Um... photo unrelated.
This is a photo of me with a sign I made that said "will work for candy".
Because.... I don't know why.
On one edge of the town I grew up in, on the road out towards the cemetery, there was what passed for a 'bridge', in its way. It was a place where underneath the road there was a small concrete tunnel or sorts, drainage for the ditches. We kids called it 'the creek', because we had no idea what creeks actually were apparently and were not the sort of children to believe it when our parents told us it was sewage.
When I was nine or ten, a group of us were playing out there. My best friend Rikki, who was my chief partner-in-crime, was less timid than I about splashing right in. We were mostly trying to make it through the tunnel and out the other side, daring each other to try and do so without getting our feet wet. I know there were four or five of us that day, but I couldn't tell you who the others were.
In these stories, as well as in my childhood in general, it was Rikki and I vs. the world. Other kids who were there just weren't considered nearly as important as her, and so I have more trouble figuring out if they were there or not. This is what we like to call "writer's memory"; it may not be 100% factually accurate, but it's what was true to us.
Or at least that's the excuse I like to use.
In any case, we were splashing around having a great time, and I realized I had to go to the bathroom. Although we had biked out, it was a good five minutes back to my house, a good five minutes back out here. I didn't want to leave playtime, especially since I had to be home by dinner anyway.
A girl in my class by the name of Nicole* lived next to the creek, so I knocked on her door. Nobody home.
I was dancing back and forth a little by this point, growing more desperate.
"Well... knock on a door," Somebody said.
And that, my readers, seemed like an absolutely fantastic idea. Except I was pretty sure I didn't know anyone on this street but Nicole*, and her mom smoked like a chimney and had beer out where we could see it sometimes, which to me was profoundly scandalous.
I hadn't really wanted to use their bathroom anyway.
"But... it's all strangers,", I pointed out.
The argument was made that this was McLean, what could possibly happen?
It was a convincing argument. But I still hesitated, and hopped back and forth.
When someone else piped up to say they dared me to do so, I frowned and said no. A note of hesitation had crept into my voice, though.
Then things got interesting.
The stakes were raised to a double-dog dare, then to a triple-dog dare, and if you were ever ten and kind of an idiot like I was you would know and understand that I really had no choice.
If I didn't do it, I would be seen as weak. A coward. Not brave at all, and that simply couldn't be borne. Rikki might forgive me my yellow-belly, but I couldn't say that about the other kids. It was tough enough making friends as it was.
I didn't need both the reputation of a bookish nerd and of the kid who can't stand up to a dare and do the brave thing, the truly courageous thing; bow to peer pressure and fold under like a piece of old tinfoil.
So I picked a house on the street that had cars in the driveway, marched up, and with my heart pounding I knocked on the door of people I had never met.
A woman answered, and I asked if she would mind if I used her bathroom, please. I tried to make myself sound very lion-hearted, which is to say I probably sounded like a tiny Napoleon. Well, actually, compared to Napoleon I probably wasn't that much tinier.
She stared at me for a long moment, shocked, then said okay and let me in, leading me to their guest bathroom, this grubby kid who politely thanked her and ducked inside. When I came out, she and her husband were sitting at their kitchen table, just staring at me. I thanked them again, told them my name to make sure they knew it was okay since I was from around here, and ran back to play with my friends.
When I realized it was close to dinner time, I rode my bike back home, stowed it in the garage, and went about wandering into the living room to watch some TV.
Wherein my mother greeted me with a storm cloud face that made me freeze in my tracks and start mentally trying to list off all the things I'd done that might possibly get me into trouble that day. I had, by this point, conveniently forgotten the whole bathroom thing. That still left a pretty long list, though.
Turns out, the people who had let me in to use their bathroom had a son my sister's age, who worked with her and my brother at the local McDonald's. He had been there when I came in, although I didn't see him. He had told my sister what happened, and Christina had promptly told on me to my mother.
So... let's just say there was a lecture, about politeness and strangers and how you just don't do these things and some other words, besides. A... lot of words, that I didn't realize until later were from a place of worry and more than a little bit of relief that I was okay; somehow, once again, I had managed to do something that other kids would have ended up a missing poster on a milk carton for and walked out perfectly fine.
I was scared and a little ashamed and didn't understand why, so I cried because I will cry if I read a sad book let alone get in trouble. I tried to point out that I had been dared to do it and so couldn't exactly say no, but that argument has no traction with adults for some reason.
I felt this bubbling rage against my older sister's betrayal growing like a little Godzilla inside of me. I was angry with her for days, sulky and monosyllabic, for telling on me. For tattling. It took until I forgot about the whole thing for me to forgive her, by which I mean it took something like fourteen days, give or take a few.
Which was forever and I felt like she had been suitably punished.
I can remember my righteous anger incredibly clearly, but let's just rewind a bit and look at things from my fifteen-year-old sister's point of view.
A guy you go to school with and work with tells you that a little girl with your last name showed up at his house, asked to use the bathroom, did so, and then ran back outside. He has never met your little sister. You have, of course, and so realize that your little sister just happily and without a thought went into a stranger's house, trusting someone she had never met and who could have been a kidnapper or a murderer.
It was rude, it was probably dangerous and you have never done such a thing in your life. You never even had to be told not to do such a thing.
Plus, keep in mind that as Christina, you have lived with this strange, loud, dirty tomboy for much of your life. You are very much aware that your sister has a history of randomly walking up to strangers and talking to them, that this is the little sister who once got lost in Walmart, who wandered away from the family in a store at Disney World once, the kid who had to be on a wrist-leash as a toddler.
So when you hear that Katie did something that would probably have gotten any other kid on the evening news when she disappeared, you rightly make sure Mom knows about it.
Besides, it's kind of nice when Katie sulks. It's the one time she's quiet.
(I don't know that Christina thought any of these things. But I definitely know there was the occasional relief when I shut up for five minutes. I'm pretty sure that's why Mom kept agreeing to buy me more books to read.**)
So I ate dinner with that sort of miserable determination that angry children are especially good at, stomped around for a while, forgot to stomp, realized I had forgotten and tried to stomp some more, and around that time I was distracted by something. Probably the aforementioned books.
So, there you go. Another heartwarming cautionary tale. One day I'll release a whole book of them. I plan to title it "I Really Didn't Think This Through; The Corn Thief and Other Warning Signs".
*totally not even close to her real name.
**She'll never admit it. She'll say something like 'education' or 'intelligent kid' or 'money well spent', but we all know, Mom. We all know it was just to shut me up.***
***We totally know it wasn't just about that. It was also to keep me home so I couldn't run headlong into a stranger's van or something.