Excerpt from Crushing Soft Rubies on Childhood
As I was working on the second edition of Crushing Soft Rubies, I came across a section about my childhood that brought back good memories. Wanted to share it with you….
In elementary school, I was extremely sensitive. If anyone was mean to me, I immediately cried. Like in the first grade, Maynard, a scruffy boy that nobody liked, was showing a group of kids his new “Simon Says” game. I stuck my head in to look and he pushed my face back and told me, “You can’t look!” I was so angry, but didn’t say anything. I just walked away crying. Luckily, a friend defended me and sat with me until my tears dried up.
Early that same year, I cried so hard I was sent home. I was in a new, unfamiliar class that seemed scary, and I was upset because I couldn’t watch Electric Company since I didn’t finish my classwork packet. I was brought to the office and the school nurse consoled me and called my parents to come pick me up. I tried crying the following day in hopes of being sent home again. The teacher told me to return to my seat.
It wasn’t until later that I developed a tougher skin. The more I played with my friends, the rougher I became. Even though I liked being alone, I enjoyed the friends I made in class and on the playground, especially when playing handball, Double-Dutch, or breakdancing. I made friends with just about anybody as long as they weren’t mean. My closest friends tended to be kids who did all their homework and were funny—friends like Scott, Alba, and Ricardo.
Scott and I were in the same 4th grade class with Mr. Hall. We were best friends for awhile. We ate lunch together in the cafeteria everyday. He gave me piggyback rides during recess. We had a ball being silly, crackin’ jokes under our breath while trying to do our classwork. Most importantly, Scott was just as big a fan of Duran Duran as I was. Being the two, most devoted Duran Duran fans on the planet, we made sure we displayed our loyalty in every way possible. Scott understood why I owned Duran Duran buttons, posters, folders, and tapes, since he did the same thing. We stood in awe of each other’s latest Duran Duran paraphernalia while also remembering to write to their fan club every chance we could get.
We had so much fun together, until one day during lunch, a girl yelled, “Do you guys like each other?”
A lump formed in my throat as embarrassment and anger rushed through my 9-year-old body. Scott stopped with a spoon still in his mouth. Having never considered such an idea, we both said, “No! We’re just friends.” However, the stigma of being asked the question in the middle of the school cafeteria scarred our friendship forever.
That was it. The piggyback rides stopped. The jokes during class stopped. We still shared our fanaticism for Duran Duran, exchanging tidbits of trivia once in awhile, but the innocence of our friendship was replaced with caution.
Alba, a girl I didn’t like at first, became my “runnin’ buddy” in the 5th grade. She was the first person I “told off” for being so mean to one of my friends. Somehow we made amends and became best friends. She was a tomboy just like me. Not only could I play on the monkey bars and the swings with Alba, but I could also dig up worms with her.
Once during recess, we found some nice, wet dirt and dug up at least ten worms and put them in an old Oil of Olay bottle I had in my pocket. The bell rang and we had no place to put them. So we took some paper towels, wrapped up the top and then wrapped up the entire bottle so our teacher didn’t know what we were carrying. We sat down with the bundle of paper towels on top of our desks. Both of us were fiddlin’ around with the bottle trying to make sure the worms wouldn’t escape. We ended up unwrapping the paper towel when the bottle was upside-down and all the worms fell out. Oh, God! In a split second, before anyone could see, I scooped up all the worms from the table and into the paper towels. “Um, Ms. Trint, can I throw these away?!” I asked, out of breath.
“Ye…,” I heard the teacher say and instantly, I rushed out the door into the girl’s bathroom and dumped all the worms into the trash.
Then there was Ricardo. In Mr. Tinner’s 6th grade class, I sat behind Ricardo. Both us were diligent as we worked on our social studies and math homework. We loved the same music and enjoyed each other’s company. We always compared answers and joked around, as well. To shut each other up, we would flash the palm our hand in each other’s face and say “Blot!” or some other silly word. Every Friday, Mr. Tinner let us listen to our music while we did our homework. Ricardo asked if he could play his Egyptian Lover tape. Ricardo and I got our math homework done so fast when we listened to “Egypt, Egypt,” not realizing how strange it was to hear that tune, “There’s a place in France, where the naked ladies dance…” played in the middle of the song.
On the playground, when “Egypt, Egypt” came on Ricardo cheered me on when he saw me breakdancing, battling the boys. I was the only B-girl at Mariposa Elementary School.
“Egypt, Egypt” was among the popular songs we heard on the playground while the boys and I were breakdancin’. Ricardo knew I was the only B-girl in the 5th and 6th grade and had no trouble battling boys. Someone always brought out his giant piece of cardboard; anyone who wanted to breakdance, did. Although I could never bust a headspin or a flare, my favorite moves were the centipede (a.k.a. the worm), the kneespin and the backspin, always ending my bit with a freeze. At this time, all I knew was that breakdancin’ was the latest craze. I had no idea that it was originally called B-boyin’, nor did I know that it was just one of the elements of a greater culture—Hip Hop. Around this time, I started hearing other songs besides “Egypt, Egypt” like, “Roxanne, Roxanne” by UTFO, “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force, “The Show” by Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, and “Friends” by Whodini, always having the urge to rub the ribbed side of my radio trying to imitate the sound of a DJ scratchin’. Back then, I couldn’t tell you the titles of the songs, not even the artists for that matter, but I did recognize that these songs and B-boyin’ felt connected and somehow it seemed like something new was happening.
My mother, though not entirely sure what was going on, was completely open to seeing me breakdance. After I begged her a million times, we even watched Breakin’ and Beat Street together. When we passed Montgomery Ward, she didn’t hesitate to pull over when I asked if we could get one of their old refrigerator boxes from behind the store so I could have something to practice on. Once we brought it home, she watched me practice my new moves with my maroon parachute pants and wristbands on, always getting ready for the next battle. Even though she knew little about B-boyin’, she always supported me.
Crushing Soft Rubies will be released for a second printing October 2011.