In Innocence Lost and Found Part 1 and Part 2, I began describing the year I spent in a small New Jersey town when I was eight: Cool Walter who claimed me with his kiss in the woods behind the baseball diamond. My upwardly mobile and disappointingly racist mom. Jealous Melinda, rich Nancy. African-American Cassandra being treated like a contagious disease in Nancy’s pool. I got in with her mostly because I couldn’t swim, partly because I couldn’t bear to see someone’s feelings hurt, and, well, I had liked Cassandra in the first place, DUH…
Then Nancy invited me over to see her secret world. It had a dark green canopy, rich violet carpet, monkey vines, bird calls, undulating swamp, and heart-stopping river. For the first time, my eyes opened to the beautiful world we live in.
My new love of nature sent me exploring around the town lake. As I picked my way through the brush, lo and behold I found…a giant waterfowl egg! It was so perfect, I had to have it. I picked it up and took it home. Well, my mom freaked. She said, “You’ve just killed that baby.” She explained that the egg could not survive without its mother, and that even if we took it back, the mother would not accept it with our human stink. She made me take it back anyway. But the next day, I went and got it again. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
Then there was the Walter/Walter incident at school. Yes, there was a second Walter in my class, kind of a nerdy kid that people made fun of – not like my confident hero. One day on the playground, I bet some kids that I could tie Walter #2’s shoelaces together. When the bell rang, he was late to class because he could shuffle only an inch at a time. Everyone giggled. No one ratted me out when the teacher discovered the bad deed, but my Walter let it be known that he was going to ‘kick my ass’ after school. I hung out in the lobby, afraid to go home. Finally I had to leave, and I saw no one. But not long after, when a bunch of us were hanging around the baseball diamond, I watched sadly as my Walter walked Melinda into the woods…
What was going on in this place??? Girls were jealous; boys were fickle; people were mean. I had come here as a kind girl, but now I was turning mean, too. I killed a baby. I hurt a classmate. I lost the best boyfriend I’d ever had.
I told my mom that I wanted to leave that town. In the meantime, I often turned to thoughts of Nancy’s secret world for solace. No doubt there were snakes, and spiders, maybe flesh-eating plants and even a runaway ‘gator or two. But they lived quietly and minded their business. They didn’t play games and hurt others’ feelings.
People wanted Nancy for her money and things. But she had shared with me the wealth of beauty in nature. It was juxtaposed forever against some of the ugly I had seen in humans that year, including my own.
Licking the Spoon, my book in progress about food, sex and relationship, discusses the qualities that make us attractive, and the ways in which we can be the best lovers, partners and people, that we can be.