102 A Street (Extracts)
I grew up on a military base…
…At recess we’d sit on the monkey bars and watch the men. It was almost all men then. Airforce men, dressed up in their snazzy uniforms marching briskly to and fro, even when they were just getting milk. And then there were the Grunts, the young army boys scorned by the airforce, who sweated, wore baggie, khaki pants and always looked liked they’d crawled through a field. And we twelve year old girls, in our Bay City Roller pants and Disco Queen t-shirts, would push out our bumps and make sexy eyes as they heheheho jogged on by. Eventually the officer’s kids would come by and make us give up our perch on the bars, because our dads were only sergeants.
My dad was an x-ray technician. In his office, there were books a foot thick filled with photographs of the effects of radiation burns on Hiroshima survivors. There was a real skeleton named Lucy hanging in the corner, from Africa or Asia or some place where we could steal bodies and no-one seemed to care. I used to measure how tall I was getting by standing next to Lucy. When I was ten, I could look straight into her empty eyes. Lucy used to come to our house for Halloween and sit on the front step with a bowl of candy between her legs with her hand buried in gumballs, rockets and caramel kisses.
Dad was always standing ready at the hospital in case of casualties. When I was there, the only wounded I saw were drunken grunts who’d been in fights off base. There were busted noses, broken ribs, arms, legs, heads. There was always blood. They’d scream and fight as the MPs held them down. I’d stand perfectly still beside Lucy and hold her bony hand…
…The base was crawling with kids. They weren’t there long, nobody stayed long , except us. Everyone else was transferred to someplace exotic like Cypress, Germany or Portage la Prairie.
There was Willy, who was fourteen, who followed me to school and back everyday even though I was in grade two and pulled me into the lilac bush and told me to kiss him. Fortunately, I had already learned how to disable the enemy with one swift kick. For four days I refused to go to school. I used a stomach-ache, a sore throat, a headache, and was trying out the mumps, when I heard that Willy was gone. The military police had taken him away. When I went back to class, we were told Sara Beth, who sat behind me wouldn’t be back. All that week, we watched sex education films.
Donald lived five doors down, he used to flash the girls to make them run. But I never ran. He’d be waving his little pencil around, no bigger than his finger, and I’d laugh and laugh because that was the worst thing I could possibly do.
Tommy lived ten doors up. He used to chase my brother home every day because he could make him cry. My brother would run into our house where he’d promptly be disciplined for not acting like a man. One day, Tommy and I got into it on my front yard. My father watched from the doorway. I had Tommy in a chokehold. His friends were hooting and hollering for me to punch him in the face, but I didn’t. I figured I had already won. I walked away. Tommy jumped me from behind and pummelled me in the face. Dad got involved then. He chased Tommy around and around the yard, which was quite a feat considering he was removing his belt at the same time. Tommy scaled a tree. He stayed up there all night. Way after bedtime you could still hear him, cursing like only a ten year old can, while my dad sat below reading the paper with a flashlight.
Two days later, there was the head of a goose on our step. The body was stuffed into a mailbox across the street and a cat, or part of a cat, was found on the steps of another PMQ ten doors down. It was a long time before Tommy moved away.
There were good times too. We had a huge square field that held all the little houses together, where the grass grew tall and there weren’t any sidewalks. They’d spray the field with DDT and all us kids would sit on the edge with our noses covered in our t-shirts cheering “Death to mosquitoes!” There was the time dad brought home a parachute and the wind dragged us across the field giving us bloody noses and scuffed knees. There were ice rinks filled by garden hoses where we’d skate until our toes were ready to snap off. And sledding down the hill that the dumptrucks made, where Peter knocked out his front teeth when he ran over Billy. Playing Bulldog and Red Rover comparing bruises while we sucked on dandelion stems. The twirly go–round that Harvey MacIntosh threw up on when we wouldn’t let him off. Finding condoms, Playboy magazines and once even live ammo. Waiting for the new kids to come out to play, because there were always new kids. Staying up way past bedtime waiting for the sun to set, while all around us from the little square houses our names were called and called again…
Awards: Writers Federation of Nova Scotia’s 2001 Creative Non-Fiction Award