There's something magical about being really young.
The stars are brighter, candy is sweeter, and everything comes with a heightened sense of wonder. What a word. Wonder.
When you're small, wonder comes easily. It's in everything; the dandelions, the fireflies, how high you can climb on the monkey bars.
But as you grow up, things become more plain. You transform into some brutish megalomaniac, with the world as your desire. The small things aren't wonderful anymore. You start to want more. It's always more.
I can say this from experience. I can look at myself and distinguish the greedy little monkey on my back growling for more, more.
When I was a little kid, maybe nine or ten, I was content. My parents took good care of me, I wanted for nothing. Well, except maybe for the new beach Barbie, or, Noah, a little boy next to me on 2nd Street, to disappear.
He was, quite frankly, an ass. Excuse my French. But he was the reason I wanted a new beach Barbie.
It was summer, and I was in third grade. I remember the school year extremely well, because that was the gloriously liberating summer after the year I got stuck with Ms. Hutchins, or Miss Mole as we called her on the four-square court.
God, that woman was a bitch. Honestly, looking back, I think she was a raging alcoholic. She would come into class with chronic hangovers every morning, dragging along that massive mole that clung to her pale upper lip after her.
She was very attractive, I recall that, too. In fact, judging by the size of her God-given beauty mark, she would have been named the most beautiful woman in the world.
Anyway, enough about Miss Mole, I was telling you about how much of an asshole Noah was.
We were in the park. My mom always forced me to play with him because he was the only child of a single father, and although Mr. Farley cared about his son a great deal, he worked a great deal more. Noah often had dinner with us, which would piss me off because Mom thought it was cute to make me split my piece of cake with him. You can think what you want right now about my selfish behavior, but seriously. I dare you to stare at a homemade, buttery slab of chocolate cake with the steam still rolling off of it and the creamy frosting spilling heavy down the sides, pooling, a dark pond of sweetness, wonder, and enchantment, on your plate. Now have your mother cut it in half. Unevenly. Now imagine her shoveling that bigger half onto the plate of your nemesis, the boy who murdered your precious beach Barbie in cold blood.
Oh yes. Beach Barbie. Important story.
It all started with the beach Barbie in the park, because that was actually the first time I'd met Noah. He'd just moved into my subdivision, into the house next to mine that my previous playmate and best friend had lived in before being whisked away to Chicago by her mother's job.
Needless to say, I already hated him. Then, it was just hate. The harmless kind that makes you narrow your eyes and growl only a little when you see said hated person going out to pick up their newspaper in the morning or to take out the trash. The kind where you only fantasize about throwing eggs at their windows.
But then, the beach Barbie. Dammit. I promise, we're going to talk about the beach Barbie now.
You know how little kids are, they seem to have this desire to drag their favorite things around with them. To me, it was Pumpernickel, the curvaceous, blonde, big breasted Mattel wonder, Beach Barbie. Some called her BB. I, obviously, called her Pumpernickel.
I realize in my advanced age that Pumpernickel is not the sort of name that you give to a human being, or anything human-esque. But we're not going to talk about that. Her name was Pumpernickel and she was, in fact, popular with men despite this unfortunate name. Particularly Ken. Though any male doll I had never really received an identity, they were all simply named Ken.
In any case, Pumpernickel and I were playing in the sandbox together, crafting a castle, minding our own business, when he came.
"Hi," He said quietly. "Your mom told me we could play." He had his shoulders hunched forward a little, his hands wrung tightly behind his back. He didn't even have the decency to look me in the eye when he spoke.
Still, my jovial nine year old self chose to look past the fact that, evidently, he found the sand much more interesting than me. God, was I saint. I was so incredibly nice to him. "She did? I think she made a mistake, but okay. You can make the lake." He didn't move. "So start digging."
This time he clumsily sprung into action, crushing Pumpernickel's third battlement tower with his knee while he was at it.
That was strike one for him. But I said nothing. I was, after all, receiving free labor.
