I'd conveniently forgotten about my childhood diaries, embarrassing memoirs of all of the stupid things I've thought my entire life. The first one that I remember was a small hardcover unisex diary with a lock on it. I call it unisex because it was all in primary colors on the front and my mom kept me as early-80's androgynous as possible until I eventually revolted. This diary I had when I was five, and it was filled with forged celebrity autographs like "Mike Jackson" and loops repeated in a line, which I regarded as cursive. It was written exclusively in felt tip pen, which I'd stolen from my father's office.
The next diary I had was an explosion of femininity. The cover was a lace and pearl-clad teddy bear in a straw hat, with a White Diamonds haze over the whole thing. It too, was a hardcover, but kind of soft on top. Like a shitty pillow. I started this diary in 3rd grade and it was filled with which boys I liked (a kid named Maxamillian rolled his sleeves past his elbows. In 3rd grade!) and made it all the way to the horror of my 4th grade CYO basketball banquet. The banquet my mother was convinced required a gown. The banquet to which everyone else wore acid washed denim. The banquet to which I accepted my basketball MVP trophy to a chorus of 4th grade boys chanting "Big Bad Beth" while I was stuck with crimped hair in a drop-waist party dress. It was horrific. Even now, thinking about it I want to die a little. But it's all there. In that teddy bear diary.
When I was a teenager, my mother got me this very woman-identified, Reviving Ophelia-esque "journal" which asked me specific questions so I could let my true colors shine free or whatever. I don't really remember the specifics, but I filled the entire thing out with great precision and concentration, as if one day this "journal" would be used by the producers of a PBS documentary to explore the depths of my evolving mind.
I remember one of the questions was "What would you wear on your dream date with him?" I didn't know who he was, but I had a pretty good idea in my head and I decided on "my new purple stirrups with the purple and green knit tunic, green silk shirt and green rubber Esprits."
The greet rubber "Esprits" were shoes. I referred them by their brand name because my grandmother did shit like that and I found it very la-ti-da. On a related note, I write this to you sitting in my Old Navys.
And in each of these diaries, there was an annual holiday entry, a continued fret that would rear it's ugly head every December.
The Payne's Christmas Party.
I always looked forward to the Payne's party, friends of my folks who live in St. Francis Woods and had abstract paintings that I appreciated only for their fashion-forwardness. There were lots of children my age there, and you could make your own ham sandwiches from a buffet.
But every year, no matter how hard I tried, I'd force anyone under 15 to put on a play.
15 or 20 children, most of them sophisticated city dwellers unlike suburban, overcompensating me, would be forced into some over-the-top, nonsensical production, produced, directed by and starring...me.
I actually wrote in my various diaries and journals every year, the night before the party as I tried on my taffeta Christmas dress and planned conversation topics, "Don't put on a play. Try and let other people talk. Act bored."
At least I'm self-aware enough to know I'm obnoxious. I wish I wasn't. I've been like this since birth. And if there was anything I could do to make myself shorter or more reserved, TRUST ME WHEN I TELL YOU, I would. But I can't. I know this now.
When I was eleven, however, with a boy's haircut, in a Laura Ashley pilgrim collar and as tall as our hostess, I tried to will myself to blend in with everyone else. And I could hold out for a solid hour. But then the grownups had their cocktails and sit down dinners and the children were left to our own devices. And the next thing I knew, I would feel that familiar twitch.
Addicts know what I'm talking about.
"I've got to put on a show." I would think to myself, in my Norman Bates voice. "I know I shouldn't, but I've just got to put on a play."
"Wait, wait." Melissa chimed in as I regaled my present day friends with my annual humiliation. "They agreed to it. I mean, it couldn't have been that bad."
Well, yeah. The other children agreed to it. But the older ones politely humored me because I was a guest, and the younger children had no say in the matter. Precious time was ticking away while the parents ate. I liked to present my productions during dessert!
The Payne's have this really fabulous rumpus room downstairs from their really fabulous kitchen. And that's where I'd stage my masterpieces. I don't even remember the subject matter, although I'm sure it was loosely based on the birth of Christ. All I know is that years later, as we grew into teens and the cooler kids starting finding excuses not to attend a family party, the scragglers sat down there and watched a VHS of Silence of the Lambs. We all went to the same high school at that point, and none of them were friends with me at school. I'd down sit there, watch Jame Gumb skin someone and think, "I bet right now everyone is remembering when I made them put on plays."
The whole thing was agonizing. And documented in years of diaries.
Christ. I just did it again. On my fucking blog.
"Oh Bethy." Tara said. "That's hilarious. I bet your plays were awesome."
"Yeah." Brian said, chiming in. "You were a weird kid, though."
I know this. You know what else I know? I've agreed to go to a Christmas reunion of sorts. On Saturday night. In a house in St. Francis Woods. With fashion-forward modern art on the walls. And perhaps, if they're LUCKY, a play...