The Almost-Man excerpt

She could write. It came easy to her, like breathing. There was a voice in her head telling her what words to put down. Like turning on a water faucet, the sentences just came pouring out of her without trying.

One day, in third grade, her class was asked to write a story about pre-historic earth. Louie carefully printed out her story about a  large fish-like creature with legs, instead of fins, who came out of the water. He was the first almost-man.

The next day, her teacher called her Mother to ask her where Louie had read about this early fish/man. “She couldn’t have written this on her own,” the teacher said. She accused Louie of copying the story from a book. Louie’s mother was upset Louie had likely stolen her story from magazine or book she checked out from the Bookmobile.

“But I made it up,” Louie cried. “It’s just a story I made up!” Louie’s mother shook her head; she didn’t quite believe Louie, but she also knew  Louie didn’t like science. She knew Louie liked reading stories about children and their adventures. Louie’s favorite book then, and later, was The Boxcar Children. (And not without good reason). Astronomy or Geography or Biology never interested her. Never.

The fact the teacher thought Louie stole her story from a book was like a slap to her face. Yes, she was overly-sensitive, but she resented anyone thinking she would cheat at writing. Writing came too easy to steal. The teacher’s false suspicion was a bigger deal in Louie’s mind than any one else’s – including her teacher and her mother. Any way, there were more important things going on in school then. Some students in third grade classes were about to be tested for a 4th grade class called “Gifted and Talented.” The city schools were experimenting to see if they should teach children with high IQs and high abilities in separate classes. Louie didn’t give a fig about the test or the classes.

Unfortunately for Louie, she broke her right arm a week before the test –  when she she was climbing over a picket fence and landed on her wrist. The break was so bad, they put her to sleep in the hospital while they set it. Louie recovered all right. She even learned she could use her left hand for some tasks. Which meant when the IQ tests came around, she marked the circles on the test with a #2 pencil held in her left hand. This took extra time, but what did Louie care?

To her amazement (and likely her parents’), Louie scored high enough, even left-handed, to claim a spot in the Gifted English program. Which was a kind of “gift” to Louie. It meant she could read – and even write – much more. And, maybe, she thought, by this time, next year, her new teacher would believe Louie was smart enough not to cheat.

 

(c) 2015 by S.A.. Kravetz, The Bully Path.com

The Boy On The Bike excerpt

When Louie was much older, she wondered if her early experiences at the hands of the adult bullies – the housekeeper, the helper, and her mother –  left an invisible scar on her back: a bullseye target that proclaimed: Hit here.

Or was it something else about her. Did she cower when she walked? Did she give off helpless vibes? Was her aura some depressing brown or grey color, drawing random mean people to her like flies flocking to butter? Was her self-esteem so fragile it cracked like thin ice under every withering glance.

Louie would never know exactly. No shrink would ever help her discover. Experience proved a better descriptor.

Back in the early poor times, in the days of Ricky Jones and Rexie and Lexie, Louie was walking home one day from school – maybe first grade. She always took the same three-block path back: Out the school’s front door, across the asphalt playground, and down the alphabetical blocks to her own street. Montview. Newport. Niagara. She didn’t know why she was walking alone that day. Maybe her friends were still on the playground, skipping rope or playing ball. But Louie couldn’t join them. She had strict orders to walk straight home after the last bell rang.

By the time, she reached the corner of Montview and was heading down the street to the corner of Newport, Louie noticed an older kid, on a bike, riding  alongside her. She didn’t think much of it, until he came off the street and onto the sidewalk towards her. Soon, he was riding almost directly behind her; she could feel the front of his tires touching the back of her shoes.

She walked a lot faster, but the bike stayed right on her heels. She zigged to the right, up on a lawn; he followed. She went left, back to the sidewalk curb and into the gutter, and he was right behind her.

Louie looked frantically around for some one to help, but all the house front doors were closed. There was no one about; not even on a driveway.

Louie picked up her pace, trotting until she reached the corner of Niagara, but still he pursued her. Finally, she had a thought. If she  stopped and lay face-down on the grass, the boy on the bike would see the game was over and ride away.

But that’s not what happened.

As Louie played dead, inhaling blades of grass, the boy rode over her left leg, up her back, onto her arm, and then sped away.

When she sensed he was gone for good, Louie slowly got up to her knees and looked around.  Her house was only half-a-block away. Not far. She stood. Somehow, she seemed o.k. She didn’t know how, but the weight of the bike and the boy riding over her had not hurt her. The only thing she felt was her heart thumping. She wasn’t afraid exactly – but maybe her heart was.

