Through The Tulips: A Childhood Felon

Hi friends! I have been so ungodly busy, I haven’t had time to write – though there are certainly some lengthy posts that have been brewing (festering) for some time. Looking forward to having a lighter schedule this summer to finally be able to put some thoughts down!

In the meantime, here is a story I wrote while stranded at JFK Airport in NYC (in 2013) during a winter fog storm (wtf right?). A few days ago at work, I was reminiscing with some coworkers about a first-day-on-the-job experience where I inadvertently sucked a hamster up with a vacuum cleaner – not an exaggeration, it literally happened – and I remembered this larger-than-life tale of my life of crime as a young child. I’m too busy to read through and edit it, so I’m resurrecting it and presenting it in its original form, again. ☺️ Stay happy and healthy, everyone!

Through The Tulips (2013)

Once upon a time, when I was seven years old, I was arrested. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What in the world could a seven year old boy possibly do to be arrested?” Well, I’ll tell you. It requires sufficient knowledge of the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk, a garden of tulips, and a wildly exaggerated imagination. Add an ex-marine for a mother and a masculinity complex and, ladies and gentlemen, you have yourself a seven year old convict. Where should I begin? Through my younger years, I was bounced around from baby-sitter to baby-sitter like a Mexican jumping bean on hot-plated steroids. I learned the art of instability at a very young age; the universe apparently sought to prepare me for the things to come. After meeting my would-be step-father, Tom, my mother placed me under the care of Tom’s sister-in-law, Stay-At-Home-Mother Donna. Donna had two boys, my would-be step-cousins, Joey and Tyler. The pair made for some interesting stories on their own, but I’ll just stick to the topic at hand. Knowing what you know about me as a child: under-grown, feminine, and weak, I can tell you that I found Joey and Tyler to be inspiring in a ‘craving-pseudo-masculine-attention’ sort of way. They were athletic, mean, care-free little boys, like the bullies you find depicted in excellent Saturday morning cartoons of the 90’s. I looked up to them and their ability to rough and tough their way through dicey situations regarding off-limits playground equipment and feces-free sandboxes. They were feared by all, the baddest kids on the block. They could protect me if I had them on my side and so their approval was of the utmost importance to me; I would have done anything to earn their respect.

This particular, we’ll call it a Friday, afternoon in the heat of, for all intents and purposes, July, playing outside was something we weren’t allowed to NOT do. Sometimes I think Donna locked the door behind us to ensure we wouldn’t intrude on her day-long bingeing of ‘Soaps and Cigarettes.’ We were outdoors kids anyway, so the lock-out never seemed to phase us much. Although, when you spend every day after school and every weekday during the summer at a particular 100×100 outdoor location, you eventually begin to run out of things to climb and animals to capture. Entertainment begins to require improvisation and acute imagination, and, coupled with an inferiority complex, lots of obeying without question.

It was breezy and hot, the green blades of spring grass turned to needles of brown crisp from the summer heat. There was not a single cloud in the sky to yield shelter from the sun’s sweltering rays, and at noon, the temperature climbed still. Having exhausted all interest in our usual ventures to the park or to the neighbor’s backyard kiddy-pool, we laid on our backs under a large walnut tree that occupied the side yard by the house. We laid there staring through the branches at the birds flying overhead, gazing introspectively at our imaginary clouds. The smells from that day are clear in my memory. The sweetness of sun-roasted tree-bark joined with the pungency of dead squirrel and rusty swing set made for a particularly aromatic meditation under that tree. We traded thoughts and ideas among the three of us, all while entranced by the hiss and sway of the leaves and branches in the gentle summer breeze. “Fishin’ for craw-dads,” Tyler suggested. “Cartwheels and back-handsprings,” I added (looking back, my sexuality should have been no surprise). Neither of us seemed thrilled at the other’s idea. We turned our heads to Joey for his input only to find him deep in thought. He just laid there, eyes wide open, fixated on the understory which hovered above us. Several minutes of silence passed before his lips parted at the utterance of the five words that would change my life forever, “How about we play giants?” Tyler and I froze in contemplation. Giants? I thought. What a TERRIFIC idea! I had always wanted to feel like a giant, tall and towering, powerful, menacing. What better identity to assume than one where I could feel accepted and respected as a fellow giant? Surely, we would all be giants and play in one big, happy giant friendship. We could play giant games, and giant sports (like giant cheerleading), and eat giant Ramen and climb giant trees. Yes, playing giants sounded like an EXCELLENT idea, and I could not wait to get started! I jumped to my feet in excitement. “How do we play?”

