It was the end of high school and the beginning of summer. We had just started loving each other. The days as well as the evenings and the nights were all long and hot. My folks surrounded themselves with people in the evenings. The barbecue never got cool. I loved it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I stepped into the kitchen to call her and she picked up.
I said, “I can’t stay at home another minute. My backyard’s full of people. My mother, all my brothers, my sisters, my grandparents are here. The neighbours are here: the Antoninos, the Martinellis and all their kids…even my dad is home tonight. They were drinking rum and Coke, but now they’ve pulled out the gin and lemonade. I want to see you. I need to see you. When are you off work?” She said she worked until eight. Why don’t we meet at the park?
I hung up and ran upstairs and wrestled my way into my blue summer dress. I brushed my hair, brushed my teeth and put on lipstick. I went back downstairs, two stairs at a time, and returned to the kitchen. I found an empty two-litre bottle of Coke in the recycling under the sink and rinsed it out. I grabbed a pitcher of lemonade and poured it into the empty Coke bottle. I found the lid and closed it up. I heard my dad’s big booming voice, setting up a punchline, quoting someone, perhaps a late night talk show host. Then a sudden burst of delight from my mother. She was laughing in that big, unguarded way. Everyone content, comfortable, relaxed.
I found the lid and closed up the lemonade. I put the big plastic bottle in the knapsack I used for school, stepped into my sandals and left. I ran down the street to the park.
We agreed to meet under a tree on the east side. I arrived a few minutes before her, which pleased me, because I needed to catch my breath. I sat on my knapsack so I wouldn’t get my dress wrinkled or dirty. Then I saw her coming from the other side of the park. I watched her, the rhythm of her walk, moving in her confident and unapologetic way; her cropped hair, her long arms…Her deep searching eyes flashed when she saw me. She smiled as she approached me and took my hand right away. She pulled me to her and she kissed me for a long moment.
We walked further in to the park where the trees were thicker. The sky was now a deep blue. There was a big group of people sitting on the grass in a circle, passing around take-out containers, bottles, cigarettes and joints in a perfect democracy of hedonism. Most of them were guys, but a few girls were there, too. They must have been teenagers, just a few years younger than me. They must have been street kids, homeless, from the west coast, even. Everyone wore baggy colourless pants and black T-shirts, boots and bandanas. Many of them had a large backpack, not just a little book bag, like mine. They sat on sleeping bags. That might have been everything they had, and everything they had was used and dirty. But they seemed happy, just as happy as my folks with their neighbours and friends in the backyard as they barbecued and drank. Two big dogs sat in the circle with them, not wanting to be left out.
She and I found a spot under a tree not far from the street kids. She knelt down, unzipped her bag and pulled out a large bed sheet. It was white, with orange and green flowers, perhaps roses. I loved it. No one could love that garish sheet as much as I did. We spread it out together, the big square of it. We sat on the sheet and she pulled out something else from her bag. She had thought of everything. She had a water bottle full of gin.
We sat cross-legged and drank and passed the bottles back and forth, first the gin, then the lemonade, then the gin. Just like the street kids, sharing, keeping everything equal. From time to time, the street kids asked us if we were okay. Would you two like some of this joint? Would you two like some of this KFC? Would you two like to know the most private place to take a piss?
We got up and offered them the gin and lemonade, and they accepted. They were so polite. They took turns holding the bottles for each other and helping each other get some of the gin, then some of the lemonade, in the same gulp. She and I stood in the middle of the circle while they did this, and we chatted with them brightly. They made sure there was still lots left for us when they were done.
Then she and I returned to our little square of sheet and we sat down together and talked and talked. I don’t even remember what we talked about. She looked at me with such tenderness. She took me in her arms and kissed me. She touched my hair and took me by the waist and pulled me closer to her. She was masculine and strong. I kissed her and held her closer, too. I felt so brave. I felt so safe. I trusted her so much. My heart overflowed with trust, nearly exploding with joy.
And the sun went down slowly, then suddenly, as it does in summer. When the sky was completely black, the street kids spread out their sleeping bags and were quiet almost as suddenly as the sun went down. And they went right to sleep, right there, in the open air, in the park, in the middle of the city – vulnerable, but unafraid. Full of trust. Just like me.