madwoman on the playgroundUp with

madwoman on the playground

Up with a nightmare and the haunting thoughts that go with it. In the dream I was somehow stuck back in high school. Jack Y. had moved back to town after living in Utah. I was unnerved but tried to keep my cool while still subtly jockeying to sit behind him in math class. Kirstin and Fish were there. In class we all had to read our essays out loud.

After class we were all hanging around by some playground in a park with a big rocky hill. The popular people were going down the hill and Jack was with them. I wondered with dread if he would mock me to them or mock my essay. Suddenly there was a horrible screaming from the bottom of the hill. It was a bit like the overtoned voices of those Tuvan throat singers, but loud as an ambulance siren. This woman had just completely lost it – I thought it was one of the other high school kids but she was around 40. She was chasing us all with a knife. Anyone that looked scared she’d come after with inhuman strength. Her face was horribly distorted, muscles spasming. “Good thing I’ve been on a lot of playgrounds lately,” I thought and scrambled up to the top of a jungle gym thing with a tower, like in S.’s yard.

As I slowly woke up from this I had the song “Knights in White Satin” in my head and was thinking of Fish. Kirsten was my first girlfriend in high school. When she was kicked out of her house and lived with friends and then finally ended up at an uncle and aunt’s in Austin, where she met Fish. They became passionate lovers. The three of us wrote 10, 20 page letters to each other full of near-psychotic rambling and poetry. Fish, her poetry was often about death or killing herself. Kirsten worried about her. I think Fish lived in a trailer with her stepdad, or dad, and there was something going on there that she didn’t talk about, but Kirsten told me her (step?)dad had been molesting her somehow. We all wrote love letters to each other. I had no jealousy but was glad someone was there for K, who needed it. When I came up to go to college in Austin they were still in high school.

At some point I spent the night over at Kirsten’s — despite the fanatic Christians, her aunt and uncle — I remember the 3 of us lying on top of the jungle gym in the back yard, listening to that Moody Blues song. We wrote, read poetry out of the norton anthology, and kept rewinding the tape. At one point Fish got agitated talking about her family and did a horrible thing: she pulled the ends of her white silk scarf tight around her throat. One hand, holding the scarf, was out as far as she could reach. The other was out in the opposite direction. Her face started to change color. K. and I freaked out but were actually unable to move her arms until she began to pass out. Fish was apparently possessed of superhuman strength. We comforted her. Naked, Fish was lovely and pale in a sort of pearl-like way under the light that came through the curtains from the sulfury streetlight. Kirstin, never lovely no matter how dear, was at least softened. We both caressed Fish languidly. I don’t remember falling asleep.

Anyway, back in the present, I lay in my safe warm bed, shuddering at the thought of Fish the madwoman.

A little bit later, must have been around October because I was still a freshman and hadn’t yet been kicked out of the women’s co-op dorm, Fish began giving odd presents to her girlfriend. Things like a dead withered rose in a … get this… a shoebox covered with black paper to look like a little coffin … and poetry even more morbid than usual. She was hearing voices. I was very, very curious what that actually meant. I wish that I had the letters and poetry from that time. K’s story is that she got a note in her locker to meet Fish in a certain girl’s bathroom before class. In the bathroom, Fish declared their eternal love and then came at her with a giant butcher knife. “I turned around to take it in the back, because I knew otherwise I wouldn’t be able to help struggling,” K. told me later, and I’m sure it sounds demented or melodramatic now, but I have never heard that much sadness or real love in someone’s voice; she could not bear the thought of possibly hurting Fish, waking her up to the awfulness of what she was doing, so she offered herself up for sacrifice. The point I am making is not that I admire any of this craziness, but that K’s devotion was real. Fish apparently got up against the wall and began screaming and raving about Christ and stuck her arms out as if crucified. It took 5 people to pull her down. Kirsten walked out and said to the first person she met, “Could you take this knife out of my back? I don’t want to be late to Latin, I have a test” and then crumpled up covered in blood. The knife went 3 inches into her back and missed — I dunno, a lung? a heart? something vital. “I’ve never been so glad to be FAT,” she told me from the hospital. I was nearly catatonic from the awfulness of it all.