He dug careful handfuls, taking my instruction on the shape of the lake. "It has to be this shape," I said, drawing a kidney in the sand. "Or else she'll be laughed at by everyone else."
"Who's she?" He asked, apparently a little more comfortable with me. Now that I think on it, it must have been quite hard for him to warm up to people after being alone or with a baby sitter so much of the time, but of course the me then didn't think about any of that. I didn't think about the fact that he was shy and without confidence, I just thought he was weird, skinny, and a little bit rude.
I practically shoved the head of my doll up his pointy little nose. "Her name is Pumpernickel. She's twenty-two and from California."
I had a cousin Mimi who was twenty-two and from California. She was really beautiful and she taught me to braid hair and gave me chocolates when my mom wasn't looking.
"Oh." He said, uninterested.
That was strike two. Pumpernickel was interesting. Pumpernickel was everything. My agitation with this boy was practically strangling me right then.
So we sat in awkward silence, me braiding doll hair and him shifting tiny mounds of sand from palm to palm.
"What's you're name?" I finally blurted.
I have always hated awkward silences. I will ramble about practically anything to get away from an awkward silence, which probably makes shit a lot more awkward, but to me it's still better than that sweaty, tense nothingness.
He looked up at me for the first time, in the eyes. I'll never forget it. I was a vain child, obsessed with all things beautiful. Although this boy annoyed the crap out of me already, his eyes were a color that I couldn't forget. They were an amazing, intense, honest blue. The kind that sparkles like water in the wind. "Noah. What's yours?"
I blushed. "Andy."
"What kind of name is Andy for a girl?" He sneered. Apparently he was warming up to me a lot.
This is really the moment that defined our relationship. So much name-calling, so many stabs at intelligence. And this was just the very fringes of the beginning. "It's Andrea, stupid. It's not like my mom would ever name me just Andy. What kind of idiot are you?"
"Well, your mom was dumb enough to tell me to play with someone like you so she could be dumb enough to name a girl a boy's name," He sat back, practically licking his fingers he was so pleased with himself.
I was so easily provoked, then. Perhaps even to this day I am easily provoked. It's never been a very good thing. "Shut up! My mom isn't stupid!" I stood up and rolled up the sleeves of my jumper.
He rolled his eyes, and stood up with me. "Okay, Andy."
That was it. I socked him square in the jaw, knocked him right on his ass in the sandbox. Then, I did something horribly unladylike, especially for a nine-year-old, something that I'd only seen in the movies, but it seemed like the right thing to do.
I spit at him and pressed my foot against his chest, like I was carrying a catcher's mitt and wearing some sharp cleats.
"Wanna say it again?"
"Say what?" He asked, rubbing his jaw, giving me the evilest look on the planet.
"Say my mom's dumb!" I screamed.
"Your mom is dumb."
This time he smiled, and started laughing. I thought he was psycho. What is wrong with this kid?
"Why are you laughing at me?!"
"Because you asked me to say your mom is dumb. You asked me!"
I narrowed my eyes. "You're the kid who moved into the Smirth house next door, aren't you?"
He sat more upright, pushing my sneaker away from his shirt. His forearms dripped with sand from his previous posture.
"The green one?" He asked.
"Yeah, the green one."
He nodded his head. "Yeah, why?"
I sighed and plopped hopelessly in the kidney shaped 'lake' that Noah had dutifully sculpted for Pumpernickel, and started braiding her hair again. My life was meaningless without Kimberly Smirth.
"Nothing." I grumbled quietly.
He stared at me for a while before he spoke. The silence this time wasn't awkward, just heavy, sad. "I'm sorry I called your mom dumb. She's not dumb, she's really nice. I wish I had a mom."
I looked at him like he was some strange, feral animal. "You don't have a mom?"
He shook his head.
"Well, what happened to her?"
It was his turn to sigh. "I don't know. My dad doesn't talk about her much, but I know she was pretty."
I smiled a little, sadly. "I bet she was real pretty."
