The Experimental Child: an Ode to All First-borns (My Mom Totally Made Me Write This)

A real, actual conversation had with my mother this very evening:

Me: And how is So-and-So?

Mom: She’s great!  Happy!  Very, very good.  And, you know, when you get a chance you should really reach out to her kids.  They’re pretty cool.  You would like them.

Me: You know I don’t have a close relationship with … anyone.

Mom: I know, but Stephanie is so neat and Terri is so much fun and Anna, well … she’s just fucked-up, but still …

Me: It’s because Anna’s the first-born, Mom.  The first-born is always fucked-up.  Like me.  Which is why I don’t have any friends.  I’m a fucked-up, friendless, first-born.

Mom: You are not!

Me: I am, Mom.  I’m the Experimental Child.  Friendless.  It’s pretty much like being a leper in Old Testament times.  But with more limbs and skin and stuff.  Or were the lepers mostly in the New Testament?

Mom: I don’t know, Honey.  Does it matter?

Me: What if the lepers have a cocktail party and they think about inviting me but then they don’t because I’ve gotten their historical origin wrong and then people hear about it and then they, literally, start saying things like, ‘The lepers don’t even want to hang out with you!’  That would be just the worst, Mom!  That would be, like, social suicide!

Mom: But, Honey, you don’t have a social circle.  Social suicide would be impossible.

Me: I know.

Mom: We did make most of our mistakes with you, though …

Me: Yeah, for like seven years before Sister came along.

Mom: (laughing) Yeah, like the time … I’ll never forget!  The time that man came by with the pony and we had your picture taken and you had that terrible face on you!

Me: Yeah, just like that.  The man, the pony, and my terrible face.

Mom: (laughing still)  But you didn’t always look like that, you know!


Here is a picture of my terrible face on that random man’s pony:



And here’s another one, but with a hat.  Same terrible face, but accessorized:



And here’s why my face was so terrible:

Once Upon a Time in a Land called Eagle Rock, California there was a little, red-headed, first-born child named Christina.  She lived with her mom and dad in a little house with a wrought-iron fence in the middle of Los Angles County.  And, one day, for some reason, there was a random man walking down the street with a pony.  The man also happened to have a cowboy (or, cowgirl) costume just the right size for a small child.  The man went door-to-door offering to take pictures of children, in the costume, on his pony.  I imagine he charged somewhere in the neighborhood of about two dollars for his services.  Christina’s dad might tell you that it was more like ten dollars because he always likes to class things up, but who really remembers?  The camera, that’s who.  The camera remembers.

And so to Christina’s parent’s door he came a’knockin’.  And he was all like, “You wanna’ picture of your kid on my pony?  She can wear this costume.  Look!  I’ve got a red hat!”

And my parents were all like, “Hells yeah we do!”

And he was all like, “It will cost you two dollars.”

And they were all like, “Well, we’ve got some laundry quarters that we can give you.”

And he was all like, “Word.”

And they were all like, “Here’s our only child, Strange Man Walking Down the Street with a Pony and Some Small-sized Western Wear in the Middle of the City!  Get her onto that pony and into that costume!  Take our girl’s picture!  Yeah, just take her from our arms and prop her on up there!”

And so onto the pony little Christina went.

Fortunately, she looked really good dressed up as a twee cowgirl in a red hat.  But you can see in her eyes that something was slightly amiss.

Because, I imagine, that I was all like, “Who is this man and why did my parents give me to him?  This vest is totes itchy and this pony seems a bit wobbly.  Like, he might fall over any minute.  It’s hot out here.  And we’re in the middle of the city!  Why is this man walking down the street with a pony in urban Los Angeles?!  Mom, can you please just give this pony some water and an apple and, Dad, can we just go down to the taco truck, have some dinner, and call it a night?”

But, no.  No, they couldn’t.  Because what’s better than a picture of your kid on a random pony taken by a random man?  Especially when you live in Eagle Rock, CA?  It’s not like we got out to the countryside very often.

To be fair, it was the ’70’s and things were different back then.  Like the Oil Crisis.  And professional athletes without steroids.  And Archie Bunker.

I think this is a fair representation of when my fucked-up-edness began, as seen through the eye of a camera.  Right there, on that random guy’s pony, in the middle of urban Los Angeles.  I mean, you can see it in the proof.  It’s like I’m saying, Sure, I’ll pose for you but I’ll never trust anyone ever again.  I don’t even like this hat.  It pushes my bangs down too far.  You know that my mom cut these bangs for me, right?  And I’m only putting my chin on my hand like this because I’m thinking about how I’ll get my revenge 38 years from now.  Also, if you ever come to my house again, Random Man, I will cut you.  Leave the pony, take the camera.

You know, I love my parents.  Beyond words.  And I have pretty much always felt safe with them, loved by them.  But it seems pretty clear that something went really wrong in my formation on that day with the strange man, the pony, and the weird costume. Which might explain why Halloween always causes me a great amount of anxiety.  And why I think that horses are beautiful only from a distance.  And why I never trust cameras.

Here’s another picture taken of me a year later.  Yeah, even in the arms of my gorgeous mother, I’m still angry and confrontational toward the lens:


And that’s why I don’t have close relationships.

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