I don’t know what it is but I guess I’ve been in a storytelling mood here lately. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m “fingers deep” into my latest novel. Anyway, I recently asked the students in my English 101 class to write a description of a childhood memory and as I often do, I decided to write with them. This particular memory came to me, I think, because I recently found myself uncovering the various ways I’ve allowed rejection, real or perceived, to influence my life and impact my destiny. Here goes…
He was the cutest boy in the neighborhood. At least he was to my nine-year old eyes. As if he was dipped into a vat of caramel icing, his skin was smooth. Smoother than any other 13 year-old I’d seen. He was also the Pastor’s son. Don’t know why that made a difference but it did. Maybe I thought that made him closer to God or something. In hindsight, his intentions were as far from Godly as anyone can be but hey, I was nine. I didn’t really stop to ponder the theology of it all.
He also had the best bike in the neighborhood. A 10-speed that was jet black and whose shiny wheels whispered when he whizzed by us girls playing double-dutch or hopscotch or hand games.
I liked this brown boy very much. So much so, I was willing to risk the lightning fast whip of my Aunt’s belt in exchange for “borrowing” my cousin’s bike and answering his call to follow him into the woods near our neighborhood.
There I am, breathing heavy and pumping hard on the pedals of a BMX bike in order to make it up and down the steep hills that brown boy, with his gear shifts and all, seemed to navigate with ease. Dark and shadowy figures appeared to be hidden behind the tall trees that smothered this part of Vine Grove, Ky. My real home was in Louisville but I was being forced to spend what I thought would be only one summer with family who lived “in the country.” Anyway, in truth those dark figures I saw were probably only a few deer or a raccoon or two. Yet even back then I had a very vivid imagination and preferred to think of them as ghosts; anything that would heighten the element of danger in my adventure.
When I reached the edge of the woods, I jumped off the bike and followed the distinct scent of boy. I found him a few minutes later standing in a clearing next to an old wooden shack. The air around us seemed heavy with awkward anticipation. And it was…only for different reasons. I didn’t really know what to say to him since, in actuality, I’d only ever spoken to him at church. Praise the Lord didn’t seem appropriate at all. Nevertheless, I ventured forward hoping only for a smile or a hug or maybe a kiss; something that said, “I like you too.” His mission? Something entirely different.
Long story short, brown boy looked me over and then grinned. I grinned back. So far, so good, I thought. Then he asked me…no, dared me…to punch out the glass in one of the squares on the ancient, wooden shed door. Huh? Of course I didn’t understand why. It sounded strange even to someone as young and naïve as me. But I was in the woods with a boy I liked and while fear may have kept my heart beating like African drums, so did my nine-year old love.
So I punched out the glass.
Probably as hard as he laughed.
My eyes bulged as I watched blood pour out of my hand, down my wrists, and onto my clothes. They finally burst with tears as I also watched the brown boy who, in that moment, didn’t appear quite as lovely as before, jump on his perfect bike and speed out of the woods. He left me standing there, hand and heart both hurting something fierce.
Sadly, It wouldn’t be the first time this happened.
The evidence…25 years later. Faded scars are still scars.