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2003-06-06 | 12:35 a.m.

Something happened, a shouting match with another parent, and I begin to imagine another life for myself.

We hold hands, Felony and I, all the way home from the dance studio. I am crying. I tell her that my crying doesn't mean that I am sad. It means that I'm mad. I always cry when I'm really angry. I tell her, "I will ALWAYS stand up for you, and I will ALWAYS protect you." She looks at me with that steady, sorrowful gaze, and I think she believes me.

Her eyes are deep-sea blue and mermaid green. Her skin is irresistible. She is seven years old, and when she's upset she hews to me and burrows into my skirt. I want to tear her rival to shreds with my teeth.

Bastard was yelling at me right over her head. Insinuated that she was the one causing trouble. Fucking bastard. Harder to have an argument when you're thinking fuck you, you fucking fuckhead but being careful not to swear.

I try to be reasonable, try to explain, but he doesn't want to hear it. He just wants to yell at me. Glare at me as I storm back into the studio.

"Okay, then let's go talk to Donna right now!" I yell. But no, no, no. He just wants to yell at me, roll his eyes, scare me. He wants to scare me, but I don't show him any fear. Afterward, the more I think about it, the more afraid I get. I'm afraid of him; I'm afraid of everything that moves, every hint of violence that comes my way. Spiders and sharp knives and broken glass and irate bastard parents are all out to get me, and I want to burrow into my own mother's lap. Beyond conscious thought, I want my father, Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Ryan, Jack Bauer, Beowulf, John Henry, Indiana Jones, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Boromir (especially Boromir), eight Hell's Angels and a California Grizzly Bear. But in the moment, I yell right back at him, like a man.

I bet that's what he thinks. I bet he has a lot of choice things to say about me, to his wife, who never raises her voice.

Donna said she would call them, but what good will it do? The kid is a bully and she gets it from her father. They're not going to put a stop to it. The last thing he yelled at me was, "If you don't like it, get out of the class!" To which I hurled back, "NO!"

To leave would be to admit defeat. It would mean letting them win. Duff has told me he doesn't like how I'm so quick to quit something that isn't working out. But what's the alternative? Spend another year putting up with this horrible, beastly child and her ignorant campesino father?

He is mouthing words at me and I roll down my window. I'm not ignoring him. "You got a problem?" he says. I don't hesitate.

"Yeah, I got a problem. Raquel shoved Felony and I talked to the teacher about it," I say. Then he's off and running. Nothing makes sense. He says I'm always complaining and he knows everything I've ever said on the subject. He says I called Felony "delicate," then "no, what was the word, oh I know, sensitive," and I'm wondering what the hell is he talking about? On and on and on it goes, with me firing back, until he winds up with the bit about shutting up or getting out of the class.

I tell him I'm just standing up for my kid, which is the same thing he would do. "No I wouldn't!" he insists. "What?" I shriek. "Don't be an idiot!" Then he widens his eyes like Carol Burnett doing Norma Desmond and mutters some sort of threat that hinges on if I were to actually call him an idiot. This is supposed to scare me. I'm supposed to think he's just barely holding back his temper.

Bleh, fuck you, little man. Let's go.

I tell Donna what happened, and the ballet teacher backs me up. Another little girl is brought in to corroborate, with relish, that Raquel was being insufferable in class. But Donna will not say the only thing that would make me feel any better, which I knew she wouldn't say. Instead, she reminds me that Raquel is a fantastic dancer, as if this were somehow on topic. Felony is "just as good" as Raquel, she says, picking at the scab of my irritation, though they have different strengths: Felony is a more elegant, balletic dancer, while Raquel's forte is jazz dancing.

Fine, I say to myself through imaginary gritted teeth. We've been coming here for the JAZZ dancing, because Felony loves it best, but since you've already decided that Raquel has WON this category, maybe I ought to put Fel in a BALLET school. I'll get her an audition with fucking San Francisco Ballet, and she'll get in, and I'll drive to the City every day to nurture her phenomenal talent, which you have clearly overlooked, and I'll make sure you all hear about it so that you can ache with remorse, crawl with jealousy, and weep occasional tears of blood.

I say nothing. I've been crying in Donna's office, so I know my eyes and cheeks are red and swollen and I look like a slit-eyed pig. I see Lana the alcoholic dancer Mom as I'm walking out the door, and I know she is trying to piece it all together. What happened. Furtively, she blows me a kiss.

On the way home, Fel says, "Mom, do you think I could not take dance class next year?"

"You don't have to take it if you don't want to. I'll tell Donna. But you can think it over before you decide for good."

At home, I realize that--while I don't really think this idiot is that crazy--he does have my home address and phone number, because it's printed on the class list. He knows what kind of car I drive. Duff is playing cards in the City, and I wish against all future wishes that he were home. I lock locks.

I think about putting Felony on the swim team. I think, this is why I homeschool. Because I hate bullies and I don't want my kids to have to put up with them any more than necessary.

I just want her to feel safe. I just want to feel safe, myself.

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