She didn’t know why she did what she did, she just found herself doing these weird things. Like tonight, here she was, crawling all over her parents bed among the winter coats and the purses, opening the wallets in the purses and taking out the licenses. Taking them out, examining the pictures of the women, correlating height and weight on the license with what she knew of their physical reality. No way Mrs. Dewart weighed 108 pounds! Why was she doing this? She had no idea but once she had started there was no turning back.
So here she was with a dozen licenses in a small, neat little pile in front of her on the bed. First, she put them in alphabetical order, then she put them in birth order, and then she had no idea which wallet she had removed them from but at that point it really didn’t matter. By the time the women came upstairs to get their coats and reclaim their enormous bags, she would be safely in bed, in her room, safe from blame. Then it occurred to her there would be no blame until one of them was either shopping and needed ID or pulled over by one of Connecticut’s finest.
That’s what she felt: this sense that she was doing the right thing even though she was obviously doing the wrong thing. Clearly somewhere in her slightly above average mind (as her last teacher in writing had said) she was twisted but the thing was, she liked being twisted and that was that. She figured as long as no one knew what she was up to, it was kind of like a Robin Hood gig in the world and no one ever seemed to catch on.
Her life most of the time felt like a gig. Unfortunately, there was no chance she was adopted as she was definitely the child of Robert and Susan Crawford of 11 Meadow Wood Drive in Greenwich, Connecticut. She knew this with certainty as she had inherited a particular blood cell disorder that caused no damage but made genetic identification a perfect science. The thing was she couldn’t find one bit of similarity with either her Mom or Dad or with Joseph, her twelve year old amazonic and idiotic brother. She had felt like an outsider from the time of her birth when her mother refused to nurse her. Oh, she knew that was an ambient memory all right but apparently it was a true one as she had asked the nanny if she had been nursed.
“Oh no, dearie, yer mothah had meny meny things on her mind and couldna be bothered with the demands of a young lady like yerself.” Said Hilda, the constant nanny, who spent most of her time in front of the TV watching Days of Our Lives and Jeopardy and eating Cadbury’s Milk from a very large bar. She never shared.
“Yr mothah was a good Mum and did giver yer brothah a lot of time and milk so aftah that , yew see, it was time fer her ta go back tew bein a wife for the man.”
“Yew were a good babe and didna take much time sew it was jest girrrel. Just a bit small!”
Avery, (can you believe they had named her Avery?) was small. This was very true. Just under five foot four was small for the eighth grade and she knew it. It didn’t take a brain trust to observe that most of her class was taller than she was. They were also blonder, had straight hair and wore mostly matched clothes with shoes that came from the “cool” store in town .Avery was small, as you know, and had very curly hair which frizzed out around her head in a halo when the weather turned the slightest bit damp.
At certain times, when no one was on the second floor of the house, Avery looked at herself in the mirror. If she was doing this naked, she did it sideways as it was less of a shock. She turned off the bathroom light, opened the medicine cabinet door so the mirror was more visible, and let the towel slither to the floor. Sometimes she wore a second towel wrapped around her head as she liked the look of an exotic person and it distracted her from the sight of her body.
Her body, apparently, was not responding the way D. R. Waters said it should be responding at this time in her life D. R. had written a book on “The Advent of Puberty” which Avery consulted regularly. She had once asked Margret who had given her the book and why there was a reference to Christmas in the title. She still had a really fat tummy and a completely flat chest. All right, all right, her tummy wasn’t really fat it was just not what Avery felt it should look like when comparing it to the bodies in her mother’s fashion magazines. Avery’s body looked shapeless to her and rather like a white fish with a head and no tail. It was depressing to look at it so she tried not to most of the time.
Clothes: now clothes were a problem as her closet was filled with clothes chosen for her mother, without Avery in mind at all. There were racks of little pleated skirts in plaid and plain with skirts that flew out at the slightest provocation. White blouses with puffy sleeves and tank tops that went underneath. Shoes with ties that could be changed for other ties depending on the mood of the shoe wearer. (The ties had never been changed.) Everything arranged carefully in terms of color, style and season. There was even another closet upstairs in the attic with another complete wardrobe but for summer.
