When I was a five years old, my grandmother gave me a Ken Brown calligraphy set for Christmas. It had five nibs, a nib-holder, some italic lined paper, a bottle of ink and an instruction booklet. My mother had a fit because, well, you know – a five year old boy and a bottle of India ink. But I was careful with it. Incidentally, I had been hoping for Legos that Christmas. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if she had given me Legos. Maybe I’d be an engineer right now instead of a loser holed up in a monastery. Maybe I’d be an architect. Or maybe I’d just be the first artist to figure out a criminal use for Legos. You never know about these things. Anyway, my mom was at her bowling league one afternoon and my teenage sister, who went upstairs to her room with her boyfriend as soon as mom left, was supposed to be watching me. So I was pretty much alone when I pulled the calligraphy kit out on the kitchen table.
Holy shit, I loved it.
Not only did I finish every lesson in the book that afternoon and use all of the paper, I wrote on every envelope in with my mom’s bills before I was done. The next morning she turned off the television while I was watching Superfriends and stood in front of it, hands on hips with a stack of bills clutched in one fist. I knew I was in for it.
“Squiberticus,” she said sternly. (Only she didn’t say “Squiberticus” because that’s not my real name. You know the drill.)
“Squiberticus,” she said, “do you know who wrote on all of my envelopes yesterday?”
I looked down at the floor and mumbled, “I did.”
“What?” she asked, sounding more peturbed.
“I said I did,” I answered. “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”
There. Damage control. But then she said something that surprised me.
“I can’t believe you’re lying to me, Squiberticus! Tell me WHO WROTE ON MY ENVELOPES?”
Okay. So at this point my five-year-old brain was tied in fucking knots as I tried to figure out what she wanted to hear. I’d told her I’d done it, fessed up to the crime, which is what she always told me to do, but that obviously wasn’t what was supposed to happen in this scenario. So I improvised.
“It’s a secret,” I said.
That didn’t improve the situation. My mom raised my sister and me on her own after my dad skipped town with the contents of the church bank account and our neighbor’s nineteen-year-old daughter. Mom put herself through school and became a nurse, working long hours to make sure we could keep the house. One of those hard-working-woman-maligned-by-a-shitty-man stories I guess. Whatever. Apparently she saw a lot of the fucked up things that happen to kids while she was working in the emergency department though because when I said “it’s a secret,” she freaked. The fuck. Out.
“WAS SOMEONE HERE WHILE I WAS GONE? WHERE WAS YOUR SISTER? WHO WAS IT? WHY WERE THEY WRITING ON MY ENVELOPES? DID THEY HURT YOU? I CAN’T BELIEVE IT, OHMYGODIAMSUCHATERRIBLEMOTHER…”
Blah, blah, blah. By the end of it she was ready to call in the cops, FBI, National Guard, and probably the fucking Superfriends. And I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She and my sister were screaming at each other because my sister couldn’t say with certainty that someone hadn’t been here with me, because she had been upstairs fucking her boyfriend. (That didn’t go over well either.)
There was a pause in the shitstorm when my mom picked up the phone to call the police, so I finally hollered, “Why don’t you believe me?!” She rolled her eyes as she dialed.
“Oh, come on, Squiberticus! Sweetheart, you expect me to believe YOU did THIS?” And she thrust an envelope out at me on which I’d written everyone’s names over and over again.
In retrospect I can see how it could have been a little creepy, but whatever. So I ran to get my pens and ink, opened it up on the kitchen floor, grabbed the envelope and wrote her name. MOM. She put down the phone. It all turned out well enough in the end, I suppose. I got all the paper and ink she could afford to get me, my sister’s boyfriend wasn’t allowed to come to the house (well, until the baby was born), and my narrow escape from the phantom, calligraphing molestor turned out to be nothing more than talent.