This whole online social networking thing is bringing back characters from all stages of my life who’s paths were never meant to cross. Their photos sit side by side reminding me of stories that sting my eyes. This one begins over a nightcap at the Roosevelt Hotel. My friend R imagines what I might have been like as a kid. “Beautiful, popular,” he says, “I bet everyone wanted to be your friend.” We order another round. Outside the window Hollywood Boulevard is backed up even though nothing special is going on. I look across the street at Mann’s Chinese Theatre, a sight I never take for granted not for its dirty glitz, but for the miles it marks between me and the place I grew up.
Before we moved to the big house we’d lived steps from Logan Airport in a three-story walk-up. In my impoverished neighborhood I was a princess; I had a clean face, always got plenty to eat and had two school uniforms to alternate between as opposed one like most children. BP sat next to me, each day a new layer of dried boogers caked around her nostrils. I wondered if she’d ever had a bath in her life. Wriggling madly in his seat, tears streamed J’s eyes. Gobs of saliva hung from his quivering lips. He was afraid to ask Sister Christine if he could go to the lavatory. My had shot up and when I wasn’t immediately acknowledged I called-out that J was going to have an accident if he didn’t get out of here soon. “Go, go!” she shouted. He ran through the door sobbing. I patted myself on the back. I was probably his hero. Weeks later my entire world turned inside out when my twenty-one year old uncle was murdered. Everything I knew and loved changed. I returned to school distracted, confused and plagued with questions nobody seemed to answer. Who killed him? Why? Where was he now? Were ghosts real? Who was this “God” anyway? Sister Christine took me into the hall when she found me crying in a corner. She held me tight and said it was ok to cry. Pressed against her like that, all I could think was how I never knew nuns had boobs. Hers were unusually big. She told me if I ever needed to talk she’d be there for me. I thanked her, trying not to stare at her boobs. They scared me. I knew better than to cry again.
The big house had an inground pool and what felt like miles of land. We moved in the storm of silence that surrounded my uncle’s death. Nobody spoke of him. Ever. It was as if he never existed. All I knew was that he died from a gun and he was found the next morning in the schoolyard. My mind returned again and again to that morning when everything changed. I was with my grandparents, eating breakfast and watching t.v. as usual, while my parents slept in their apartment upstairs. It was me who heard the knock and opened the door. To my surprise David, Uncle’s friend who drew horses, was standing next to a policeman. The policeman took off his hat when he saw me. “Honey, can you get your grandmother, please?” David said. But I froze, because I was shocked to learn that a grown man could cry. “What’s wrong?” I asked. He insisted I get my grandmother. “But, but why are you cry–” He screamed, “I said get your grandmother, Shannon! GO! NOW!” My grandparents rushed to the door, pushing me aside. I sat on the coffee table as they moved past me. Not more than a few feet away I watched them sit at the kitchen table. David’s eyes were pouring now. The policeman said, “Mr. and Mrs. B., we found a body…” My grandmother grab her heart as if she’d been stabbed. The word spun round and round my head. Body. Body. Body. Body. She cried out like an animal. David covered his face with his hands, and bawled. My grandfather’s voice went scratchy soft as he held his head and sobbed Noooo. The policeman was just beginning to say how very sorry he was, but it was all too much. Still gripped by the newly terrifying word, I crept upstairs and curled up on the sofa. Body. It echoed all around me. Beneath the floral bedspread, the shape of my sleeping parents. I couldn’t begin to understand what had just happened or why I was shaking. I tried to sort it in my head, what had happened first, what had happened second, had it really happened at all? I felt my mother’s hand on my leg. She appeared before me, kneeling, and asking why I was crying. She looked so pretty with her brown hair and fancy orange nightgown, I could hardly speak… David, crying, policeman, grandma, Body. “And mom, I think it was… Uncle Gary.” With this, the color drained from my mother’s thin face. It was an instant that stretched clear across eternity. The twist of her nightgown fell as she rose, pale, and called out to my father. She disappeared down the stairs in a blur. Maybe she grabbed her robe and it fluttered behind her. Maybe she grabbed my little brother. My father told me to stay put. He closed the door tight behind him. Scared, I yelled, “What happened to Uncle? What happened to him?” I was alone.
The children at my new school, sensing my vulnerability, wasted no time closing-in. I was wounded and afraid. With scraggly hair, and without the cover of a uniform, my clothes looked cheap and outdated. The leaders of the class immediately nicknamed me Dog. No matter how fast I walked or what bush I hid behind, they hunted me down and taunted me without mercy. It got so bad that one afternoon several boys encircled me with their speeding bikes, spitting on me as they passed. I tried to escape, but it only brought a hale of phlegm. This was the first in a series of public humiliations.
The fireplace in the lobby crackles and pops. A cocktail waitress brings more drinks. “Tell me what you were like as a girl, come on,” R says. I think of Blanche: A woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion. And I say nothing.