Yo, it’s me, the kid you invited to your first grade bday party. We weren’t friends but you invited all of your classmates. First grade, kids are nice. The politicized lines of friendship and who gets invites in their cubbies aren’t yet drawn. I was squarely in the classmate category and I knew it, though I pretended otherwise. BFF. You, me.
What was your name again?
Let’s just call you Ryan because that was a cool kid name. Ryan you had a Nintendo, four games for it, an ALF doll, a walkman, a Bad Company cassette, a finished basement with a play kitchen in it,
you knew Kurt Russell quotes from movies, because Cool Dad let you watch it,
you had walkie talkies you knew morse code
you had the lazer background on your picture
and you had blue Kool-Aid at your bday,
I didn’t know who Kurt Russell was. I didn’t have a play kitchen but I wanted one. We had a plastic food set but all the pieces were missing. I really wanted the lazer background in my school photos, but my mom was like hell no, we’ll go with sensible gradient, thank you very much and you’re welcome we’re not raising you like some of kind tacky peasant child.
But I didn’t believe her, Ryan. You weren’t some tacky peasant child. I saw the patio furniture on the deck in your backyard. Nice shit, wrought-iron, water-resistant. That’s where you and the Grade AA kids sat. Us Grade B kids, the walk-on extras in the Kurt Russell movie, got relegated to the fold-out card table. But Party Mom gussied it up real good with a tablecloth.
Party Mom did the whole joint up. She did great. Every kid had a small, square party napkin, even me. Balloons tied on the backs of chairs, streamers, a Ryan banner, the works. Party hats — and I swear it’s the only time the elastic string didn’t pinch my chin it was perfect.
Party horns, too. Do you remember how we blew those horns incessantly, because that was how we do. We did it until our ears bled. We did it until we stroked out. Or until an adult politely told us to stop. But Cool Dad didn’t make us stop because he was cool like that. We were an orchestra of party horns and Ryan you were the conductor.
Party Mom brought out a bowl of beaming orange cheese puffs and put it in the center of the table. We were all over that bowl of cheese puffs. We took them by the fist full. Open mouths. Insert neon orange styrofoam. There was Chex Mix Party Mix, too. I bet that was your suggestion. Nice one.
The kids sang Happy Bday and you had two party horns in your mouth at the same time you goof. Blew out the candles, made a wish and I bet you made the best ever wish. Your cake had a dinosaur on it and you called dibs on the head. If cake is real estate the head is the ocean front property. You high roller.
That was the first time I drank blue Kool-Aid, you know. Party Mom passed out the party cups that matched the party napkins. It was filled with this sloshing electric-blue liquid. I looked into my cup and the neon blueness went on forever like the entire sky
Proper tasting method of all fine libations is to swish it around on the palate and discern the flavor profile. Notes of corn syrup. A bit of Red Lake #40 in the middle. But I just gulped mine excitedly and nervously, and it was like kissing the face of Jesus, and it was even better than that. It was like kissing the face of the Kool-Aid Man himself.
I looked around and no one else seemed that excited about blue Kool-Aid like me, and that’s okay. I heard you and the real kids talking about Transformers and I watched that show too, you know and yeah,
but I just sat there with my cup instead.
I’m the weird Kool-Aid gulper,
the kid who don’t talk.
Everyone gets to have their nostalgia for free but not me, mine comes with a price tag. I didn’t have any friends, not even you Ryan, but it felt good to pretend that day. I had selective mutism, it’s this thing where you don’t talk, an inability in social settings, it’s a stupid thing, anxiety don’t worry about it. It’s not really who I am it’s just a phase
just shyness and lots of people are shy and that’s okay don’t worry about it.
Though between you and me, Ryan, my dad left and I just didn’t feel like talking to anyone after that. I think my mom was relieved when you invited me, and so was I. Got her off my back awhile. Friends. See I was normal just like everyone just like you Ryan.
Look at this they live just a neighborhood over from us, my mom pointed out as we drove to your bday. And I nodded in the backseat, looking out at the passing trees and pretending it was the trees and not the car that was moving.
why don’t you talk are you deaf do you know how to talk what is wrong with you
Like I said, first grade, kids are nice. No one asked those questions and Party Mom just asked if I would like more blue Kool-Aid, and I nodded.
I talked to myself inside my head all the time, perfecting the things I would have said out loud, perfecting the same thought over and over, the right way to say it again and again, if I was going to dare open my mouth and say this impossibly stupid thing in my head it better be perfect it has to be perfect.
Eventually once I had it perfect I started writing it down. People said I was good at writing. It’s nice to have something to be good at
I guess. It’s still never perfect inside my head, but I do talk to people now. Optimus Prime was my favorite Transformer. Thanks for the invite,