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The Boy in the Rainbow Hat
It was a cool day, but that doesn’t seem to bother the people spattered on the horizon like a child’s finger painting, frolicking on the beach in their string bikinis, tiny shorts barely present compared to the vast sea of sun-kissed legs. They dance effortlessly through the knee deep sand like the sun reflecting off the face of the moon, refracting its light into the closed eyes of Earth’s sleeping creatures. Laughing and hair flipping ensues. Clothes are put on, clothes are taken off. Eye lashes are batted, fleeting hugs exchanged. It is all an extraterrestrial balancing act I can barely begin to describe with words.
Because I’m just the boy in the rainbow hat- or at least that’s what they call me. By they I mean my infinitely observant class-mates. My high school isn’t like the ones in the movies. It’s not like the ones that have bright white walls and bright white floors, with matching bright white lockers that are meticulously decorated by unnaturally happy students who wear matching cardigans over matching polo’s topped off by matching khakis. And it’s definitely not like the ones where everyone likes to do impromptu choreographed dance routines while the football jock and his ugly-nerdy-who-he-loves-despite-her-ugly-nerdiness-girlfriend sing sloppily voiced over show tunes in between classes, surrounded by an almost to carefully selected group of ethnically diverse students. No, it’s not like that at all. It’s just normal. And there I am, just the boy in the rainbow hat.
I’m not saying that the description of ‘boy in the rainbow hat’ is in any way inaccurate, I do wear the same rainbow ski hat everyday without fail, and I am indeed a boy- but I was hoping that just maybe one of my class mates would have taken the time to get to know something about me other then my physical appearance. My name or something would have been nice.
The boy in the rainbow hat image has been a long time in the making. It started around fifth grade when my uncle brought me back the hat from one of his long hiatuses in Colorado. I liked it, of course, because it reminded me of my uncle, but no self-respecting, ten-year-old, ninja/dinosaur/superhero-loving boy is going to wear a rainbow hat. So it sat on the top of my dresser for a couple years. My older sister wore it occasionally, but other than that it didn’t get much use until the beginning of my middle school career. That was right when some un-namable force of the universe decided that all cool teenage boys aren’t afraid to add some feminine flair to their appearance. For some of my friends this meant skinnier jeans, longer hair, or a pink shirt, but for me it meant my rainbow hat. I wore it on the first day of seventh grade, and I’ve never been seen without it since.
It’s another typical all-year-round-summer day in my Florida hometown, but this one is spent at the water park, not the beach. The sun bounces off the concrete and into my eyes, casually shaded by my reflective, policeman style sunglasses. The ear flaps of my rainbow hat push my pulsing headphone buds in snuggly against my ear drum. My pale blue dress shirt is unbuttoned, revealing a plane white cotton t-shirt below. My favorite pair of feather grey jeans are rolled up just below to my knee and my feet are bare despite the countless bacteria I can almost feel crawling and squelching in between my toes. The beat of the electronica music pulsing directly into my eardrums doesn’t quite drown out the rushing water or the young children’s screams of delightful terror. From the spot where I stand I can see my barely clothed sister and her boyfriend hoisting a double tube above their heads, practically sprinting towards the nearest water slide.
Whenever I come to a place like this I have a very limited choice of activities. So, once I’ve gone on the scrambler as many times as I can handle without barfing french fries all over the nice exchange student operator lady, I usually just sit around and watch people pass by. I would ride the water slides just like everybody else, but the rainbow hat isn’t too popular with the water safari staff. For some reason, the water slide operators think my hat is going to poison their precious chemical drunk water so, they won’t let me on any of the slides even if I promise it’s clean. If I have to take off my hat to do something, I’m not interested. I skip my fourth period biology class everyday because the teacher, Ms. Stick-Up-Her-A**, took my hat and gave it to the assistant principle, Mr. Stick-Up-His-A**, who refused to give it back to me until my mother came to the school to pick it up. The whole situation was completely ridiculous. The water park situation is fine by me though, I don’t mind watching people. It’s funny to watch he desperate girls throwing their unnaturally tan, unnaturally skinny bodies at anyone who will notice. Watching the old men whose grey hair encompasses every square inch of their bodies nervously covering their balding heads. Watching the moms with their mom bathing suits underneath their mom jeans, hoisting up a baby on one hip and a jumbo sized mom bag on the other. All of the everyday freaks of the world make me and my rainbow hat feel a little less alone.
Everything was going like it usually did until I realized today was a little bit different, because today I wasn’t the only one doing the watching.
I noticed her from the bench I was sitting near the ‘tiki’ themed food court. She had strait red hair that reached down to her bare collar bones and a spattering of uneven bangs tied down by a blank velvet ribbon fastened around her head. She sat at a food court table, talking animatedly with her friend, but her eyes never left me and my rainbow hat. It was intriguing; I was used to being the watcher, not the watchee. It was like being a surgeon getting surgery, vandalized by your own scalpel. After about 15 minutes of this, she got up from her seat and walked over to the garbage can near where I was sitting and dramatically threw away her empty soda cup. “Isn’t a little too warm to be wearing a hat?” she said loudly, smiling overtly in my direction.
“Aren’t ribbons for tying packages, not tying around your head?” I said, trying to sound annoyed.
