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The Dangers of Bravery

January 26, 2010

1. Lying on your back in the street, spine aligned with the dashed middle line, feeling like the moment your head touches pavement, you will officially defy death. Prone, you will be too flat to jump up and bolt to safety if a car swings around the bend. The key to safety (and to proving bravery) is your head, so you put off the touchdown as long as you can. Like keeping your feet planted on the dock, like pumping your arms poolside but holding back from a dive. You stay propped on one elbow, craning your neck to see if anything’s coming, chide onlooker-kids to shut up and totally let you concentrate. Then, you lie back, all the way this time.

2. Hanging underneath the tall slide, shoes heavy on your ankles, pants and shirt parting to expose your belly. Inching one hand then the other, up and up and up, momentum gained by flailing your legs pendulum-style. Sweater zipper jangling, chilly against your ribs. (Or, it’s summer and the metal slide is scorching your hands, the only path to relief a faster climb, the sooner you reach the top, the sooner you get to let go and drop.) Someone crouched at the bottom egging you on, another kid squatting on the top platform reminding you that if you lose your grip, you are so totally starting over, all over again. You remember that boy from the other grade, who one time broke his ankle when he let go all wrong. “Make sure you don’t fall like Darryl, but if you do, I’ll be first to sign your cast!”  Then, you’re at the top, throw one leg over the rim and scooch onto the slide. Swoosh down, clothes hiked crooked and bare skin (spine, calves, elbow) screeeeeing along the metal.

3. Unhooking your fingers from the rolled and crumpled neck of the brown paper bag, and letting your lunch plop into the cafeteria trash bin. Peanut butter with jam soaked into the bread, apple with deep bruises mashing one side, juice box, butterscotch pudding in a pull-tab tin. Untouched, uneaten, you barely even checked to see what was in the bag today, like it’s no big deal to waste food. Like it’s not a waste at all, since it was kind of a sucky lunch. Stomach flipping as though your mom might catch you from across town. Brave in front of friends like you don’t need that sandwich, aren’t afraid to chuck it then sneak to the diner for fries. This takes you off school property, which is a whole other test, since none of the bussed-in kids are supposed to leave till hometime, not without a note. You feel so sneaky, in fact, that you bolt the forbidden fries, chewing without tasting, and the only way you know you ate them at all is the film of grease on your tongue all the way through math and gym.

4. Kissing. At parties where someone made up some kind of game, because really, boy-girl parties were all about getting kissed, and the days before a party were reduced to talking about what sort of kissing might go down. Kissing was brave and dangerous no matter where it took place; it didn’t have to be a party. It could happen at recess at the behest of a dare. At the track meet where sprinting heats and high-jump trials were strictly for losers, and anyone who was anyone instead aimed for first base. At the dance where you had to first slip away from friends who wanted to spy, then sneak down the corridor to the off-limits wing, then pinch your cheeks to be sure they’d stay pink while you slunk back to the gym, pink enough your friends would notice and ask where you’d been, then after protesting “nowhere” for a bit, you could breathlessly confess. At camp with a kid none of your friends back home would ever meet and who could safely be talked up from “weird, awkward, asthmatic” to “guy one grade older with rich parents, cute swim trunks and the first shadows of armpit hair”, or “girl who didn’t wear a bra just yet, but was going to need one by back-to-school”.

5. Smoking. Sharing menthols pilfered from the carton of some kid’s mom, a mom who smoked so much she’d never notice one gone, but not so much that she could eyeball a pack and know if it was one cigarette lighter than she’d left it. Smoking had to be scheduled carefully to remain above suspicion. For instance, after hanging out at a house where you could claim you picked up the stink while chatting over cookies in the kitchen. Or even better, when you could blame someone’s sister, deflecting scrutiny and training it on Tammy’s tight jeans and flippy hair, and that lumox boyfriend who was clearly going to do that girl no good (an easy shift in topics from your tobacco-tainted hands, to lax supervision, the likelihood that older sister would turn up pregnant one of these days).  Smoking. Holding the cigarette gingerly, puffing it foolishly, acting like the skill was naturally occurring. It was ok to admit that you once needed to be taught to read, to ride a bike, to dive from the high board, and correctly transfer buses to reach the mall. But, at twelve, you had to come off as though you were born to smoke.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gus permalink
    January 28, 2010 4:29 pm

    Nostalgia. 🙂

    • welltailored permalink*
      January 28, 2010 4:31 pm

      Ohhh yes…add the Stuart Scott creek-jump, the tree-climbing, and the time me, Steph, Amy and Annie made flame-throwers from aerosol hairspray and then had to do an essay (assigned by the principal in exchange for not telephoning our parents) that required us to telephone the fire department, tell them what we did, and ask for safety tips, and you’ve got a pretty solid picture of grade five.

      : )

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