I'm trying to think of where Sarah Palin and I parted ways. There would be the abysmal interviews, the rhetoric whipping up crowds into meanspiritedness, the questionable judgment regarding the firing of her staff and use of her power and money spent on her behalf, but for me it started with the books.
As TIME and other news outlets have reported, "She asked the library how she could go about banning books."
I was a dull child but my mom took me to the library every week. She'd go up to the adult floor; I'd hunt the stacks with the orangey smell of carpet and paper.
One day I found a book of children's poems. I wanted to impress my parents, so I memorized a few lines of one I liked: Something about a wooly-haired slave girl. I liked that one because it seemed like the girl was black like me and I liked reading about people like myself.
I wanted to get the lines right, so I practiced in our basement. Our house was an old colonial and the floor was earthen, so it was always cold and creepy, but quiet and like a cave. I took a towel and weighed the book down with the laundry, which I was supposed to be piling out of the washer into the dryer.
... the words rolled off no problem.
Bouncing up the basement stairs:
Hey Mom and Dad! I blurted out my lines --
My father harrumphed.
My mother -- Where did you get that book?
My father -- It's an insult.
I felt embarrassed. Wasn't this cleared? Didn't the library only stack nice books? How was I supposed to know this was a bad book? Was just this poem infected -- but might the others be allright? How many other books like this were there out there? I held it defensively.
My parents didn't take the book away or complain to the library. They could have cared less about my soft feelings.
I decided they must have misunderstood the poem. I went back to get the laundry and puzzled at the dark space between the washer and dryer. What used to be here? This house we lived in was built back when there were slaves. Maybe a slave girl had lived here - or nearby?
I went outside - past the current bushes and the raspberry patch and the drooping corn stalks, to the field where there was just grass growing. I stood there and listened. There had to be more to this - what did the author mean? Who was this girl? What did this place I was standing in look like at the time those words were written? Did a girl like me stand here once and wonder what it would be like to be somewhere else? The sun hummed, like a buzz from the crickets; it would be strange to say that these observations communicated a "yes there is more." But to my child's mind, they did.
My family's property sat on old rectory land; it used to belong to the church at the top of the hill.
One summer my brother and I decided to throw joint slumber parties, we're two years apart and were at that age when this was a desirable thing to do, and my parents were laissez-faire enough to let us have the party, so that's what we did.
My brother and I mapped out the itinerary. We'd start the evening off watching "The Fly" on this new thing called a VCR. All twenty or so teens watching, the doors of the summer night open, kids spilling out over onto the patio. My too-cool-for-school crush even rolled up his red pickup truck just in time to see Geena Davis give birth to a maggot. (Amorous impulses chastened somewhat by this gory image) it was still a perfect evening.
Around midnight, we organized three teams for hide-and-seek across about what we decided was a fair playing field, about six acres of land; my flank took the ridge up in the left part of the yard, then headed for the church cemetery.
It was a good hiding spot. The plan was to wait out the bloodbath and rock up to base, our team intact. Up against the church wall inside the cemetery, I felt the cool rocks against my back and the turquoise lichen growing over them like stars. The grass was soft like a carpet in my hands.
But then - a car pulled up on the other side of the wall, the gravel spinning out over the tires, hitting the wall and stopping right beside us. I heard my pal Liz breathe in but not breathe out. She, Courtney, a few of my brother's friends and I - we held our pee, farts, fear, laughter. The door opened. Someone, presumably a man, got out and stood by the wall.
We held. He stood there. We held some more. It was strange, unlike other moments, I did not feel the urge to jump up and say "Hi - I'm here!" I pressed against the wall, staring at the stones ahead.
It's not like we were in danger - but the rule of tag: never get caught. I could see the water in the corner of Liz's eye moonlit. Were we in danger? What had we done wrong? Who was this person standing by the wall of a cemetery - a psycho? A cop? A mourner? We held. Who stops by a cemetery at midnight? We didn't move. He stood there.
Prompted by some sign, he finally turned and got back into the car. 1-2-3-10-20-30 seconds later, obeying some internal kid's whistle, we all jumped up over the wall. The lights of the car were now past the hill curving down and far enough away. We ran through the darkness down the hill, back to the lights of the house. The summer air was warm. Everyone back to base. Everyone safe. Our team won.
We moved to another town the next year. And this would be the last birthday party we hosted. (Perhaps my parents had known this move was in the works and that's why they'd allowed us to have the party in the first place.) The suburb we'd move to would have more cement than I'd ever seen; the idea of wild children running around through the woods just wouldn't cross anyone's mind to do there. Run - where? You some kind of delinquent? The geography of this new home determined more or less that my brother and I would go our separate ways. No more games; we had to grown up.
He's in the military now. I wonder how he remembers the party. It would be funny to me if he said, well, that's when I knew I wanted to be a soldier. I doubt it. The narratives of our lives never really came together neatly.
For example, rarely has an experience been all one thing for me: not all good, not all bad. I guess this is what puzzles me about Sarah Palin; her ideas (fruit flies! Socialism! The liberal media!) seem so plain and neat. As a child, I used to expect things so, but experience kept showing me something else.