Authors: Sarah Weeks
(and Ms. Janover's 1997â98 6th grade Humanities class)
“I know it's a long shot, but I don't feelâ¦
“What's with the golfers?” Buzz asked.
The only normal thing about Robert Smith is his name.
Buzz and I built the fort the first summer afterâ¦
Buzz wasn't there yet. I parked my bike on theâ¦
Bob-o was still busy with the pile of wet grayâ¦
My parents were in the front yard. Dad was standingâ¦
I stayed up in my room for the rest ofâ¦
“This is a no-picking zone, Bob-o,” I said.
As we walked through the field toward the fort, Buzzâ¦
Getting my parents to agree to host Bob-o for theâ¦
“It's nuts over there, Guy, positively nuts!”
Saturday was one of the longest days of my life.
“Did you see the size of that knife?” Buzz yelledâ¦
My dad and Mr. Smith carried Buzz over to the couch,â¦
The next morning I woke up feeling lighter than I'dâ¦
know it's a long shot, but I don't feel I can just eliminate the possibility that I was raised by wolves without at least considering it for a second, do you?”
“You're touched in the head, you know that, Strang? Positively touched.”
I count on my best friend, Buzz, to be honest with me. We've known each other since second grade, when he moved to Cedar Springs from some place down South. Most of his accent is gone by now, but his twang still shows through a little, especially when he gets what he calls “riled up.”
“Do you really think it's out of the question?” I asked seriously.
“Well, do you howl at the moon, Guy?”
“Have cravings for raw jackrabbit?”
“Never,” I said.
“Okay, then I think it's safe to say we can rule out the wolf theory.”
“Wait a minute, Buzzard. Did you ever consider the possibility that maybe it was so weird and horrible out there in the wild with my wolf-pack family that I just can't let myself remember it?”
“In that case, maybe you'd better consider the possibility that you were actually raised by possums, Guy, not wolves. I mean, just because you don't hang by your tail and play dead now doesn't mean you didn't used to, right?”
“Aw, shut up.”
“Anything you say, possum boy.”
We sat there in silence for a minute.
Finally I announced, “Last night at dinner
my father did the oyster trick again.”
“Oh, man. Were you home at least?”
“Nope. Right in the middle of the restaurant. âWatch this,' he goes, âwatch what your old man can do, Guy.' Like I don't already know. Then before I can even look away he sticks it up his nose, sucks it up there with that horrible noise, and spits it out of his mouth.”
“Gross me out the door!”
“I thought I was going to puke,” I said. “My mother, of course, applauded.”
“Did he stand up and make the announcement about how no one should attempt it at home?”
“Well, you know what I always sayâjust add an âe' to Strang and look whatcha get. Man, you really can't go out in public with them, can you?” Buzz said.
“It's not like it's so much better being around them at home, either. Take a look in my sock drawer,” I said.
“Which one is it?”
“Second from the top,” I said as I watched Buzz pull open the drawer.
“What's the deal?” he asked as he pulled out a balled-up pair of unmatched socks.
“She's a firm believer in the idea that opposites attract.”
“But, socks?” Buzz held up another mismatched pair.
“There's not one matched set in there. Open the top drawer.”
I laughed. Buzz opened the drawer and pulled out a pair of rainbow-colored underwear.
“Groovy, man. Very sixties!”
“She tie-dyed every pair of underwear in the house last week,” I said with a sigh.
Just then there was a knock at the door. I groaned, flopped back on my bed, and waited for the inevitable. In she came, singing at the top of her lungs.
“Snicker Doodles, Snicker Doodles, rah
rah rah! Eat a bunch, hear 'em crunch, siss-boom-bah!”
My mother danced around the room, holding a plate up in the air like a fancy waiter. She had on lime-green stretch pants and a frilly Day-Glo orange top. Her curly mop of bright-red hair was pulled up into a ponytail, which she kept in place with a twist tieâthe kind you use to close up garbage bags. She finished her song with a last wiggle of her rear end, set down the plate of lumpy cookies, and clicked out of the room in her favorite high heel shoesâthe ones with the plastic tropical fish suspended in the see-through heels.
“Nice outfit, Mrs. Strang!” Buzz called as he reached for a cookie. He took a large bite and sang through his mouthful, “Snicker Doodles, Snicker Doodles, rah rah rah!”
“Can you picture your mother walking around in a getup like that, Buzz?” I asked as I slid a cookie off the plate. “I mean, put yourself in my place, can you imagine what it's like?”
Buzz just shook his head and crammed another cookie in his mouth.
