May 27, 2011

The Source of All (my) Knowledge

I grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, which at the time was a quiet suburb of Washington, D.C. My family lived in a 3-bedroom rambler on Embassy Lane where, except for a slight paint variation, all the houses looked the same. I thought everyone in the world grew up in a similar neighborhood. At the end of the block was about 50 acres of woods full of trails where my best friend Bruce and I played and rode our bikes every day. It seemed like an enormous expanse and kept us busy for years. So many experiences in those woods. We caught countless frogs, turtles and crawfish, built forts, shot my BB gun. I knocked out my teeth in a bike accident and had my first experience with a girl's body.... It was a true gift having that park so close. We didn't need toys, those dense woods were all we needed.

Halfway down the street from my house was a storm drain. For many years, just after dinner (weather permitting), a small group of neighborhood kids would gather and sit on that cold slab of concrete. There we would discuss our day at school, talk about family problems, play various games, smoke cigarettes stolen from our parents and, as we grew into puberty, our discussions inevitably turned towards sex. Bruce, Carol, Caroline and her sister Mary Beth, occasionally Peanut, Marilys (sp) and myself. That was the core group, though sometimes another kid or sibling would show up. Though I vaguely remember that being frowned upon. For years, each night I would excuse myself from the dinner table and run down to the corner to be with my friends. I didn't know how much it meant to them but for me it was very special. It was an escape. Other than Bruce it was the first time I felt a true bond to a group of people and felt a part of something special. There truly was a bond between us. I think back and try to remember details of conversations but can only remember vague little snippets of what happened on that sewer lid. Some of which I'm sure has been distorted by time and my imagination. Lighting fireworks (snakes), playing "smear the queer", chasing each other around for hours, attempting to tackle the girls and hoping to brush against their breasts as we pulled them to the ground, all while pretending to try and grab the ball away from them.

Around 9 o'clock, after we were exhausted, sweaty and grass-stained, each of our parents would whistle or call out our names to come home. My father had a very loud whistle he made using his fingers crammed into the corners of his mouth. It was piercing and could be heard a mile away. We would all say our goodbyes knowing we would meet again the next night. I always dreaded winter knowing that we wouldn't meet on the storm drain again until spring. I don't know why it was so much different to me than meeting inside one of our houses.

I clearly remember one warm day in March walking out of my house and looking down the street finding no one there. Miffed, I looked out again the following night and sadly, again, no one was there. I realized a few nights later that the storm drain had served it's purpose for us and that part of my life was over. I remember being very sad about that. I think I was about 14.

Whenever I come home to visit I drive slowly past that corner and glance out the window at that sewer lid. I don't know what I'm looking for, but it makes me feel so nostalgic. I learned just about everything I know about human behavior on that cold slab of concrete.

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