Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sonny Lubin and Me

Sonny Lubin is a nice, decent young man. Now.

But as a child he was nothing short of a raging, temperamental brat in coveralls (his parents’ words, not mine).

One who could be found engaged in a myriad of naughty acts at any given moment. Smacking his baby sister on the back as she struggled to transport Cheerios from sticky hands to her open lips. Dancing and screaming at the top of his lungs, pumping his little legs furiously and waving his arms to block Sesame Street’s latest episode, never budging no matter how much I pleaded.

And stealing my favorite book in the entire world, the slim red one with the textured cover underneath its smooth protective jacket. The one titled, “Who Sunk the Boat?” that illustrated the story of farm animal friends who collectively decided to take a lazy lap around the lake in their rowboat. As each animal lowered his heavy body into the vessel, each sunk the boat a bit more. The chubby pig, the overfed horse, you get the idea. Then, a mouse jumped atop the crowded pile, and with one great crack, the boat snapped and bottomed-out.

I loved that book. I begged my parents to read it to me before I was tucked in most nights, and I always brought it with me to Sonny’s house. Because my mom was friends with Sonny’s mom and my dad was friends with Sonny’s dad, and they had grown-up dinners as a foursome. And while our parents sloshed wine in cheap stemware, we were to play. So I brought my book over (because Sonny was a terror, his playing was rough, fraught with shoves and crying, tantrums and yelling) to alleviate my dread.

Sonny knew this. He knew I loved that book, that I brought it for protection, so that when he ripped up rugs I could thumb through the pages instead of attending to him, changing my mind each time regarding the culprit of the sunken boat (at first I thought it was the mouse, but then again, maybe it was the fat cat’s fault before him, and the mouse was just a scapegoat to blame as the boat was sinking anyhow).

Sonny had gone after the book before, the reason I even knew of the cover’s texture was because he had stolen the jacket and tossed it into the pool. But after it was fished out and put back on, I kept the book close, and his parents warned him to stay away, so for the most part, he took out his anger on the walls, my stuffed animals, and his mother’s shoes.

But one day, it happened.

He threw a fit (his mother infuriated him by insisting that he finish his vegetables) and when I was fastening the Velcro on my purple sneakers, he did the unthinkable.

He stole the book. And he ripped the binding, he crumpled the illustrated pages, he threw it across the room where it hit a lamp with a sickening thud.

At four years old, I had never felt such pain. I couldn’t read the book in its entirety, but I had each page and image memorized, I knew each animal by heart. In that moment, I knew something else in my heart---sheer agony. I wailed so loud and uncharacteristically, that my parents hurried me home. I cried hard into my mother’s shoulder, slobbering on her silk top. I sniffed, a liquid pool in the center of my room, and even today I remember the rough grain of the carpet against my cheek as I sobbed.

At dinner that evening, as I moodily pushed macaroni and cheese from side to side on a plastic plate, my dad told what he would do to teach Sonny a lesson, if only he was a little boy, too. He’d give Sonny a wedgie that would leave him hanging from a low branch. If that didn’t work, he’d clock him. But my dad was not a little boy. And neither was I. The only little boy was Sonny, and he got everything he ever wanted. And it seemed it would continue to be that way.

Not long after, I found myself back at Sonny’s. He had spent the better part of a week in the living room corner, supposedly thinking about what he’d done, to me and regarding a few other acts he had taken against his sister. His parents promised reformation. So I was there again, a forced sleepover since my mom was away on business and my dad had a very early morning meeting.

I stood in a blue bathroom and brushed my teeth with the door open.

The night before, I had also stood in the blue bathroom and brushed my teeth with the door open. Sonny was learning the first step to becoming a man; how to urinate standing up. And he wanted to practice. So he did, while I was there.

