I spent most of my first week of school on the teacher’s lap, which felt not unlike a feather bed tightly wrapped in wash and wear polyester. When I finally ventured out onto the playground, I quickly learned that people my own age did not necessarily share my interests. While I wanted to talk about the atrocities of Vietnam, the superiority of European cinema and the functionality of design that was deeply inherent in the creations of Charles & Ray Eames, my fellow six year olds were mostly interested in seeing whether Country Time Lemonade or Skittles held the throne of producing enough phlegm to hawk the worlds biggest loogie.
It seemed that I was wearing a shirt that read “please feel free to poke me with the nearest sharp stick”. I was not much for sports or roughhousing, but could definitely see the merits of puffy stickers and glitter, so after playing with the boys for about twenty minutes, I moved on to girls.
I haven’t looked back since.
In between having my hair brushed and playing tea party, I would stand and stare lovingly at the cotton panties of the budding female gymnasts hanging upside down on the monkey bars. After my daily lesson in female anatomy, I would walk to the fence that barred me from the freedom of the outside world.
On the other side of it was, of course, my mother.
She had set up camp with a carpetbag containing a seemingly endless supply of cigarettes, enough fashion magazines to fill the pyramids of Giza, a gallon thermos of black coffee and a family sized box of Ritz crackers.
I reached my tiny fingers through the chain links and she met them with her perfectly manicured hands.
“Your father and I are doing everything we can to get you out of there”
Prison’s a bitch when you’re twelve years shy of your eighteenth birthday.
After a week or so of my mothers sit in, the teachers began to complain.
“Mrs. Freberg, you can’t just sit out there day after day, it’s beginning to disturb the other children”
“I’ll leave when I’m damn good and ready”
The principal was called in.
“Donavan will be fine, Mrs. Freberg. You have my word. If he should need you, we will call you immediately”
“Alright. I’ll leave, but if for any reason he wants to come home…”
“Don’t worry, yes, of course…”
“May I have a moment to say goodbye to my son?”
My eyes welled with tears.
My mother thought for a moment, then she smiled her one hundred watt smile right into the pitch-black corners of my heart.
“I’ll be back before you know it”
I assumed that she meant the end of the school day.
A half hour later, the yellow taxi rolled up.
My teachers met her at the gate.
“I thought we discussed this!”
“Yes, yes, don’t worry, I’m not staying. I got home and realized that he had forgotten his lunch”
This made sense to the teacher, but not to me. My tuna fish sandwich and apple juice were in my bag, still cold. Something clandestine was afoot.
“Please give this to my son”, said my mother.
The teacher nodded approvingly and my mother waved at me and yelled in a loud voice, “I’m going HOME now honey, see you LATER dear”
My teacher handed me my lunch box.
It felt unusually heavy.
As soon as I was free of prying adult eyes, I opened it.
The bastards haven’t had the last word. Enclosed you will find a police whistle and a pair of binoculars. Point them towards Lexington Avenue. If you need me, blow that whistle. It can be heard for up to one mile. I will come immediately and wait in front with the motor running. Run for it, jump in and we’ll be gone before anyone notices.
Stay strong and question everything.
I put the spyglasses to my eyes and focused them on the parking lot down the block. Enshrouded in a blanket of eucalyptus trees was the cab that had been in front of the school for the last 72 hours. My mother was standing in front of it blowing me a kiss. I put the whistle around my turtleneck and waved back. She gave me the thumbs up and got back in the cab.
“What are you doing?” asked the teacher behind me.
“Birdwatching!” I said, innocently.
“And what kind of birds were you watching?”, she asked.
“Sparrows and Blue Jays mostly, though I’m on the lookout for native tanagers and wintering warblers!”
Thank God for PBS.
The teacher smiled.
“Well, be sure to share with the other children”.
After nearly a week in school, I had finally learned my first lesson:
When in doubt, make stuff up.
Eventually my mother left me to fend for myself.
But she left her heart in my lunchbox.