In 3rd grade I got lice for my birthday.
The little tiny black bugs that burrow into your hair and leech onto your scalp and give you a terrible form of cuddies. The kind of bugs you have to use RID on in numerous bathtub cleansings and have to be chased down with fine tipped combs before they have little lice babies all over your head and in your ears.
I had just moved from Mississippi to Texas so that my parents could go to seminary. My Papaw drove us to Texas and after he helped us move in he took us to Pizza Hut and cried through the whole meal. It was the first time I saw a man cry. And no wonder he cried, I would’ve cried too if I was leaving my three beautiful granddaughters in hell’s kitchen. We moved to the ghetto. And I would define ghetto as any neighborhood that has cops circling over at night in helicopters chasing down murder suspects, neighbors who are regularly visited by welfare and child services, and people on your street who are illegally in the country and surviving while in the country off of equally illegal things. Somehow I caught a glimpse of the news one night and was convinced that there were Hispanic men in my neighborhood who were stalking and kidnapping little white girls with green eyes. When school was over and I had to walk home, less than one block, I looked around me about 50 times for these men, and then I sprinted home in sheer panic.
Culture shock is a bit of an understatement. It was not a good year for me. I desperately wanted to get in the gifted and talented program, but was not smart enough to get in. This was the first blow to my intellectual confidence. I was acutely aware that I had failed to get in. And since the building was separated in half where all the stupid kids went into one half of the building, the old half, and all the smart creative kids got to go in the other, updated, cooler part of the building, I was bitter everyday. That wasn’t all. Francisco started to like me and tried to kiss me at recess, however, his girlfriend Graciella was not happy about this and tried to kill me. For a scrawny little white girl from Mississippi who had never seen a Mexican besides my grandmother, this was all a bit overwhelming. To top it all off, as it got cold that November we had our first experience with our gas heater system. The kind made by Benjamin Franklin that started by lighting a match and keeping a little fire in it. I had never seen anything like it, it looked like it was from the 1800’s. As I studied it, I would always get too close to it, and eventually this came to bite me in the butt. Literally. One day I tripped, fell on it, and burned a hole in my butt.
After I threw up my guts my dad lifted me up like superman and laid me in the car, bare booty with butter on it, straight up in the air, and drove me to the hospital. I had a hole in my butt. I couldn’t sit down for a week, I had to stand up in class and at church, and had to have the nurse help me change the bandage if it didn’t feel good. And as if I was not already unpopular enough I had to tell people who asked what was wrong with me that I was not allowed to sit down because I burned a hole in my butt. Talk about uncool.
So by the time my birthday rolled around, my parents felt bad for me, really bad. I invited everyone in my class and my neighbors to come to my party. I think I may have invited some of the new kids in my church to my birthday party too, but I understand now why their parents didn’t drop them off at my house. All I wanted for this birthday was party gifts. I was born a natural entertainer and have always loved giving gifts more than getting them, well, at least equal to getting them!!! And I hated the idea of having a birthday party without having party bags to give away to all my guests. I insisted and begged and pleaded for party favor bags, and I had so much fun picking the bags out and filling them with stickers and candy and little bracelets. I was so proud of them.
My mom made the coolest cake ever, bought a fun tablecloth, and tied balloons all around the house and when three a clock on Saturday finally rolled around, I was soooo excited. 3:05, still excited. 3:15, though I was young, I knew enough to start looking at the clock, but I was still excited, I couldn’t wait for my friends to get their Lisa Frank party favor sticker bags. 3:20 my mom quietly started slipping gift bags off the table. 3:30 I started feeling sad. Maybe no one liked me. Maybe no one was coming. 3:40. Most of the party favors were off the table and my mom was in her bedroom sobbing, calling her dad in Mississippi trying to figure out what to do. 3:45 my dad started giving me presents to open, and mom started trying to find more things in the house she could wrap up and give me as presents because she was guilt ridden. 3:50. One girl showed up. She gave me a used Barbie in a zip lock bag. The Barbie had lice.
I have had 25 amazing birthdays, and one awful one. It was the third grade and it was the worst of birthdays, and I am sure, a parent’s worse nightmare. One girl, one used present, two months of lice. A birthday to remember? I would never forget it. Neither would my sisters. I gave them lice too.
Happy freakin birthday.