Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sometimes, I find myself dunking things in my coffee

It's a weird, Italian thing to do. And sometimes I sit down with a good cup of coffee, and the urge begins bubbling up--that somehow life will be OK if only I had something hard and sweet to dunk in my cup.

My grandmother, my Nonna, lived three houses from the top of a steap hill. It was a cement incline the drove upward about three hundred feet at a sharp forty-five degree angle, slapping into the wooded hillside between the worn-out residences on the cement hill and the highway. The house was painted a soft scrambled egg yellow and seemed to be in constant need of attention. If my grandfather wasn't scraping paint, he was washing the soot from the highway off whatever portion he could reach. He was fanatical about it.

The cement porch was painted grey, I suppose to cover over rust stains or cracks. This didn't happen until I was three, and this change in the order of my universe was near-unbearable. It was grey like cement, but it was smooth, and plastic and fake. God, I obsessed about the most meaningless things as a child.

One thing that always bothered the living crap out of me was the carpet in my grandmother's kitchen. She had carpeting in her kitchen, we had carpeting in our kitchen. In fact, that carpeting in our house was put down when I was four, those bastard carpet guys killed my fish with fumes. I didn't learn until I was much older that carpeting in the kitchen is NOT the norm. The existance of the carpeting didn't vex me.

Nor was it that the green square flower pattern on the carpet was identical to the tan and brown carpet in my grandmother's sister's basement, except for color. No, Aunt Annie was clearly in violation of the order of my universe for that transgression.

It was the line in the carpet. The piece where the large hunk of carpet that took up the majority of the room ended, and that tiny little rectangle in front of the door to the dining room began. That drove me clear out of my mind.

Whoever'd layed the carpet had done a good job at matching up the pattern. I bet the adults didn't even notice it. Oh no. The line between the two pieces of carpet was like the tell-tale heart to me. It tormented me when I wasn't looking at it... hell it poked at me when I wasn't even in the room. I knew it was there, and that was all that was necessary.

I must have picked at it, maybe it began to fray on it's own. But I went even more insane when I saws the two lines of fabric beginning to pull away from the seam. One had a little ball of carpet on the end. I used to look at it, at the imperfect carpet while I ate my spaghetti. I used to stare at it while I tried to figure out a way to both pick up the spoon full of cerial with my mouth and consume it with my mouth, sans intervention from my hands. I used to try to look at it whenever Lucky, the grossly obese weiner dog sat on it. It made me bonkers. When you're three, its a short trip.

By the time I was four, it was three or four pieces of string sticking up, and the line of demarkation, the line of imperfection was noticable. I'd get yelled at if I picked at it. But I was facinated with it. I liked to dig my fingers beneath it and touch the hard weave beneath. Once, I even got down on my belly and licked the edge of the carpet. I'm not sure why, but it seemed like a perfectly logical thing to do. Of course, I also used to play in hot tar. So you can see just how my sense of normalcy may have been skewed.

Age was also important to me. I was as obsessed with it as the carpet. I wanted to know how far apart in age all of my mother's sibilings were. I wanted to understand why David still lived at home. More importantly, I wanted to know when I'd be five.

Five seemed like so much, then. When I was three, I had my eyes set on four, but five was really the hope I held in my heart. I even wondered, once, if it would be possible to skip being four. There was nothing good about being four. It was before the age of preschool and daycare, so there was no place at all for me to be. Five was the tops. The second I turned four, I wanted to be five so desperately--and I could taste it, almost feel it.

I had a friend who lived in the house at the top of the hill. She was everything I wanted to be. Blonde, cute, skinny, and six months older than me. She had a glorious July birthday, and the moment she turned five, it was all I could do to contain my envy. We were both going to kindergarten in the fall, but she'd already be the right age. I was embarassed that I'd still be a little baby when I went. Remember, in those days "cut off date" was a suggestion to be inforced or disposed of at the school's whim. Not like the hard and fast rule it is today. November birthday, no problem. As long as the nun could look you in the eye and hold a conversation with you.

I didn't understand that then--all I knew was that I was different, and less. I was chubby and young, and therefore inferior. Being five would somehow fix that, though. All would be well, if I could just hurry up and be five.

One day I had one hand on the handle for the chocolate brown refigerator, and the other on a brown-covered wooden chair. One of the chairs from that set lives in my kitchen now. I'm not sure how I ended up with it--but it was recovered three times before I got it, unscrewed it, and recovered it with brown vinyl. I was swinging my leg back and forth, listening to my mother and grandmother talk at the kitchen table, where most Italian living takes place. They were drinking coffee, and Nonna was a habitual dunker, until she was diagnosed with diabetes. They were talking about school and Heather's birthday.

And I asked it--the question I knew was silly, the question I knew they'd laugh at me for (I was acutely aware of adults laughing at me, and not with me, from birth it seams). I asked when I'd be five, and why couldn't I just be five already? Why would it take so long? The wait was unbearable, you see. Heather was the right age, and I wasn't the right age. And I'd start of school not being the right age, even though I'd be the right age in a few months. And I could wait a year, this way I could start when I was five. But then I'd turn six at the beginning of the school year, and that wouldn't work either, becuase then I'd be too old. Why, oh why, God, couldn't I have been born in the summer? I couldn't voice this to my mother. I knew she loved me, but she had no problem laughing AT her only child.

She dunked a fluffy yellow biscotti into my grandfather's weird ceramic mug with the enormous base. It must have been something capable of placating the angsful little heart of a four year old, whatever she said.

The afternoon light poured through the large kitchen window and caught on the particles in the air. The light and the haze made me sleepy, so I went to take a nap.


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