About The Journal: “jmww is a weekly journal of writing publishing the best in fiction, poetry, flash, essays, interviews, and reviews (or a close approximation).”
A Reminder About Me: I have no idea how a dirtbag like me got accepted there, I’m just honored as hell that they shook me out of the pile, dusted me off, and gave me a shot.
Special thanks to the illustrious Alle C. Hall, Senior Nonfiction Editor at jmww and a stunningly good writer, for her excellent guidance, ideas, and expert honing in editing this piece. You can check out her blog here: About Childhood
As always, thanks to all of you for being so awesome. You’re all so supportive and kind and funny and I can’t thank you enough for hanging out with me here every week! More published work coming next week!
And here’s the obligatory Nicolas Cage photo. Because.
I threw away my old Doc Martens combat boots after 27 years of ownership. As I pitched them into the trash and they clunked towards the bottom of the can, they yelled, “Do they have a steel toooooooooooooooe?!” on their way down, because after so many years of excellent service, this was unfortunately the memory I associated most with them. Because teenage boys.
Oh! Do tell, Myrtle!
I remember the day I got my Doc Martens in 1992. Grunge was now all the rage, and no teenage grunge queen was complete without a pair of Doc Martens to go with her sundress, tights, and flannel shirt. They were all I wanted in life that year, and I begged my mother to buy them for me.
Things had finally started to turn around in our household, our roof had been fixed up after Hurricane Andrew (thanks to insurance) and Mom had landed a better-paying job. Plus, it was just me and her left in the house since my sisters had both moved out. We were no longer destitute and there was even a little left over for spending.
I told her I needed a new pair of shoes, so we hit the mall. Just a few years before, besides my yearly pair of $15 sneakers from Fayva the discount shoe store, my two sisters and I shared a single pair of black flats that we fought over mercilessly.
Three teenage girls, one pair of dress shoes, you can imagine the carnage. You could make ten full wigs out of the amount of hair we pulled out of each other’s heads over those black flats.
As Mom and I stood in the shoe store, she flipped the Doc Martens boot over to see the price tag and said, “Ha! $120?!! Not in your wildest dreams, kid!”
She started to walk away, so I had to jump on her to present my proposition.
“Okay, okay, I know this seems nuts, but just listen to me! If you buy me these boots, I promise I will wear them every single day for the rest of high school. For two years!”
She said, “You have almost another two years of high school, and you’re telling me, you’re promising me, that you will wear these stupid, ugly things every day? EVERY day?”
I nodded my head like a maniac, “Yes! I promise! Every single day!”
The next day, I swaggered into school in my black sundress, red plaid tights, and my brand-new Doc Martens. I felt like the coolest mofo on the planet – until the first teenage boy saw me.
“Nice Docs,” he said, pursing his lips and folding his arms. “I bet you got them at the mall. Do they have a steel toe?”
(Like he got his Doc Martens trying to fight the Krauts back from the border of Poland in World War II.)
I looked down and said, “No? Why would I need a steel toe?”
He laughed, “Heh. Well, mine have a steel toe, so…”
Soooooo…what? What the hell did I care if his OR my Doc Martens had a steel toe?
“I’m just saying only poseurs wear Docs that don’t have a steel toe.”
He walked away, still laughing.
I had never spoken to this guy in my life, and we didn’t even know each other’s names – but he felt compelled to walk up and insult me.
Were we doing construction work there in the 11th grade, where steel-toed boots would be the only thing standing between me and a pile of broken toes?
As it would turn out, in the two years that I wore my Doc Martens to school EVERY DAY JUST LIKE I’D PROMISED, this was an unsolicited question I was asked by teenage boys on a weekly basis. I got so tired of having the steel toe conversation, I considered just writing, “No Steel Toe” across the top of one boot in white-out and “Poseur” on top of the other to save myself the time and aggravation.
It’s so funny, too, looking back on the whole thing and realizing what stupid ass hats those guys were. My shoes bothered them so much that they felt the need to barge up to me, a stranger, to interrogate me about them and then try to make me feel like they were better than me?
I don’t think I’m better than anyone except Melissa’s mom, and everybody knows that.
They acted like they had somehow “earned” their combat boots as teenage boys and I was merely trying to game their system. Like they were wearing them for actual combat when I was just wearing them for fashion, even though it was the 90s and we were all just wearing them for fashion.
And what are we even talking about here? Did they think I wasn’t cool enough to be into grunge? Is there even such a thing as a person who isn’t cool enough to be into grunge?
