|I imagine myself as the one on the left...|
more serious and a little frumpier.
As a child, I liked to organize protests. I am sure my parents wondered if I would ever grow out of it. After all, I came by it honestly. My Uncle Jeff missed our last family reunion because he was doing time for lying down in front of a bulldozer that was clearing the land for the Walt Disney Symphony Hall in LA. He was 65 years old.
Perhaps it was natural, that in grade school I would start strikes against certain teachers. I would campaign for “students’ rights.” I even held elections and was voted president of the playground. As a straight-laced honors student perhaps this was my genre of rebellion. To me, protesting was an intoxicating brew of persuasion, organization and disruption.
My best friend Lauren was a more decorous activist. She always called her parents before we watched a movie, even if it was PG. She lived about 10 blocks from my house, on Hyde Road. We practically shared homes. I could walk into their warm red colonial house day or night and be welcomed by the smell of fresh baking, and Virginia hospitality. Her mom was a modern Southern belle. She was beautiful, just like Lauren. They always smelled like expensive perfume and wore outfits that matched spectacularly. What was spectacular was not only that their shirts matched their pants, or that their shoes and earrings matched their clothes, or even that mother and daughter matched each other. What always impressed me was the way they matched their house. I envied their ability to coordinate their lives so seamlessly.
We had become friends in sixth grade when we heard the story of Gladys Alward, a missionary who had saved the lives of a hundred Chinese children. We had watched the movie, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness” starring Ingrid Bergman over 10 times. We knew it by heart and our dream was to go to China. We had a saving account with $100 toward the cause.
Lauren and I would stay up all night doing Jane Fonda workouts and reading silly poetry. She had an uncanny sense of comedic timing and a real gift for imitation. Just a look from her, behind a teacher’s back could send me into hysterics that got me removed from the classroom.
In the winter, we would walk across the street to go sledding in the field by her house. One windy afternoon, I noticed pink tape choking the circumference of the pine trees. “Hey, what’s this?” I called to her.
“Oh they’re thinning the forest.” She replied. “It's gonna be awful ugly- Look at all the climbing trees they’re cutting down.” Righteous indignation began to rise in my chest.
“The ones marked in pink?” I asked.
“I think so.” She nodded.
“No!” I shouted. “We can’t let this happen. We are going to pull down all the tape so that they won’t know which ones to cut. OK? We can stop this.” My inspirational tirade at its end, I jerked loose a pink noose and threw it down. We went on a rampage that Friday afternoon. We must have freed 20-50 trees. The brisk air and the danger of getting caught heightened the sense of exhilaration. I smelled the needle’s refreshing perfume and felt the dark sap sticking to the palms of my hands. The trees nodded in the wind, bowing with unspoken thanks. I looked over the forest in triumph. Lauren and I took the evidence inside to throw away and settled down to a sweet cup of hot cocoa. Lauren’s mom smiled at us as she poured. I noticed that her apron matched the teapot.
The next week I came by Lauren’s after school for our weekly sledding adventure. I had almost forgotten about our Pine Tree Liberation Movement, I was preoccupied with my latest appeal for a less oppressive dress code. We crossed over Hyde road into the woods. I had just remembered to ask, “How about those trees?” But the words were whisked away by the chill in the air.
They had all been cut down.
The company destroyed them even without the pink tags. I sank down into the wet snow. It seeped through my canvas shoes and my jeans. I was crushed. I cried for those trees. I cried for my impotence against this destruction. I cried for the futility of wanting something good and being denied without reason. The remnant of pine trees rained down dying needles into my tangled hair. I knew I was no longer queen of this realm.
I wondered if this was the end of my innocence. How could I live hopefully in a world that slaughtered a source of clean air? I flailed my arms in despair, creating an unintentional snow angel. I looked over at Lauren for picket line solidarity. She was grinning, which I found completely inappropriate. I scowled at her to communicate my sentiments and she rolled her eyes, pulling herself up to her full height. With facetious passion she began to exhort an imaginary audience. She broke into her best Southern Baptist drawl which was breathy yet bellowing- full of dramatic pause;
“We got something to tell ya’ll today-ah. We gotta message y’all can’t just ignore-ah. We are here because we want y’all to get up out dem seats-ah…Get up dem seats-ah and take a stand with us today-ah. There are people starving in China…there are children dying in Africa…and there are trees being murdered in West Hartford-ah.”
At this she burst into hysterics. I launched a snowball at her face but couldn’t help but giggle at my own gravity. “Don’t worry” she consoled and then with ironic wisdom she added, “There will always be something to protest.”
* based on true events...some artistic license may have been taken because, #1 it was a long time ago and #2 because I experience and remember things in the most dramatic light possible. Hope you all don't run away now that you know what a nutcase I am:) But I'm guessing most of you knew that already anyway.