The town I lived in built a community pool for all the townspeople. A dream for a 13 year old. I begged Mama for the two dollars it cost to join. We always took a train to the beach, but you couldn't learn to swim against those high angry waves. So this was my chance to learn to swim and dive from a diving board.
My first week I stood at the edge of the diving board and stared down at the water. The kids behind me kept yelling jump jump! But I couldn't do it. I felt as if I was too high up and might hit the concrete bottom. So I gave up on the diving.
One day I was standing at the edge of the pool when suddenly I was pushed from behind, smack into the deep end. I floundered, terrified, kicking and yelling and swallowing water. All of a sudden someone came to my rescue. A nice boy I would come to know for many years. When he lifted me out of the water, he went over to the laughing boy who pushed me in, and he gave the boy quite a thrashing. Throwing him into the water. That bad boy never looked my way again.
After that, my hero eased me into the water slowly, and taught me how to swim.
There was a park where I lived as a kid, and we all met there to watch the boys play handball and stick ball hockey. One day, this boy I really liked, asked if he could ride me home on his bicycle. Sure I said, and he lifted me up onto the handlebars. It became a habit after that day. He even carved our initials together on one of the park benches. After a few weeks of this, he rode me home on his bike, walked me up to my front door and kissed me. I was in heaven. In my innocence and young mind, I thought that kiss would mean that someday we would get married, when we finished school.
He surprised me with his school pin, from Saint Francis of Assisi. Later, he gave me a ring with both our initials on it. On Saturdays, we went to the movies, sat in the last row so no one would see us kissing. I had a girlfriend, a true friend, Helen. I heard after a while, that my true friend's mother was inviting my boyfriend to her house for dinner. I knew he loved food, but, that much?
After a time, he stopped coming to the park. I was confused and I missed our bicycle rides. I did finally see him one day and he looked shy and uncomfortable. He mentioned that his mother thought he should only be with Irish catholic girls. Well, I was catholic wasn't I? But - not Irish. A year later, I heard he got married, to my true friend, you know, the one with the cooking mother.
When I was a kid we lived in Queens, a suburb outside of New York City.
It would take about an hour to walk to the subway closest to home. I was 12 and had daydreams of going to Central Park in the city just to see that park's zoo.
Moma wouldn't take me, my older siblings wouldn't either.
They had their own busy lives to attend to and couldn't be bothered with me, the baby in this huge family. But this ache wouldn't leave me. I would lie in bed and dream about the animals like the ones in books. I wanted to pet them and love them.
So, one day I made a plan:
1 steal 2 dimes from Moma's change cup
2 walk at least 5 miles to reach that subway
3 when I got there, ask the lady in the change booth which train would take me to the city (she told me).
4 when we reached the city, ask people “how do I get to Central Park Zoo?” (I was pointed in the right direction.)
5 I asked and asked people, each time I crossed a street, so I would be sure I was going in the right direction
6 I finally got there. Again I had to ask where is the zoo? I found it. I saw some seals, but was so scared I don't think I stayed more than a few minutes, afraid I wouldn't find my way back to the train and home
7 I repeated the same scenario, asking for directions to the subway, holding on tightly to my dime so I wouldn't lose it
I did get home, secretly proud but still scared of what I had done. I never told a single soul about my secret trip.
It was the beginning of a new school for me. I was growing up going to Junior High.
Moma bought me a new sweater and everything else a girl wants for her first day in a new school.
That first day I wore my sweater proudly till one of the boys in the class came close to me, lowered his eyes to my breast and made a nasty face. I was humiliated, I could feel my face burning red.
What I wanted was to never see or wear that sweater again.
published 30 April 2011