I listened intently to Joey’s instructions. Close by, there was a small garden plot near the walnut tree under which we were situated. When the breeze blew just right, the sweet smells of tulips and daffodils flooded the nose, a welcome interruption to dead squirrel and rusty swing set. I had always considered this garden plot to be off-limits, a sort of sacred area, hallowed ground, if you will. But, Joey’s instructions were clear, and in order to earn his respect, I had to obey. “It’ll be fun!” He said. “Yeah! Go on, try it!” Tyler smirked. I stepped cautiously onto the soft soil of the plot, bees and butterflies buzzed and flittered around my head. “I’m not so sure about this, guys.” I whined. I knew better. I knew better in my heart and in my soul and in everything I had ever been taught. I continued in my hesitation while attempting to deflect their continuing scoffs and jests. “What’s the matter? Are ya scared?” Joey joked. ‘No! No I’m not scared!’ I thought back. ‘I can do anything! I’m a giant! I’ll show them!’ I huffed, and I puffed, and I mustered all of my strength and wherewithal in preparation. I took my stance, bent at the knees, and launched myself forward into the air. I soared with the eagles as I flew up, up, high into the imaginary clouds, high past the walnut tree and up toward the blazing sun. For a moment I was free, free from the grips of conformity, free from the ideals of society and pretenses of superimposed masculinity. But only for a moment.

In my mind, what seemed like miles of height, was at best only a foot or two. My blissful flight was short lived as my heels slammed forcefully into the soil, destroying dozens of gorgeous blossoms. I reared my head back and roared with all of my might. I was a GIANT, after all. I grabbed with both fists at the stems of tulips and sunflowers, I ripped and stomped and roared, totally consumed in my giant fury. I pounded at the dirt with my feet; I was alive. I was manly. But most importantly, I was sure to be accepted. Joey and Tyler rolled with laughter in their innocence on the sidelines. I was certain they were impressed with me, proud even. I was finally respected! I was having so much fun, I called over to them to join, assuring that they would have the time of their lives. They didn’t budge; they continued rolling in their laughter. “C’mon guys!” I motioned. Still, they remained on the side, untouched by the soil. Just then, I caught a moment of clarity. A moment of regretful, guilty, shameful clarity. They didn’t want to play giants. They didn’t want any part in the game with me. They just wanted to see me make a fool of myself. They knew all along what was going on, and that the garden was indeed off limits. I had just destroyed a beautiful garden and ruined hours of some stranger’s hard work and dedication. And what’s worse, I did it blindly at the thought that I would have these coveted accomplices in my fantasy of inclusion. We had to get out of there, I had to get out of there. I had to get as far away from that garden as I could, so that nobody would suspect me! The park, yes the park. Without taking another moment, I bolted for the park. I ran as fast as my tiny midget legs could cary me, never looking back to see if the others had followed. I stopped at the end of the street to catch my breath. Surely nobody could have known it was me. There wasn’t a soul in sight; I mean, who in their right mind would venture into this heat at their own accord anyway? I was certain I was safe. The deafening pounding of my heart in my head began to subside. My head began to clear. My adrenaline levels returned to normal. I began to walk, proud of my escape. Why run when there is no one to chase you? I began to laugh. So there I was, in the middle of the street, laughing aloud at the events which had just occurred. I was laughing at my actions, laughing at their cause, and laughing at my laughing. I was alone and laughing by myself. What a great feeling it is to laugh at yourself. My bliss was shattered as I heard my name echo through the town. “MARCUS!” Donna shouted. I was done. It was over. My life was to come to an end very soon. Do I run? Do I hide? Do I surrender? I knew the train schedule, I could easily run home and pack a bandana full of beanie-babies and tie it to a stick in time to hop the caboose to the next circus town. I could be an acrobat. I was very flexible and, after all, I had been practicing my moves. But what about food? Right. I could grab some cheese dogs out of the refrigerator. Those Oscar Meyer Miracles would surely hold me over for a few weeks while I get on my feet – how do they get the cheese in there anyway? – I could write to my mom, tell her I was safe. Although she would be sad to learn I had given up on my dream of becoming a Spice Girl/Pokemon Master, I am certain she would find solace in my new ambition of circusry. Just as I was about to bolt for it, I felt a hand on my shoulder. That was it, I had missed my chance. I began to cry tears of defeat and despair. I hadn’t even told my mommy goodbye, or how much I love her. How would she know? Surely I would die wherever they were taking me. I turned around to face my fate, expecting to meet the gaze of Loki himself. I flinched and retracted in preparation for the first and final blow I was to be dealt. Goodbye cruel world!