I yelled at him that he was disgusting, to never do that in front of me again. Not only was it shocking to me that he would expose himself, but because he did so while staring at me obscenely and sticking his tongue out, rather than affixing his eyes on the john, he teetered back and forth while he did it, precariously slipping this way and that, inching ever closer to me and the blue sink.

The following morning, I was determined not to let him get away with it. Not again. Not after the book. Not after I warned him the night before. So when he came into the bathroom, I managed through a mouthful of foam, “You better not.”

But he did. He lifted the lid on the toilet, he pulled his pants down and he started to go. And as I stood there, my face as red as my broken book, and my tiny fists clenched, ready to fight, not flight, this time.

Sonny teetered with one hand steadying him, and finished doing what he had set out to do. He took a moment to proudly beam at his work, and then at me. His version of a victory dance included a little jump.

But with that jump, with his hands up and his pants down, he lost his footing. He veered forward and back, and to steady himself from falling to the floor, he reached out his hand and gripped my shoulder to right his balance.

When his fingers touched me, I couldn’t help it. I shouted, now at the top of my lungs,I told you not to!”

In one slowed-down, underwater motion, I swung hard, my tiny fist of fury finding Sonny Lubin, caught literally with his pants down, square in the nose.

For all of Sonny’s bullying, for all of Sonny’s balancing, he fell to the ground in a heap, screaming bloody murder, as I turned back to the sink in the blue bathroom, spit and rinsed, put my toothbrush neatly away, and then ran like hell.

I got in trouble. My parents were called. His picked Sonny off of the floor, dried his tears, pulled up his monkey-patterned pajama bottoms. But even as his father took my hand and sentenced me to the couch for a time-out, I saw a tiny glimmer, the smallest of smirks at his mouth.

Same as on his mother’s face as she sternly asked me what the heck did I think I was doing. Same again when my parents came to pick me up, and as I sat in the backseat of our Volvo, thumbing again through the torn pages of my favorite book.

I don’t recall much about Sonny after that. My parents tell me we were together there plenty of times before we moved away, but I don’t remember a single one. What I do remember is no more tantrums, no more Sonny in front of the T.V., not much of Sonny at all. He left me alone, he minded his business with his sister, and he grew up to be a very nice young man.

One who claims not to remember this story, even at a recent wedding, where my dad repeated to him, as his mother and father howled in laughter...


themarina said...

It's funny how we "forget" little things about growing up. He should be thankful that you taught him that little lesson or lord knows where he'd be today.

debo said...

Something tells me your experience w/ Sonny was a crossroads in his young life. I'm guessing he now often finds himself humming showtunes and clad in his grandmother's underwear.

Anonymous said...

That's a hillarious story. I love that his dad had a smirk on his face when he was punishing you.

mamak said...

Every girl should experience a Sonny .. to make them tougher. And every Sonny should experience someone like you ... to make him think twice!
Great story, having two brothers ... I can completely see him standing there, pants around the ankles, ready to fall!

Serena said...

That's an awesome story!

joy said...

Your story had me completely engrossed. I felt your pain when your book was ruined, furrowed my brown in indignation as he shook his tiny wanger at you, and cheered when you socked him.

Hooray underdogs!

AmourArmor said...

Hmmm...Friends of my parents had a daughter, who use to tease me and bully me around. One day, I had, had enough, and while she was standing rinsing off her horse after a ride, I hosed her.

From head to toe and enjoyed every second of it.


gonzodoc said...

Quite entertaining. Unlike your other readers I was the Sonny in your story; supposedly I used to bite people on quite a regular basis. Then one day I was at my cousin’s house and one of her friends bit me back. As the story goes I never bit anyone again.

Hattigrace said...

What a story!! Maturing is a wonderful thing. What if we were locked forever into childishness??

pookalu said...

i think we should be locked forever in our childhood, sometimes. or rather, many of my friends still act like children...

at least sonny learned his lesson!

Cheetarah1980 said...

Children like Sonny are the reason I don't like kids. Funny story. I liked it a whole bunch!