Peacebands. They are the secret bracelets that everybody is wearing all of a sudden when you are fourteen. Judith gave you yours, when you dropped off a poem that she published in her little newspaper. It was called “The Star-Spangled Underground Revolutionary Free Press.”
It was nothing more than a printed piece of paper on two sides but the fact that Judith had chosen one of your little poems meant everything in the world.
At night everybody was watching the war on television. The soldiers in Vietnam were all over the news. Your mother never said anything to you about that, did she?
It was all the kids could talk about at school. Looking back you can see that it was a year you really changed. That year your mother picked the white house on the hill and she moved you from the Craftsman that was so old fashioned and dark. Your room had been downstairs, a huge room with a bathroom and there was a ravine full of nasturtiums running rivulets of orange outside your little door.
The new house hung off a cliff over the city like some kind of castle. From the decks you watched the clouds roll in from over the sea until they covered everything below in a pillowed mist. Other nights the lights twinkled like stars in a magic carpet spreading endlessly. You were reading The Hobbit and you and your best friend spoke invented languages. Abbalanguage she called it. Not Pig Latin, but you knew a little of that too.
Your room was all white angles and your bathroom navy mosaic tile. Your were on the third floor. You could spy on Hugh. He lived below you and at night you wondered what he was doing. He was the tall one in that pack of boys who combed the fields and ravines above The Bowl. He was the one you looked at all the time.
“Saabay yabur nabame”
“Mabine obis Abadaberobin”
You were like magpies chattering to each other in your secret code. She didn’t want you to be around Judith and the others.
“Whabye nobut?” you asked.
Everyone was in gangs at school. Everyone was fighting each other in the 1970’s. You learn how to navigate through groups as friend to all, don’t you?
You don’t want any wars with friends.
Your sitting in Art painting a self portrait where your teacher has drawn a silhouette of your profile. She asks you to draw what is inside your head and you’re using watercolors to make a blue field. Your best friend is next to you doing hers and the two of you are splashing watercolor all around and both of you insert your secret names in the paintings. Hers is Galio, and yours Koala because you love anything to do with little bears or Teddy. Your head is full of secret runes you’re painting. They came from the back of the book that Tolkein had written and you decoded them. You decide to write in that language, and to learn it like you are learning French that year.
“Whabut abar yabu wrabitabing?”
You put your other secret name too, didn’t you? Faercat.
And the secret middle name you wanted because you didn’t have one and everyone else did. The poems are etched in black slim runes all over the images. It’s your way of saying something out loud. You’re not really sharing your poems with her because with her you are only a girl and she wants to do your hair and paint your fingernails and this is something where she helps you but only at her house. Your mother doesn’t allow it. Your mother doesn’t know about your black armband or your poems in the paper. She’s criticizing everything you try and do, that year. There is peace at your best friend’s house. Her mother is sweeping around the room in a Muumuu high in the hills like a plump smiling flower while Santana plays. Her face is like an owls, sharp-beaked like the falcons her husband keeps.
Galio has a raccoon for a pet, along with the dogs and the Shetland ponies. His name is Roscoe and he chases you all over the house while you giggle speaking Abbalanguage and her mother is in the kitchen making brownies again. Everyone is free on that hill. The Drive where the Renaissance seems neverending.
“Labook whatbut Abi mabade”
It’s a long velvet dress and a jester’s cap she’s going to be wearing all olive green and maroon for the Faire.
“Mabarkabos kabissed mabee”
She’s nodding her head and smiling as she starts to make you into a girl with her mother’s fingernail polish. She’s combing your hair to get all the tangles out.
“Whaben yaboo grabow ahbup yaboo wabill knabow,” she says.
“Ahbits thabis habair.”
She spends hours in clouds of sweet smoke in those years. It wafts through the room of your memory recalling how it was everywhere in the rooms, everywhere in the brownies, everywhere as if it could drape a velvet glow of laughter over everything.
“Habave wabun,” she says about her mother’s brownies.
Years later you think about the things that were offered to you in the 1970’s. You’re working in a Rehab and you’ve seen the effects years later. You wonder about the kids now and their high schools and their bullying and how they cope with the same things that you had to in those sunny years full of sweetness and folksongs and long velvet costumes and parents who might not be paying any attention just like yours didn’t.
You were trying to show your mother how you were learning to tap dance in those years. You were playing Bette and you were tapping out the 40’s in the shoes your grandparents bought you. Crimp rolls.
You were embroidering time like you embroidered little flowers on your clothes. Your mother allowed you that adornment.
It was in those years when you watched the clouds rolling over the city that your thoughts about life were forming, watching clouds, making paintings, deciphering runes. Anything that wasn’t too noisy kept the peacebands alive at your house. That slim band of peace that you wanted with your mother. Just once to see her smile like a cloud.
“peacebands” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved
*author note on music: