, visiting my grandparents, and drawing pictures. I liked school; I also liked staying home, whether sick or pretending to be. When I go back in time to re-experience my six-year-old self, I can't honestly find a troubled child. I find someone startlingly like the person writing this today, albeit lots smaller, and a bit more confused.

"He was a researcher." No biggie, except I might think that research on the things children say is a silly waste of time. Mind likes to qualify everything.

"People shouldn't talk to kids without their parents' permission." I knew not to talk to strangers in the street because, you know, something terrible could happen. Not that it couldn't, but this was a school corridor in a benign section of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, not Belfast, Bosnia, or Bedford-Stuyvesant...and even if it had been one of those places, where's the proof of imminent danger?

A lot of thoughts flow from being "special," mostly ones that result in feelings of regret ("I didn't live up to my potential"), separation, and loneliness ("I wasn't like the other kids"; "I am smarter than others").

Today I am seeing this memory as a sweet visitation of what is not. The memory has brought some friends along this time. The doorbell rings, I answer it, welcome my visitors, hear them, love them, and say goodbye, until we meet again.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.


Heidi said...

I love your post, my friend. Love it and how it stirs my mind, my soul, my memories, my heart. Keep writing, my friend. I love that you write.

Love, Heidi

Mona said...

There are so many of those kinds of 5 minute events in my life that I remember with what I think is crystal clarity - and yet it's totally true that I can't know for sure that they actually happened that way.

Neat stuff to look at that's for sure. :-)

Jon Willis said...

Hi Carol,

This reminds of one of my own 'memories' from maybe being 5 or 6 years old - of going to the school hall, being sat down, asked to read out some letters (or maybe words) on a board, not being able to read them all and being told by the headteacher that I was a 'disgrace'.

Did it happen? I thought it did, but now I'm not so sure - it could have been a dream, could have been made up, part of it could have happened... anything.

What I know is that for many years I lived my life by it - trying to make sure people didn't think I'm a disgrace! (Hopeless, hopeless!)

With love and thanks,

Jon x