We became friends after that and she invited me to her birthday slumber party and for sleepovers at her house.
I remember not knowing what I could get for her as a gift and having not very much money to spend, finally settling on a bottle of peach scented lotion from the Hallmark gift store. Her dad drove all of us girls to Knott’s Berry Farm, where he followed behind us the best he could carrying everyone’s coats and cameras. Myralyn played the harp, so her dad had bought this big station wagon to lug it around everywhere in, and we were all sitting in the back of it on the trip home, passing around a tube with a big wad of Super-Elastic-Bubble-Plastic on the end, taking turns blowing it up. We used the entire tube of stuff and once it was all blown up to a huge psychedelic bubble it got suddenly sucked out one of the half open windows, and it flew out onto the freeway, causing us all to scream and laugh. Myralyn’s dad didn’t even get a bit mad. Later at Myralyn’s house we held a séance and tried to speak to the ghost of George Washington, it was really fun. She got the new Eagles album Hotel California as a gift from one of the girls, and an entire set of strawberry lotion, soap, lip balm and shampoo from Hallmark from someone else.
Myralyn’s house was huge. The only other house I’d been in like it was the few times we’d gone out to visit my Uncle Jack and my cousins. He was my mom’s brother, an artist who made plenty of money. I was always impressed with my older cousins, who went to college and were so smart and funny like Jack was, one of them had even gone to see the Beatles in concert years ago. At school I heard from other kids that Myralyn’s parents had oil and were rich. Their house had two stories filled with antiques, wood floors and oriental rugs, and in one big room there were just musical instruments like an organ and a baby grand piano, besides Myralyn’s harp. The séance was held in a sort of formal diningroom, but there was another dining area in the big cozy kitchen beside a huge brick fireplace. In the backyard was a big cage with a rhesus monkey that belonged to Myralyn’s older sister. Sometimes when I would sleep over, we’d make buckwheat pancakes and toss some to the monkey, it was funny to watch what he’d do when they were still too hot! Myralyn’s room was like every girl’s dream, with a big fancy white canopy style bed, lots of expensive clothes and a stereo and record collection. She even said her parents were going to let her paint a big rainbow across the loft style ceiling leading to a pot of gold. What I liked best, though, were her big fluffy cats, especially one big round calico named Mittens. It seemed to me that she must be full of air to be so round, and one night when we snuck her up to bed with us we tried pressing on her side, and sure enough she breathed out a big breath of air. We could hardly stop laughing about it, even though she was obviously still the same size. I couldn’t hardly ever sleep at night when I was there, I couldn’t help lying awake imagining what it would be like for me and my family to live in a house like that, the kitties could live inside and would have plenty to eat so that they would get nice and happy and plump, just like Mittens, and I would even have my own room.
On summer vacations, Myralyn invited me to go on trips with her and her family in their big RV to go fishing up at Bishop Creek, which was so much fun for me because I’d never really been on a family vacation before. We drove through the desert heat and into the mountains in the rain, playing Mille Bournes and eating cold lemon cooler cookies out of the refrigerator, and I learned how to fly-fish and how to clean trout. I was extremely grateful to have been invited along.
There was another girl in our class who was a friend of Myralyn’s, named Dana. Her middle name was also Brenda, and I went to her birthday slumber party as well, but after eating pizza and chocolate cake, (that had been decorated with a big plastic gorilla like King Kong), and taking a bite of a People Crackers dog biscuit during a game of Truth or Dare, I woke up throwing up into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night, and my parents had to come and take me home! Dana and her mom and the other girls were really cool about it, though, laughing and telling me how one of the other girls had thrown up at the last sleepover, too. Dana was the most fun to be with because she was very smart, but liked to get into a little bit of trouble, too, and she became the only real best friend I ever had. She had her own room and a big house as well, it seemed a lot of the kids at Gant lived in the same neighborhood together and had big houses. I quickly became aware that I was definitely the poorest kid in our class, but I tried not to let anyone find that out.