The whole clothes thing was unimportant to Avery and very stressful. She liked it better when they were on vacation as no one cared what she wore then. On vacation meant the best thing to do with her day was to find a place where ever they were that was safe from her brother and had food. On vacation but at home meant wearing black and white combo’s daily that all looked the same as the chances were good her parents were not around. She had exactly three pairs of black jeans, a black skirt, and three white shirts and this was all she needed. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t know this and continued to fill her closet not noticing Avery was not wearing anything from the “mother” pile.
Avery had known from the time she was a toddler that having too much was more of a problem than a blessing. She preferred only one book at a time, one pair of shoes, just a little bit of clothing and usually the same kind of food from each food group. Like apples, chicken breasts and arugula(this was Greenwich)and an occasional chocolate bar could hold her until she died. Just the smell of red meat made her nauseous and orange juice really killed her throat. It was also out of her color chart. It made her get a headache if she had too much around her to be responsible for and too many decisions to make so she kept her life as simple as a eighth grader could : eat, sleep, school, homework and then the whole thing all over again.
She had a great way to get rid of excess and she made use of it usually once a month or so. She had discovered that the other people in the house also had too much stuff and never went deep into the back of their closets. Her mother had so many closets she usually only went into one or two on a weekly basis. Her father was rarely home and his dressing room was tightly organized and more challenging for her system. Her brother was disastrous in keeping his room organized and discarded his clothes both new and old on the floors of his three closets. The maids were given standing orders to remove clothing from the floors weekly, wash and return these items to their proper place in the closet.
So here’s the system: if everyone in the house had too much, Avery thought that it would be” helpful” to her family to cleanse the house with regularity and so she did. Every month or so she went into her own closet first and removed a sizable chunk of the clothes her mother had bought recently. Then she went into her mother’s closet and crawled way back into the second row where she found the items her mother never wore but was too greedy to give away. These items ranged from evening dresses to cashmere sweaters to jeans: all very costly and very soft. As a matter of fact, that was how Avery learned about the value of clothes: the softer something was the more expensive it turned out to be.
After finishing up with a few choice items from her father’s closet which were usually items he was hoarding(a habit Avery knew to be bad for him) she moved on to her brother’s room. This outing was the most dangerous and had to be conducted with the most serious reconnaissance. She dressed in one of her all black outfits, carried her IPHONE with its recording capability, attached her air horn to her belt, and she was ready to go .Her brother’s schedule along with every other family member was on the office bulletin board and so it was pretty easy to see when he would be out of the house. Unfortunately, however, he was known to have a hissy fit from time to time and insist the driver take him home from where ever he was earlier than he should have been home. She had to lie still under the bed listening to him reading gross magazines, chomping on chips, and talking with his mean friend, Jerry, who also tortured dogs.
Once she had assembled all of the “donations” it was easy. She went to the kitchen and sat down to speak with Margaret O’Toole about going to Whole Foods with her on her weekly shopping trip. Avery loved Margaret and the feeling was mutual so the kitchen was a cozy place where Avery learned how to cook as well as how to do good works in the world. Margaret was a Catholic but never had anything bad to confess as she was a very sweet lady. Avery asked her all the time about confession as she wondered if it might be good for her. Margaret had convinced her that remaining a Protestant for the time being was probably the best bet. She had been in the kitchen for as long as Avery could remember and despite the fact that Avery’s mother could never remember Margaret’s name, she was the most important person in Avery’s life. Avery could tell Margaret anything but she never did as she didn’t want to jeopardize her position in the household. If Margaret knew the stuff Avery did, however, Margaret would still love her and that was a pretty powerful love.
Anyway, Margaret liked to have company when she went shopping and so taking Avery was easy. Margaret had been the first person to tell Avery about the cost of Living. Living was always capitalized in Avery’s mind as she didn’t feel she was really living in this house. People who lived had dinner together and bought milk and bread and butter from lists which told them they needed these items. In her house people just bought what they wanted at that moment. The more Avery knew as time went on about Living the more she thought up ways to correct her family problem.
