My siblings stand “at attention,” and salute me before I dole out their chores on individual, handwritten lists. We each have an alias printed on laminated name tags. We go on bike rides. I instruct them to form a line behind me, oldest to youngest, and then circle around to ride behind my littlest sister. And there we are: a wobbly snake; our helmets five points of backbone. It is in this way that our childhood sits in my memory. Rarely am I an “I”so much as a “we.” We practice call and response as we ride: “Name the planets!” I command, and they respond dutifully, in unison: “Mercury, Venus, Earth …” At home, they line up for the smoothie I make and pour into colorful plastic cups for them, and I become angry when they don’t finish their portions.
For a long time, I couldn’t face my younger self. She was often harsh in a way that I hope never to be, now. She had an angry streak, one that I can now explain away as frustration, though while inside it, it felt like sin. My parents were and are committedly religious and religiously committed to each other. My mother defers, not always graciously, to my father and his judgment. My father is a curious blend of privilege and anxiety. He came from very little, but he has made much of his life.
The little girl I was wanted to learn about everything she could and felt a near-constant anxiety about all the time she was wasting, being home-schooled by Mom, who had no education beyond high school, and no teaching credentials. For geography, we were given an outdated textbook and told to read it to ourselves. Regarding this effort, we were not checked up on—no quizzes, no tests. The tome contained no mention of the geologic record; it said the earth was 6,000 years old.
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