“Maybe it was one of those mix-ups in the hospital where they give the wrong baby to the wrong mother,” I said.
“Think that could really happen?” Buzz asked.
“Sure. I bet it happens all the time,” I said.
“And you never know until you have a bad car accident and they call your parents to the hospital so they can give you a kidney or something and you find out you don't match up genetically, right?” asked Buzz.
“Yeah,” I said, “I mean, do I even
like either of them?”
“Well, I've never actually seen you in stretch pantsâ¦.”
“Come on, Buzz, I'm serious. Do I bear any resemblance to them whatsoever?”
“I swear, I don't think they're my real parents,” I said.
“Well, they seem pretty convinced of it,”
Buzz said. “And you already asked about whether you were adopted, right?”
“Yeah, they denied it. But something's not right, Buzz. I can feel it in my bones.”
“You mean, your kidneys.”
“Goof on me if you want, Buzzard, but I know there's something fishy about this family.”
“Whatever you say, Guy. Hey, do you want that last Snicker Doodle or can I scarf it?” Buzz asked as he reached for the cookie.
I didn't answer him. I couldn't think about cookies at a time like this. Somehow or other I had to come up with a way to uncover the truth about my origins. It wasn't going to be easy, but I couldn't stand it much longer. I needed to know who I really was.
hat's with the golfers?” Buzz asked.
“My mother thinks it's a manly sport, and since I'm her âlittle man'â¦” I trailed off as if that was enough of an explanation.
“When did she do it?”
“Last night, after I went to sleep.”
We were discussing my lunch box. The day before it had been an ordinary red plastic box with my name written on it in black Magic Marker, but my mother had been visited by one of her frequent creative urges and had decoupaged a bunch of pictures of golfers and golf equipment all over it. My mother
to decoupage. The way you do it is you take some object and glue down
pictures on it, then you paint over it with this liquid stuff that makes everything all shiny and smooth. You can do it to almost anything, trust meâI know. Another thing I know is that once it's dry, that's itâit doesn't come off no matter how much you want it to or how hard you work at it with a screwdriver.
“Who's that guy up by the handle?” Buzz asked.
“Lee Trevino,” I said, reading the caption under the golfer caught in mid swing.
“Manly golfer, I guess,” I said.
We snapped open our lunch boxes and flipped back the lids. I looked longingly at Buzz's peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Want to trade?” I asked.
“Whatcha got?” he said, peering into my lunch box.
“One raw hot dog, three grape kebobs, couple of garlic twists, and an apricot nectar.”
“Sheesh.” Buzz turned away and took a
bite of his sandwich.
He ended up taking pity on me and giving me half of his sandwich, which I washed down with the apricot nectar. Then we dismantled the grape kebobs, eating the grapes and piling the chunks of candied fruit she'd alternated with them on the toothpicks into a miniature pyramid. We used the garlic twists for footballs, shooting finger field goals at each other across the table. As always, I tossed the hot dog. Just because my mother thinks that a cold, raw wiener is the same thing as bologna doesn't mean I do.
“Any progress in the search for your roots?” Buzz asked as we headed out to the playground, where we normally spend the second half of our lunch period.
“Not yet. But I'm working on it.”
“I've been thinking about that switched at birth thing some more,” said Buzz. “The way I see it is that if that happened, whoever you got switched with would have to be exactly the same age as you, right?”
“Well, if they moved away, you're pretty much sunk, because it's very hard to track down people who traipse all over the world, especially if you don't even know their names. If they didn't move, though, couldn't that kid who's living with your real parents be right here under your nose?”
“You mean at school?”
“Yeah, he'd be in the sixth grade, just like you, right?”
“You know, you could be on to something there, Buzz.”
“Your birthday's July fourteenth, right?”
“Well, I happen to know that there's a file in the office that has all that sort of stuff. You knowâbirthdays, addresses, allergies, and junk for every sixth grader in the school. All we have to do is take a look in there and see if anybody else has a birthday right around yours.”
“How are we going to get into the file?”
“We gotta get detention.”
” My voice cracked on the word. I've never been sent down to the office for anything in my life. I'm a major do-gooder, and I can't remember a teacher ever even looking at me sideways, let alone sending me down for detention.
“Yep. We've got to do something bad enough to get us both sent down to the office. That way one of us can search the file while the other one distracts old Mrs. Dipnower.”
The bell rang, and I went inside to French class. Buzz was taking Spanish, so I knew there was no point in trying to misbehave when I couldn't be assured that he'd get sent downstairs too. Next was a double period of Humanities. Buzz was already in his seat when I got there. He gave me a look like, “Get ready,” as I took my place across the table from him.
