I woke up this morning in a PJ & B sandwich. Which isn't nearly as weird as it sounds if you knew us. PJ is our champion these days with Lochlan not far behind, since he has now settled back in to life here at a much slower pace.
Today isn't great, however. I feel stretched across my own emotions like a rubber band on a stick, cradling a stone hellbent for wounding. Life is summer in the grass, slingshot in hand, hoping to inflict pain, transferring it on the small insignificants of life in order to make it less for me, selfishly. I feel a bead of sweat rolling down my head and I squint one eye shut, taking aim with the other and I stick my tongue out just a little of one side of my mouth and pull my arm back and let it rip, holding my breath.
I roll onto my back in the deep weeds, the sun blinding me, the heat stifling, crickets singing in the still air.
No fireflies in the day, I think to myself. I roll back over and sit up, brushing errant goldenrod out of my hair. I won't tie it back, I won't be a lady, I want to have fun like the boys do. I want to get dirty, bruised and bloody and I want to throw punches that knock people down, like they do and I want to be allowed to follow the path all the way to the creek bridge like they do and stay there until dark, fashioning boats of paper to send around the bend toward the lake. I want to join their sleepovers and have dinner at their houses and have a chance to hold the salamanders they catch and release.
I don't want to be late to every morning game of Kick the Can because my mother made me sit for twenty minutes while she brushes sticks out of my hair from the day before and plaits neat tight braids I will rip the ribbons from the moment I can't see my house anymore.
I don't want to have to go grocery shopping with her instead of staying at the lake with Bailey and her friends because I am the youngest and the smallest kid in the neighborhood and not that good of a swimmer besides.
Lochlan will rescue me if I fall in. At least he said he would (but would they please trust my life to this boy because he hasn't lied to me yet). Cole will be there, too. They're all good swimmers, please mom.
Stay off the tire swing, Bridget.
Stay with Bailey.
I will, I promise.
Those boys do treat you protectively. Just be careful.
I smiled and grabbed my backpack. The boys thought I was a pain in the ass. A nuisance. BridgetMOVEsoIcankicktheball. Yeeshyou'resuchababy. Those words smeared together, bouncing off me like rubber balls on pavement, I was so determined to be noticed. So determined to be seen as grown-up and independent. So determined to be one of them.
When I got there, I took a deep breath, spread out a towel closer to the boys than the girls on the grass and took off my shorts and my shirt, leaving just my swimsuit. Bailey laughed while I tried to act natural, teenagelike as I stretched out to catch some sun, just like Bailey, who was thirteen, and all her friends were doing.
I turned back over and leaned up on my elbows, watching the swimmers crossing to the tire swing.
Want to swim out?
It was Lochlan, who would turn fourteen that year, smiling at me. I mistook his interest, which was platonic brotherly affection and nothing more. I would never have to do that again.
Sure, I'll go.
I went, with instant regret, as we hit the water and he proceeded to ignore me, swimming quickly across the lake to the swing, to the other boys, gangly in their too-big trunks with their burgeoning muscles, on the cusp of becoming men, hell, on the cusp of becoming high-schoolers. I felt fear mingle with the cold water but dammit, I wanted to be with them, not with the girls. I swam but I couldn't make any progress and Lochlan wasn't really watching anyway so I finally gave up and returned to my towel. Bailey had been watching and she smiled, telling me I was too young to be hanging around with the boys. I sat up and looked at them, they were swinging far out over the water on the tire and doing flips off the branch and shoving each other in. I knew I was too young. I put my shirt back on and walked down to the water's edge. Cole was coming in to the beach, doing an easy crawl. His dark hair and blue eyes reflecting the water, he smiled up at me.
Going home already, Bridget?
Yeah, it's boring here.
In a few years it won't be.
I think I like the beach better.
You can find shells and sea glass and crabs. It's not just grass like here.
Do you find a lot of glass?
All kinds. I have a bowl full of it at home.
Maybe I can come see it sometime.
My ten-year-old brain didn't miss the brotherly tone in his voice. I turned and went back to my towel and told Bailey I was going home and I gathered up all my stuff and started walking up the road toward home, remarking that I was dumb in the first place to go hang out at the lake when the ocean is that much cooler and not more than a short walk the other way. A horn blared behind me and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I turned to look and it was Cole again, hanging out the window of Caleb's car, Caleb who was sixteen and could drive and didn't want to be fetching children from the lake, only doing so because his parents said he had to.
Want a ride, Bridge?
No, I'm fine.
Get in, we'll take you up the hill.
Cole was shirtless, leather cord around his neck, brown Jim Morrison curls on his shoulders, dry shorts on with his clean t-shirt and a towel on the bench seat between the boys. He scooped everything up and threw it behind the seat and jumped out so I could get in and sit between them. He was always nice to me.
Nothing, I just don't fit in. I don't care what the girls are doing and the boys don't want me around.
That will change.
About four or five years from now. Everything will start to change. You'll see. You'll wish for these days, when things were uncomplicated.