Several seconds had passed, and nothing happened. I peaked upward through one eye to see a figure which appeared as a shadow against the sunlight. As my eyes focused, golden hair appeared, loosely hung in a messy bun. The familiarity of stale cigarette smoke and pachouli ensnared my senses. “Marcus, it’s lunch time. Why are you so far away?” Donna led me by the hand back to the house. She didn’t know. I had actually escaped! I began to cry with relief. It didn’t matter what Donna thought of me. They all thought I was just some pansy fruit boy, anyway. And regardless, these were not, in fact, tears of weakness and fruititude; these were tears of joy, of success! I skipped alongside her, our fingers still enlaced, ready to meet the world with a renewed sense of confidence. I could do ANYTHING.

The rest of the day passed without any mention of the earlier events. It was almost as if it was just a moment forgotten in time, where all guilt and embarrassment could just fade away like sidewalk chalk in the rain. However, the scene haunted me still, through the window. There it stood; a desolate wasteland once bursting with color and life lay just beyond the walnut tree, which continued to stand so elegantly in place, almost as a reminder of the courage and strength I had lacked in that moment in time. I shook it from my mind. If I just pretended nothing happened, it would all just go away.

My mother came to pick me up that evening after her shift in the O.R. We traded stories of our days; she shared a particularly gruesome account of a motorcycle accident victim, and I blatantly avoided mentioning the day’s grandest event, making only small talk of snack time and The Price is Right. ‘She can never know,’ I thought to myself. It would devastate her. We continued much of the car ride home in silence. The last rays of the day’s sunlight danced playfully off of the plastic zipper-windows of her new Jeep Wrangler. I was hypnotized by their synchronicity. She didn’t know. Thank God it was Friday.

I awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and renewed; I was excited for the day’s events of sunning by the pool at my common-law-grandfather’s parents’ pool. I gleefully ate breakfast and brushed my teeth, all in a hurry to throw on my swimming suit and rush down to the car, when there was a knock at the door. ‘Just one of the neighbors,’ I thought, as I carried on with my carryings-on as my mother opened the door. The stranger spoke with a deep voice, one I hadn’t recognized before. I peered out of my bedroom to slyly investigate. There stood a large man, dressed in black, sporting (what appeared at first glance to be) a shiny gold broach. The man appeared tired and overworked. His face featured a thick strawberry mustache which hung loosely across a swollen upper lip. His cheeks were bright and rosy, yet his eyes were dark and sunken underneath thick specs. Upon further inspection, I noticed a belt, on which hung what appeared to be holsters for some ‘L’ shaped equipment. On his right side hung a thick rod with what appeared to be a handle in the middle, a sort of lop-sided ‘T’. His boots were laced tight and his hat had a rim just wide enough to shield the face from offensive sunlight. He held a clipboard under his arm as he reached with large hands for the glass of water my mother had brought him. His eyes moved from my mother, around the living room, to the hallway, and eventually on me peaking around the corner of my room. He started forward. I quickly pulled my head inside the door, “Who is this man? What does he want?” I peaked around again, he was closer. My heart rate began to quicken; my mouth began to dehydrate. “Was he here for me?” I thought. I took another look, this time the officer was close enough for me to see that his broach was, in fact, not a broach. It was, instead, some sort of medallion, inscribed with lettering. Middletown Police Depar…POLICE?! How could I have been so foolish to mistake this man’s drab fashion for his conscious choice? This was not a man who had forgotten to flip on the switch while dressing this morning. This was a man in UNIFORM. This was a police officer who was most certainly here to punish me for my deed! I bolted under my bed, surely he wouldn’t ever think to look for me there. I watched him from the catacombs of my lair, from the darkest place I had known, under my bed. It was dusty there. The carpet didn’t seem to do much to control the dust, but it did have a way of holding onto once-forgotten socks and pairs of Toy Story undergarments. The carpet was frayed in the corner, probably from where my hamster, Frisky, escaped the previous week. I thought I could hear gnawing under my bed at night. I just assumed it was the boogie-man out to get my soul. It didn’t occur to me that the gnawing stopped once Frisky was located…there’s seven year old logic for you.

