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for D.R.V.

Before the thick, banana-scented candy hardened, and became permanently lodged in my ear, I had everything to live for; they said I had potential. I was innocently walking to school, although some, knowing me, would say this is an impossibility. However, be that as it may, I was enjoying the sun, enjoying the day as I usually do, designing a list of grievances in my head. It was a masterful list, as it gained power with the recitation, even with the years now that I condemned it to memory. Here I enjoyed the careful inscription of every wrong that had been committed against me unfairly, and those fairly were eventually featured later on the list, every injustice, every cruelty was described from beginning to end. My teachers had lauded my ability to memorize alphabets, multiplication tables, the names of my fellow students, and eventually to recall the details of their daily attire, each of the moments they lapsed into incorrect grammar, and the patterns of their lies that they hoped, no, depended on the dull students to forget.
     Why I was not attracted to historical dates and places, as my father urged, I do not know. Instead I became obsessed with the fact that at the end of the school year, if all the assignments were in on time, Mr. Miller promised us a field trip to the local movie theater. He, of course, had long forgotten his September bribe, but I remembered it like the small grease stain on the pale yellow circle of his spotted tie. It didn't hurt then on June fifth, he reliably wore this, his Friday tie, to class. He, of course, denied my charges, lamely attempting to convince the class that I had deliberately concocted this story, for the sole purpose, it would seem, of incurring black board duties after class. It was these sorts of mnemonic abilities that soon troubled my teachers, parents and siblings. Borrowed board games that were never returned, promised vacations, outings, presents, and lunches that were never made good—all my reminders were met with feigned surprise, indifference, and the brand of being somewhat inappropriately either a tattle-tale or a story-teller, or, eventually ungrateful.
     It was that very day, as I recall, wearing my buster browns that were not at all the rage amongst my Nike-wearing peers, with my hair whipped into its normal orange frenzy, that, removing a banana-rama from my pocket, I was able to name the thing for the first time: paranoia. It was only recently that I had noticed the word in the dictionary, and after being able to use the word for a game-winning scrabble, felt it itching the side of my head. There it rested, in anticipation, not dormancy, lolling above my left ear until that moment. There it was. Everyone was essentially paranoid. "One, a psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations and two, a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and mistrustfulness of others." While it appeared to me, particularly in the throes of my list-making, that it is impossible to lie, the end result, rather than reward and glee, was acute paranoia. The word had a luscious sound that vibrated up through my sinus passages as I repeated it to myself. I remember this now, as perhaps my first, real awareness of a realization. Even then, the itching inside my ear increased until the word paranoia, and the joy of its discovery and usage burned.
     I was then, inattentively unwrapping the banana-rama, automatically separating the fluorescent yellow wrapper from the inside word puzzler and fortune to save for reading during geography class, while extracting the ever-chewy candied gum and pressing it firmly against my rear molars. There is some satisfaction, not unlike repeating a particularly wonderful word, or discovering that you know where someone has parked their car, while they can't remember, that is the hard chill of pressing a rama against your teeth until the nerve endings quiver. Almost impossible to chew at first, I craved the intense exercise of my jaw—an ache that ran right up to the top of my head—and so kept pockets full of them. At one time, I had kept my desk stocked with ramas—in grape, cherry, and butterscotch too—until I was forced to repeated surrendering of them to angry teachers and indignant classmates. For as I grew, and my brain seemed to more easily expand its contents, I seemed to more frequently infuriate those around me.
