i am the cheese
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i am the cheese
Did you ever come across a memory you didn't know you had? Memories are funny that way; they will just sneak up on you out of nowhere, as if they escaped from some cell inside your brain.
I had one of those moments today and it clarified the whole meaning of my life for me.
It was first grade. We were playing Farmer in the Dell in music class and everything was moving along just fine. Until the end, that is, when Ray Cicco picked me to be the cheese. So there I was, in my puffy dress and itchy tights and shiny black shoes, standing in the middle of this huge circle while the rest of the class chanted and the cheese stands alone.
I wasn't an outgoing kid to begin with. My mother's penchant for making me wear frilly dresses and shiny shoes to school had already pegged me as an outcast. The fact that I rarely spoke above a whisper, added to the horror of being the smallest in the class, meant I was ripe for the picking.
So I stood there. The music teacher, Mrs. Kaplan, either was enjoying the singing so much or wanted to torture me, because she had the class repeat the and the cheese stands alone refrain several times. Finally, the game ended and everyone went back to their seats.
And then it started. Cheese! The first time it was whispered softly. Then again, a different voice. Cheese! Then someone more brazen than the whisperers pointed right at me and declared It's the cheese!
The rest of the day they referred to me as The Cheese or Cheesy and would walk past me singing and the cheese stands alone. The teasing lingered for the rest of the week and then died out. It didn't matter. The damage to my six year old psyche had already been done.
Is it any wonder that years later, I Am The Cheese would become my favorite book?
So what does this have to do with the rest of my life? Simple. I was the cheese standing alone for many, many years. I still am, in a way. I may be more outgoing than I was 34 years ago. I probably have more friends now than I did in my entire grade school years combined. But I am still uncomfortable around large groups of people. I still feel vulnerable and small in any setting that may put me at the center of attention. Maybe it's why I wear black clothes all the time; to not be noticed.
I still don't like overly competitive games. I hate musical chairs and dodge ball and any game that may single out one little kid for losing. I don't think they play things like Farmer in the Dell in school anymore.
DJ came home from school Friday with his jeans torn and grass stains all over him.
Me: What were you playing?
DJ: Yea, it's a really cool game.
He then said something about a ball and a wall and throwing as hard as you can at someone.
Me: That's interesting. How do you win?
DJ: Duh. You don't die.
Me: That seems sort of violent.
DJ: What? You want us to play duck duck goose?
Me: Yes. As a matter of fact, I do.
DJ: How about kill the goose?
The cheese episode must have affected me more than I realized if it was still rattling around in my brain this whole time. I was thinking that this was a whole new set of people to blame for my reluctance to speak up or make friends.
And what does it say about me that cheese is my absolute favorite kind of food? Is it a subconcious way of saying I love myself? I want to eat myself? And you know, I'm slightly lactose intolerant, so maybe that's my body's way of saying "hey, even you can't stomach you!" Could this be why I am a Packers fan? (cheeshead...get it?) You would think the incident would have caused an aversion to cheese, not an obsession with it.
Or maybe the cheese incident had nothing at all to do with my life and the way I turned out. Maybe it was the drugs.
Nah. It was my mother and the damn frilly dresses, or the infamous dress with a clock on it. I've forgiven her for it, but I get even by sending my kids to her house dressed like slobs. It absolutely kills her. I get a slight thrill by watching my mom cringe when Natalie and DJ bounce into her house wearing faded jeans and t-shirts. She once tried to buy a dress for Natalie (who has worn a dress about twice in her entire life) and I stopped mom in her tracks.
"You are not buying her a dress," I told her. "You make her wear one of those frilly dresses and before you know it she'll be sitting in a corner writing dark poetry and drawing pictures of her classmates with knives sticking out of their eyes."
"You are a really strange person," my mother says.
"Dress. Clock." I say in defiance. She knows what it means.
"Oh for god's sake, get over that crap already."
I pout and walk away and as mom starts making fun of me by mocking my "and you bought me off-brand sneakers instead of Keds" routine, I stick my fingers in my ears and say lalalalallala I can't hear you!
I am the cheese.