Dark Side of the Moon

mainMy project was on the Moon. You told me, “You should do nursing.”

I hate nursing and blood and shots and you know that.

Every day, I scour magazines for pictures and carefully cut, recut and paste. I copy images onto tracing paper when I can’t cut from books and I plan painstakingly how the final thing will look. The moon grows larger and more beautiful and I savor its craters and shadows, the wonder and the majesty, and you yell, “You should do it on nursing or no one will read it.”

So, I change my mind. I’ve heard what you said, I know how you feel about nursing and I listened to every word.

And now, I’m doing my project. It’s new. Even better. It’s on the Solar System, so much bigger and bolder than the moon. It’s all the planets from Mercury to Neptune, all that orbit our sun. It’s the gaseous rings of Saturn, the looming spot on Jupiter, it’s wonder, significance, it’s divine.

You’re angry at my solar system, my joy, my wonder. You’re angry and you’re terrifying when your hazel eyes turn dark and you blast through the family room scattering my papers, telling me again, “You should do nursing. You’re not going to win.”

And I hear that, I’m braced against your words and mad predictions, and I nod because if I don’t look a little bit like I agree, there might be a pinch or a hit or worse. “Here, try the Solar System,” you snap as you walk from the room and switch off the lights, leaving me there in the dark for the ghouls.

Well, I heard you. This time I really heard you. I heard about the nursing and I took the booklet you gave me and I looked like I was neutral, and inside, I raged and smoldered. “I need another scrapbook,” I said, “a really thick one.” I’d have to make some changes and get my head straight. I said “You’re right, it won’t win and no one will read it, so I’ve changed my mind.”

My project is now on…the Universe. I am chasing the totality of existence. At eleven, I want to know it all, from the planets to the people, the stars in the sky, the human and inhuman, the chemicals and minerals. You can’t arrest the wonder, so smitten am I. My love of it crowds out my fear of you, my hate of you, and even though you have the others now telling me “You won’t win” and “everyone will laugh at you,” my final project is near completion. It has maps of the constellations and images of planets. It has pictures from Georges Méliès Man in the Moon. It’s organized from the vast to the minute, page upon page of everything, everything I could find and love and hold in the universe safe against your clenched teeth, your bitter anger, your obvious jealousy of my joy.

I sneak it out of the house to school because you’ve forgotten the day of the deadline.

The project is 400 pages long.

I don’t expect to win. I don’t expect anything, though I hope when I go home, you won’t say “You should have done it on nursing.”

I listen in the audience as the awards are announced. When my name is called, I don’t know why, for my mind is in love and it wanders the universe, it revels in solitude of empty spaces. My friends nudge me and tell me to go. To what? I walk up to the stage not knowing, not expecting. I walk up and Sister MacDonald the headmistress hands me the top prize.

My teacher is angry. How could I have won?

The next day, I’m kept home, told that I am sick. I don’t care. I won a prize, a book, and I hide it and cherish it whenever I’m alone. You stop being mad at me. I’m not sure why. Little did I know you’d secretly balanced the scales
Three years later, on a chance slip-up by a friend, I hear the words, “Remember that day in Junior 4 when Sister Hogan read that letter about you to the whole class?” I am confused. What letter? The desperate nudging among my friends and the looks of feigned innocence say all. I press them until they admit, “It was a horrible letter and said mean things about you. She thanked Sr. Hogan for giving you the prize. She said you didn’t deserve it. She said your room was always messy, that you are a crybaby who’s terrified of the dark. She told about the lunch box of moldy sandwiches she found under your bed. Sr. Hogan laughed at you.”

The shame stomps me. Why mom?

But, the why was like nursing, was tasted by the moon, the solar system nibbled it and the Universe ate it entire. It was taken, shaken and broken by a better “you,” a you who understood me, you my circle of friends who banded together, who swore a secret pact, who sheltered me from truth. And when I saw what you were doing, I was overcome. You loved me better than teachers and mothers; you were my glorious sun.

10 Replies to “Dark Side of the Moon”

  1. I’m so glad you were smart, and strong, and clever. I’m glad you were tough, and bold, and gifted. I’m so glad I have come to know you through your writing. I’m just glad.

    1. Denise, your words make me happy in part because you remind me of the girl who was the ringleader, the one who set the wrong to right. Thank you.

  2. You teach me a strength I need to learn. Here is my memory of the projects I couldn’t get right:

    The Project
    30 September, 1993

    I tried to make it.
    I didn’t understand the directions
    But you thought I knew

    Now you tell me I made it wrong—
    That I didn’t want to
    Because you asked me to

    Don’t you know
    I want to please you?
    But I can’t see
    What is in your mind

    Tell me!
    Help me know!

    But don’t ask for me—
    Ask for what you want of me.
    I don’t fit your plan.

    1. Linda, you have this strength too. I see it in your writing. Love the poem. It’s what I would have said if I’d been any good at asking for help.

      1. Thank you. I didn’t write that until many years later as I mourned all the times I hadn’t known how to say it. The thing is, I know that now and now is when I live.

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