MEMORY GAPS, THE S.O.K.F., AND A STORY

I have a few gaps in my memory- moments that have been sucked into the great Black Hole of the Universe, never to be seen again by waking eyes. One of those gaps is when I got a concussion in the third grade. Or was it the second grade? It was the result of a pretty bad bike accident. Or so I'm told. I don't remember any of it. I remember clearly right before it happened. My brother and I were riding our bikes around the block as part of the initiation for our club, the S.O.K.F., which stood for Save Our Kids Future. To get in the club, we had made up a bunch of things you had to do- initiations, if you will. The initiations all had something to do with dealing with adults, dealing with their quirks and strangeness and what seemed to be a mass case of crazy. To be in the S.O.K.F.,  you had to walk through a room full of adults unseen; go to the store, shoplift a candy bar, bring it home and show everyone, then go back to the store and put it back; climb on to the roof of Strawberry Park Elementary School.  One of the  initiations, or dares, was to ride your bike around the block after dark. I was the youngest of our group, and so they let me do it a little before it got dark, and with my brother Jerry riding with me. I remember heading up our street, Belvedere Drive, then turning right on Saratoga Avenue, then turning right again onto Manzanita Drive- then it fades to black, like in the movies. The next thing I remember, I was walking out the front door of my house, several days later. I'm told that after the accident, in which I flew over my handle bars and hit the crown of my head on a brick embankment, I had amnesia, and didn't know who I was, where I was, or anything. But for me, I was simply on my bike one moment, walking out the front door of my house the next. But that's not the moment I want to talk about right now.

The other moment I can't remember at all happened one February night when I was nine. I had not gotten my haircut, even though my mom sent me to the barber, and I was in trouble. My step-father Vern came home late that night, full of alcohol and had called me into the kitchen to set me straight. And then Vern pulled out a giant butcher knife and informed me he was going to cut my hair. I'm told I screamed and hid under the table, and that my mother ran in and told Vern he couldn't do that. I don't remember any of that. There's just this black hole where all that happened. At some point, it was decided that Vern would not cut my hair with a knife. He would use a pair of shears, and I was dragged into the garage, sat in a chair, and told to sit still while he cut my hair. This is where my memories fade back in. I remember sitting on one of the chairs from the kitchen, that apparently had been dragged into the garage with me. I remember the harsh flourescent lights. I remember Vern was wearing a white T-shirt. And I remember those steel sheers. Somehow, my hair had gotten wet. I remember Vern pulling some hair forward, snipping, letting it go. I sat very still. As he cut, from time to time I could feel the cold metal of the shears on my cheek or forehead. I could hear each cut distinctly-it sounded like when a stack of papers got sliced in the paper cutter at school. Now and then, Vern would stop and tell me it was my own fault, that I had to learn to listen to my elders, that I had to learn respect God damn it- respect! I kept thinking he was going to plunge the shears into my eyes. I didn't move a muscle. I didn't look up or down or away.  I was a statue. At one point, he accidently cut my ear. I didn't make a sound. It took a very long time for him to finish. It might have been five minutes, it might have been an hour. I really don't know how long it took- only that it felt like forever, like the rest of the world was gone, had never really been there in the first place. There was just Vern, the shears, the flourescent lights, and me. Then, I noticed Vern had stopped cutting. He was just standing in front of me, smoking one of his Camel cigarettes. He stared at me for a long time, right in the eye. Vern had strange eyes. Sometimes, they were kind and laughing. Other times, they were frustrated, angry, or sad.  And then there were the moments when all vestiges of humanity left them, and all that was left was pure rage. And these strange eyes could vacillate from one to the other in an instant.

So there we were in that cold garage, the young statue and the man with a thousand faces- looking into each others eyes. I don't know what he was waiting for- he just stood there, looking at me. I could hear the hum of the lights. Finally, he looked down, grunted "get your ass to bed", and that was that. He pointed to the door back to the kitchen, which was between him and me. I had to walk past him to go to bed. I didn't want to run, or get too close to him- but I couldn't make it obvious that I was trying not to get near him. I stiffly walked past Vern and into the kitchen. On my way to the bedroom I shared with my brother, I stopped to look in the mirror in the hallway to see what my hair looked like.

Where just that morning there had been a mane like a lions, all that was left were patches of hair of varying length. At some points, it had been cut almost all the way to my scalp, at others, it was an inch or two long. There was some blood on my ear, and bits of hair on my shoulders. It was one of the ugliest things I had ever seen. I started to cry. Not loud, of course. That would bring another lecture on why I shouldn't be a cry baby. I made my way into the bedroom, and climbed up to the top bunk. I lay in the dark, quietly crying. My brother called up from the bottom bunk.

"Do you want to hear a story?", he asked. I gathered myself as best I could and said "Yes." Then Jerry asked, as always, "Do you want a scary one or a nice one?" Most every night, I begged for a scary story. But not that night. "Could you tell a nice one tonight?"

There was a brief pause, then Jerry said "Sure", and told me this story:

"Once, there was a boy named Bobby who had long hair. One day, he got sent to a new school, and when he got there, he noticed that everyone else at the school had short hair. And they all noticed how long Bobby's hair was, and made fun of him. Now, this happened right near the end of the school year,  so when school got out, Bobby decided he'd show them. That summer, he got a his hair cut really short. He figured he'd surprise everyone the first day of school with his short hair, and then they'd all like him. But when he got to school, everyone now had long hair. When they saw Bobby, they made fun of him for having short hair. Bobby couldn't believe it- he was miserable. So he ran away, and let his hair grow long again. He lived in the mountains, hunting for food and sleeping in a cave. Finally, when his hair was long again, he came back to the school- but now, everyone had this crazy new hair cut that was half long and half short. And they all made fun of Bobby again. But this time, Bobby didn't care, because he finally figure out that it didn't really matter what people thought about his hair. He was him, and that was good enough. And after that, he lived happily ever after."

We lay in our bunk beds. Usually after a story from Jerry, I'd ask questions about the monster or the ghost or whatever the main event was- and I felt like I should ask something. But nothing came to mind. So I just sat there. Finally, sleep came for me, and I drifted off to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up to the sounds of my sister Heather screaming. There was confusion, then the thought that Vern had done something. But then, I heard a word. A word that couldn't be. How could she be screaming that word?

"Snowing!"

I looked down from my top bunk to Jerry's- but he wasn't there. Then I heard my sister again.

"It's snowing! Oh My God! Snow!"

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