Today I'm writing about something relatively random as it pertains to me, though such is probably anything but random as it pertains to the person who is my topic. This person, Shelly Bleidermuth (obviously not her real name, though close enough that virtually anyone who knew both her and me would decode the message and know of whom I write), was on the periphery of my life and of the lives of those I considered my friends while growing up. Shelly was never really one of us, although I don't remember anyone actively excluding her. In the days before bullying was used as a verb, still I don't believe she was bullied. I don't think she even was picked on.
I don't remember seeing Shelly standing alone on the playground. She probably was at times -- hell, most of us probably stood alone at one time or another on that vast expanse of blacktop and grass collectively known as our middle school playground -- but I have no specific recollection of it having happened. I hope Shelly has no specific recall of it, either. I'm fairly sure she had friends. It's just that I wasn't exactly one of them. Neither was I her enemy. I'm reasonably certain there was initially no particular animosity between Shelly and anyone in my circle of friends.
I moved to the community where Shelly and I attended later elementary school, middle school, and high school in the summer when I was nine, which was just before my fifth-grade year of school. Shelly lived there before I did, though whether she moved there shortly before I did or whether she was born in the small city and spent her whole life there up to that point, I have no clue. My egocentric mindset caused me to consider anyone who was there before I was to be a lifer, and anyone who arrived after I did to be a newcomer. As far as I was concerned, Shelly was a lifer.
Our community, while seeming normal to those of us who lived there, was in reality anything but normal. It was a small suburban university town with, what I learned much later, the second highest level of education among the adult population of any community in the United States. That such a high standard of education existed in a city in California was all the less common. The level of wealth wasn't especially beyond the norm; the level of education, however, was. The community held its share of educated poor, with the term poor being relative in that sense. Our educated poor were the town's assistant librarians and dental assistants.The educated portion of the designation, however, was not relative. Those adults in the community not in possession of higher education stood out because of their lack of education. Many who worked in non-skilled jobs commuted to and from our community to work. Shelly's mother did not. Shelly's mother was the on-again / off-again wife of a truck driver who maintained relationships with women besides Shelly's mother. He also maintained a apartment separate from the small and not-well-maintained rental home he shared with Shelly, her mother, and Shelly's younger brother. Shelly's mother supplemented her child-support payments by telling fortunes, providing day care from her own home, and working at other odd jobs that we children didn't really understand,and that were done at night. After the fact, I can only hope that Shelly's mother's late-night employment did not in any way involve Shelly.
Our town was not especially gossipy or judgmental. As young children, I doubt that many if any of us at all had any sort of idea that Shelly's life was significantly different than the lives of the rest of us. While her home was less luxurious even than the homes of the children whose parents were part-time employees and graduate students, it wasn't filthy or in such a state of disrepair as to cause idle chatter among Shelly's classmates or her parents. Shelly's father was seldom present, but we wrote that off as being an occupational hazard. Shelly's mother , as we saw more of her at school and Girl Scout Functions, seemed maybe a millimeter or two off-center, but she wasn't the only mother who would have been classified as such. The children thought little or nothing of this; the other mothers probably wrote it off either to slightly greater-than-average alcohol consumption or to the emotional effects of having a husband whose time and affection were divided.
However one may have viewed the relative merits or demerits of Shelly's home life, her family would have been considered -- at least by the standards of our rather provincial little town -- while not quite the stuff of which the Seavers, the Huxtables, the Camdens, or Tanners were made, neither would they compare unfavorably to The Simpsons, The Griffins, or the Bundys. We all probably thought the offspring were slightly odd, and the parents slightly odder, though not so odd as the Ratzlaffs, a teacher family I discussed in greater detail a year or so go, but none of us lost any sleep over any of them.
Max, the son and younger of the two offspring, had some degree of hearing loss, yet still was considered the male counterpart to Marilyn Munster -- the abnormally normal member of the family. While Max wasn't especially bright, which was in and of itself something of an anomaly among young people in our community, he lacked that single strand of peculiarity that should have distinguished himself from the other kids in the community and should have made him more like the rest of his family. Still, kids are kids, and are at least as accepting as any other facet of society.
Shelly, on the other hand . . Where Max may have been lacking in unconventionality, Shelly more than compensated. At 4-H club meetings, for example, where Max may have been off in one corner with the boys, perhaps sharing slightly off-color jokes or competing to see who could produce the loudest belch at will, Shelly would have been accordion-folding a 48-inch-long by 2-millimeter wide strip of paper, stuffing it deep into the recesses of her sinus cavities, then, when it was least expected, pulling it -- the accordion-folded papers -- out by the foot, the object of which was to make an unsuspecting observer toss his or her cookies. Shelly likewise amused herself by neglecting to flush the commode after she used it, thereby producing the very maximum gross-out effect for the next person who would enter the bathroom, at which point Shelly would laugh as though "In Living Color's" funniest joke of the week had just been aired. Another favored activity for Shelly was to blow her nose, then to proudly display the contents of her used facial tissue for all to see. Shelly's fascination with bodily emissions and with putting things inside her nose continued, I should clarify, until she reached the age of approximately nine-and-one-half years of age, which was, probably not coincidentally, the age at which she discovered sex.
