A few days ago I found myself obsessed with a memory conjured from my distant past. It seemed to follow me everywhere. It buzzed around in my head over the din of my toothbrush. It clattered along with the dishes I begrudgingly scrubbed. Whenever I let my mind wander, it found its way back to this brief incident with a little girl one day after Sunday School.
I spent many, many Sundays of my youth learning all about Jesus and John Wesley and everything else a good little Orange Irish Methodist needs to know. In fact, by the time I got to the snoozefest most people call Catholic high school, I was just about here-is-the-church-here-is-the-steepled out. I remember looking around my first religion class thinking that my catechismed cohorts didn't have shit on the Cokesbury curriculum doled out to me for so many years. It turns out that everyone could still float by because Sister Maureen was much more interested in teaching us Eleanor Roosevelt quotes and telling us that she "saw God amongst her breasts when she masturbated." This was really quite a backwards way to encourage a couple hundred fourteen year old girls to know thyself, if you ask me. It's also beside the point.
I probably only remember this little girl because her name is so similar to my own. In fact, if you filled your mouth with marbles, I'm sure our names would sound the same. Beyond her name and this particular episode, I can tell you that she had an older brother who was closer to my age, a mother with a very fashionable perm and that her father drown while she was quite young. That's really the extent of her impression on my memory.
For context's sake, I should explain that my Sunday ritual involved getting dolled up for church in my Sunday finest. I wore pink Gunne Sax dresses with satin ribbons and tiny floral prints, little girl knickers with coordinating lacy socks, and black patent leather Mary Jane's with bows on the toes. I also carried a patent leather purse to match my shoes. It was clad with all my essentials: Hot Wheels cars, train tracks, Legos bricks, sticks, rocks and assorted acorns.
I took a lot pride in looking so pretty, and in carrying my favorite toys in my honor clutch. I suppose that pride isn't a particularly Protestant value, but to my credit, I also noticed when other kids looked nice. I'd give my church friends compliments which, as I was taught, was a great way to love thy neighbor. Hopefully these two virtues would cancel out my vice and the Holy Spirit would still invite me to parties and the like. Again, I digress; onto the memory:
One Sunday, I finished my Styrofoam cup of apple juice, and I noticed this little girl standing at the far end of the sunken garden. I thought I'd ask her if she wanted to play, even though running around in patent leather Mary Janes was quite an ordeal. The church yard was paved with fall-on-your-face-rocks, and the sunken garden was plagued with a maelstrom of bees.
On my way over to play with her, I noticed that this girl looked very nice in a lavender dress with blue and gray flowers. For some reason, I remember her dress so clearly. A couple curls fell onto her forehead. In the sunshine she looked like epitome of sweetness.
"You look very pretty today," I said most sincerely. She was standing on the brick ledge, so although I was several years older than her, we were about level height-wise. She narrowed her eyes, leaned over and snatched my purse. Before I could open my mouth to protest, this little twit whacked me up the side of my head!
I was so shocked. I'd just given her a rather nice compliment, and getting wholloped with my own stuff wasn't the sort of response I was expecting. Furthermore, she'd wound up and got a really good swing off the tiny strap. The half-dozen Hot Wheels made the purse heavy, and the patent leather surface caused quite a sting. My ear rang. I fought back tears, and that was no small feat. Back in the day, I could cry at the mere suggestion of tears.
To add insult to injury, she refused to give my purse back. She hit me several more times, though no blow was such an assault as the first. I struggled with her for quite some time. She was pretty strong, because not only did I have a couple years on her, I had a bit of a scrappy streak from chasing boys around the schoolyard unrelentingly. She was not going to let go. And she had all my favorite toys, including the white 1932 Rolls Royce coupe convertible, the creme de la creme of my car collection.
She struck me as being pretty angry, but I suppose she had good reason for it, so I remember thinking that I did not want to get her in trouble. I don't know exactly how I got my purse back, but I vaguely remember trading a frilly barrette for my purse and precious cargo. My ear hurt for a long time after that. I maybe should have told someone, but I liked to self-medicate from a young age (which sparked a disaster I may have to share at a later date).
Fast forward to several days ago when I couldn't stop thinking about this little girl hitting me in the ear with my purse. I kept wondering about her. What was she up to these days? Is she still so angry? Did her brother suffer such abuse? I had no idea because her family moved away or left the church shortly after the incident.
The memory subsided the next day, which is when coincidence kicked into gear. I've been enjoying the book Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Letham this week. It's a detective story in a bit of a non-traditional sense. The main character has Tourette's, and the story has as much or more to do with the nature and impetus for investigation than the traditional whodunit. The book takes place in the New York neighborhood I'm most familiar with, and it also provided me with an excellent joke about an octopus. I'm enjoying quite thoroughly. The day after my big purse-incident obsession, I get about thirty pages deeper into this book, only to reveal that one of the characters has the same name as my violent little friend.
Tonight, I recounted this coincidence to Mama Crow on the telephone. She immediately remembered the family, including their last name. But she was generally unimpressed by my obsession with this little girl. Of course, with the girl's full name at my disposal, and being of a curious and dramaturgically thorough nature, I could not foresee an absolute end to this circle of coincidence without first Googling this girl's name. My search quickly led me to an athlete's biography that was beyond a shadow of a doubt my former assailant.
It turns out, this strong armed little girl is now an All-American, All-ACC performer in the hammer throw. Her birthday was Monday which coincidentally, was the very day I had her on my mind.
The funny thing is, coincidences like this happen to me all the time.