     But you did promise to return my book today, I calmly told Martin P. Macmillan at lunch time, it was three-thirty on Tuesday, and you were wearing those silly argyle socks your mother makes you wear. Later that same day, I had to remind Ms. Peterson that she had promised us a free hour in the library if no one was caught throwing spitballs or farting. And no one had been. Both occasions ended with a desk search, first, as we returned from the cafeteria I caught Martin pilfering the contents of my desk, (and I might add, without at least attempting to return my book, Civilization and Its Discontents, in which I had already written notes in the margins). Then, Ms. Peterson who dumped my desk on the floor in anger, asked me to put all contents on her desk, and stand outside for the remainder of class. Then I had wondered what my memory had to with my things. Everyone seemed intent that a search of my objects would somehow purge my mind. They seemed to struggle for a something to assuage their guilt, as I later discussed with my parents. Their guilt, I might have told them, would be better satisfied by a ritual of burning effigies. My parents, too, had begun room inspections, and after this discussion which I thought might alleviate their own guilt, they promptly sent me to bed.
     In any case, when Ms. Peterson returned the useless contents of my desk, I noted that my ramas had mysteriously disappeared. Informing her of the six missing items, their colors, flavors and cost only yielded further punishment. At that time, I had been considering a similar "search" of Martin's house for my book, but was cautioned against this by my parents. All these incidents made up the standard portion of my list, that I had been immersed in when suddenly understanding the word, paranoia. All these lies, Martin'sí as well as my parents' gave birth to paranoia and set them nervously out to cover their tracks, point fingers in other directions, and generally divert the masses from their own foolishness, with the result—and this realization almost knocked me out of my buster brown shoes—that they were never going to come clean, ever. Although I knew the truth, it didn't matter one "iota" as my mother might say, because everyone else was going to lie to protect their own lies. My toxic list—the one I had committed to memory over the years of walking to and from school—the list penned in my brain with every error, every wrong, was entirely worthless. No one would believe me, or admit to believing me because they were part of the big, paranoid school of fish.
     I had worked the rama into a bright yellow ball that I took out of my mouth and smoothed into cylindrical perfection between my thumb and forefinger, staining my hand a wonderful pale canary. This realization seemed greater than the last, and in recognizing it, I found that I had been standing still. I had stopped automatically in the middle of the sidewalk without even registering it in my head. In fact, I couldn't remember stopping. Was this it? Did they all exist in the same sort of state, a state of perpetual realization that was grander than their actions? So that they really couldn't remember what they did or said? Growing up was going to be much more difficult than I had thought, I remember, somewhat vaguely, thinking at that moment. What if they were all innocent?!
     I quickly worked my way through my list from the bump on ear my mother confessed to accidentally causing in my infancy to the punch in the arm my brother gave me when he accused me of stealing his ball glove. At the time, he could not remember that he had left it in the car on Saturday after little league practice, and refused to check because he thought I was trying to trick him. What if he really couldn't remember? What if Ms. Peterson was not paranoid at all searching my desk, but instead, was searching for memory chips in my desk? Surely my ability to recall that she wore her red dress with the belt on the first Monday of last month made her, not suspicious necessarily, but envious? Did she long to remember what she did? What she had actually promised instead of a great blur of nothingness? Like Martin, she stole my ramas, foolishly thinking they were somehow connected to my thoughts, my memory?
     It was at this moment, that I too, foolishly wondered if they were, after all, if it took me so long to discover paranoia and innocence, what else did I fail to understand while thinking myself superior? I shoved the rama deep into my ear to soften the itching, and finding that inadequate, used the eraser end of a number two lead pencil I carry in my front pocket, to ram the thing home. After that, the sidewalk became covered with bananas, sweet and yellow, and I couldn't stop slipping. It had never occurred to me previously to even want to become a cartoon character, like my siblings who mostly imagined themselves as Wonder Woman, Batman, or any of the X-Men. In that moment, I was Daffy Duck; I'll admit I enjoyed it, quacking away in a dizzy world. I was the fruit woman singing the rama song on television, an astronaut in outer space flying to another galaxy, I was a yellow bumblebee.
     After they surgically removed it, I couldn't understand why remembering everything they did was so important. In fact, it seemed rather childish. Far more interesting were the cartoon characters seen from my upside-down eyes and the dizzying sensation of imbalance, which from then on, became my relentless pursuit.

 

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