Above the Mark: Part II

Today in class Mr. Martello told us all about Margaret Fuller. How she was born in Massachusetts in 1810 to a lawyer/politician father, who’d been disappointed she had not been born a boy. Yet instead of sending Margaret into the kitchen to cook with her mother, or out in the yard to beat-out the rugs, wash clothes and clean glass lanterns; Timothy raised his daughter in his den, homeschooling and educating her with a laborious course study.

At three-in-a-half-years-old Margaret was reading and writing. At four, she knew arithmetic. Before she reached five, she knew English and Latin grammar. Timothy brought his daughter up to read all sorts of books from ancient history, political philosophy, travel, biographies, novels, all the great European authors and playwrights, and so on.

He had told Margaret, “To excel in all things should be your constant aim. Mediocrity is obscurity.”

At age ten, Margaret was learning French. At eleven, she was studying Italian and attending dance school with an exhilarating sense of how alive she really was.  

            In the forty years of her short-lived life, Margaret Fuller excelled as an author, editor, journalist, literary critic, educator, advocate to the Transcendentalists, social reporter, women’s rights activist, and political revolutionist.  


            It was Friday night and I was stuck home with a list of chores my mother left for me to tend to. Meanwhile my brothers were binge-drinking at the pep-rally for their big game tomorrow. And my parents were out to dinner with their church friends like they were every third Friday of the month.

I was sitting at the table with my laptop, filling out college applications. My top three choices were: Berkeley, Stanford and Harvard – all three having a concentration in American Literature after 1865. I knew I was ahead of the game, only being in the tenth grade, but I didn’t see the harm in starting the process early. I had the grades to get into any college I wanted. At least that’s what Miss Sherman, my guidance counselor had told me.

            My parents, on the other hand, said they expected me to stay home after graduating high school. Unlike my brothers who were going to North Eastern – all three of them. My parents wanted me to attend community college, get an associate’s degree, then meet a nice guy and marry him. I balled my eyes out right then and there. I told them I wanted to go away to school. They told me, if I left, I’d be on my own. They would offer me no financial help for tuition, or for a place to live.

But I had a plan. And other than that, Miss Sherman said she’d help too. She’d been really ticked-off when I told her my parents intended to marry me off at twenty. She’d said, in this day and age? That’s ludicrous. Then her and I sat at the computer and began researching all the different types of grants I could apply for. She said I could probably get a scholarship.

            I glanced at the clock on the microwave: 7:30. I expected my parents’ home after nine. That gave me plenty of time. I slapped my laptop shut and made my way up the stairs to their bedroom. First thing I did was flip the top of their mattress over. I was hoping to find the thick envelope full of cash I’d been skimming off-the-top over the past several months. I only took a little. Fifty dollars here and there. But this time, when I flipped the mattress over, there was no envelope. The mattress plopped down against the bed. Where could the money be? I began poking around their dressers, looking under piles of folded clothes, rummaging through their sock drawers, their underwear drawers. I still couldn’t find anything. 

            I opened the wooden chest below the window. It was full of stacks of photo albums and some clothes. A pair of cut-off jeans with a red heart stitched on the side and the name Nellie sewn in the middle was folded on top of one particular photo album. I reached in, pulling out both the album and shorts. 

I knew Nellie was the sister my mother had lost years ago. I pulled off my jeans, slipped the shorts on to see if they fit. They were a little loose around the waist, but I kept them on anyway. I sat beside the chest and opened the photo album, which was full of pictures of my Aunt Nellie. Her and my mother looked an awful lot like twins. I had to look real close to make sure I could tell them apart.   

            Aunt Nellie also looked like a ton of fun. A whole page was full of pictures of her and my mother in flashy scarves, puckering and posing like models into the camera. I peeled a picture off the page to get a closer look. Was this really my mother? I’d never seen her smile that way before. Her lips were red, her eyes wide open, her grin stretched ear to ear. I wondered if she’d be a different mother, a better one if my Aunt Nellie were still alive. 

            I continued flipping through the pages, stopping when I got to Grandma Ethel. It was way before the lung cancer caught up to her, and she still had a head full of salt-and-pepper hair. In the picture, she was sitting at the kitchen table with a cigarette in her hand, her face scrunched into a sourpuss. She looked like a real bitch. That’s probably where my mother gets it

            I smacked the album shut and stood to change back into my own jeans. No sooner had I slid them up my legs, I noticed another picture face down on the floor. I leaned over and picked it up. It was a photo of the six of us at the shore. I’d forgotten all about the times my family and I had spent at the beach; we rented a house there every summer. The picture was of us sitting together on a picnic table, barbecuing outside by the water. I’d been sitting on my father’s lap, eating a piece of corn. My brothers sat beside my mother. I remembered being so annoyed with her that day; my brothers being ten-years-old and still, my mother cut their chicken into tiny squares for them to eat. Not much has changed, I thought, as I tossed the photo onto the floor.

            I kicked the chest with my foot, threw myself onto the bed, and screamed into a pillow. I sat up and threw the pillow at the dresser. I jumped off of the bed and ran over to it when I spotted my mother’s jewelry box. If my parents wanted to be sneaky and hide their money from me, I’d just take something else. 

Inside the box I found a row of rings. Slipping one on each of my fingers, I held my hands out in front of me to see which one I liked the most. The silver one with the coral-pink background. The white face of the woman in the foreground. If I remembered correctly, it was the ring Grandma Ethel had given my mother in the hospital before she died. My mother used to wear this ring all the time. She slept with it on, even showered with it. Then one day, out of nowhere, it was no longer on her finger. I thought she might have lost it.

Well, here it is. And it’s mine now. My mother would be devastated when she couldn’t find it. 

            Tomorrow after the game, I’ll have one of my pathetic brothers drop me off in town. I’ll have to pretend to be getting a manicure or something, but then, once he’s drives out of site, I’ll switch directions and walk straight to the pawnshop.