i remember very little from the era in which there were only three russian boys at our home.
my brothers, adopted and biological, and i all joined a community baseball team. the golden child was a little too old to be on the team, but whether it was for that league or another at some point she was an assistant baseball coach. the memories come in flashes, the way we all looked in our uniforms, shirts tucked in, baseball hats and black cleats, being made despite my protests to wear a long sleeved t-shirt under my uniform because it was chilly that day, the feeling of those strange white pants. cheap, miniature participation trophies. sugary fruit drinks withdrawn from the melty ice inside coolers.
i was a terrible baseball player. not surprising since i was also dreadful at basketball, gymnastics, ballet, cross country, piano, and any other activity i ever attempted that required practice, concentration and physical coordination, including video games.
fast forward, or rewind, for a moment. i really couldn't tell you which. i am sitting in the backseat of my mom's car. this is before the laws about talking on the phone while driving were passed, so she's balancing a cell phone on her shoulder as her hands turn the wheel. she does not know that i'm listening. she's discussing with some unknown third party the fact that my ballet instructor has just barred me from being in the big annual dance recital. the words float back to me, disjointed, out of context: "fat," and "favors the skinny little girls." i look down at my pale, chubby young body, sheathed in a velvety purple leotard that does not flatter the bulging rolls of my baby belly. i take a breath, filling my chest, my rib cage expanding, and practice making my abdomen flat and tight. i don't yet understand what bosoms are, so in my hazy misunderstanding i think that if i can just keep my chest inflated and my belly drawn flat like this all the time, then i will be hourglass shaped like the pretty, older girls.
but getting back to the boys and baseball, we were eventually left the team because the middle adopted brother was caught making gestures at our opposition indicative of decapitation. it was no great loss as far as i was concerned, sick as i was of gum splattered benches in sweat smelling dugouts and standing far outfield, where i couldn't do any damage, with my palms braced above my knees for indefinite lengths of time.
a year after our first new additions arrived, our family was augmented again, this time by the two older brothers of the original three, who it turned out have already been separated from their siblings. i believe these two came to us eleven and twelve years old, and at first my mom would talk on the phone about what big helps the pre-teen russian boys were.
ironically, it was right after this that my mother gave birth to my youngest brother. it seems if she'd only had the patience to wait her beloved had planned to give her another boy, just like she wanted. he was born on halloween, so my siblings and i, dressed in my pilgrim costume, went trick or treating under the chaperonage of our grandparents that year.
we moved to a brand new house, designed mainly by my mom to fit her ideas. nobody had ever lived there before. of this i was certain, because i'd watched the process as its skeleton was first constructed, then flesh was laid over the top of these bare bones. i'd stood at the bottom of the olympic sized swimming pool before any water was pumped into it. as a nine year old moving to a sprawling, one story mansion with eight kids' bedrooms and eight bathrooms, set on two acres of land that also supported a guesthouse with a full kitchen, three garages, a tennis/basketball court, and a circular bike path that measured precisely one seventeenth of a mile around, my primary concern was that, in the name of keeping the floors clean, i wasn't going to be allowed to go barefoot in this new house.
the russian boys couldn't behave themselves at catholic school, and anyway no professional, licensed teacher could give her children as high quality of an education as my mother could. so we became a homeschooling family full time. there was even a classroom built into our new home, complete with french doors that allowed the sunlight to stream in from the backyard, bookshelves, authentic school desks, and a giant wall map.
a lot of changes seemed to happen concurrently, one piling up on another at this point in my life. i tried hard to hold on to going to an actual school verses homeschooling. i was the last of my siblings to hold out on this struggle, still insisting on putting on my uniform when all others had been swayed. it's not that i was particularly good at school or well liked. in kindergarten i received my first disciplinary action, a "purple card," for drawing a frame onto the surface of my desk that surrounded my textbook instead of actually working on the exercises in it that we were supposed to be doing. obviously i didn't think this bit of vandalism through at all, because i went as far as signing my name beside a puppy that i drew at the top of the frame. i cried a lot at school for reasons nobody could even begin to figure out. sometimes i cried my heart out and when i was questioned about it, i didn't know what to say, so i just made something up. i told the teacher my pony tail was too tight or that i was having trouble hearing her. there were good points to staying in school, like the friends i had made, the white haired girl from the class one year above mine who would give me piggy back rides in the parking lot while we waited for our parents to string us. the greasy personal sized pizzas we could buy for lunch on fridays, and eat at outside benches that hosted swarms of hornets, playing musical chairs to try to stay as far from them as possible at any given point. i wanted to stay at the catholic school at least until sixth grade, when i'd finally be able to trade my jumper for one of the plaid skirts that looked so grown up on the older kids. but even this young in my life i was experiencing interpersonal conflicts with me peers, however, because while gossiping and backstabbing my playmates at home was accepted, in a more public setting it got me labeled as a liar and a tattle tale. realistically, i could not function as a part of normal society given the conditions of my home life. my mother started bringing my younger siblings in the car when she picked me up from school, so that when i swung inside and shut the door i'd be surrounded by the smell of chicken mcnuggets, have the treat i'd missed because i stubbornly refused to be a homeschooler like the rest of my brothers and sisters dangled in my face. ultimately, even though it was some time before bailey came on the scene, it was the promise from my mom that we'd get a puppy again that tipped the scales for me and sealed my fate.
thus began what would become the condition of my life until i was eighteen. it was one of knowing barely anybody else apart from my immediate family members, and only leaving the house under my mother's watchful eye, to attend daily mass and to go grocery shopping or on special trips like the mall. i did not adjust well to homeschooling, soon becoming convinced that i was hopelessly feeble minded. i had to take spelling tests every day until i could pass with one hundred percent. unlike normal school, my mom actually took the time to go through all our work and mark everything that didn't match the answer key as wrong. we'd then have to do those problems again, and again, and again until we got them right.
i don't know if this is to my credit or not, given that my mother scared the living daylights out of my from my first breath, but i only cheated once while homeschooling. i knew where all the answer keys were, in those ebony hulks of filing cabinets that stood like a pair of turrets on a castle at either end of my mom's desk. they weren't yet kept locked. so as a sixth grader, i once dipped my hand into a black drawer and fished for the solutions manual to the science quiz i was taking. my heart hammered fit to explode out of my chest, and it took endless seconds of staring at the words on the page before i could actually read them. that i am still alive today, to write this, is a testament to the fact that my mom didn't come back into the room until after i'd safely replaced the materials of my sin. i never did it again.
our new house was, for me, a lovely prison. especially in the summer i could not even step outside without instantly acquiring a headache. we were baked to a crisp by a blistering sun that reflected onto the white concrete a blinding glare. these were summers when my mom would cut the heads off of what felt like dozens of rattlesnakes with a big rusted metal shovel.
so, changes. a lot of changes.
somewhere, it all dissolves into bootcamp.