When Louie got home, she told her mother, and her mother looked at her with disbelief. There was only a small red slash mark on Louie’s left forearm and some grass  cuttings pressed into her face. She went into the bathroom and wiped the grass away with a wash cloth. The mark on her arm was already fading.

There were two truths: The first was the boy would never get in trouble because no one saw him ride over her. The second was she wasn’t hurt.

Louie never saw the boy on the bike again. But it didn’t matter. His memory stayed with her. He was always on her heels in the back of her mind.

 

(c) 2015, S.A. Kravetz. The Bully Path.com

 

Religion Would Make a Case excerpt

It was her parents’ great idea that Louie should start Sunday School. She was five years-old and in kindergarten. It was time to get off on the right foot where religion was concerned. Even though it was January, it was a new year. That’s what they reasoned.

This was hard to understand. Neither parent was religious. They never went to services. Louie never even saw them pray. Saying Grace each night before dinner was as far as religion went in their house. So, to Louie, Sunday School seemed like a kind of punishment- particularly because she began class half-way through the year.

When Louie started Sunday School classes, she was still wearing home-made dresses. Her teeth were starting to buck out like a chipmunk’s. Her hair was bushy and she hated it. Her mother put her hair in pin curls, but that only made it curl tight like an old lady’s hair. If you combed it, it became a bush again.  Louie didn’t look like any of the girls in the class. She was a stranger in a stranger land, wandering  alone in the desert.

She knew no one.

It wasn’t as if  the kids bullied her. They didn’t; they shunned her instead, ignoring her at snack time, when she ate raisins from a little box and they shared sugar cookies and drank orange juice from their little cartons. Louie sat alone at another table, looking at pictures in the Bible Tales book, wishing she could be anywhere but there.

Wishing didn’t work. She was planted there in the classroom, like a sapling tree, tied to a stake.

Complaining about it at home didn’t work either.

The fact that you don’t want to go makes me understand how bad you need to be going,” her mother said. She wouldn’t listen to any criticism or pleas from Louie not to go anymore. “You must always finish what you start,” her mother scolded. “You can’t be a quitter- especially not at Sunday School.”

By then, Louie figured out her mother didn’t care how she felt about anything. When she talked to her, her mother seemed always to be staring at a place just above her head. Her mother never waited for Louie to respond or to express a feeling. Her mother made the rules. She drew the lines. if Louie crossed one, she was banished to her room or some times, spanked.

Her mother paid the most attention to Louie when she was sick: when she ran a fever or threw up.For some reason, Louie’s health concerned her. Although her mother was almost always remote and cold to her, she did worry about Louie coming down with polio or Rheumatic Fever. She carried a thermometer around in her apron pocket. A loud cough or a sneeze was enough for her to whip out her thermometer to take Louie’s temperature.

Louie figured this was the way out of Sunday School. If she was sick, she wouldn’t have to go.

One Sunday morning,  Louie said she didn’t feel well. “I have a headache,” she said. “And my stomach hurts.”  Her mother didn’t wait; she whipped the thermometer out of her apron and plunged the cold glass stick into Louie’s mouth.  Louie closed her eyes. “Up, up, up!” she silently commanded. “Up!” And when her mother took the stick out of her mouth, and Louie opened her eyes, her mother said, “Oh! 100.4 – you have a fever! And it was high enough to keep her home, in bed. No Sunday School! Her fever was normal by the late afternoon. She was cured!

But Sunday School was  even worse after the sick week off.  Even the Sunday School teacher seemed to look down on her.

And then God did her a favor. God broke their jalopy’s engine, which meant she had no way to get to Sunday School. Her father was forced to take a bus to his office and back until an auto mechanic needed him as a lawyer.  Eventually, Nick Montaldo, a safe-cracker, showed up at her father’s office. He got the car working again. But by then, it was May, and Sunday School was almost over until Fall.  Finishing Sunday School wasn’t so important to her parents any more.

Time passed and Louie’s father began making more money. Her parents seemed to forget about her going back to Sunday School the next year. On Sundays, when it was still warm, they barbecued outside with the neighbors or played Canasta. Their neighbors were like family. Every Sunday was spent with them at a potluck. While the adults talked or drank beer, Louie played hide & seek or Cowboys & Indians with her next-door neighbors, Rexie and Lexie.

Louie didn’t go to Sunday School again until  junior high. But once again, only because her parents made her. She guessed that everybody in her class was also made to go.

Despite a few more years of Sunday School, Louie would never be a fan of organized religion. She didn’t need a label to pray. She learned all  she needed to know about faith from the horrible terrible kindergarten Sunday School year.

Yes, God worked in mysterious ways – his wonders to behold. And, also, yes, if you really believed, you could make things (like your temperature go up) happen.