I expected her to have some b****y reaction just like another girl I knew would, but instead she turned her face back to the sky, craning her neck in a fit of hysterical laughter. “Touché.” she said slyly once she’d calmed herself down. She sat right down next to me, sticking out her left hand for me to shake. “Hi, I’m Elle.”
“Come on Elle, you’re being too slow!” I yelled over my shoulder, trying not to fall off the side of the train track I was balancing on. Elle trailed at least one hundred feet behind me, her red hair tied on a sloppy, stray hairs falling out of it, framing her lightly freckled face. She smiled at me sarcastically, made a hand gesture that my mother wouldn’t have approved of, and refused to acquiesce.
“I’m taking my time.” She explained. “A balancing act is a delicate thing. Rush it, and-” she tottered comically on one foot, stretching out her arms and other leg, pretending to fall.
“Fine, fine.” I said in mock exasperation. “I’ll just have to wait for you…slow poke.” I stood there on the track, repeatedly checking my invisible wristwatch as she inched closer, delicately placing one foot in front of the other. “Finally!” I exclaimed when she caught up to me thirty seconds later.
“Shut up!” she said tugging at the braided tassels of my rainbow hat. As we continued to walk on the rail in silence she eventually asked me, “So, what is it with you and this hat? It’s been almost an entire month since I met you at that tourist trap, and I still have never seen you without it.”
“I don’t know, I just like it I guess.” I said nonchalantly.
“Yeah, right.” she rolled her eyes, “I like a lot of things too, but I don’t keep them with me every second of every day. I mean really, how would I look carrying my bean bag chair, a slice of cherry pie, and my golden retriever with me everywhere I go? Like a punch happy bag lady, that’s how. There has to be something more than ‘just liking it’ if you wear that hat every day. Does it have a name?”
I paused to think about it and then it came to me
“Edgar!” I smiled, looking at her, daring her to challenge the name.
“Edgar. Interesting,” she said, “I had him pinned for an Alfonzo.”
“That’s because that’s his middle name! Wow, you’re psychic Eleanora.”
“Do not call me Eleanora.” Elle practically hissed, her whole face darkening into a scowl. “My mother calls me Eleanora, not you. Are you my mother?”
“No Elle, I’m sorry. I didn’t know your name bothered you so much.” I really hadn’t expected this reaction. I didn’t think someone as chill as Elle could even get mad.
“It’s not the name that bothers me, it’s just my mom.” she said, shrugging.
“What bothers you so much about your mom?” I said looking at her with concern in my face.
“What do you like so much about that hat?” she countered.
“Okay, fine, we won’t talk about it. But if you ever do want to have a nice little talk, I’m your guy.” I said, jabbing my thumbs into my chest pointedly.
“Are you going to give me your business card or something? ‘Adam L. Winters: Mother Troubles and Hat Obsession Specialist.’” She muttered, punching me playfully in the arm.
“I am not obsessed!” I said, hurt. “I just like this hat! There is nothing obsessive about it.”
“Whatever, Adam. Come on, I’ll race you to the end of the track!” And with that she scrambled onto the flat part of the track, sprinting as fast as she could away from me, her arms churning like a wind mill.
“Way to change the subject, Elle.” I panted to myself, trying to catch up to the psychotic red-headed blur in front of me.
I was asleep on the couch, dreaming about video games and cupcakes, when suddenly there was a loud rapping on the window above my head. Wrenched from my visions of sugar plums, I awoke to see Elle with her nose pressed up against my window beckoning to me frantically to come outside. I drowsily stumbled off the couch and out the front door, hastily adjusting my hat. “Happy surprise picnic day, Adam!” Elle said grinning from ear to ear.
“Surprise picnic day?” My voice was muffled with the signs of sleep. “Come on Elle, I was dreaming about grenades and red velvet cupcakes! Just let me go back to bed.”
“Surprise picnic day is more important than some bizarre bakery massacre dream, sleepy head. Now hurry up or all of the food will spoil.” She grabbed me with one hand and was swinging a large wicker basket with the other. Once we arrived at our destination, our towns park, she let go of my arm and sprawled herself on the deep green grass. Once I was sitting on the ground next to her she looked me strait in the eyes. “Adam, I call Surprise Picnic Day when I need to talk to someone about something and-”
“Elle, if this is about my hat again I’m leaving. I’m tired of everyone trying to separate Edgar and me. I like my hat! Is there something so wrong with that?” I started to get up to make my dramatic exit when she stopped me.
“Listen to me! Jeez Adam, it’s not about your stupid hat. Chill out. It’s about my mom.” She looked furiously at me, as if daring me to say one more thing about my “stupid” hat. When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to say anything, she took a deep breath and continued. “My mom died when I was thirteen, that’s why I don’t let people call me Eleanora. It reminds me of her. It was in December and she was on a business trip in New York. The road was slippery and she wasn’t used to it. She lost control of the car and crashed into a telephone pole.” As she finishes her last sentence, her green eyes well up with tears.
I moved towards her in the grass, putting my hand on the small of her back. “I’m sorry Elle. I’m really, really sorry. You’re so brave.” With one silent, sweeping motion, I pulled the rainbow hat off of my head and slipped it carefully over her brilliant red hair. She looked at me with shock overtaking every feature of her face. To my surprise, she flung her arms around me and started to cry even harder. Once the tears had dried up and the shock had worn off, Elle and I just smiled at each other for what seemed like hours. The rainbow hat has a new home, and I am happy.