Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Random childhood memories: Vol. III

I think I was in the second grade when my parents started letting me ride my bike to school. Google maps tells me it was 1.4 miles, but it seemed like about 30 at the time.

I rode with a group that varied in size from two to six, all kids who lived in our figure-eight shaped neighborhood. At eight, I was the youngest in the group.

One time, one of the kids from the group that rode with us, Jenny Peggs, I think, had to stay after school for about a half an hour. Our instructions were to wait for her and all ride home together in a group. I always followed instructions.

It must've been the first time I'd waited after school, because I remember being struck by how desolate it became after just 15 or 20 minutes. It was a giant, quiet expanse. It would've been eerie, if it hadn't been the middle of the day.

There were a few of us waiting, Jenny's little brother Adam, who was my age, and two other kids Danny and Kevin. Danny and Kevin were a bit older. The racks where we were waiting were empty, except for a single bike that Kevin and Danny recognized as belonging to a kid they didn't like.

They decided to vandalize it a bit, letting the air out of the tires. They wanted something more, and coaxed me into giving them some crayons that I had in my backpack. They smeared the crayon on the bike's black seat, which was hot enough after a day baking in the Florida sun to melt the wax in about two seconds.

At about the time a sickening fear about being complicit in such an act began to rise up my throat ("How would I feel if someone did this to me?" my brain kept shouting), Danny spotted the kid whose bike they (we?) messed with coming out of the school.

Petrified at getting in trouble ("Might this go on my permanent record?"), I grabbed my backpack and pedaled home as fast as I could. I don't think I looked back.

I swallowed my guilt that afternoon, but found that same sick feeling rising in my throat returning that night. It came back every night, actually. For whatever reason, my Snoopy stuffed animal was how I dealt with the guilt. I would hold him and think about how sorry I was for letting Kevin and Danny use my crayons to foul up that kid's bike.

I don't really know how long this guilt went on. I seem to remember months, but kids have as much trouble judging time as distance, so maybe it was just a few days.

One night after bedtime, when the guilt had finally eaten me up and I couldn't take it anymore, I went to my parent's room and told my mom what I'd done. The mellowness of her reaction -- no anger, certainly no yelling, not even a look of hurt disapproval ("I can tell your sorry, and at this point there's probably not much more you can do about it than that.") -- came in such contrast to the guilt I'd already felt. I was more confused than relieved.

Maybe it wasn't such a big deal. Maybe I'd been sleepless all those nights for no reason.

When I got back to bed, I saw the Snoopy who'd been my partner in crime. He was the only one who I'd let know of my shame, but it took just an instant for him to turn from a my sole confidant to a symbol of what I'd done wrong. I kicked him to the foot of the bed and never played with him again.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Aborvitae said...

I can't believe Janie let you ride your bike to school in 2nd grade!

June 19, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dude - My sister (Jenny) sent me the link to your story. We've deduced by the characters you list in the story that you're David -correct???

Small world.

Remember that black and gold bike you had with the tires that would screech when you hit the brakes?

Remember the green machine I had??

Awesome times - write back!

Adam

October 12, 2008  

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