My Vitro Valentine


Christopher Grosso

Photo by
Maria Henzler

 My Vitro Valentine

Suzy Trempus holds the key to my heart.

She was the first, and maybe the only, one to present me with a real valentine, but not only that; Suzy sort of played "savior" in a subtle and most beautiful way, now that I think about it. She dared to "like" a fat, four-eyed and unpopular boy.

I would like to say that there is at least one ray of ultra clear unimpeded lovelight disguised as a little girl or a little boy in every grade school, everywhere, at any given time. But since I haven't been in every grade school everywhere at every given time, I will only speak for the Second Grade at Wylandville Elementary in Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, back in the mid-nineteen seventies.

I'm inclined to think that in every grade school everywhere there is also one exceptionally pathetic little boy or little girl who needs every bit of that ray that he or she can get just to make it through to the next level. I think that's probably why I got Suzy's authentic valentine that year, which was right before an embarrassed U.S. Energy Department began feigning a clean-up effort of radioactive nuclear waste that permeated my neighborhood, left over from The Manhattan Project. One of hundreds of various tentacles of that project reached into our neighborhood at The Vitro Plant, a top-secret Uranium processing laboratory that, during World War II, had been converted from a neighborhood pottery, retooled to refine the poisons-to remove the "impurities"-that would go into the Little Boys and Fat Men that were to ensure our future security. After its work was through the top-secret lab was shut down, leaving behind in the soil tons of top-secret Uranium-238 waste, called "tailings" (cute and fuzzily enough-or scaly and slimily enough, depending on your perspective).

Following an excellent documentary expose' by a forgotten student journalist, surly Morley Safer "exposed" the contamination, and the Department of Energy's attempts to conceal it, in Geraldo-fashion on a cavalier episode of 60 Minutes.

The hardworking but unwitting villagers of Strabane, Pennsylvania-my family among them-had used the abandoned site to dig up dirt and sand to fill their yards and foundations and mix into their concrete. Thirty years later radon gas levels were skyrocketing all over town and cancer rates were right behind them. Workers contracted by the Energy Department ostentatiously came in and dug up yards and foundations, garages and gardens, and moved tens of tons of the contaminated soil onto a softball field at the edge of the village, covered it with clay and red dog and sods, and erected a chain-link fence around the perimeter, presumably to keep trespassers out for the next 4.4 billion years-the time it takes for half of the Uranium-238 atoms to decay into Lead-206, which will then incorporate neatly into the water table.

To this day it looks like the pitcher's mound has devoured a third of the town. If you look at it from a particular angle at night-such as my bedroom window-the lights from a shopping center parking lot behind the heap make it seem like it's glowing.

A dance hall across the railroad tracks jokingly-but nervously-billed itself as "The Radioactive City Music Hall." Tough bunch, those Eastern European ethnic types. Grandma had died of cancer just before the silver-suited men arrived to begin excavating her garage, never knowing what hit her. Dad had lived with his mother in the house and played ball on the field during his formative years. After the cleanup he eventually died of cancer, too. Government scientists insisted their calculations produced no one-to-one cause-effect relationship between the cancer and the contamination. True enough.

My buddies and I played ball on the field as well and often dug up the old waterlogged shards of pottery down on the banks of the creek. To us it was an endless supply of multi-neon-colored chalk that we used to draw pictures on the sidewalks and streets. We came to be quite creative children.

The governing elite of this country, which holds itself in rather high regard if you think about it, must have held me and my family, and the neighborhood kids, in rather low regard. As in 'human garbage.'

I know, I know, the ruling elite have a lot on their minds. I should just cut them a break and be grateful. Besides, who likes a 'victim'? I'm sorry, I was being selfish. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and think it over for yet another moment.

Hmm . . . Yeah. I would say that, even taking into consideration $300 of my own money coming back to me in a tax-rebate check, an indictment on the ruling elite is a logically sound conclusion, with an accurate major premise. But feel free to check with a professor of Epistemology, if need be. Hell, go all the way to Mercury, if you like.

