First of all, we had a lovely Thanksgiving. All three of them. They were excellent– there was laughter, and food, and more food, and mom even cooked and generally? Everything you expect. But the night before Thanksgiving we went to see The Muppets, and that’s the thing that’s sort of sticking in my head.
The next day, we went to Thanksgiving the First–the one at my Auntie’s house up in Newcastle. It’s a great place–around twelve acres of autumn-greened land full of brush, hills, granite rocks, and goats. My aunt and her boyfriend are crazy about goats–it’s one of the things I love about them.
So, for once I got to stick around a while and actually TALK to this family. Usually, I run up, drop my mom off, hug everyone and run away. This time, we stayed. This time I talked to my aunt’s boyfriend’s daughter-in-law, whom I adore, and we made plans to watch movies and knit together– see? SCORE! This time I also talked to my other aunt, the one who made me crazy a couple of years back, and we had a really nice conversation.
One of the things that came up was The Muppet Movie–the original, including this specific memory. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve blogged this memory before. I might have–I might not have. But I’m going to reblog it again.
I saw the Muppet Movie in Junior High, over winter break. My parents took us to this cheap theatre–the last run special, right? At one point it showed old horror movies from the 50’s for a dime–sort of a throwback place. Anyway, the movie had been out for a while, and I was still excited to see it because I’d LOVED the show, and imagine my surprise when my best friend, Cherie Smith, was there.
Cherie was awesome. For one thing, her parents smoked pot just like mine (yes, it was the late 70’s, why do you ask?) and neither of us had to lie about what our parents did to relax. Trust me, in junior high? This is a big deal. She had this aMAzing singing voice–we were both in choir, and we really loved to sing, but she was much better than I was. She had braces, which I thought was really glamorous, although she was counting the days until they came off, and she had started her period, which to us girls in 7th grade who had all read Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret, also equated glamour. I’d told Cherie everything in my callow little heart, and I like to think she had done the same.
So Cherie and I got to watch The Muppet Movie together–she had a sore throat, and was a little sick, but other than that, we had a really good time. She loved the music– we both wanted to sing those songs. The Rainbow Connection? That was a good song. That did everything a song should do–it made us yearn to talk to a green frog in the swampland of Florida–we were sure he knew exactly what it was like to be chubby, unpopular girls in the middle of the Nor-Cal cultural desert.
Cherie and I sat in the same group in English and homeroom. There were four of us, and on Monday morning after school started, I was surprised to see that she wasn’t there. The other girls and I were puzzled–I got to tell them that we’d seen each other at the movies, and then homeroom started and then the principal wandered in. He was a lovely man who actually still employed spanking, but only did it to kids he thought would really benefit from someone giving enough of a damn to say, “Hey, kid, you’re screwing up. Own up, take your punishment, and then we’ll talk about how to fix your life.” To this day, a friend of my stepbrother’s say that all the good things from his life–wife, kids, steady job–came from getting his ass paddled by the broad, graying man that we all both loved and feared.
We didn’t fear him today. Today, he was crying. Grownups NEVER cried in the ’70’s–especially in small schools with a combined 7th and 8th grade class of 80, maybe. It just wasn’t done.
But today was different, because today he had to tell us that a kid he’d known since she was in Kindergarten had passed away from a bizarre form of pneumonia, and that’s how I found out my best friend died.
I kept it together–everyone told me that I should go to the office and call my parents, but they weren’t losing it and I wasn’t either. Besides, after the nurse called my dad in the fourth grade because my eyes had swollen up from poison oak, he had made it absolutely clear that he was never to be called from work again unless I was near death. I was fine. By best friend, not so much, but I could still breathe, so I kept it together and let my folks work in peace. I got home in the quiet of the house and lost it, and when I was done, got up and started my chores. I told my parents when they got home, and my dad gave me a hug, and then he and my stepmom exchanged a look over my head. I’ll never forget the nature of that look. It was the look of complete and utter loss–they could deal with sprained ankles, deceased pets, and crazy ex-husbands and wives. They could deal with my step-brother getting busted for pot and getting a call from the library saying I wanted to read books too old for me, and my little sister tattling on us if we looked at her cross-eyed. They could not deal with a best friend who had died. (As it turned out, this was practice–a few months later, this happened to my dad. But that’s another story.)
A few months later, Toxic Shock Syndrome became big news, and someone went back to look blood tests, and put two and two together, and Cherie became an official victim of a bizarre little health scare that most people have forgotten now.
The next year, our choir got to go away to a collaborative junior high choir–we performed songs from the Muppet Movie.
So, I finished telling this story as we sat by the fire and just talked, and I apologized for how grim it was. Chicken was apologetic. “Mom, that’s AWFUL.” It was Mate who looked the saddest.
“You’ve heard this story,” I said, trying to lighten the moment.
“Yeah, but I didn’t hear that it was related to The Muppet Movie. Actually, it explains a LOT about your writing.”
And it does. It explains the absurd mixed up with the tragic, the circular nature of irony, and a belief that no character in the story is EVER safe from the powers that be. It explains the solid belief that all things in the world are random. It explains why weird shit drops from the universe on my character’s heads, and why nobody is safe from anything that happens in the news and why grief will always be a part of joy, and death shall forever remain a part of life. It explains why the most heartbreaking moments are always coupled with innocence, and why innocence is never truly lost–only misplaced for a while. It explains why I can’t write characters who hold grudges, and THE BIG MISUNDERSTANDING plots don’t last long. It explains why my characters get together and stay together in the firm belief that anything can happen to a loved one, so wasting time screwing around with dumb shit is not in the cards.
And it explains why I’ll always love the Muppets, and why the song Rainbow Connection (which, just to hammer the point home, thank you cruel universe, we played to stunning applause in band in my senior year) will always bring me to tears.