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The Tree Outside Kate’s Window

December 2, 2008

We longed to climb out the window and down the tree, dangling so our shirts hiked up and exposed our navels, then dropping the last few feet to the ground. We would first toss down our shoes and make the descent barefoot, sitting on the curb to fasten our buckles before tiptoeing away from the house.

But, we never did. Instead, we walked out the front door and into the night.

Kate’s parents were Baha’i, and they let us do anything. I didn’t understand this was lax parenting and not linked with their faith. Kate said Baha’i children were encouraged to think independently. At her house, this meant making your own decisions regarding diet, bedtime, wardrobe, and hygiene. No one fought about unwanted baths, combing out their bedhead, having chocolate and carrots for lunch, or staying awake till sunrise.

My home was hardly boot camp, but as Kate and I lounged on cushions, drinking coffee with all the lights carelessly switched on, shoes scuffing the upholstery, Nico warbling from the record player long after midnight, her situation seemed like a teenage dream.

She bunked in the attic, a bohemian paradise accessible only by ladder. Scarves and stinky velour curtains cut the space into glamourous dens. This style was old before we were born, but Kate pulled it off without seeming like a poseur. One rule, despite her parents’ boundless trust: No candles after 8 p.m.

Sleepovers were a ticket to parties my parents declared off limits, and Kate’s father never clocked our slutty outfits, boozy breath, and groggy mornings. There must have been subtle boundaries even for Baha’i kids, because Kate did all the talking and her stories never quite mapped onto our real plans, nor did she disclose the age of the boys we met, or the menu of “snacks” we enjoyed. And one Sunday, her mother flatly turned me in when mine called fishing for information about the night before.

I was astonished when Kate was permitted to cut the rest of grade twelve to see America with a vanload of hippies, five dollars in her pocket and a borrowed guitar over her shoulder. When she returned in June, chubbier and with three rings through her left nostril, she spoke in a throaty drawl that made me wonder what had happened on the road to drop her voice an octave.

Soon after this, we each moved away, but caught wind of our evolving histories from mutual friends who remained close. Reuniting in Vancouver, we almost formed a band together, but fought over who would play triangle. And then, Kate dipped below the surface and was gone.

A bit of research confirmed that Baha’i had nothing to do with Kate’s wonky upbringing, but only after she reappeared as an uneducated, social assistance-collecting, single mother of three did I stop envying the life she had seemed to live behind those scarves and curtains.

She remains a romantic figure, a woman who ebbed from a busty classmate into a smoky stranger. But, now she lugs a bit of tragedy. It pulls at her cheeks and weighs down her smile.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Carrie permalink
    December 4, 2008 12:07 pm

    Oh, those girls.

    I am so glad that I didn’t end up a lesson.

    Can you come visit me now please?

  2. John permalink
    December 8, 2008 10:16 pm

    i recently bought some barbecue sauce from a restaurant that i remember as having the absolute best ribs. for about ten years, i’ve told people that this place has the best ribs – which is about how long ago i actually had them. i’m a little afraid to actually use the sauce on ribs that i’ve cooked myself because i don’t want to ruin the memory of how good they tasted at the restaurant.

    but, then again, they might taste just as good and i could have them whenever i want!

  3. looka permalink
    December 9, 2008 5:47 am

    I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say…..

  4. Amanda permalink
    December 9, 2008 8:27 am

    Looka! At a loss for words! : )

  5. looka permalink
    December 10, 2008 7:05 pm

  6. John permalink
    December 13, 2008 10:29 am

    so i had the ribs. they sucked! however, i blame it on how my wife and i prepared them (boiled first then on the grill) and i’m going to try again when i have time to leave them on the grill at a low temp for a long time – about two beers’ worth. also researched how the restaurant (the rendezvous in memphis) prepares them. i won’t be defeated!

  7. Amanda permalink
    December 13, 2008 1:18 pm

    John, a real man is never defeated by a rack of ribs. You must persevere.

  8. John permalink
    December 13, 2008 5:01 pm

    thanks, coach. i’ll keep you posted.

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