I remember, as a kid, my fascination with Hello Kitty. Hello Kitty was this enigma. What was she?
A cartoon, clearly, but I had seen all the cartoons: Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, Ninja Turtles, Jem, Carebears... There was no Hello Kitty cartoon on Saturday mornings.
I knew she was Japanese, but how did these girls I'd sometimes see with their Hello Kitty pencils and plasticy coin purses have an inside connection to Japanese culture that I didn't have? Not only did these girls know who she is, but they knew her well enough to choose her pencils over the Lisa Frank ones. She was their favorite of all the stationery, and I didn't even know who she was!
Was it a book series? A comic book? A movie? All I knew is I couldn't ask. It was glaringly obvious that you either knew about Hello Kitty or you didn't. I didn't.
And Hello Kitty wasn't my only unsolved mystery.
Undershirts. I remember the moment I realized that the pointelle-trimmed tank top strap always showing under Tiffany M's collar was called a undershirt. How were undershirts a thing and I didn't even know it? Why were there undershirts? Why didn't I wear them? Was it like underwear and being at school without an undershirt on was as weird as being at school without underwear on?
Later, I would see the three-packs of folded undershirts on display as my mom was choosing variety packs of pink, purple, and periwinkle fold-over socks. I could have asked her for some right then and there, but I knew in my heart that this, too, was not something to be spoken of.
And then there were albums. This was a big one. My parents just weren't big music people, at least not when I was young. I'm sure they liked it as much as the next family, we'd sing along to Christmas carols during the holidays, and they'd almost always turn on the radio in the car. We probably even had a few albums, but it just wasn't our habit to play music at home.
One of the first times I stayed over at a friend's house, I remember her mom made popcorn and put on the Joshua Tree album and we just sat around in the living room listening to it. It was majestic. I felt transformed. You couldn't just put music on, right in your house, and feel like this, could you? I don't know why I never asked for that album for my birthday or for Christmas. But even as I reveled in the moment, I felt out of place. Like a stowaway, hitching a ride in someone else's soundtrack.
These funny memories tumbled out suddenly as I grabbed one of M's undershirts to lay out with his school clothes for tomorrow. I wonder if one day M will notice another boy without an undershirt and be struck with all the same questions, in reverse. I wonder if L will stay over at a friend's house one day and marvel about how quiet it is, because their Papa doesn't play music all the time. I wonder what little things they will overthink?
Probably none at all. I'm probably doing it again right now.