Little Missy

“…I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. ” – Joan Didion

Mama Joan wrote those words in 1968 in Slouching Toward Bethlehem. I was listening to the audiobook today, as I sometimes do when I have too much on my mind and can’t seem to get any words out, or have no time to think, or I haven’t had my morning coffee. In fact, I was sitting in the Starbucks line, my poodle Duke beside me, tangled up in his leash but refusing to let me help. I already had a headache. I was thinking of the traffic ahead of me, and wishing I was drinking a glass of wine poolside. Doesn’t matter where. Las Vegas, San Diego, Puerto Rico. The point is, I was wishing I was anywhere else but here. 

Then she said the words: “…keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be…” . Well, she didn’t say them, Diane Keaton said them. Diane Keaton does a lovely job of bringing Mama Joan’s word to your ear. I’ll go ahead and stick the link here, if you are so inclined:

Now, where was I? Ah, yes. The people we used to be. 

There are so many former iterations of “Missy” that sometimes I get lost when I think about her. But “Little Missy”, is my favorite. She is small, but big for her age. She has very long hair (as her mother refused to cut it until third grade) which, by the way, is how her and I mark the end of her time in our lives. She had a round belly, round cheeks, round everything. She was soft and round with feet she thought were too big, with an idolization of her big sisters that bordered blasphemy. 

Yes, Little Missy is my favorite. She was quiet, much too shy, and sometimes when there were a lot of people at her house or commotion outside, she would run and hide in her white and red toy box that had doors that slid open like a window. She would overhear her mother say, “Oh you know Little Missy, she has a nervous stomach.” Because that is what anxiety was called in the 1980s. A nervous stomach. 

One of her sisters would eventually come into the room she shared with them, slide open the toy box and coax her out with a cookie or a promise to comb her hair or rub her feet. She much enjoyed all three of those things, not unlike a pet, spoiled and cared for, with a nervous energy that followed them wherever they went. 

Yes, Little Missy is my favorite. She’d pride herself on her My Little Pony collection, but was not above playing Transformers in the dirt with that little blond-haired boy who lived in the apartment above them. And when the little blond-haired boy moved, and the family from Asia came in his place, she was also not above spending hours listening to the teenage girl talk about skirts, and boys, and American music. She would politely accept an invitation to dinner and walk up the stairs behind her big sister filled with the knowledge that little girls should’t talk much and you should never be the first one done with dinner. It was impolite. And it didn’t matter if the food was very good, don’t ask for more. And it didn’t matter if the food was bad, say it was good. Little Missy was often confused, but did as she was told. 

Yes, Little Missy is my favorite. She didn’t like to draw attention to herself so she never acted out in school. Always turned her work in on time. Never went outside of her comfort zone. In first grade, at 2:55 everyday her stomach would be in knots. She would ask to be excused to get a drink of water, then she would anxiously walk past the water fountain to the front door where she could see the parents’ cars lined up in anticipation for the bell to ring at 3:00 pm. She sought out her mother’s car, an old 1972 Dodge, breathe a sigh of relief, then go pack up her things. Only once was her mother’s car not there by 2:55. Only once she silently cried inside the door until her teacher came looking for her. Only once she had to wait until 3:10, because her mother’s car had not started from work, and she was running behind. 

Yes, Little Missy is my favorite. She was not a know-it-all like Teenage Missy, she wasn’t a confused high-schooler, temporary mixed up with the wrong crowd. She wasn’t a college drop-out, wasn’t a bad friend. She wasn’t a skipper of school, or a rude to her mother. She didn’t push the boundaries of trust or contemplate running away. Little Missy sat on the old tan couch watching CareBears, eating strawberry ice cream, and laughed at the way her grandpa said words, with his southern accent and no teeth. 

I miss you, Little Missy. I miss you and your own toothless grin, your thirst to read big books, your naive need for approval and acceptance. But most of all, I miss the way you saw the world.


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