The woman who lived next door to us when I was a little girl had shaved eyebrows with fake ones painted on about three-quarters of an inch above them. Thinking about it now, squeamish kid I was, it must have freaked me out. But nobody ever said anything about it, least of all my mother, so I never said anything about it either.
I’m sure my mother had an opinion about the eyebrows, but she kept it to herself. The woman with the shaved eyebrows was Jewish too, I think, so it must have been doubly disturbing that this person, this responsible female adult, in charge of young children, and a co-religionist, could come to her door every day looking only slightly less freakish than Marcel Marceau.
I had nothing to really be afraid of in my young life, but that didn’t stop me from being afraid of everything. My neighbors on the other side were Irish Catholic and their house was darker their ours and had unfamiliar smells. But what really creeped me out were the crucifixes. My friend Maura had one in her room, right over her bed. When I played there, I must have felt like a character in the DiVinci Code going deep underground with the Priory of Sion.
My mother tells me that when I was very little, before Maura’s family moved in, there was a family living in that house that raised Dalmations, and further (the story goes) I adored the Dalmations, of which there were many. But this can’t possibly be true. Because for as long as I remember, I was terrified of dogs.
I wasn’t on such friendly terms with Roman Numerals either. Or public bathrooms. And nothing terrified me more than a slumber party invitation. Losing consciousness around other children simply invited humiliation.
There really was only one dangerous thing in our neighborhood and that was the railroad track that ran through the woods behind the houses that faced the bottom of our cul-de-sac. Now that I live in a neighborhood with commuter trains, with train tracks everywhere, it doesn’t seem like the grave danger that my mother painted it to be. But it was the one inviolable law of my childhood. You didn’t go anywhere near them.
Then one blizzard, when the whole world of northern Virginia had turned white and all children were chomping at the bit to go outside and play, my father walked the railroad tracks. Some kid in the neighborhood had gotten sick and needed medicine and my dad, with another dad or maybe two, walked down the tracks to big chain drug store about a mile away. Walked the railroad tracks.. This journey took on the burnished glow of Legend, as if to get to the drugstore my father had had to slay fire-breathing dragons.