I took the girls to visit my elementary school. It looks the same, with the exception of new playground equipment.
We used to run and run and run across this field, chasing boys and surrounding them, grabbing fistfuls of their shirts to jerk them off-balance and kiss them. Games of tag would flow up and down the hill and around the backstop. There were no fences on the border and nothing to keep us from wandering into the woods, but we never did.
On the edge of the playground was a large sewer pipe that emptied into the creek. We used to duck inside the pipe and walk back to the first manhole cover about 50 yards away. It was dim and dank and a shaft of light waited for us at the end. When we reached it, the sewer branched off. We used to wonder where it went, but we were too scared to go any farther.
The sewer pipe drains into the creek, which drains into the reservoir. We used to ice skate there, but now there’s so much road salt and fertilizer run-off from the farms that it won’t freeze. They tore down the boat house that sat on the shore that housed the giant furnace where we used to warm ourselves during the winter.
I walked three blocks to school every day, sometimes stomping through snow and slush, my house key on a braided red lanyard around my neck, with my friend Kim who lived across the street. She was in third grade when we met. My memory of her from this time comes from a school photo that hung in her hallway in a small oval frame. She wore cable-knit knee socks and blond pigtails and smiled at the camera with her mouth half-opened like she was waiting for the punchline.
Behind the playground, before the housing developments marched in and decamped, we used to ride dirt bikes along the trails. I was always a passenger behind one of Kim’s older brothers. I remember burning my calf on the exhaust pipe and flying over the hills. When you’re 12, there’s something about riding on the back of a bike with an older boy – your chest pressed into the back of his shirt, which was warm and damp and smelled of laundry soap, and your nose buried in his dark curls – that feels as dangerous as defusing a bomb. Especially boys who never pay any attention to you, who you look at under your eyelashes when you think they won’t notice.
When I was in elementary school, we didn’t have playground aides to supervise us. There was no one to prevent us from getting teased, no one to intercede if we were the new girl from Texas with a funny accent, no one to cast a disapproving look at the older kids getting up to mischief behind the bushes, and no one to prevent us from wandering the sewers at will.
July 17 and 18, Sunday and Monday