At school Dana and I hung around together most of the time, she thought that I had some kind of split personality because I was usually so quiet, but then I would start talking in my Froggy voice, (like Froggy on the Little Rascals comedies), and I would get her to laughing so hard that she’d have to use her asthma inhaler to breathe, it was funny. We drew a lot of strange cartoons and notes back and forth in class and always kept each other entertained in whatever strange or creative way we could think of. For the class “Egypt” project, Dana and Myralyn and I painted a sarcophagus made from a cardboard box and wrapped Myralyn up in it like a mummy for a play that we performed in front of our class in the school auditorium. We even sang and danced to a song we wrote all about the great Sphinx.
We usually used the dictionary to look up our vocabulary words, but we also enjoyed learning new words for things that we had never heard of, for example we discovered the emu, which was a large ugly type of bird. For some reason we liked them and would draw cartoon emus and yell out, “Emu!” in all different places, like while on the Loop Trainer ride at Knott’s Berry Farm every time we went upside-down, or into the school hallways from the door of the girl’s bathroom where nobody could see us, it was like our trademark. We also yelled, “Emu!” in the giant inflatable bouncing place they had at the school carnival that year, just because it was fun. I remember how we raked in the plush toy prizes there after discovering a sure-fire method at winning this game at one of the booths; several kids would stand together at the wooden ledge there and when the lady said, “Go!” we would turn over these plastic colored tubes that had several levels of different holes and marbles inside, competing to see who could get the marbles to the bottom the fastest. We quickly realized that it was a waste of time to turn the tube all different directions trying to guide the marbles to the holes, when you could just shake it straight up and down against the hard ledge surface and win every single time! We took turns winning tickets until the PTA lady running the booth got wise, but by then we had enough to pick out a variety of different colored plush snakes at the prize booth. I still remember walking home that day with my arms full of them after the carnival was over.
At Dana’s house on weekends and vacations we would sit on the fence and throw figs from a fig tree down into the cage of some poor chicken that her neighbor kept out in back, an Easter present all grown up, possibly? We made mysterious recordings with my reel-to-reel tape recorder and rigged it to play backwards or speeded up or slowed down, in an attempt to perfect the procedure so we could eventually listen to the Beatles Revolution #9 backwards and hear the secret message hidden there. We liked to rent a kayak at the local “Mother’s Beach” which was a kind of marina with no real waves, and one time came back to her house with a beach bucket full of little clams that we dug out of the sand there. We took them out and began rinsing the sand off of them at the sink, and were completely freaked out when they began to open up and like reach out and move around on the counter. We ran away from them and came back later to throw them away as we had lost whatever fondness we’d originally felt for them.
Spending the night over at Dana’s was fun, sometimes we would sneak into the kitchen in the middle of the night and have scoops of ice cream on waffles with sprinkles on top. They had a cool old-fashioned red and white popcorn machine in their entryway, that I thought was really neat, and a funny little dog named Tootsie, as well as some cats. We would stay up late and watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Dana’s own tv in her room, and we would talk about Paul McCartney death rumors, our teachers and things we should do to torment them for our amusement, movies, emus, books, anything that was entertaining or strange. One night I told her about this one science fiction movie I saw once where these scientists unearthed this spaceship from under the ground, and how when one guy was in there by himself a strange green finger had mysteriously poked out of the metal beside him, this scene seemed to terrify her to such an extreme, particularly if told late at night, that I had only to mention the words, “green finger” to her to send her into a kind of panic, making her cover her ears, laughing and begging me to shut up. Also one night on one of our tiptoed trips to the kitchen through the dark house, I gasped and told her I saw Paul McCartney’s severed head in the popcorn machine, causing her to run back to her room and hide under the covers, and actually scaring myself a little bit, too.
