When I was five, or maybe six, we lived in Longview, Texas. Or Burns Flat, Oklahoma. It doesn't matter. I was a small person in a small town in a flat land in the midwest. My clearest memory is of the neighbor boy, who was always trying to get me to show him my heinie or kiss him on the lips or play army guys.
His name was Jason. He was a toe-headed kindergartener who lived on our cul-de-sac. As all children of the '70s, Jason and I were largely unsupervised and found all sorts of trouble to get into. His father kept a stack of Playboy magazines in the hall closet, and one day Jason said, "Hey, look at these." I'm sure I ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the softly airbrushed boobies, the artfully feathered hair, the 'articles'.
I'm sure I didn't tell him that my own father kept Penthouse and Hustler in the bathroom. I had seen crotch shots that would make a hooker blush. Playboy was like reading Twilight after War and Peace.
We didn't have video games or twenty-four hour cartoons and so were forced to play outside for hours at a time with things like rocks and sticks. I'd bang on the screen door and call for my mother. "I want to come inside!" I'd shout.
"Play outside! It's a beautiful day!"
"But it's hot! My face is so sunburned my forehead has cracked and is peeling off! I'm thirsty!"
"Get a drink out of the hose!", she'd yell, and go back to her doobie smoking and plant hanger macrame making.
I leaned over the hose so as not to get my shoes wet, the water hot on my lips and tongue.
"Hey!", Jason called from the sidewalk. "Jimmy found a dirt pile!"
There were few things more exciting than a dirt pile. You could play mountain or king of the castle or have it be base for tag or kickball. You could run around it or dig in it and bury stuff in it. You could slide down it.
And that is what the neighborhood kids were doing when we got there. Someone had found a large plank of wood and had leaned it precariously against the dirt pile at a steep angle. Kids were scrambling up to the top, then sliding down the plank. Sometimes they'd make it all the way to the bottom, sometimes they'd fall off midway down.
The whole set up looked rickety as hell, and extremely dangerous. Sliding down that mound of dirt would be a really horrible idea.
"Race you to the top!" I yelled to Jason.
We half-ran, half-crawled to the top of the mound and jockeyed for position in line. "Ladies first!", I yelled, and Jason took a step back. Even little boys knew that you had to let girls go first. "Stupid girls," he grumbled.
I sat down on the plank. It was smoother than I'd expected, and warm from the sun and countless kid butts sliding down it's surface. The pitch of the plank suddenly made me dizzy and I felt like I might fall right then. "Go on, don't be a baby!", Jason taunted me. "I'm not a BABY!", I yelled back. What did he know? He probably thought pubic hair grew in little heart shapes.
I stood up. "I'm a tightrope walker!", I yelled, and started down the plank. But it was too steep to walk, and I went faster and faster until I was nearly running, windmilling my arms wildly until I jumped, too soon, and landed in a heap at the bottom.
I looked up at Jason, who gave me a thumbs up. I returned the gesture with one of my own, but used a different finger.
"My turn!", he called and straddled the plank, grinning.
I don't remember how far he'd gone when things went wrong. Not far. One minute he was grinning and the next he was screaming bloody murder. He fell off the plank, jumped up, and ran home screaming.
The other kids and I stood there, staring. Then, sensing an impending trouble, possibly even an ass whooping, the kids scattered in the direction of home. I ran home, past Jason's house, where the door was flung wide open. Into my kitchen, where my mom was making pork chops and cornbread and black-eyed peas (which I hate, and to this day associate with the terror that was to follow).
"What is wrong?", she said with concern (after yelling STOP RUNNING IN THE GODDAMN HOUSE). I told her what had happened. She said Jason's parents were in town, and his grandma was at the house. And that was when the screaming began.
They were the screams of a kid who's grandma was pulling a bigass splinter out of his butt. Except, in my six year old head, the splinter grew to ruler size and was not (as it was, in fact) in his buttcheek at all but in his butthole.
I didn't see much of Jason those last few weeks of summer. I went over to his house a few times, but his mom always said he was at the store. Even once when he was standing pretty much right behind her. Grown ups think kids are stupid.
When we went back to school, Jason kept his head down. None of the kids really gave him a hard time, we were still little and some of us thought the poor kid had a splinter in his b-hole and that, for whatever reason, makes you want to be nice to a person.
We nearly ran into each other one day, heading out to recess.
"Oh, sorry, Jason. You go ahead."
He smiled for the first time I'd seen in weeks. "Nah," he said, "Ladies first."