Swings were my favorite. Stacy lived right behind me, and she had a great big swing set. At that time, when we were around six years old, you could walk back and forth between the properties.
It wasn’t long before Stacy’s father planted a row of hemlocks to separate my yard from hers. But, it wasn’t a big deal because they were small and set apart with a foot of space between them. I was taller than the tallest one. You could easily pass through, except you would face the wrath of her father who had a temper and did not want anyone near the tender, growing hemlock trees. It’s not as if we touched them as we slipped by them, still it enraged him when we did.
Stacy never bothered to cross into my yard, though I would call out to her, and yell for her to come on over and play already. She wouldn’t budge.
One day I just decided that the swing set was too tempting. It was right there, no more than thirty yards away. No one was around so I just went through those hemlocks. I was quick and I was quiet. And I was also caught. Somehow her father had a sixth sense about the hemlocks. He must have seen me and ran out so fast that I didn’t even see him coming. Considering the severity of the transgression, I was surprised that he only scolded me. I was already through the hemlocks, so at that point it didn’t matter too much. The swings awaited me.
By about age seven the hemlocks were touching. They were tall now, and when you pushed through them it took quite a bit of maneuvering, and your face would get all scratched up. But a shortcut is a shortcut.
One day we were swinging on Stacy’s swings and I decided we should have a contest. Who could swing the highest? I could. And I knew it. Then Stacy’s mom had to ruin it all. She came out the back door and announced that they were going to dinner. That meant I would have to go home. I didn’t want to stop swinging so I begged her mom to let me stay and swing a little while longer while they were gone. And she agreed.
It was good to be alone with the swings. I closed my eyes. I pretended I was flying. Higher and higher, I could feel the wind wrapping itself around me. I had never felt so free. My mind was soaring. It was pure bliss.
And then something painful happened. I was struck. Assaulted. In agony.
I opened my eyes to see that I was crumpled and on the ground, and I couldn’t move my legs.
I knew that something was terribly wrong. I cried out. No one heard me. I looked around. Stacy’s house was in darkness. It was dusk, and I looked through the branches of the hemlock trees in the direction of my house. I could see the yellow glow of the kitchen window.
The only way to get home was to crawl. Inch by painful inch I did just that. It took an eternity to make it to the hemlocks. When I got there, they seemed thicker than ever. I would have to push through. And I did. When I came out the other side, I let out a blood curdling yell. My grandmother came running. And by midnight I was in the ER getting a thing called a cast.
My cast ruined my summer. New England summers are short. And I loved to swim. And that wasn’t going to happen. No Spring Lake, no pool, no running through the sprinkler. I sat through the Fourth of July party at my cousin’s house watching everyone swim, in a chair with my leg propped. People felt bad for me so they drew on my cast. And the worst part was having to explain to everyone that I did not jump off the swing. Well, what happened then? They’d ask, and I had to tell the whole story from the beginning. And I never got the sense that they believed me.
The day I got my cast off was a day I’ll never forget. We drove to the bone doctor. My mother heard that he had the reputation of being mean. I was scared. He looked mean. I remember the round saw that he used. It looked like a pizza cutter. He spun it in front of me. I listened to it whir. Then, he told me how it would tickle if it touched my skin. I didn’t believe him. But it turns out he was telling the truth. He touched my arm with it. I remember the smell of the white powder as he cut my cast. And the crunch of the cast being cracked open. And the touch of the doctor’s hand on my shoulder as he gave it a strong squeeze and called me brave.
When we got home, it was dinner time. My mother took out a blue box from the freezer and asked me if I wanted some fried clams. She must have known by the expression on my face that I had never heard of a fried clam, much less tasted one. She explained how I should try them and that I would love them. After the day I’d had, I figured that anything was possible, and that I could be brave, and that I might as well try them.
A summer that began with exuberant pleasure, and which led to sudden trauma, finally ended with fried clams. I don’t know if it was the love with which they were popped in the oven, or the fact that I was feeling pretty good now that all that misery and pain were behind me, but those clams became my new favorite food on that night. I still love fried clams.