Because my parents had internalized that assessment about themselves, and because my rising sign is Cancer, I internalized it too. I believed that where you throw away garbage is on a garbage heap. And what are you most likely to find on that garbage heap? More garbage, of course. The logical chains are endless, all of which proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that I was, in fact, garbage. And nuclear garbage at that. I often went to great lengths to convince everyone around me of the truth of this because, after all, it was the truth. And I always succeeded.

Except with one.
Angelic Suzy Trempus lived out on a clean farm somewhere in Eighty-Four, PA where the rural school to where I was bussed was situated, and where families seemed (at least) to have a humble, rich and abiding love and respect for themselves and each other. I'm sure there were exceptions.

Suzy's face sort of sparkled. But not in that American way that makes a little girl or little boy popular or cute or headed for Hollywood commercials. She had lots of freckles, and naturally curly reddish-blonde hair that produced a neat luminous effect on her eyebrows and eyelashes, in particular. Her eyelashes seemed transparent.

I'm thinking she was Venusian, that a lot was going on in Taurus in her chart. Her voice was kind of gritty-sounding, earthy, like the texture of a freshly plowed field awaiting this year's crop of alfalfa seeds; oddly comforting to someone with a contaminated grand earth trine, like myself.

Cornucopia. I could listen to her for long periods of time, which was perfect because I remember she, like I, talked rather slowly, which had a soothing, reassuring effect when she spoke my name in its entirety: "Chris-to-pher . . . "

The self-patience with which she spoke, thought, and lived landed her into remedial reading and math classes. I remember she would leave our classroom for a few hours on Thursdays, with her blue folder with the star stickers all over it, and return after lunch, sometimes smiling, sometimes not.

She had an older brother, Mike, who incidentally was well respected on the kick-ball field, clownish, generally well liked, and one day, I remember, we were all waiting for the buses at the end of the day, and Mike came in and, when Suzy wasn't looking, he snuck up behind her and pretended like he was choking her, his hands (loosely) around her throat [ruled by Taurus], making faces and restrictive guttural sounds. And she proceeded to turn around and chase her big brother out of the room, swinging her fists like a girl, laughing out hearts and sparks. A few seconds later, the exiled brother poked his head back in the doorway and announced to his audience that "She's ferocious." Then he was gone.

This was before the time when, late at night, I began to touch myself lying in my bed, in places that closed the electrical circuits in my wiring harness, opening up that conduit to a surge toward that destination we call 'orgasm' (with 'crippling shame' hot on our tail, of course). I don't remember thoughts of Suzy moving through my mind when I masturbated, but her namesake asteroid is in my natal Fifth House, in Sagittarius. It was usually Mrs. Trozzi, the third-grade teacher with big, pointy boobs that stood at attention.

Anyway, valentines. The valentine I found in my decorated shoe box when I went home that Valentimes Day in second grade, I remember, carried in it a new feeling that I can't say I remember feeling since that time, perhaps because it was so new and fresh, clean and unfamiliar. Different than orgasm. It was something like electro-magnetism, encompassing rather than a directional surge, but like electrical current something powerful you don't fear as much as you respect, and what it said, and sounded like as I read it, was something like:

"Dear Chris-to-pher, I like you because you are strong and smart. You are handsome and you have a nice per-son-al-i-ty. And you make me laugh. That's why I like you.

I can still feel my dantien clear. It might have been the first time I felt real authentic love inside me. And it may very well have been the last.

It wasn't necessarily her "sending" love to me that I felt, though it could have been. But it also could have been her mother helping her write the card, knowing full well how to unlock the love that is twisted up inside a little boy who is in trouble. Either way, it worked. My lock was opened not long after I had secured the last in a series of psychic dead-bolts.

The next day I think I played the obligatory role of a little boy disgusted with the thought of a girl's affections, saying something like "Yecch!" when I saw her, just to impress what few little friends I had, no doubt hurting her feelings in the process.

Groupthink stinks.

But Suzy Trempus "liked" me. And before she moved away forever, she blew the hinges right off the doors of my heart.

Wherever she is, I hope whoever is holding hers knows just how precious it is.

And holds it in rather high regard.

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