When I go outside at recess I like to hang upside down from the monkey bars. I feel the wind move through my hair as it glides across the gravel ground. The kids look funny as they run around, ride the merry-go-round, bat the tether ball. I laugh at them. Then I look down at the sky. I lose my gaze in the clouds as they move across the wide blueness. I think I can feel the rotation of the Earth.
When the bell rings I pull myself up slowly. As I rise a fantastic tickling feeling shimmies through my body from my neck to my knees. I feel it burst deep in my gut and I release it with the dark laugh of pure satisfaction.
I feel giddy as I skip back into the classroom. My head is full of blood from having been upside down for twenty minutes. Until the blood settles back into place I feel delightfully dizzy. I cannot help but smile, and everything makes me laugh. Mrs. Tuttle writes our new second grade spelling words on the blackboard. Love, grass, and odd are the funniest words I have ever seen.
I sit in the back corner of the classroom because my last name is Zucker. I like it back here. The isolation gives me the freedom to get lost in my own world. It is peaceful, except that I have to sit right behind Eddie Wheeler. This is his second year in Mrs. Tuttle¹s class. Eddie eats paste. When I was in first grade I thought the paste-eating was a myth created by the second graders to scare us when we heard Eddie was to be in our class next year. But I have seen him do it. He sneaks it during art period then paints the plastic paste jar with a thick black magic marker. He has been told time and time again not to waste the markers. But he wants to get caught, because when Mrs. Tuttle punishes him by making him stay inside during recess he is left alone in the classroom with an entire shelf of paste jars.
I wish I knew why adults leave the bad kids all alone like that.
I was feeling especially dizzy after morning recess today and I laughed out loud when Mrs. Tuttle was teaching us the national anthem. I have to stay inside during lunch recess.
Eddie and I are in the classroom alone as the others are out on the playground, making noise we can hear through the window. I gaze longingly at my monkey bars. I can see the warm breeze rustling through the treetops and I ache to be out there catching the wind in my mouth with my blood oozing into my brain.
I am a little scared to be in here alone with Eddie. He has friends in the third grade. And he doesn¹t look right. His black bangs are cut too short across his forehead. He wears thick black glasses that make his icy blue eyes bug out at me.
Eddie stays in his seat until he knows Mrs. Tuttle is safely down the hall in the teachers¹ lounge. He gets up and strolls over to the paste supply.
"Oh man, look at this! A brand new jar!"
He unscrews the lid, pulls back the foil, and gazes lovingly at the virgin paste before him. Then he sticks in his finger and pulls out a clump that he slowly licks off his finger. He parts his mouth and I see his tongue swirl around his teeth picking up loose bits of paste. I turn my head.
"Want to try some, Anna-banana?"
He is talking to me. "No thank you," I say as matter-of-factly as I can in my small voice. I wrinkle my nose and slip down in my chair.
Eddie walks over and puts the jar on the desk in front of me. His eyes bore into me, making me feel even weaker. Urged by his gaze, I put my nose close to the jar and sniff. It smells like paste. Eddie puts his chin on my desk and grins, piercing me with his eyes. I touch the paste with my fore-finger then plunge it into the cool white gooiness. I like the way it feels. I pull out my finger and lick up the gob of paste clinging to it. The taste soaks into my taste-buds. I spit the paste out in disgust.
Eddie jumps up and laughs at me. I put my head down on my desk and avoid looking at him for the rest of recess.
* * *
Junior high is tough. No more recess. But at least I have Katie. Katie Zbornack moved into town in fourth grade. The alphabet brought us together. I showed her the fun of hanging upside down, and she introduced me to the joy of spinning around in circles until we fall down, too dizzy to stand or walk. Now the only time we are allowed to have any fun at all is during lunch. We hang upside down from the cafeteria benches and pull ourselves up slowly so we can feel the magic tickling feeling. Then we transform our milk cartons into tanks and have mashed potato wars.
As a seventh grader I have become familiar with the concept of "reputation." I had one in elementary school, and I am acquiring one now in junior high. I hear people whisper "freak" as Katie and I walk through the hallways. I hiss at them.
