When you have five 11 year old boys lounging around your living room on a rainy Friday night, you sense the energy of potential—for fun, for trouble, for innumerable spontaneous antics. On such a night, not a moment should be wasted. What do you want do? the question circulates. I don't know. What do you want to do?
My idea is to get them in the kitchen to help me bake cookies. Wouldn’t that be fun? Their idea is to do nothing of the sort. Clearly, I’m the boring kind of mom who can only think of baking or knitting on a Friday night. And so the consensus is to switch houses and see what’s going on at Max’s house a half-mile up the road—Max has a decidedly more exciting house than ours, and a mom who lets them do "fun stuff." Clearing their plates from the table, and conscientiously thanking me for dinner (they’re good boys), Max calls his mother and they gather their things to go. “Want me to drive you there?” I ask, thinking they’ll be relieved to score a ride. “No thanks,” Max says. “I’ve got my bike, and besides. It’s raining.” Exactly. It’s raining. In fact, the rain is coming down really hard. The gutters are running rivers. But here’s where the potential comes in.
The boys don’t dilly dally with jackets or umbrellas. They have to go now! Right this very minute! Poor Cameron, who likes things to be a certain way, takes an extra minute to collect his toothbrush and sleeping bag, but that’s Cameron’s problem. His twin, Kyle, who lives for the moment, is already out the door with the others, crashing through solid sheets of rain. Always less popular of the two, Cameron races after them, loaded with weight, and shouting for them. “Hey guys! Wait up!” Standing at the door, I watch them disappear into the night feeling a mixture of elation and skepticism.
It’s very dark. It’s a mother of a storm. Five boys are running through town in a state of, well, boyhood. I wholeheartedly cheer their sprint into the weather. I wish I were doing it with them. But my conscience begins to gather weight. Something could happen. I don’t want to think what, but I’m suddenly nervous. I decide I have to follow them. And I have no time to lose. Snatching my keys, I run out the door. I’m soaked before I make it to the car, but I don't mind. I drive the route I’m sure they’ve taken, but don’t see them for a few blocks. Finally, I spot Cameron, who is trotting alone with his sleeping bag. I pull up and give a short honk. He gets into the car. “Thank you SO MUCH!” he says. “Which way did they go?” I ask. “That way.” I drive, peering through the waterfall on the windshield, wipers going at high speed. When I catch up with the others, I see they are shirtless, and swinging their shirts over their heads, whooping and hollering. Cameron climbs out. “Thanks!” I let him go.
But I lurk. The rain is slapping down, reddening the boys’ shoulders and backs. Max is on his bike doing jumps and wheelies and the other four are running and making a hell of a racket. I scan the streets. They’re mostly empty, but that doesn’t mean something isn’t out there ready to strike. So I continue to stalk the boys, but they turn up a bike path. So I circle the street, waiting for them to appear at the opposite end. I don’t see them. I drive up and down the street. No kids. Only two lines of houses aglow in the raging darkness. I circle a second time, and then park in front of Max’s house, engine idling, the radio on, the rain throttling the roof of my car. Where are they? They should be here by now. Where the hell are they?
I wait a good seven or eight minutes, and just when I’m about to get out of the car and run down the bike path to search for them, I see them coming—their bare chests mirroring the streetlamps in the blur of the shower, their bare feet (all but Cameron have removed their shoes) tip toeing through the rushing water in the gutters as it catapults down the slight grade of Hopkins Street. The only one who notices me sitting in the parked car is Cameron, who waves as he runs by.
I watch as the boys cross the road at the top of Hopkins and enter the gate in front of Max’s house. I see the porch light go on, and the door open and then close. I sit for a few minutes just watching the house, and as I sit, I notice that the radio is playing a song with the words, “I’ll love you forever” in it. It’s a sappy song on a soul station I almost never listen to, but before I know it my face is as wet as my car’s windshield, and my chest is heaving, and I can't do anything but give in to whatever it is that I’m feeling. And although I ask myself what it is I'm feeling, I can only say "life." It's just life, goddammit. It sometimes takes hold of you. And what can you do but succumb? So I succumb. And it's painful and joyful at the same time, and so profound I have no words for it. And when the song ends, I sit there for another few minutes, and dry my eyes and blow my nose, and think about the difference between childhood and adulthood--two lands separated by an ocean. Is that what I can't bear? That gigantic chasm between innocence and experience? I continue to wonder as I turn the car around and drive home.
By the time I arrive, the rain has lightened to a gentle sprinkle. Daniel, my fifteen year old, is standing on the porch. He is holding an umbrella and looking toward the sky with a disappointed look on his face. "I hate that! Just when I'm going to take a walk in the rain, it stops raining." He is dressed in his baby blue footy pajamas that he's outgrown, a windbreaker over the top and the rubber-bottomed "feet" stuffed into his Vans shoes. As I look at him, concealing a smile, it occurs to me suddenly that the difference between childhood and adulthood might not be as big as it seemed to me only moments before sitting in the car in front of Max's house. Or as uncrossable. And that perhaps the oceanic space between youth and age is merely an illusion we can accept or not. It's a conundrum, and I decide I'll have to ponder this notion some more, maybe in an essay or in my blog, and find the answer through writing about it. That still leaves me with a rainy Friday night. "Hey," I say, getting out of the car. "Since it's not raining anymore, want to bake cookies?"
Causes Veronica Chater Supports
Sierra Club; Public Library; Public Schools; Crowden Music Center; Women's Cancer Resource Center; Democratic Party