By Cynthia Butler*
Her brother got married and her sister got pregnant when Laurie was six years old and each moved out of their parents’ house shortly after that. Laurie became kind of an only child. Her mother once warned her that she had better skip adolescence. They were just too worn out to deal with another one. Since both of Laurie’s parents worked, we preferred spending most of our time at her house where we could do anything we wanted.
On the evenings when I slept over at Laurie’s house, her parents would often retreat with their gin and tonics to their bedroom upstairs and we would have the downstairs to ourselves. Sometimes we cooked fried baloney or oatmeal cookies. Other times we listened to music and played board games. If the weather was nice we camped out on her back patio in our sleeping bags. We loved the feeling of waking up on the cold bricks with the trees and sky above us.
I can’t remember whose idea it was that summer night to ride our bikes across town to the 7-11 store. It was 2 a.m., we were 14 years old, and we wanted rainbow popsicles. It seemed like the thing to do. We rode down the middle of the streets as fast as we could, zigzagging over the yellow and white lines, rushing through stop signs and laughing hysterically. The cool night air felt wonderful in our hair. Everyone else seemed to be in their neat suburban homes fast asleep.
So when we arrived at the 7-11 we were surprised to see people hanging out in the parking lot. There were men with trucks and motorcycles and they looked at us. For the first time this plan of ours seemed dangerous. We leaned our bikes against the large ice machine and walked toward the florescent interior like we knew what we were doing. The sight of the rainbow popsicles with their swirls of blue and yellow and red made us feel better. We handed over our money at the counter. Dodging our way through the men back to our bikes, we silently agreed that it would be best to eat the popsicles while riding back to Laurie’s house. As the bright glass front of the 7-11 faded behind us, the freedom we had felt riding our bikes in the middle of the night returned.
The next summer Laurie began dating guys from the local university but I continued to be more interested in riding my bike. I can still remember the feel of the night breeze in my hair as we rode through the dark streets. That is why I really hate wearing a bike helmet today.
*Cynthia Butler has worked as a nonprofit fundraiser in San Francisco and Boston. She lives in Berkeley, California.
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