Katie is in most of my classes. So is Eddie Wheeler. Katie keeps me from having to look directly at his long stringy greasy hair. Eddie also has a reputation. The preppies call him "loser." They say he and his friends inhale Lysol. Lysol? It sounds ridiculous to me, but this is the same kid I saw feasting on paste in the second grade.
Katie and I walk home from school together through the park. We see Eddie and a couple of his friends behind a tree by the brook. Eddie¹s glasses still make his eyes seem far too big for his face.
He sees us and struts over.
"Hello, ladies," he says with a bow.
"Hey Eddie," Katie says. I am looking at Eddie¹s friends peeping out from behind the tree. I see a Lysol can on the ground.
"God Eddie, do you really inhale that stuff?" I say, wrinkling my nose. The kids behind the tree giggle.
Katie quips, "maybe you should try using it on the outside. You might smell better."
Eddie moves close to me, until his face is right above mine. His eyes dig into me. I can smell Lysol and sweat on him.
"You know, Anna, it¹s almost as good as paste," he whispers, his breath warm on my face. Then he breaks away in hysterics.
My hands shake all the way home.
* * *
Katie and I both got our licenses last summer. There is still nowhere to go, but we can drive there now.
There is no official recess in high school, so we make our own. Katie and I skip fourth period study hall a few times a week and head out to the woods behind the school. We dig up the joint we buried in a metal box on our way to school. Sometimes other people come outside with us, but usually it is just me and Katie.
When I inhale I feel like this is what I have been needing my whole life. Oh it feels good. There is a throbbing pulse of pleasure that moves slowly up my legs from my toes. We hang upside down from tree branches. If I pull myself upright at just the right time, I am hit with happy feelings from all over and I fall to the ground in a gale of giggles.
Eddie dropped out of school as soon as he turned sixteen. He lives in the old barn behind his grandmother's house and earns his living by selling dope to desperate youngsters like me and Katie. We smoke with him when we go over to pick up an eighth. I never laugh so hard as when we are at Eddie¹s. He still wears the same kind of glasses and he still hasn¹t washed his hair, but he is much cooler that he used to be. His eyes don't scare me anymore. I like it when he looks at me now.
Eddie goes to some of the same parties we go to. I watch him as he moves through the room talking to people, moving to the music when the mood strikes him. He is tall, well over six feet. And skinny. He looks so slick in his black jeans and tee-shirt.
"What are you staring at?" Katie asks, nudging me with a beer bottle.
"Oh, nothing." I want to ask her since when Eddie Wheeler has been so hot, but I know she would laugh at me.
I lose both her and Eddie in the crowd and spend the rest of the night dancing into a haze with some guy who happened to be standing near me.
* * *
Katie and I are going to turn twenty-one this summer. Only two months to go. We have both been working as waitresses at Tex's Mexican Bar & Grill. I did a year and a half of college. Katie did two. We are both taking time off now. She says she might start taking classes again in the fall. I think I still need more time.
I share an apartment with Eddie. His hair is still long and black. It is as smooth as silk when he washes it. He has a real job now at his uncle's garage. He does still deal a little on the side, but just enough to support our habits.
I am living recess, and I don¹t ever want it to end. I am happy and dizzy all the time.
The best part is when I come home from work late at night. Eddie hands me a cold beer to drink while he rolls a joint. We smoke and he helps me out of my Tex's uniform. Then he slips me the best drug of all. I like to hang upside down off the side of the bed. I pull myself up slowly when I start to come. My whole body is washed by hot waves of euphoria. My laugh is loud and deep as I exhale. I know the neighbors can hear me, but I don¹t care. Eddie smiles and bites his lip.
Afterwards, sprawled across the twisted blankets, I lick the sweat from Eddie¹s body. I move my tongue over every glistening part, sucking the saltiness out of his skin.
He looks down at me and touches my chin. Those eyes still make me melt.
"Any good, Anna-banana?"
I put my fingers in his hair and push it back from his face.
I whisper in his ear. "Almost as good as paste."