The Ogdensburg Museum of Natural History


My backyard, I guess, holds more memories about the actual people than the physical place, but it hadn’t always been that there. Matt was the father my friend Corrie. We became good friends since our parents were good friends. Matt and his wife divorced, though, when Corrie and I were in fourth grade and Matt came to live with us for four months. He slept on an air mattress on top of the pool table downstairs; the same pool table that used to be our friend’s dining room table, and now sits on the bottom of a cliff, (my friends Alex and Joe took it when my dad wanted to get rid of it and threw it over a cliff—what else was there to do for fun in Ogdensburg? We talked about it for weeks!) It was really awkward when Matt would get the kids on the weekend and they’d visit my house. It definitely took a toll on mine and Corrie’s friendship; but in the beginning, we were still close.

My dad refused to let Matt pay rent, so instead he did random things around the house—such as: fixing the shingles on the roof, cooking us dinner once or twice a week (he was a teacher at a culinary school), and cleaning out the jungle in my backyard. The project took weeks and with each tree I saw coming down, I got more and more upset. I liked my little jungle. I never ventured into it; I was only ten, but I liked to look at it and imagine what would live there, and if I could. I don’t remember much of the process of clearing out the area, but I do remember the bones.

We must have collected at least nine skeleton’s worth of bones. Corrie and I pretended they were human bones and we created a little “museum” in my garage. Thinking back, it was really disturbing and morbid, but aren’t most museums when you really think about it? We grabbed all the printer paper and markers we could find in the house and drew up little signs and descriptions explaining what or who each bone came from. We made up stories of the fake dead people and told them to our younger brothers and sisters that really freaked them out.

“This one,” I told my sister and Corrie’s sister, Kathy, holding up a tiny bone, “is from this girl in my class….Becky….who one day, was walking around in our backyard, and saw…a zombie!” Wide eyes and open mouths enticed me to keep going. Six year olds are such suckers, I remember thinking as I continued, “It was yelling ‘braaaiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnssss’ and had brains in its mouth but when he saw Emily, he was like ‘I want her braaaaaiiiinnnnnns instead, so then, he killed her and ate her brains.” I know, I know, my story telling skills are greatly approved from when I was nine, and now I can at least keep my main character’s names straight, but, hey, they were stupid six year olds and they clung to my every word.

Then Corrie told a story about a little six year old girl, Emma, who used to sleep in the room Ashley and I now sleep in. How one night she was outside walking her dog when it ran into the jungle and got eaten by a killer plant (we had just learned about Venus Fly Traps in science class that day). Then the plant was mad that it ate a dog instead of a person, so I chased after Emma and ate her, too. My sister was so scared to sleep in the house—I was too, but I wouldn’t admit it, (I still cringe when I hear the name Emma). Corrie’s story was much scarier than mine.

In all actuality, they were deer and raccoon bones, not the bones of little dead girls.


Learning How to Do It.


My first best friend was a boy, Tommy. We met in kindergarten and it was not okay—he, clearly, had cooties. And I had cooties just by being friends with him, despite my circle-circle-dot-dot anti-cootie shot. Even Mrs. Kid, my ancient kindergarten teacher with the chicken wattle neck that would haunt my dreams, knew we were an anomaly at that age. She was about 1,000 when she taught me in 1995, and as far as I know, seventeen years later, she’s still up and running. She would make Tommy and me sit on opposite sides of the table, sleep in different corners during nap time, and wouldn’t let us play army men during play time. “Go play with Stacey in the kitchen, Amanda,” she would tell me.

I wish I knew the word “sexism” as a five year old because I so would have accused her. Instead, I cried in the corner and refused to play stupid kitchen with stupid Stacey. Rather than talking about pink and baking cookies with Mommy and unicorns, I was more interested in which Power Ranger I should be for Halloween (the yellow ranger) and which dinosaur was the most deadly (Velociraptor. Tommy thought the T-Rex. Did he not know about their minuscule arm reach? I mean, come on bro.) Maybe I secretly knew it was weird, and that’s why every single one of my best friends had been guys up until I was in college. In your face Mrs. Kit!

Tommy lived behind my house in Ogdensburg. Once you walked up my hill—at that point still a jungle—and made your way down the street back there, you’d reach his house. It looks the same now that he’s gone.

Not dead. He moved when we were in third grade. It was the worst day of my life at that point. I lost my best friend to stupid Pennsylvania. To me, he was dead, it seemed. The house is the same peachy color, the red shutters, the addition jutting out awkwardly where his living room with the emerald green scratchy carpet was. The backyard where that kid Greg or Matt or Mike or someone ate that worm was the same, but smaller looking.

Tommy was the kid who taught me what sex was…kind of. We were sitting on the bottom of his bunk bed—he didn’t share the room with anyone, it was just cool for little boys to have two beds, I guess. I was jealous. I had a bunk bed, but I had to share it with my sister and I got stuck on the top despite my anxiety attacks I had every night that the puny wooden support would fail and I’d fly off and die. Anyway, Tommy’s room was painted dark blue and had a sick marine life boarder that ran around the middle of the wall. His favorite animal was the Orca whale. I liked pandas. They’re both black and white—probably how we become friends. Maybe we were fighting over the same crayon (probably not white) in kindergarten or something. I really have no clue how we became friends. I have next to no memories of my childhood that young, other than us just being friends.

Not only were we in the dark in the ocean blue room, we were under the heavy navy blue blanket. It was our little fort. We were trying to hide from his sister, Mandy (Amanda was my name). It was 1998. We were seven year old second graders who snuck behind the couch while our parents were watching Titanic on VHS (the two-tape edition). One scene sparked Tommy’s interest in particular—being a boy, even a seven year old boy—he was enthralled by not only Rose’s naked body (which I looked at and wondered if I’d look like), but also by the infamous steamy car scene.

The next day, under our ocean blanket fort, Tommy goes, “I know what sex is.”

I never even heard the word before.

“What’s that?” I asked, really curious.

“You’re not supposed to know,” he bragged, “but I know.”

“Tell me or I’ll scream!” I threatened. Fun fact: I still make that threat to get my way.

“It’s when moms and dads sleep together…with no clothes on.”

“Ew!” I screamed. Thinking that was the grossest thing a mom and dad could do.

“And…” he started. Then stopped. Toying with me.

“Oh my God what else happens?”

“And when they sleep…” he got really red at this point. His cheeks turned almost a similar shade to his strawberry blond eye brows, I thought they disappeared. “They touch their privates together!”