The newspaper reported it as a “possible crime of jealousy over a boy”. Hello. These chicks were out of the closet, which in round rock, TX, in 1986 meant a lot. I’m not sure who decided to report that story wrongly – their friends? The school? The relatives? the paper? There was no boy. Fish ended up in a mental institution.

Meanwhile, I’m still just barely waking up from my dream of dancing out of reach of the madwoman with the knife – the madwoman in the dream.

She reminded me of something else – one of the few times in my life I have been uncontrollably angry – I will tell that story later but it involves Steve C., the secret fiancee, me, and the new girlfriend, and I screamed so hard at him that I actually passed out. I don’t think I’ve been that angry before or since. I felt like Medea. My doom had come upon me.

I also thought of Jack Y. and my ill-fated obsession with him. In math class I would stare at the back of his neck passionately. He had a few white hairs already. If he turned his head a little then I could see his freckles and the curve of his cheekbone. He looked like honey. He was very beautiful, and I could also smell him. Sometimes I smell someone who smells like that and nearly go nuts at how great it is. When he’d turn around to talk with me, my heart would stop. He was arrogant, shy, and competitive. We would mock each other if either of us missed a point on a test or didn’t get the “extra credit question”. I kicked his butt in the programming contest but he was neater and more accurate than I was in most things Math. Jocks mocked him to tears once in my presence. He would read under his desk when things were slow or he was in the middle of a really good book.

Let it be known that I was madly in love with him based on all the above.

Once he turned around and grabbed my hand. “You should have long fingernails. Why don’t you paint your nails?” he said slyly. Obligatory feminist rant from 14 year old Badger. This became the basis of most of our conversations – he’d taunt me with lack of proper femininity and I’d rant and then he’d crack up. But I knew that it was real – he wanted a long legged, honey haired, y’all-saying cheerleader to look his way.

He did move away – just like in the dream – and then moved back, suddenly taller, with a non-geek haircut and on the tennis team. Somehow, he seemed less asian, I don’t know how to describe this, but his skin got a lot lighter with puberty, and maybe just losing the bowl cut and plaid shirts helped out. I wondered, but did not ask, if he had had some kind of eyelid plastic surgery. The jocks would tease him about race and he would just laugh it off and say something 10 times as obnoxious. I never met his parents but I think his mom was white and his dad either Japanese or Korean. Of course the Jocks would either talk ‘fake chinese’ at him while sticking out their front teeth (squinting, pulling lips back, “ching chong sing song lon
g dong”) or they’d talk about vietnam and how they we have nuked it.

I have no memory now of how we started messing around but there were various nutty incidents. We would write each other porn stories – sort of an ongoing co-written story – I was in the first computer math class and he was in the second and we’d leave the story on a disk – with some sort of lame stab at cryptographic protection [keep in mind this is 1984 as you picture the computers!]. I’d be there in the computer lab turning beet red and fidgeting. He was a good writer and very filthy-minded. Somehow, it was impossible for us to actually date. He was moving up in the world and did not want to be made fun of for dating me! But then, even with the computer nerds, he was afraid of something and we would act, in front of them, like friendly rivals, mocking each other. We’d call each other and secretly meet. He would moan my name in porn-movie fashion but on him it sounded good. I remember licking his thighs in the back of his mom’s van. I’m sure on some level it’s wrong to fantasize about 15 year old boys, but I still do, because he was the sexiest person ever.

Later it got ugly. He started up a “Young Republicans” club in our school and our public mockery of each other turned to public hatred. Our secret meetings for sex turned bitter on my part. I had new boyfriends but kept the affair with Jack going until I left high school.

Over the years I kept vague track of where he was, asking friends and then maybe once a year web-stalking him. After sept. 11 I emailed him out of the blue because I knew he worked down there. He had been across the street in building 7. He was pretty fucking upset about it all. I have not written him back, I don’t want to piss myself off with his awful politics, I’m sure he will say something awful about ‘nuke them back into the stone age’.

I’m not sure what the point of all this rambling is, but as I surfaced from sleep at 6 am just now, I thought, “the madwoman on the playground was me. I thought her up, I imagined her, I made her, and her voice is part of my voice.”

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