“Why is no one out there?” I asked as I peered through my passenger window, attempting to discern if the park and beach were closed this morning and why, in turn, the beach was empty. When I was a pre-teen, before summer jobs and driving took over, I was outside all the time, and between the ages of ten and eleven, I lived at Stony Lake in Oxford, Michigan.
Before I turned twelve, I used to spend the days I wasn’t in school with a sitter. She lived next door to my dad’s aunt and had two daughters my age. In fact, one of them was in the same grade. The other was only a year ahead. And before tormenting me became their number one goal in life, we had a lot of fun.
I remember the day that I heard Green Day’s Dookie album for the first time. Alex, the self-proclaimed king of the neighborhood, came barreling down the steepest bike hill directly headed toward me. I was with the other girls and we were planning that day’s adventure. As per usual, it included the beach.
He jumped off his bike, Discman in hand. (Kids today have no idea how real the struggle was to take our music with us). He was such a punk in his jean shorts, red t-shirt, and high topped sneakers. I think the bowl haircut really added the missing element. Punk he was not. Eleven he was.
He tossed me he Discman telling me that Green Day was “the best ever” and I listened. Then the other two girls listened. Alex played the same song on repeat for each of us. And as a result, “When I Come Around” became our summer survival song.
And off we went! Onto our next task. Where were we going to bike, and when were we going to eat? This was our day-to-day. Fun, sun, food, and bikes. Until the two girls learned a secret about me.
I’d started my period the year before, near the end of the school year, and two days before my eleventh birthday. It wasn’t a badge of honor that I displayed, and I hadn’t told them. I didn’t tell anyone. Not even my best friend! But one day, before we hit the road on our bikes, my female products fell out of a pocket I’d left unzipped on my backpack.
The lights went out on our friendship. Suddenly I was something to hate and to torment. I think I represented something to them that they couldn’t attain. Menstrual cramps and the occasional embarrassing mishap? Who knew? I still don’t.
The young one, the girl in my class, began spreading rumors amongst our peer group that I was a thief. I was apparently stealing from them. Stealing what, I don’t know. The only things I ever took from that house were flea bites from their dirty living room carpet and ill kept dogs.
My mom and dad were saints. I told them about the behavior, including the rumors, and the other torments. My mom and dad made the decision that I could, and would, spend the rest of the summer at home. My mom called the state police to find the “age requirement” to legally leave a child alone. Much to our surprise, it was up to a parent’s discretion.
My former sitter did not take the news that she was “fired” well. On one of my first days alone, she and her daughters came to my house. They circled like birds of prey.
“I know you’re in there!” The adult pounded on our windows. She observed as her daughters checked our locks, jiggling both the front and back doors.
I hid in the bathroom and called my mom at work. I curled up with the cordless phone and said “MOM! They aren’t leaving!”
She assured me that they would and I was fine. Locked up tight.
They did leave, after about ten minutes of circling our home and pounding on the doors. One would think that they would have been afraid of our neighbors witnessing this bizarre display, or worse, being seen by an Oakland County police officer on our busy main road. I don’t think they knew fear. At least not then. They were focused on finding me.
I didn’t go outside alone for days. I was home for months, and I was allowed to play outside on our deck and in the backyard because both were shielded from street view.
I didn’t speak to either girl after that summer. What was I supposed to say? “Hey, did you have fun stalking my house?” And we finished our last six years of public education as strangers.
I saw one, again, the one from my class, only once in the thirteen years that have passed. We said social “hellos”, and I crossed myself with garlic and burned sage afterward.
Today, when I saw that same beach not yet full, I wondered whatever happened to the raft that used to float just beyond the swimming ropes on Stony Lake. The girls didn’t even drift into my mind until my iPod/phone moved onto a new song.
It was Green Day’s “When I Come Around.” For the first time in twenty years, I thought about that day on our bikes. Discmans in hand and screaming lyrics we didn’t understand. Being eleven is somewhat of a feat. It is okay, hell, it’s expected, to freely ride through the days and live like nothing mattered except the next song.
I know when I head home from work, if I look at that beach again, it will be full. But when I was a kid, just before I turned twelve, it was run by three girls and a boy. All on bikes. All before it turned to shit. Or, more politely, “dookie” because biology decided I was ready for a new curve ball.
If I was or not was irrelevant and still is. Friends turned on friends in an instant. And for what? A tampon?
It wasn’t fair, and I was eleven.
I would say that it shaped my attitude toward friends and other women, but it didn’t. If anything, I learned how to “be” alone. It was that summer that I became a writer. So maybe I should thank them…Probably not.
I think we are better off. Hell, I might have a “better” shoe size now, and who knows that torture that would “deserve?”
And all these years later, I don’t have any idea what I supposedly stole either.