Apparently lost in my observations, I had forgotten why I was there in the first place. Suddenly a large, fat hand came at my face. I screamed. He clenched, grabbing hold of my should and hoisting me up and out from under my bed. I was caught. I was his prisoner. He held my hands behind my back as I kicked and screamed. I felt the iciness of cold metal on my wrists. Heard them click. I knew it was over. I was captive. I fell to my knees in hysterics, sobbing uncontrollably, pleading for my release. “Mommy please help me! I’m so sorry Mommy!” My mother turned away, her face red and tear-stricken. I knew she didn’t like what was happening. So why wouldn’t she stop it? Why on earth would she let this man take me? The officer led me out of the apartment and down the stairs of the building, across the breezeway and opened the back seat of his car. My life was over. I was a criminal. I should have run for it when I had the chance; the circus would have been a much better fit for me than maximum security prison. I would have to toughen up, start smoking and lifting weights. You know, like you see in the movies and cartoons. I imagined how I would look in black and white. Horizontal stripes don’t favor anyone’s body type, but with my thin frame, I was sure I could make it work somehow. The cumbersome iron anklet would be an issue though; I’m allergic to all metals not gold and silver. I wondered if they would craft a silver one for me. It would be much more eye catching than boring iron. So there I was, silent, in the back of a police car, defeated. As the car pulled away I saw my mother in the window, her face worried and stained with tears, knowing she’d never see me again. We would be in touch. I would send her a license plate or two, just so she would know I was okay. The officer began to lecture me, telling me that what I did was called “Vandalism” and that it was punishable by fine and jail time. Overwhelmed by shame and guilt, I fell into a trance as I leaned against the window, watching life pass by.

The scenery remained familiar. I noticed we were pulling around near Donna’s house, where lay the gravesite of hopes, dreams, and the homes to thousands of beautiful bees and butterflies. I couldn’t bear to look, it was too much for my heart to handle. Instead of parking where expected, we pulled into the driveway of a house that sat across from the battleground. The officer exited the driver’s side and came around to open my door. As he helped me out, an older woman came out onto the porch and stood with her hands on her hips. She looked very upset. The officer led me to stand directly in front of the woman as he freed me from my chains. She didn’t even need to speak, I knew exactly who she was and why we were there. I hung my head in shame. She crouched town to my level, and took my face in her hand so that I would look her in the face. Her eyes welled up with tears as she asked, “Why did you do that to my garden?” I immediately burst into uncontrollable sobs and threw myself in her arms, almost knocking her off balance. I pleaded and apologized in a pathetic sputter of snot, drool, and tears. In seemingly broken English, through my sobs, I recounted how my would-be-step-cousins convinced me to play giants, and how they made me do it against my better judgement, and how I would never ever ever do anything like that again. “Please don’t send me to prison!” I begged. “I promise I’ll come over every day and help you plant a new garden, one that’s bigger and more beautiful than the one I destroyed!” I buried my head in my hands, unable to cope with the flood of emotional baggage I was experiencing. The lady pulled my hands from my face and tilted my chin upward with her finger. She looked me in the eye and said “I forgive you. Please promise to never do that again!” I promised, and she kissed my forehead. She and the officer shared a smile, and he led me back to the car, this time he did not cuff my wrists. As we rode back home, I reflected on those events, and I vowed to myself to never give into peer pressure of any kind again, or to commit vandalism, or to lie or join the circus. So many lessons were learned in those two days, many of which no child would learn until much later in life. As we pulled into the parking lot of my apartment building, I caught my mother’s eyes as she sat outside on the steps, waiting for our return. The officer let me out of the car and I ran up to her and jumped into her arms. “My baby!” She exclaimed, “I am so glad you are safe! Promise Mommy that you will never do that again!” She was tearful, but clearly relieved that I was okay. She and the officer shared a look, the reason for which I wouldn’t learn until I was much older, and he departed. My mother was a crafty woman. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I found out she had planned the whole thing. Apparently the owner of the garden knocked on Donna’s door angrily in search for answers. When she questioned her sons, Joey and Tyler, they of course did not hesitate to throw me under the bus. “It was all his idea!” they lied. So, later that evening, after I had gone to bed, my mother received an angry phone call from Donna. My mother decided to take the matter into her own hands. She called the police and had them “scare” me into learning my lesson. And I must say, it sure as hell worked.

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