My teacher, Mr. Glass, really likes me. He's always reading my papers out loud to show
how well I follow directions, and on the big homework chart I'm the only one who has check-pluses after every assignment. Maybe I'm not the most creative student in the world, but my work habits are pretty impressive, I guess. It wasn't going to be easy to rub him the wrong way. Buzz doesn't work quite as hard as me, but Mr. Glass likes him too, on account of his sense of humor. Buzz can write terrific stories. Like the one about the boy who eats a thesaurus for breakfast and starts using a million synonyms whenever he talks. That was a good one. Especially when he has to go to the bathroom and he says, “It is imperative that I espy a comfort station or I shall indubitably detonate.”
We were studying Greek myths this term, so Mr. Glass started reading to us from
. I was watching Melanie Mason doodle in the margins of her notebook. She was drawing horses with long flowing manes. A total girl thing, but still they were pretty realistic looking. Meanwhile, Mr. Glass was up to
the part about the one-eyed monster and the soldiers hiding underneath the sheep. I felt Buzz kick me hard under the table. Looking up, I saw him tapping his pencil rapidly on the top of his paper. Written upside down so I could read it was:
I HAVE A PLAN
“What is it?” I mouthed to him.
FOLLOW MY LEAD
, he wrote and then tapped the message again, more insistently this time.
“Who's making that tapping sound?” bellowed Mr. Glass as he glared around the room from table to table.
For a second I thought maybe this was the extent of Buzz's big plan, detention for table tapping, but when he didn't 'fess up, Mr. Glass resumed his reading aloud, and I waited nervously for my next instructions.
Turns out that Buzz's brilliant plan was that I was supposed to pretend to punch him in the nose. He had pinched a package of ketchup from the lunchroom and filled his
hand with it. After I hit him he would smear the ketchup under his nose and off we'd go to detention for roughhousing. Well, what happened was that I couldn't seem to find the right moment to fake my punch. Buzz got antsy and tried to grab my hand and make me hit him, but his sleeve got caught on his binder ring and the ketchup squirted out all over Melanie's notebook, which sent her completely around the twist. She was steamed, but it worked out all right because I let her copy my notes while Buzz and I got sent down to the office for the second half of the period.
Once we were down there on the detention bench, Buzz whispered, “What do you want to do, snoop or distract?”
“Snoop, I guess,” I said.
So Buzz sidled over to Mrs. Dipnower's desk, and I waited until he had her attention before sliding down the bench toward the tall green file cabinets.
“You know, Mrs. Dipnower, that brown
dress you're wearing puts me in mind of the exact color of the cattails my mama and I used to pull down in Louisiana when I was little.”
I had to hold back my laughter, Buzz was laying on his southern accent something fierce. The words were dripping out of his mouth like honey and twanging around the room like old guitar strings, and much to my amazement, it seemed to be working.
“Why, Buzz, I don't believe I ever noticed your accent before. It's quite charming, really.”
“Thank you kindly, Ma'am. So anyway, as I was saying, that color is a kissin' cousin to the shade of those cattails we used to pick when Mama took a mind to making her famous tickly-stick stew. Mmm-mmm nothin' like a bowl of tickly-stick stew with a biscuit to dunk in it and a couple of deep-fat-fried crawdads chunked on top for crunch.”
I happen to know that Buzz's mom cooks regular stuff like macaroni and cheese and
meatloaf, but Buzz's story was buying me plenty of time to slip off the bench and snag the sixth-grade records file out of the bottom drawer. I slipped it into my binder and eased back onto the bench.
While Buzz launched into some ridiculous tall tale about his grandpappy (who, by the way, is a retired stockbroker) getting a 'gator baby tangled up in his long johns, I flipped through the pages until I found what I wanted. Or anyway, what I was looking for. When I'd managed to stick the file back in the drawer I signaled Buzz that our mission was accomplished, and he cut his story short by slapping his knee and laughing like a fool. Mrs. Dipnower was eating it up with a spoon, and I think she may have been disappointed when Buzz came back and joined me on the bench.
“Did you get it?” he whispered.
“What's the matter, Guy? You look like you saw a ghost.”
I handed him the sheet of paper on which I'd written the name of the one sixth grader who shared my birthday.
“Holy crow,” he said with appropriate feeling.
Just then the bell for final period rang and Mrs. Dipnower released us from our detention with a finger wagging and a wink. I was numb as we walked down the hall to the science lab. Things were starting to make sense, but I wasn't at all sure how I felt about it.