John Denver Baby Blue
by Anne Boyer
I remember California and smelling the parrot feathers Mrs. McMichael kept in a L'air du Temps box. My grandmother said Mrs. McMichael was a gypsy. I don't remember Mrs. McMichael, but I remember staring into the picture window of her perfectly square house at the shelves full of Hummel figurines. Later I remember learning that she wasn't a gypsy, that she just kept many decorative items in her car and drove all around for no reason.
Later that summer we swam with the Mize kids at the Heartland Holiday End pool. John Denver was staying at the Hol.iday End. Jason Mize ran up to John Denver and kicked him in the shin, then jumped in the water. I swam in the water with John Denver, and later I sang "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" in class at school. Jason said he would have kicked John Denver in the balls if he could have reached them. I do not think it was a dream because we swam at the Holiday End almost every day that one summer, when it was so hot, and there was no grass around because during the Carter era no one bothered to try.
I remember giving George Brett a kiss on the cheek for an autograph, but my brother tells me this never happened. I remember John Denver squinting against the hard Kansas sun and wearing baggy swim trunks. I remember that everyone was crazy about John Denver, and later about George Brett. George Brett wore that baby blue color the Royals wore back when I kissed him, and his hair was shaggy like John Denver's, and he hadn't yet been accused of pine tar or stricken ill with anal fissures. My brother tells me I made up the story about kissing George Brett, and everyone knew I just made it up to look hot.
Maybe Jason made up the story about kicking John Denver but was hot enough to claim it was the shin. If he had kicked John Denver in the balls it would have been like me kissing George Brett. If I had only kissed Willie Wilson, everyone would have believed me.
I remember when Johnny Beltz came to the front door of the house on a Saturday morning and he had on his KISS makeup and asked for my brother. I told him that my brother couldn't play because he was taking a bath, and then he spoke to me in devil language.
But I might have imagined this. Children don't speak in the language of the devil, at least not in a neighborhood with sidewalks and cookie cutter houses all in a row. Did I make up evenings under the giant pine tree? The giant pine tree was so giant that it surely reached beyond the tallest office building in town and when boys climbed to the top they had to be rescued, along with the mewing baby kittens, by fire trucks full of Dalmations.
I remember that Johnny Beltz and I used to try to makeout in the alleyway by the Seifert's compost heap though I don't think we knew how. I always made him make me make out through various daring uses of force, but I can't promise I didn't make this up. I remember sitting in the fourth row of class leaning against my desk and imagining I was trapped in a barrel. I enjoyed this idea so much I missed learning long division.
I remember that after Sarah White went to Germany for vacation and showed me pictures of Auschwitz, my Barbies were always concentration camp victims. Ken was a Nazi and my brother's naked million dollar man was an American POW. I'm pretty sure this is real, because I remember the shoebox trains I made for my Barbies and the head kerchiefs I cut out of calico. I used slivers of soap my mother saved in a jar.
And even if I couldn't go into the water of the Pacific ocean when I was almost three and visiting Mrs. McMichael, the first thing I remember is being scared of sharks nibbling my toes. I also remember being scared of not knowing what was real.
I remember John Denver in the pool that day. John Denver had a wide, easy grin, like Kermit. He smelled unfamiliar: the pool smelled like a pool. John Denver thought we were cute kids from the middle of nowhere until Jason kicked him in the shin. And when I kissed George Brett, and he signed my baseball, I remember that I swore to everyone that I would remember that moment forever. Every time I hear a song on the radio, I remember when John Denver sang it to me that hot day at the pool. He was wearing swim trunks the color of George Brett's home game jersey and told me that the Pacific Ocean is full of toe-nibbling sharks and gypsies who collect parrot feathers and hide them in perfumed boxes.
About the author:
Anne Boyer grew up in the middle of nowhere near the World's Largest Ball of Twine. She now lives in Iowa with pet chickens and a writing habit. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming at Exquisite Corpse, Identity Theory, New Letters, Retort, (parenthetical note), and others.