I felt embarrassed a lot because I really couldn’t invite my new friends over to spend the night at my house the way they invited me; once Myralyn called and asked if she could come and sleep over and I tried to make it fun, we put our sleeping bags out on the livingroom floor so we could stay up and watch the late night thriller movies, but Cathy wouldn’t leave us alone and ended up getting into a big argument with my parents, all right in front of Myralyn. I took her outside to try to explain but I just couldn’t, it was just too hard. I remember, also, that she saw my dolls sitting out on the floor in the diningroom, since I never had anywhere to keep any of my things, all of my toys as a kid just ended up being spirited off somewhere into the garage or something, or thrown away since I didn’t have a room to keep them in. She laughed and asked me if I still played with dolls and I was embarrassed, so to prove that I didn’t, I gave every last one of them to Gayle’s little sister that very day, which was something I’ve always regretted doing. It was different when some of the neighborhood kids slept over, they were usually Russ’s friends and their parents would be outside in back or staying up late playing cards with our parents and everyone else. I had fantasies of having a birthday slumber party the way everyone else did at my school, I was always trying to figure out how I could pull such a thing off, but honestly, the house just seemed way too small, and that was only the least of the problems.
Dana always seemed to have a broken arm, she had at least one cool cast with names and pictures scribbled all over it. One day she was not at school, I don’t know if it was her arm or what, but I ended up sitting with Bettina at lunch, the one I worked on the “bug” project with. I don’t know what I was thinking, usually I kept really quiet about everything, but I mentioned something to her about how I had to do certain things in even numbers and cancel things out by saying them backwards, and I asked her, didn’t she feel the same way? She said to me very clearly, “No,” and told me that it was really weird, too. At that point I made a conscious decision to force “randomness” back into my actions so as to not be weird, and I did my best to mess up the careful balancing act that I always seemed to need to do in my head, only the prayers would remain the same, no more arduous cutting in and out of driveways on my bike rides or backwards words, although the habit of noticing words backwards or transposing letters would never really go away to this very day.
I had a few other friendships that lasted a little while with a couple of the other girls in my class, but I would pull away once I felt they might have seen how secretly weird my life and family were. After a few times of asking other girls mom’s to drop me off at the “end of my block is fine,” I just decided that maybe it was better for me to stick pretty much to myself. I remember another slumber party, in the richest gated community around, of course, when all I had to give the girl was a homemade card and my two dollar allowance, and my crazy sister, Cathy, drove me up there in her boyfriend’s souped up blue Chevy at breakneck speed, skidding and “laying rubber” as my brother called it. It was during one of the times that she was “normal” and at home, and not “schizophrenic” or whatever she was, the doctors gave her so many psychiatric labels at that time we didn’t know what was wrong with her.
One day Caren and my mom and I were grocery shopping at the store across the street when our neighbor, Jean, came into the store and told my mom something in her ear that clearly upset her and she and my sister took off, leaving me and Jean to take our cartful of groceries through the checkout and back to her camper refrigerator at their house on the corner. She tried to be nice and friendly to me but I knew something was wrong and I hurried back once the groceries were put away. When I walked up the driveway I saw the first drops of blood on the cement. They led one way into the house and the other way into the washroom so I followed them, being careful not to step in what became pools, and on the washroom linoleum big red puddles with coagulated lumps. I thought I tasted something in the air that reminded me of when you bite down on foil chewing gum wrappers. My mom was hysterical and I had never seen so much blood, I wondered how that much blood could even come out of one person. Cathy was gone, the paramedics had taken her away, after cutting her wrists with one of Barbre’s old butcher knives, she changed her mind and ran around looking for help. She must have been sitting on the piles of dirty laundry when she did it because everything was blood soaked, and Caren and a friend and I worked at the big sink by the washing machine, scrubbing the blood out of our clothes under the cold water from the faucet. I think she tried to use my favorite white tie back top as like a tourniquet, I just could not get all of the blood out of it.
I left the sink and followed the blood trail up the back steps and into the house; there were smears of blood all along the hallway walls where she leaned as she tried to get to two different phones, both of which were also bloody, and at one point she must have tried to find something in her purse because it was inside there, too, even on the open package of the long sugary pink bubble gum that she broke pieces off of to give to me or to Russ. It was a shame, there was blood all over the gum, and I figured there was no way to save even a piece of it. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last time my sister would try to kill herself.