When I was young

When I was young I lived here. I spent most of my time outside playing games in the cul de sac and participating in some version of sharks and minnows in the pool. Our neighborhood was filled with kids our age and life seemed limitless. There was a hill over there, that we weren't allowed to go up, but we did anyway. I'd sit in these oversized gutters that were always bone-dry, with my legs spread open wide as I overlooked our street: It was familiar and I felt safe. It was mine and it was my friends'--our little corner of the world. 

I met Andrea when I was three years old. She came to the front door, flapping her hands like a bird and asked my mom if she would let me play outside with her. Together we made Indian reservations on her slope, recorded an improv cd that we still play to this day, prank called my mom pretending to be aliens, made crazy recipes because we were in love with boys, and drew maps of made up places. We occupied this intellectual, strange, Middle Earthlike existence together. No one will ever understand my insanity better than she does. Her's is a soul that matches mine.

Beth lived a few houses down and we baked cookies and watched Ten Things I Hate About You at least once a week. Her house was a scrapbook--full of sentimental items, cuckoo clocks and gingham prints. In the backyard they had porcelain bathroom objects, like toilets and sinks, and they grew plants out of them. Britney and Irin lived in the second house at the front of the street. They had all the latest Pokemon cards and they let me play Mario Kart whenever I wanted. Irin got his head caught in a railing one time and he was the first boy I ever saw naked. They had this huge Mexican family and every holiday gathering was filled with spices, music and children running around. Their older sister got pregnant young and her daughter was the first child I ever watched grow up. She's almost seventeen now.

The house on the corner of the street breaks my heart every time I drive past it. The day that Tess and Jackie moved away is right up there in the top five most upsetting things that have ever happened to me. Tess and Jackie were my sisters. We lived in the same grand land--everything in our lives was material for a play. This one time, we put on a play--The Little Mermaid--and for some reason we thought crowd participation would be a good idea. We sprayed our parents with this ingenious concoction of garlic and water. The house reeked for days, but our parents were probably drunk so they thought it was funny. Ms. Vicki, their mom, made us fried okra and smoked cigarettes. She wore her hair pulled back tight into a ponytail that she braided and finished with a scrunchie. She had this hot pink ping-pong paddle, aptly named "The Pink Paddle", and she would spank us on our butts if we were mean or said something nasty. Mr. Tom, her husband, drank and smoked cigars with my dad while we pitched a tent in their backyard and pretend camped on a crickety summer evening. We danced in the sprinklers to Peter Frampton and Steely Dan and received matching outfits every Christmas. Life was what it was. We were who we were. The days were long and the nights were even longer. Time was this liquid, shapeless thing. And I was happy.

After Tess and Jackie left, things changed. I was about 12 years old and the rest of us were all growing into these weird little pre-teens. We still played kick the can. I still rode my bike with my dog's leash attached, pulling me wildly down the street.  We played hide and seek, but at this point it was so I could kiss the neighbor boy behind that one tree. I'd go inside, face flushed from running, and eat cucumbers and carrots because I had to, and I'd rush right back outside to catch the remaining hours of sunlight. We all lived in our garage after the sun went down. There was carpet and a couple of couches. We had every game imaginable and a television set. We did "massage trains" and sometimes me and that neighbor kid would find a dark corner where we learned what it meant to be an adolescent. Even though we were growing up, there was this overwhelming sense of freedom, movement and levity. I cherish those days in my heart of hearts.

When I was young I lived there.


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