|Adorable Tommy, free from my jokes.|
Those who were there at the time offer corrections. That's not how it happened. That's not why it happened. That was in Louisville, not Duluth. No, it couldn't have been Louisville. It was Duluth. Our back stoop wasn't concrete; it was wood. By golly, it was wood! How did I get that wrong? Mr. Hammer didn't have pear apples, he had peach apples. Pear. Peach. Pear. Peach. The words become meaningless, I forget which side I am arguing, but the memory stubbornly remains.
Mostly, I remember feelings. I remember trying so hard, always, to figure things out. What did this mean? What should I do? What is the right way for me to react?
There was joking at the dinner table, joking I didn't understand. The older kids would say something that was quite obviously not true, and Guv would laugh. Why? Why is it funny to say something that isn't true? Why is that not lying? It's sarcasm, I was told. It's irony.
I wanted to try. I wanted to make people laugh. My mother called for Tommy, and I told Tommy, "Go hide in my closet." And Tommy did.
Trish called and called. She came upstairs. "Have you seen Tommy?" "No." I stifled a giggle. I was being ironic. I was being sarcastic. I couldn't wait for the laughter. She went downstairs, checked the basement. Pretty soon I heard siblings fanning across the neighborhood, calling, "Tommy! Tommy!"
Tommy tried to emerge from the closet; I shoved him back. "I think I should come out now," he said, his muffled voice sounding worried. "No," I said with great false confidence. "It's a joke." But I was beginning to feel doubt. When was the joke over? When would there be laughter? I didn't understand the endgame.
Trish came back upstairs. "Are you sure you haven't seen Tommy? We can't find him anywhere!"
"No," I said, but this time Tommy came wriggling out from behind the shoes and skirts and boxes of stuff.
Later, sobbing through my punishment, I tried to explain. "It was a joke! It was supposed to be funny!" And no one could tell me to my satisfaction, to any comprehension, why it was funny when Kristin told a lie at dinner but not when I told a lie in the afternoon. It was all the same to me: truth, and untruth. The injustice of it inflamed me, made me cry harder. It wasn't fair! "Life isn't fair," Guv said. He might not have said it then, at that time, but he said it often, and it always made me gnash my teeth. "It should be!" Shrug. "It isn't."
What was the joke Kristin told? Who came upstairs to soothe me as I wept? I wish I knew. I remember only the delight at playing the joke, slowly supplanted by doubt, and then by frustration at being so completely misunderstood.
I remember the light under the kitchen door. I remember birds in the back yard, pecking at the seeds on the snow. I remember Miss Buhns filling the buhd feedah. I remember standing on the low rung of Mr. Hammer's fence, reaching through the bars and stealing pear apples. Peach apples. Pear apples. I remember my first joke, and it was a disaster.