I do not remember much about my early life in Washington D.C. I arrived in D.C., I believe right before my fifth birthday and started Kindergarten at George Truesdale Elementary School in N.W. Washington D.C. that September in 1961. Today, one of my class mates came to visit. Her name is Letitia. (I won’t mention her first name.) What Letitia gave to me that Saturday afternoon was a stunning verbal portrait of what she remembers about me when we were in the third grade.
As the day approached when Letitia was supposed to visit, I was warned by friends, that this woman who allegedly knew me from the third grade, might be a deranged stalker and that I should meet her in a public place. I entertained those thoughts, but if I had let them win, then the magic of a third grade friend who had not seen me in 50 years would somehow be slightly diminished. So, I met her at my condo in Baltimore.
First, Letitia told me that me and my older sister, had abruptly left the third grade in the middle of the year. I don’t remember that. I will have to ask my sister, and more importantly I will have to visit my mother. Nevertheless, Letitia recalls unequivocally that I was a nice person. This was great to hear because the only stories that my family has re-told about me were those of my rage and violence and my refusal to be comforted.
Yes, those stories are true, but no-one seemed to remember any funny or happy or kind stories about me. True, there was the time, when I was six while playing kickball in my grandmother’s back yard I kicked my big toe against a piece of raised cement walkway. The toe-nail of my big toe was split in half all the way to the cuticle and it was bleeding.
I don’t remember whether I screamed from the hurt of the toe or that I missed the ball which I had planned to kick with such vengeance. A blood curdling screamed stopped 9 kids who had been playing kickball suddenly froze. My older sister came to comfort and take care of the toe. I pushed her away. I don’t remember what she said, but I know that since that remembered moment, I have always hid my pain in silence and aloness.( I don’t know why I have such foolish pride and never show my pain.) All of my childhood stories end with people being hurt and my rage and then remorse. However, when Letitia told me I was a nice person, a ray of light entered into that collected past. She was an unbiased outsider who was looking in.
Letitia told me that she had not spoken at all in the third grade, after our teacher had embarrassed her on the first day of class. She told me that she sat acros the room from me and stared at me through out the year. I did not know she was doing this. I do not remember her at all, yet I know she was in the third grade with me because she remembered the names of classmates who I did remember, including my first grade boyfriend, Andre.
I asked Letitia if I wore nice clothes to school and she said “I remember one dress that you wore. It was a deep burgundy tartan plaid with a bow at the back. You wore flats, with pointed toes,” She added.
“Wow, I don’t remember those clothes,” I replied.
“Yes, you always had nice clothes- and earrings,” She said.
“Earrings?” I asked. I knew that my ears had been pieced at birth but I don’t recall wearing earrings unti I was 11 and in the fifth grade.
“Yes, long dangly ones with crystals. You had red crystal earrings that matched your dress- the burgundy plaid.”
This was all so odd to hear, yet it she was confirming that I was really a sweet gentle little girl at one point of my life, for the question I have asked about that time of my life was “What was wrong with me?” Answering that question has been the emotional journey of my adult life.
Yet, on that warm Saturday afternoon in March, my third-grade friend and I sat down and talked about what happened after I had suddenly left third grade. We talked about my book and my blog- which is how she found me. We dined and then after signing the book, which she had already read, she said, “I only drink oolong tea.”
“I have some, it’s Organic,” I said as I went to brew her tea.
Here are pictures from that afternoon.