I don't remember much from my childhood. Why this is, I don't know. I was happy; I remember that much. I came from an intact, loving, financially stable home. But when I go poking around my childhood memories, I usually get little more than puzzle pieces. My husband teases me about my drawn blanks, says I must have taken a lot of drugs in my misspent youth.
When I push hard, the first memory that comes to me, the one that's completely mine and not inspired by black-and-white photos in my mother's family album, is the first time I wore my Minnie Mouse mittens. They were a birthday gift from my grandmother. Minnie's face adorned the top half of the mitten; her cheeks were round, her face flesh-toned. Her pointed nose rose up from the mitten, held on by stitching. Her round black ears, decorated with polka-dotted red bows, jutted out from the top. A matching dress covered the palm.
It was not quite cold enough for mittens, but I was desperate to slide my paws into them. Mom was sending me off to the first day of preschool, and I was going to wear my mittens. The ground was damp and muddy -- we'd had several days of rain -- and the sky was gray and drizzly. But the weathermen said there would be sun in the afternoon. Mom told me this in an effort to dissuade me from wearing my Minnies, but I was determined, and Mom relented. She slipped me into a pink jacket, and I slipped into my red mittens.
As we drove to the school -- five blocks away -- I wasn't nervous at all. I was concentrating on the mittens, stroking the bows, lost in Minnie's vast white eyes and oval black pupils. The preschool was attached to a starkly white Presbyterian church. I stared up at the angular steeple; it seemed a mile high. I turned my eyes back to Minnie's eyes. I touched the soft cotton fibers and ran one mittened finger in a circular motion around one eye. Mom escorted me into the school, found a seat for me in a squat, orange plastic chair, took my jacket and mittens, and hung them on a wooden peg next to about 12 other jackets. My jacket hung at the end of the row; I was glad I could see my mittens, dangling from a black cotton string slung over the jacket. My mother kissed me and left.
I don't remember what we did that first morning. I do remember that I wanted to crawl into my mittens and be cuddly and cozy. When the teacher announced outside playtime at recess, I was thrilled. We were told to get our jackets and line up. The sun was shining, but I was already twiddling Minnie's nose with my thumb as we waited in line. I was anxious to leave the room and its warm, salty smell.
The air smelled sweet and cool when we got outside. I pondered the playground. The monkey bars -- no good. My mittens would make me slip. The swing would be fine though. I wouldn't have to worry about my fingers getting pinched in the chains; Minnie would protect me.
After a while, I considered the slide: metal, massive, hulking, its top half covered by a shiny, dented metal dome. I wasn't scared; I liked heights. Climbing was exciting for me. The slide dared me. I dared back. I decided to slide headfirst, hands extended. Before I reached the end, I would slow myself by grabbing the sides of the slide. At the bottom, a ditch had been carved out by hundreds of tiny feet as they flew off the slide; the rain had slid into the ditch and left it gooey with mud.
As I neared the bottom, Minnie betrayed me. The soft cotton of the mittens kept me from getting a grip; I couldn't stop. I sailed headfirst off the end of the slide and plunged Minnie's face into the muck. The fibers sucked cold wetness onto my hands. I untoppled myself and stared at the mittens, at Minnie's eyes, now brown and gritty. Tears poured from my own eyes; I couldn't stop crying. The teacher took me inside.
She pulled the mittens off and told me to wash my hands. She rinsed the mittens in a large metal sink and hung them over the center divide to drip dry. Minnie's eyes were still a dingy brown, and her ears drooped. The bows were crooked. The water dripped from the mittens; tears kept flowing from my eyes. I wanted to go home. I hoped my mother would come to get me soon.