We fell into silence again, but this time, he eyed Pumpernickel, or rather, her hair.
"You're pretty good at that. We're learning how to braid in Cub Scouts; can you teach me?"
His pretty blue eyes rendered me senseless even back then. Plus, I pitied him. Poor, motherless boy. I would teach him. So I nodded and hesitantly handed over the beach Barbie.
"Okay," I said. "Be careful with her."
He received the doll and tucked it upright between his knees like he'd seen me do, and divided her hair into three bunches.
I instructed him well. After all, I was an expert. My certification came from California. This kid was a natural, though. His braids were military tight. Maybe even too tight. I cleared my throat. "Hey, that's too tight, you're gonna rip her head off."
He laughed. "Nuh uh. I saw my little cousin stick an entire Barbie's head in her mouth and chew and she still-"
There was a small popping sound.
The braid released.
The head rolled across the sand like a defeated gladiator's head.
The blood may have been psychologically induced, but it was still there.
A shrill scream resounded with epic volume from my throat. "You killed her! YOU BASTARD YOU KILLED MY DOLL!"
And that, my friends, is where I discovered the fine art of beating up boys. You really only need to worry about one place.
Noah Farley's balls, may they rest in peace. Or pieces, after I was done with them that day.
My mother's claws ripped me off of the poor kid by my hair.
"What are you doing to this poor kid?! And where the hell did you learn that kind of language?!" Weren't both of those questions kind of self explanatory?
"He killed Pumpernickel!" I growled through tears. "He murdered her! She's dead! Look!"
Noah cried, wailed is more like it, in the sand next to the detached head of blonde hair.
"ANDREA LYNN HERDER, YOU ARE GOING TO BE LUCKY IF YOU SURVIVE UNTIL TOMORROW, NOW GO STRAIGHT HOME AND WAIT IN YOUR ROOM."
Dear God in heaven, may you protect me with thine angels against the demons and hell fury which are about to descend upon me,
I'd heard a prayer kind of like that at church, and the Pastor's son, Clairy (what a sissy name for a boy), said those kinds of things before the multiplication tests.
Well, let's just say I prayed that very prayer in a constant, unwavering stream of faith then and there. My mother was going to kill me. I was going to die. I needed to prepare for eternity. The fear seeped from my heart, trickled down my lungs, and oozed sickeningly into my stomach where it stuck and rolled around in there like a bad burrito from Taco Bell.
Death couldn't be all bad, I knew. Pumpernickel was there, in heaven. She would wait for me and envelop me the best she could from within her plastic, elbow-less embrace.
But Noah would rot in hell. I would be in heaven and he would be in hell because he was a murderer. That made me feel better.
I hoped they would force feed him Brussels Sprouts there.
I was aware that inanimate objects aren't really things that transfer into the next life. I wasn't a complete idiot as a kid. But somehow just convincing myself that they did helped me through this situation, because, I, after all, was going to die.
It was a very long walk home. It was more like five minutes, because it was a subdivision and the park was literally across the street from me, but it was a very long walk home.
My mother was attending to the wailing Noah, so when I walked in alone it was just my dad.
"Hey squirt," He said musically. "What do you want for dinner tonight?"
I looked at him, teary eyed. "Forgiveness."
He laughed at me a little. Which pissed me off because Noah had laughed at me earlier and it felt like everyone was laughing at me.
"Well, what did you do?" He ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair (to this day, it is always messy) and sat down next to me, perplexed.
"I enforced justice on a murderer."
There in my left hand was the corpse of Pumpernickel. Minus the head.
"What?" His faced scrunched up in confusion. I hated that face. Adults always gave me that face.
"Nobody understands me!" With that I started sobbing violently, crawling up the stairs to my bedroom.
I will never understand how I managed to summon the strength to move my two dressers, a nightstand, and an entire twin-sized bed against the door in a life saving attempt at a barricade from my burning fiery Satan-ess mother, but I did.
I opened up my window, it was on the second story. Maybe I wouldn't die if I jumped down just right. On the other hand, that was a ridiculous plan and I would most certainly die.
So I sat there, seething, crying, thinking about ways I'd decapitate Noah.
Little kids think these things. Don't give me that bullshit that they don't. It's scary, it's creepy, but it's normal. If someone pisses you off to the point where you wish they didn't exist -because they killed your favorite Barbie, for instance- you're going to be so pissed that you think about ways for them not to exist. And in my case, justice would be served through none other than what he deserved. Decapitation. Eye for an eye. Head for a head.
Which brings me to another crucial point about me.
My dad was a history professor, you see, and he enjoyed (immensely enjoyed) those cheesy History Channel documentaries and reenactments. Particularly those about ancient civilization and cultural sacrifice in general. I was well versed on ways to annihilate people.
I'd do it just like the Spartans and run at him on a horse with a javelin and-
The door jiggled, and hit the first dresser. The big one.
"What the hell?!" My mother's voice seeped in through the crack. "Dave," She called. "David!"
I could hear my father trudging up the stairs. "What?" He mumbled.
Meanwhile, I crunched myself up into a compact little ball and shoved myself in my cramped, cluttered little closet where my stuffed animals lived. Maybe this was a better world to exist within anyway, I told myself. Stuffed animals are so much better than people, anyway.
"I think...she blocked the door?"
My acute little nine-year-old hearing could still hear their muffled murmurings, even shut in the closet and with two giant stuffed rabbits with creepy serial killer eyes my dad had won at Cedar Point for me on either side.
That was probably the worst part, having to listen to them gradually get more and more pissed as they realized that the entirety of the furniture of my room was looming right on he other side of that door.
Eventually they were reduced to yelling at me through the small crack they'd made.
"You open this door right now, Andrea! You're going to apologize to Noah and his father! I don't know what the hell would possess you to hurt such a nice little boy, but you're going to make this right!"
She didn't know what would 'possess' me to 'hurt' such a 'nice' little boy?! I shrieked bloody murder. "HE RUINED MY DOLL! HE RUINED PUMPERNICKEL. I DON'T EXPECT YOU TO UNDERSTAND!"
"What?" I could hear their scrunched up faces right now.
Two hours, a giant ladder, an a dashing -yet adequately terrifying- leap into my window and three spankings later, I stared wistfully through the east window of my bedroom. I didn't like to cry when they gave me spankings. It was like they'd won.
But I did cry every time so they always won. That in itself pissed me off.
So let me break this scenario down. Let's do some simple math, here.
You have a very pissed little nine year old who's been pissed off double, triple, even, by her parents. Now add in a pissed little ten year old into the mix.
This is where things get tricky. Add in two windows, right across from each other, in a relatively close vicinity, being a subdivision and all, and put those children across from each other on either side of the windows, both sitting on very large bags of frozen peas.
I threw up the window.
"You!" I sneered.
He frowned at me and lifted the glass on his side, but said nothing. Just dangled his arm out the window with his eyes cast down.
"It's your fault!" I started to say.
He looked at me, like a wounded animal that was just a little bit teed off.
I softened. Granted, it was more like the softening of cheese.
"I really liked her. She was from my best friend." I said.
He still didn't say anything.
There is just something about when people don't say anything and look all finite and wistful that weaves this infuriating noose of guilt that slowly twists around your neck. And when they finally give you their 'sentiments', i.e. a truth filled look of utter sadness, dismay, and confusion, the little stool leaps out from beneath your feet and there you go.
I started crying.
Although Pumpernickel was totally worth it and Noah has pissed me off so many times since that I don't even regret it, I felt hideously awful about what I'd done.
"I'm sorry." I spluttered. "I'm so sorry."
Then, he did something I'd never forget, not to this very day.
He smiled, his pretty eyes sparkling in the hazy afternoon.
"I forgive you."
Noah Farley, you started it all right then. And God, Noah. The things you started.
*he's still an ass that murdered my beach Barbie. Let's not forget that fact.