I present this photograph of Jeff Ament and Mike McCready from Pearl Jam, as Exhibits A through Z in my case:
If you’re reading this and realize you were one of these steel-toe jerks back in the day, I want to impress upon you how obnoxious I thought you were then, and still think you are today.
I hope your closet is filled with nothing but ill-fitting, moose-knuckle khakis, GREG.
I hope you have a neverending hangnail that catches on your pants every time you put your hand in your pocket, JASON.
I hope it burns just a little every time you stop peeing, like you had to cut the stream short even though you didn’t actually cut the stream short, MATT.
I hope you have the short stream burn, Matt.
Years later, I got a job at that same shoe store so I could get the employee discount on further Doc Martens purchases, but I had to quit after my first day because of herpes.
Nearly all of our family pets growing up were found in a ditch. In the rain.
There were so many pets found in ditches in the rain, you would think our neighborhood was a Serbian battlefield in World War I.
Now, it’s important to know that “ditch in the rain” was really secret code for “not actually a ditch in the rain”.
“Ditch in the rain” could mean many, many things. It could mean that a guy outside the grocery store had a box of kittens with the word “Free” written on the side of it.
It could mean that your friend’s mom told her she had to get rid of her pet rabbit because the new baby was allergic.
Most often it meant that your friend from a few blocks over had a cat that had kittens and her father told her if she didn’t find homes for all of them by the time they were eight weeks old that he’d take them to the pound.
I’ve gotta tell you, as sad a story as the truth may have been, it wasn’t usually going to get the job done with my mother. If you had the audacity to show up at home one evening with YET ANOTHER kitten, that kitten better have one hell of a backstory. You damn well better had found that kitten in a ditch in the rain.
This kitten? This kitten was no ordinary unwanted kitten. Hell no! This was a lone, abandoned kitten with no support system, no one to care for it.
This was a wet, orphaned, shivering cold kitten wandering the night alone, frightened and helpless.
This kitten had been through hell, and all it wanted was to be warm and dry and held. Isn’t that what we all want? Just to be held and safe? Isn’t this kitten really all of us?
This kitten was part of the huddled masses, yearning to be free as its Trans-Atlantic ship approached Ellis Island in the 1800s.
The Saddest Kitten in The World.
As Mom said, “Nope. No more. I am not taking in one more damn kitten! End of discussion!” you’d hold it up to her face until it let out a teeny, tiny kitten meow.
Then the promise went as follows. Let’s all say it together:
“Please let me just take care of her tonight, and I promise I’ll find a home for her tomorrow morning!”
This is why it’s important to bring the ditch rain kitten home in the evening. If you brought it home at 10am, you’d have plenty of daylight hours left to pretend you were trying to find it a home.
But it’s late! It’s dark out! This kitten needs to spend the night!
So without fail, within a few hours and when you were getting ready for bed, you’d peek around the corner from the hallway in your Rainbow Brite nightgown to see your mother holding the kitten on her chest, petting its tiny head with her thumb and whispering, “It’s okay, little one. It’s okay.”
Then you knew that kitten was IN.
There was no way that kitten was leaving for at least the rest of its natural life, and it would be lovingly buried in the backyard eighteen years later after a long and happy life.
The only other way you acquired pets was when your own existing ditch rain pets gave birth. This was because most people in our neighborhood were really, really, tragically terrible about spaying and neutering.
(As an adult, I used to trap the strays in my old neighborhood and take them to the nonprofit vet clinic in our area and have them spayed or neutered, dewormed, vaccinated, and microchipped for fifty dollars a pop, but fifty bucks to anyone back then in the neighborhood may as well have been a thousand. It’s terrible, I know, but it’s the way it was. I’m such a big supporter of low cost spay and neuter clinics, it absolutely guts me when I think of the animal situation in our neighborhood when we were kids.)
So when you were a kid and your own cat had kittens, you had to sort of work the ol’ “ditch in the rain” in reverse.
Your mom would say, “You said you would find homes for all of these kittens!”
Then you would just answer, “I went door to door ALL DAY asking if anyone wanted one! I even put up a sign down at the pond!”
You did none of these things, of course.
“I don’t know what else to do! I think we may have to just keep them!”
Then she would say, “No. Absolutely not. End of discussion.”
Then you would scoop up all of the kittens, hold them towards her face in a chorus in teeny, tiny kitten meows and say, “What should I do? Put them all in the ditch?? And I heard the weather man on the news say it was going to rain tonight!”