Margaret and Avery went off in the family errand Mercedes wagon and travelled down North Street to Whole Foods where Margaret went into the store and Avery went to buy comic books, something she did every week. Avery waited until Margaret was safely inside Whole Foods before walking over to the Goodwill dumpster and emptying the contents of her back pack into the conveniently located drawer on the side. She walked away happy as she always did.
There was a time in her life when she wanted to be a Catholic and this act of initial thievery made her queasy, but she had outgrown that. Now she completely believed she was helping others with the cost of Living.
Avery knew she wasn’t like other kids because she lived in a world that she didn’t like and she had no idea of how to get herself out of this world so she found ways of dealing with it. From what she had read it wasn’t normal for a kid to think about how she didn’t like her world.
Sometimes she saw other kids her age whispering with each other or giggling when certain boys passed them by and she felt jealous and uncertain. Maybe she was missing something. How could she become like them? The idea was so completely hopeless it depressed her. On the one hand she wanted to be like them but, on the other, she knew it wasn’t in her DNA to act or think like they did so she just kept on feeling out of it and made the best of it. The biggest and most compelling thought was that growing up would make everything better so she waited for that to happen.
“Avereeee? Avereee?” called her mother from outside her door in her usual happy voice which really sounded like a really weird kid pretending to be an adult voice.
Avery slowly opened her door to be faced with what looked like a main character in the movie Wall Street which happened to be the only movie she had watched with her Dad. Her mother was dressed in her “serious” outfit which was usually composed of a tight fitting suit with a slit up the rear and very seriously precarious shoes. This time the suit was fire engine red and so were her lips.
“Yup, Mom, I’m here!” said Avery to this apparition of importance.
“Avery: you know what night tonight is, don’t you?”
“Thursday, I think, because tomorrow is the end of what has been another boring week in the life of Avery, the freak of the eighth grade!” said Avery
“Avery! You know I don’t like to hear you speak like that. You are not a freak and you have lots of friends!
Not falling for that trap, thought Avery, as her mother continued to move her lips almost pneumatically, and Avery watched without hearing the words coming out. By the time her mother had turned and was walking out the door, Avery realized she had been talking about Parent’s Night at her school. Quick, Avery thought to herself, what had she been up to at school recently? Anything obviously wrong there? Nope, Avery thought, I’m good. Mrs. Yan really likes me because I am obviously sucking up to her in class and the stuff she teaches us is really obvious.
I guess I can just allow her to go to school dressed like a female Batman and see what she runs into.
Avery closed the door of her room and went back to doing her math problems. Arithmetic was so satisfying as all you did was play with some numbers and make them do what you wanted. You could check your work, know immediately if you were right, and then move on.
Another knock on her door sounded. “yes?” said Avery in her other mystery voice. She had two mystery voices for the phone and one for herself only. The phone voce was exactly like her mothers’ and very useful.
“Its Margaret, Avery dear, wanting to know if you want to have dinner now as I am leaving soon.”
Avery jumped up and ran over to the door, opening it and saying. “Yes! I love dinner with you! What are we having?”
“Squabble duck and farty pear,” said Margaret with her serious face on. “Lets go down right now and eat it up!”
No matter what Margaret said, Avery laughed. She had noticed this reaction to Margaret a few years ago and had no idea why she laughed.
Sometimes Avery hid from people. She had no idea why but it felt good. She hid in the large linen closet on the very top shelf and was able to lie completely flat up there next to the ceiling. She had been interrupted quite a few times from her slumbers up on the shelf by people entering the closet to take or give linens and no one had ever noticed her which was how she knew it was a brilliant hiding place.
It took a while to get situated up there because you had to make sure there was no one around before entering the closet. Then you had to be prepared to carefully climb up the shelves which was no mean trick! The shelves had ruching thumbtacked to them and so they felt unstable and potentially dangerous which was part of the challenge. Once you reached the top shelf the hard part was going from an upright person holding onto a shelf to a sideways person on the shelf which was two feet from the ceiling. It took a leap of faith, literally.
She was getting really good at this move after about a year of attempts. The weird thing about hiding was she didn’t care if anyone found her she just liked being invisible. It was a secret she couldn’t share with anyone as she figured it was weird for a relatively old kid to be doing this. Somehow hiding made her feel safe which was a good thing. She felt as if having a safe place in the house was good in case she needed it someday.