July 23, 2013 § 3 Comments
When I was little, we lived at 2937 Montavesta Road. It was a low brick rancher that sat at the opening to Lookout Circle. Think seventies suburbs. Multi-colored shag in the finished basement. The Brady Bunch could have been next door. We knew all the neighbors—most the moms stayed home, so we knew them especially well. At six or seven, I ran around with my friends, maybe a sister or two, but free and wild. No grownups interfered with our movements unless we got really loud or fought. Then they all had equal power to put us in our place. What would be seen as neglect today was summer to us. We only came home when the streetlights came on.
The Shaws lived to the right of our driveway, on the circle. We never knocked, just walked right in, before or after legendary games of kick the can. Mrs. Shaw, Helen, watched out for me, especially. At least I felt like she did. I was small and quiet. Her soft drawl was stronger than mine. I loved the sound of her. Maybe that’s why I talk like I do. She was a brunette with icy blue eyes, and she always had a tan. That was glamour.
The Shaws had normal dinners instead of the faux gourmet hors d’oeuvres we had. I ate a lot of smoked oysters and mini-quiches at home in those days. I remember finding leftover rice the Shaw’s refrigerator, which Helen heated up for me with melted butter on top. This, I thought, is what some people get to eat every day. Wow. My mom had already embraced the school bus sized microwave that sat on our kitchen counter.
After dinner, nearly every dinner that I cook for Cole, he comes up and hugs me. “I love you,” he says. We have both recognized that he loves me most when I feed him, which makes a lot of sense to me. We all want to be taken care of. We feel safe when we’re full and warm.
Helen Shaw made me feel safe and warm, through food, gentle wit, and all kinds of attention. She has joined the great cocktail party my parents must be having every evening. The guest list has been filling up lately.
My mom used to half complain, half brag that Helen called her several times a day. I know that Helen was looking out for her, as she often looked out for me. I will miss her, and I’ll remember her, as the protectors of my childhood gather raucously on the other side.
July 6, 2013 § 7 Comments
But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. Out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Gen. 2
1 There went up a call to go forth, into the wilderness. It was late, but still hot. Sticky hot. Two rats fucking in a wool sock hot, as Jeff said. We all laughed, we were high after all, or drunk, and things like that were funny—in a wool sock! We snorted. Larry spoke and we all listened: Let’s go to the quarry. It’s ice cold, even now. We should skinny dip! Larry was the most fun, everybody knew that. His smile was superlative. Girls and boys adored him. His hair sprung out in long, golden curls. It was impossible not to laugh when he laughed. There’s a full moon! he said. We have to! So, it was settled.
2 It came to pass that we all loaded into beat up cars, the backs of trucks, our numbers growing like fishes or loaves. Our arms wrapped around each other, or stretched out windows to touch the wind as we drove. Pull over there! Larry said. We did. There was the side of the highway, I-85. Gigantic semis swooshed by and blew our hair back as we pulled onto the grassy shoulder, not two by two, but in a clump. A cop sped by, but didn’t try to stop us. We spilled out, already near naked, shoeless most. There was a break in the trees, a path worn down to hard dirt. We took it, unbothered by the dark, giggling.
3There was no voice from the heavens, just moonlight, and Jeff’s voice, saying, Take my hand. I did. We were following each other, touching, pulling each other down, down the timeworn path as it dropped through the wilderness to the water. Is this against the law? Someone said. Larry shook his head. They’ll never catch us, he said. No one should own something this beautiful and keep people from using it. We were morally right then. God knew. I see it! I said. Moonlight through trees in the green-black night, silver reflection on the still, black water. It was a hole, deep and dark and secretive. I was scared, so I squeezed Jeff’s hand. Come on! He said. We’re almost there.
4We were ripe as peaches, just as smooth to the touch. The beauty of all creation at 19 or 20. We stripped off the burden of our clothes, even the most shy, made bold by the dark, the drugs, the power of numbers. We did not know our nakedness, or shame. I hid in the shadows with Jeff. Larry leapt in, as if dancing. Others gathered at the base of a tree. It was old and gnarled and clung to the edge of the bank, its tired limbs stretched out over the water. A long frayed rope snaked out of the top of the tree. Someone grabbed it. It was too dark to tell who it was.
5The moon and stars governed the night. I saw a line crossing the moon and a body swinging out into the darkness. He swung back toward the tree, pushed off, swung back over the shiny black and let go, mid-air, flying. Screams rang out across the water. Squeals of delight and then a huge splash cracked the surface. He swam back to the bank, and we pulled him up the muddy side, triumphant. You have to try it! He said. It’s amazing.
6Jeff let me go. I’m next! He called. I huddled on the bank, more aware of my nakedness. He climbed the tree, grabbed the rope with both hands, looked my way, and jumped. He let out a big whoop that echoed across the water. He arched his head back as he burst through the night, then everyone raised their beers and cheered. Six point O from the Russian judges! Someone said. I held my breath until he rose out of the water, grinning. Do it, Steph, he said. I dare you.
7I had already walked a path in the dark, already stripped down to my skin, and now, he wanted me to let go of my fears, to follow him, even if it might mean my doom, or at least embarrassment. A girl had not sacrificed herself to the water yet. Larry was swimming still, and had reached the other bank. Do it! he yelled. The kids on my side began to chant, jump, jump, jump! Ok, I said.
8My skin burned and tingled with fear. I was not a jumper, but neither was I a trespasser, a skinny dipper, or someone who fell in love. I imagined I had a suit on that would protect me from everyone’s eyes, protect me from the rope swinging into the soft air, protect me from the plunge into dark, cold, bottomless water.
9 I might have said a prayer. At least I made a wish that tonight would not be the night of my death, that tonight might be the night I flew into the arms of something free and wonderful. I backed up to get a better swing. Be sure you clear the rocks, Jeff said. You have to clear the rocks. I closed my eyes, one, two, but I could not count to three. The third part of the trinity, the Holy Ghost, the strength of the spirit, denied me and a voice said in my head, this is stupid. You could die. I backed up a little further, wanting to believe that I could jump fearless into the abyss, wanting to believe that I would be protected and could fly. The voice would not quiet. It whispered like a snake, you might die, it said. I let go the rope, shook my head, the whole crowd cried their disappointment. Come on Steph, Jeff said, but I could see that we were all naked, exposed. The pot and the beer was wearing off, the hazy cloud had evaporated from the moon. I had let go of the wrong thing, and might never be forgiven.