N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 1 0
“After the first death, there is no other.”
On the day Mimi Schechter returned to us
we became the pack of wild animals
our parents always said we’d grow up to be.
Truthfully, we hadn’t noticed she’d been gone
for six months. Plain as the brown lunch sack
she clutched in one hand, she stood out
of our way as we did what kids do while waiting
to be scooped up by a yellow school bus:
the boys chased the girls worthy of being chased,
the girls ran shrieking in terrified joy, and the rest
of us pretended not to care that no one cared
enough about us to steal our books or pull our hair.
Mimi Schechter swayed like a small tree trembling
in the wind, her eyes wide in her pale, chalky face
looking much older than her scant seven years.
She wasn’t as I remembered her, though I did not
remember her at all. Somehow she had turned
into her own grandmother, her features faded
and her eyebrows completely gone like a lesson
on the blackboard recently erased. And her hair—
it wasn’t little kid’s hair anymore. It was
too perfect, smooth and sleek and straight,
each strand turning under her chin just so
like those high-kicking Rockettes, all in a row.
It’s a wig, I thought, and as though Danny Finkelstein could read
my mind, he gave up chasing Amy Thomasello, spun
on his heels, and snatched Mimi Schechter’s wig with a whoop
and a holler, throwing his prize straight up in the air.
Mimi Schechter’s hair hovered in the blue suburban sky
blocking out the sun for a split second before it fell like a shot
bird. Another boy caught it and gave it back
to Danny who tossed it to another kid who tossed it
to another kid, while Mimi Schechter just stood there
in all her bald-headed glory and despair. The sight
was so frightening it made someone shout
“Bowling head! Bowling head!” and not one of us
had the courage to not join in. We laughed and tossed
that wig back and forth, back and forth until someone caught
sight of our school bus rounding the corner and we all fell
into an orderly line except for Mimi Schechter who ran
home weeping. “Cry Baby! Cry Baby!” we called
as each one of us walked past Mimi Schechter’s wig
sprawled on the ground like an injured animal
run over by one of our mother’s cars.
And that was that. Mimi Schechter never came back
to school and no one knew what happened
to her until two months later when the principal
made a crackly request over the PA system
after we’d said the Pledge of Allegiance,
asking for a moment of silence for our good friend
Mimi Schechter who had just that morning
died. Died! I didn’t know anyone who was dead and I ran home
bursting with the news. “Mom, you’ll never guess!” I yelled,
as if I’d received an “A” on my spelling test.
My mother was in the kitchen, tethered to the phone
when I announced, “Mimi Schechter died!” and then collapsed
in a fit of giggles. She hung up quickly and stared
at her beast of a daughter, now doubled over and howling
with laughter like an unhinged hyena. I deserved
the slap she gave me on behalf of Mimi Schechter
Mimi Schechter who deserved a little respect from me
Mimi Schechter whose tear-streaked face I still see
Mimi Schechter, my first death, November 18th, 1963.