*We played hopscotch in the back corner of the drive with chalk scraped into crooked lines and numbers distributed as best we could remember them from grade school math class. My cousin, holding the sunnier disposition, commenced to hopping. I sat with palms to asphalt, leveling on eye to the ground to scrutinize our work . The curve of the 3 was slightly askew. The strand than ran across the first box was off, giving that chunk the look of a half-full aquarium. Smiling, she waved me on from the far end of the grid, and I decided against hosing the mess down and beginning again. As I started to jump, careful not to kiss a toe to the flimsy edges, I noticed my cousin distracted by something. Rather than cheer for my superior skipping abilities, she looked past me. I finished my run with my signature curtsy, a dramatic right foot pointed and swayed elegantly behind the left, arm circling down from my imaginary hat brim to my imaginary audience.
Not so much as clap or roll of the eyes.
I turned around and found her point of view: an awkward, middle-aged man walking cautiously towards us. As he walked closer a sick sense turned in my belly. Jelly beans and chocolate milk swirled with alarm and the nagging feeling that I’d been warned about this very predicament before. My cousin, so trusting she’d offer a hand to a rabid dog, skipped in circles as the mystery visitor crept closer. After much brain- racking and fidgeting of fingers, I remembered the advice I’d received from my mother. Turn that dadgum Dateline off…They’re showing pictures of dead folks! Don’t lay belly flat on a skateboard and send yourself flyin’ down that hill! Look before you cross the road! Put on some modesty shorts under that dress if you insist of climbing trees! Say Thank You! Never talk to strangers!
The last bit seemed to fit, and the added knowledge Stone Phillips had so graciously shocked me with through late-night, sneaky viewings of Dateline only served as confirmation. Little girls talking to strange pedestrians was surely a recipe for abduction.
Consumed by this maternal warning, I glanced sadly at my naive cousin as she tried to explain to the man, who spoke in jumbled foreign-talk, how the fine art of hopscotch hopping could be perfected. Poor girl, her mother must not have told her.
I tip-toed up the stairs to the safety of the backdoor. I was thrilled to be away from harm, and shuffled past the kitchen full of adult relatives to the living room. I stopped briefly to flash a victorious smile in my mother’s direction, as if to say, “You should be SO proud of my self-preservation skills. Mama done learned me right!”.
The living room was quiet, filled with half-played games of Barbie, and the sadness set in. I would miss my cousin, my best friend, the only girl in all of Tennessee who understood the musical brilliance of the Hanson brothers. In my interview with Stone Phillips I would explain the injustice of it all, how one girl was told the keys to basic safety and the other hopscotched into oblivion. I shed a tear and set out to see this last game of Malibu Barbie Tans At The Beach And Meets A Super Cute Surfer Boy through.
After minutes of focused arm twisting, convertible seatbelt buckling, and searching for the doll’s missing private parts, I moseyed into the kitchen to ask for a snack. Surprised to see me all alone without the bubbly presence of my best friend, the adults questioned as to her whereabouts. Remembering the enormous victory I’d just experienced I enthusiastically told them of my narrow escape from danger in the backyard, and that I may or may not have left my younger cousin with the creepy Kid Snatcher. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and dog rushed to her rescue and were relieved to find her ever the sunny sprite, still hopping across the chalky grid.
Years later, I found myself sitting in a sports bar, sipping fruity beverage with a friend from work…and her date. She was unsure of him and begged for my uncomfortable accompaniment. I obliged, half wanting to be a decent friend, half wanting my bar tab paid. As we settled into the vinyl booth, he introduced himself by nickname. He spent twelve-and-a-half minutes explaining the root of said nickname and its far-fetched correlation to the name his mother bestowed upon him. Speaking of mothers, he loved his. Twenty minutes and three stiff drinks later, the bar was given a detailed account of how a seemingly grown man can steadfastly cling to his mama’s hip. More excruciating stories followed from a one-by-one account of his vast comic book collection to his insistence that many, many bachelor’s degrees take eight years to complete. As the waitress approached our table, I pleaded with my eyes that she join us, or at the very least pull the fire alarm. “Scotch, extra ice!,” the suitor announced, and the feeling that I’d had one too many sugar-coated drinks was met with the feeling that I must escape this madman at all costs. I excused myself to the ladies’ room, glancing back to see my sweet friend happy and captivated by the boy’s dullest drivel.
The bathroom smelled like stale beer and flowers. I hung my weight on my arms, both pressed into the mirror. As lady patrons entered I fetched a lip gloss from my purse and feigned interest in “putting my face on”. One woman liked my sweater. One girl, much too young to be frequenting a bar, explained that she’d had eight drinks by herself. Tolerance of Champions! As they came and went I struggled with life’s hardest decision: To flee or not to flee? With a generously sized window just two stalls over, escaping seemed the best possible route lest my brain cells shrivel in a sea of under-stimulating conversation. Surely this prolonged nonsense could be fatal. It would be in my best interest to creep away to the safety of the back door.
With a headache and a mouth made up like Tammy Faye, I realized the lesson I had failed to learn all those years ago. The game of friendship demands teamwork and loyalty, more so than common sense or personal safety.
*old post alert!
hope if you hated this post way back when
you hate it a little less today!