 

(c) 2015, S.A. Kravetz, The Bully Path.com

Where to Draw the Line excerpt

Drawing a line is power. You decide where it goes & who can cross-over it & who can’t. Instead of  making “boundaries,” we should all make “lines.” A line is definite & fierce & there is no wiggle room.

–Louie’s note on the bottom of a page in her “How to Draw” book.

 

(c)2015, S.A. Kravetz, The Bully Path.com

The Rig Is Up excerpt

In the night heat of the poverty days, before anyone in the neighborhood had a TV, Louie and her parents went to the nearby drive-in movie. Drive-ins were a big thing back then – big  is the right word. The screen was huge, as tall as a building, so the faces of the movie stars towered like giants over the parked cars below them. The stars’ heads were so big, they could have been monsters in another kind of movie. Only this wasn’t scary. People adored movie stars, like they were idols in a some kind of glittery religion.

Louie’s parents didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket to drive into the parking lot. If they’d been able to pay, they would have found a good spot and attached a metal speaker to their half-way open driver’s side window. But, no money, no ticket. Instead, they drove half-way down the block from the drive-in’s entrance and parked by the curb. As the film rolled, they could watch all right, but they couldn’t hear anything. They tried to read the stars’ lips, guessing what they were saying, or, if they couldn’t, making up the dialogue. Louie’s parents thought this was fun, but she didn’t. She was in the back seat, already in her pajamas, with her pillow, ready for bed. It was late. She fell asleep, hugging Priscilla, listening to her parents guess what larger-than-life Rita or Esther or Alan were saying.

This was a game they played for only a few Summers. Back then, her father created all sorts of games so they wouldn’t feel so deprived. Sometimes they played a game of who could come the closest to guessing the exact cost of the three over-ripe bananas or the bag of grapes at the super market. They also played another game on their way home from Las Vegas. The game went like this: Be the first  to name the car brands driving towards them, on the other side of the highway.  The payoff for this game depended on her parents’ luck gambling. Some times if you won, you’d get the Diner’s Daily Breakfast -ham and eggs. Other times, the winnings would be your choice of a donut.

Because Louie was hungry and because she loved donuts and maybe because she had a sharp memory, she always won the car game. “Dodge!” she’d yell. “Buick!” “Ford! That’s a Nash Rambler” and so on.

“By god, you’re right, again,” her father would say. “That was a Chevy Bel Air. And, yep, you got that – a Ford truck!”

Nothing was more important to Louie than guessing the cars faster than her parents. So she focused; she really focused, and somehow, she knew almost all the makes of the cars before they did. The names just came flying into her head like they’d always been there.

So when they finally stopped at Shelby’s Diner, more often than not, breakfast was a donut. Louie, the game winner, stood before the glass bakery case and chose. She usually picked an iced chocolate cake. She could remember exactly how it tasted; how it melted, like ice cream, in her mouth. But her parents found a way to get donuts too.  They picked from the day-olds.

When they were all sitting at the diner counter, eating donuts together, Louie wondered just what was so great about winning the car game, when somehow her parents found the money to pay for three donuts, two cups of coffee and a carton of milk for her.

Later, much later, Louie realized the game was likely rigged. Maybe her parents just let her think she won; maybe she really didn’t.

Still, she never forgot the name or year of any brand of car from that period of her life. There was this thing about that.

 

(c) 2015, S.A. Kravetz, The bully path.com

 

Some Gifts Are Not Returnable excerpt

“It’s probably better not to be far-sighted. If some people saw their futures, they’d probably turn around and go right back to their pasts. Not me, of course. I put the past in a suitcase and donated it to Goodwill. I saw my future much better when I was younger. Now my ESP is all messed up with mind-clutter and wishful thinking. Being a half-assed psychic is not all that great. You get some of the pixels but not the whole picture”.  — from Louie’s journal

 

(c) 2015, S.A. Kravetz, The Bully Path.com

Truth the Hard Way excerpt

Look, if it’s truth you’re looking for, you’ll find it when it smacks you in the face, stabs you in the back or jumps down your throat.  Truth comes, when it comes, the hard way. So, yeah, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and stop and smell the roses. Just don’t forget that’s shit they grew from“.  — Louie speaking philosophy

 

(c) 2015, S.A. Kravetz, The Bully Path.com

State of Mind excerpt

Who ever said poverty is a state of mind never lived in a cold place with the heat turned off. If you’re ever forced into poverty, move to a nice warm state like California or Arizona. You won’t have to deal with a furnace. When I was little, I once saw people living on a California beach in a house made of stacked tin cans. I couldn’t make that up even if I wanted to. –Louie’s journal

 

(c) 2015, S.A. Kravetz, The Bully Path.com