Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 1.7]

Mindy and I spent the whole next day at the roller rink with Mom, skating until our legs were numb and floaty once we took off our skates. We drank all the free red cream soda we could manage. While pretending we owned the roller rink, we took turns selling imaginary people tickets, handing out skates in the wrong sizes, and serving food from the concession stand. For a while, Mindy played a mean owner and I was his crazy wife, scolding children for skating too fast and having too much fun.

After dropping Mindy off at her house around 4 p.m., Mom and I stopped at the grocery store. As we were getting out of the car, a man walked toward my mom and said “Hey Bobbi,” in a nasally voice. I had seen this man before, from a distance, walking around town or riding his bike. His name was Maynard, and he was one of a few men we usually saw wandering around town. He always waved at my mom and yelled her name and she always waved back. I’d never heard his voice up close until today. He rested his arm on her open window and mumbled a string of slurred word, which caused Mom to reach into her purse and hand him five dollars.

He said some more things I couldn’t understand and then left. By the time Mom and I got into the store, Maynard was standing in the bread aisle. He looked right at us as we passed, and as I got a good look at him, I shuddered. He had scars all over the left half of his crooked face and his right eye was looking off and up, while his left eye was looking at us. He barely had a chin, and when he smiled and thanked my mom again, I could see that he didn’t have many teeth.

I asked Mom what was wrong with him and she shushed me in a growly voice, ordering me to “be nice.” Once we were back in the car, she explained that he had been in a horrible car accident when he was a boy.

“Why does he talk like that?” I asked.

“Well, he lost his tongue,” Mom said.

“He’s so ugly. I never want to see him again,” I said.

“That’s a terrible thing to say! I swear, Michelle. Sometimes you act so spoiled. You don’t know how good you have it. Everyone makes fun of Maynard. They are the ugly ones. You should learn some compassion or you’ll turn out mean, too, and no one will like you. There were all kinds of spoiled girls when I was in school and they treated people terribly. You don’t want to be one of them.”

That was true. I certainly didn’t.

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