My mother told me, “Clovis Clayton Holiday, you gonna be the death of me with the way you do the things you do.”
My father instructed me, “Clovis, son, sometimes you have to go along to get along, you understand?”
My older sister, Nora, scolded me, “Clo, Negro, you can’t just go and do anything you want to do. You got to follow the rules.”
Nelda, my younger sister, declared, “Clo, You, too weird to be my brother. I disown your Black ass.”
My kindergarten teacher, Ms. Rockwell, said, “Clovis, we color the pictures, not the space outside of the pictures, understand, dear?”
I never meant to cause a mess or keep up distress. My grandmother Bea says I got one foot in this world and the other foot in something else entirely.
I don’t think so. I think I’m almost as normal as anybody else. There are just some little things that I maybe do differently.
On the first day of kindergarten, there was this very black girl who was not Black with a long braid down her back.
She was dressed in white with a white bow at the end of her plait.
The black girl had huge deer eyes, and she almost saw everything.
But she didn’t see me coming until I took her hand as her mother released her other hand.
We skipped across the room, holding hands.
We stood on a box. We looked out the window, and I pointed to a cat that had trapped a mouse in a corner.
The frantic mouse ran to the right, and the cat swatted him back. The mouse jumped to the left and got battered again. The cat winked at us and snapped up the mouse with one bone-crunching bite. The cat blinked one eye again as he trotted away with the mouse in his mouth.
We were still holding hands as we exchanged looks of horror and wonder.
She said something serious in a language I had never heard before. I listened carefully. I repeated what she said. She smiled brightly. I returned her smile even brighter. She said something else. I repeated that. We kissed each other as her mother snatched her away.
Her mother stormed out of the school, dragging my new friend and screaming that her daughter had been assaulted. I never saw my one kiss wife again, but she never abandoned me.
My mother said, “What did you do to that little tar baby? What the hell did you do, Clovis?”
I thought about it carefully before I answered. “I think we got married.”
On that first day of school, I had to see the school psychologist.
“Clovis, I’m Dr. Rainwood. Would you please tell me what happened?”
I told the doctor what happened.
The doctor asked me five or six other questions.
My mother waited impatiently outside the doctor’s office.
During a pause in our conversation, I asked the doctor how many times had she repeated her life.
Dr. Rainwood blushed, pressed her hand to her chest. A single tear rolled out of her right eye.
Dr. Rainwood didn’t ask any more questions. She told my mother that I was absolutely normal. But that she wanted to see me again in a week.
I saw that same cat watching me every day of the first week of school.
I saw doctor Rainwood a week later. We had milk and cookies. She asked me if I could release her.
I shrugged, listened to my one kiss wife, and said, “You don’t need me to do that. You can do it yourself.”
She hugged me and kissed the top of my head. I never saw her again, but she was always with me.
About halfway through kindergarten, we got a substitute teacher, Mr. Kent, who was hoarding our graham crackers. Ms. Rockwell had always given us graham crackers and milk for snacks. Mr. Kent gave us some milk but never graham crackers.
Reggie Garcia, and Helen Goldstone, created a disturbance to distract Mr. Kent while Robert Lee Lewis, and I liberated the graham crackers and distributed them to everyone.
My father was upset when he had to come to school the next day to meet with the principal. He laughed out loud when he understood what had happened. He hugged me in front of the principal. My father told me he was proud of me.
He was less proud of me when he learned that I had kissed Reggie, Helen, and Robert Lee on the lips in celebrating our heist.
I told my crime partners that we were all married now and responsible for each other.
I think they got it.
On the first day of school in the first grade, at the first recess, I stood up and yelled, “No recess!” My spouses joined in, reaffirming “No Recess!”
Our teacher, Mr. Potter, went to get the principal.
I said, “In our class, no one will ever fail. The good students will help the poor students, and we will use lunchtime and recess to help each other.”
My mother was not happy to be called again to the principal’s office. But she supported me. “Mr. Principal, you got too many kids failing. You should be open to any help you can get. If these kids want to help each other, I think it helps us all.”
On our way home, my mother said, “Damn, Clovis, I hope you didn’t kiss everybody in that class.”
I did. I mean, we all kissed each other.
My father said, “Boy, you going to wear your lips out before you’re eight years old.”
Nora said I was making her look bad because the kids in her junior high were talkin’ about my “escapades.”
Nelda said, “I don’t want to go to that kindergarten anymore. Everybody calls me the graham cracker gangsters’ sister.”
My grandmother said, “Keep an eye on that boy. Somebody’s going to nail him to a cross.”
On the first day of the sixth grade, the cat waited on the school steps for me. He was twitching his tail and grinning at me.
My doe-eyed wife was feverishly praying for me.
Dr. Rainwood was pleading with me to do something that I couldn’t understand.
My other spouses were in a choir singing, “We can’t help you now.”
I stepped into the school. I was a mouse cornered by the cat. Two children were looking out a window at us. I don’t—
Eyewitness News reported, “The discovery of the ravaged body of a twelve-year-old student at Frederick Douglass Elementary School has stunned and shocked the city of San Juan, California. According to school administrators and his fellow students, Clovis organized students to eliminate test failures in his class in his five years at Frederick Douglass.”
Clovis’ grandmother said to no one in particular, “I never seen so much damn kissing at a funeral in my life. That boy sure kept up a mess. I’ll miss him.”
Clovis’ parents and siblings said, “AMEN!”
At the graveyard, weeks after the funeral, Reggie Garcia asked Helen Goldstone and Robert Lee Lewis if Clovis was really gone.
Helen said, “I don’t know. Anything is possible with Clovis.”
Robert Lee said, “It would be sick if he came back as the cat.”
The three turned to look at the cat staring at them from the top of Clovis’ headstone.