Shelly's first obvious interest in the opposite sex became apparent when she was frequently caught lurking outside the door of the boys' bathroom. The stool pigeons who ratted Shelly out to the principal were my parents. When my brother developed a bladder infection, the doctor learned through questioning Matthew that he was holding it all day, every day. My parents demanded to know precisely why it was that Matthew should be holding it all day, every day. Matthew was afraid to talk, so I spilled the beans for him. My parents walked two doors down the street to our school principal's home, and an at least temporary moratorium on Shelly's voyeuristic tendencies took place
Following Shelly's unofficial and extracurricular sex education clinics that had taken place in the fifth grade girls bathroom earlier in the year [and from which I had largely been summarily excluded because I refused to fork over the tuition fee of twenty-five cents per session that Shelly demanded of each of her pupils], my first significant contact with Shelly Bleidersmuth had been during my fifth-grade year of school, when she - -carrying out her customary practice of perching atop the bathroom stall dividers in order to best observe her peers as they used the bathrooms, Shelly noticed a chain of round welts of about three millimeters in diameter across my backside. In before excitement, Shelly fell to the cement bathroom floor, bruising her bottom in the process. Injured butt an all, she hobbled to the bathroom , all the while screaming, "Alexis has the shingles! Alexis has the shingles!"
It had not occurred to the school office staff to interrogate or even to casually inquire of the child as to her qualifications to diagnose herpes zoster in a human host when the same child had failed to demonstrate the ability either to distinguish between the shell and yolk portions of a chicken egg or to differentiate between the function of a decimal point to the extent that she could not differentiate between $99,999.09 and $0.99, yet somehow that same child possessed the ability to correctly diagnose the herpes zoster virus , otherwise known as shingles, nor precisely why the child, or, for that matter, any child, should be allowed to be perched atop a restroom partition for the purpose of observing other children in a state of undress, or for that matter, to perch atop any restroom partitions for any purpose whatsoever.his set into action a sequence of events that eventuated in Child Protective Services appearing at my doorstep and insisting upon examining my nude body for the purpose of determining whether or not I had been subjected to torture via any sort of device that might have left series of unsightly welts upon the skin of my bottom. The marks were ultimately determined to he innocuous in nature. No charges were brought against either of my parents, but not without first thoroughly invading of my privacy and dignity.
Everything about sex, or at least everything that we knew that Shelly knew about sex, was utterly riveting to Shelly. At that age ( fifth grade; we were thin girls of northern European descent, who tended not to physically mature at early ages) sanitary napkins, and what would be the relative function of each, wasn't even yet something to which we were privy. Shelly was holding clinics after lunch in the school restroom, demanding a cover charge for all in attendance -- including those who simply needed to use the facilities -- and requiring quarters from the observers so that she could procure the needed sanitary items from the restroom's vending machines, then using leftover ketchup packets from the day's lunch offerings to demonstrate how each item actually worked. I never lasted long enough into the demonstration to discover whether Shelly's tampon demonstration showed the item inserted into the place into which it was anatomically designed to go, primarily because I never paid up with the cover charge and was thus kicked out before the action got interesting.
By sixth grade, feminine hygiene products had become passe. A few of the sixth grade girls had practical use for the feminine hygiene items by then. Shelly and the other girls had shifted their focus from feminine hygiene products to condoms and cucumbers in their various forms, spermicides, foams, gels, oral contraceptives, Norplants, and various and sundry other items. It's a pity that I was evicted from these sessions for non-payment as well, as my mother had purchased a complete set of Life Cycle encyclopedias for me and had read them with me to ensure that I understood everything in detail. My presence at those backroom birth control sessions might possibly have prevented a pregnancy or two. God knows what misinformation was shared behind those closed restroom doors. I do recall hollering over the top of Shelly's voice, as I was being dragged by my arms from the restroom, that dissolving spermicide into Mountain Dew and then drinking it would NOT keep a girl from getting pregnant --but at least two girls who were present for the sessions became mothers before reaching ninth grade, and one of them after allegedly drinking spermicide-laced Mountain Dew. The very thought makes me gag.. Sadly, the girls who became pregnant before seventh grade, along with Shelly, who likewise had achieved that same status of motherhood in seventh grade, were not the children of our community's more educated and affluent population, who would have been grated access to information concerning reliable methods of birth control . Those girls were in serious need of bona fide pregnancy- and sexually-transmitted-disease-prevention education, and not of the variety that an interested but thoroughly ignorant sixth-grade girl could have provided. Sex education was a part of our standard curriculum, but not until seventh grade , which was too late for at least three of the candidates.