I Am a Child

GOOD TIMES BAD TIMES

That summer of ’69, Betty and Kay hung out. With Johnny’s band and the others, in Takoma Park. Betty was on that edge of 17, and Kay a year older. They’d both lived sheltered lives till then so they stayed close to what was familiar, while exploring inner space.

One hot evening Betty walked the mile from her parents’ house to Kay’s apartment, and they played Kay’s Led Zeppelin album – Betty dancing and Kay singing — till they got bored with Kay’s roommate telling them to turn it down.

“I know where we can get some flag acid,” Betty suggested.

“Let’s do it then,” Kay smiled.

DEAR MR. FANTASY

They sat on the front steps of the little hippie guy’s house on Flower Avenue, waiting to get off. Barefoot, in shorts & halter tops, long hair hanging down their backs. Comfortably warm, happy with the peace of the universe, and beginning to notice the trees communicating with them, shimmering with meaning that couldn’t quite be put into words.

Suddenly and together, it seemed, they realized they were dying of thirst, and discussed just how they might get something to drink, considering the dealer had left home and it seemed impossibly complicated to accomplish a purpose like that, given the trip they were on. And neither one had any money.

MAGIC CARPET RIDE

Just then, miraculously (it seemed to them both), a car slowed in front of the house, and four long-haired men smiled out at them.

“Can we give you girls a ride somewhere?” the driver asked solicitously.

“Can you give us a ride to High’s, right up the street, so we can get something to drink?” Betty asked.

“Sure,” he grinned. “We’ll buy you whatever you want at High’s.”

They got in, squeezed between the two men in the back seat, and noticed soon enough that the car drove past High’s without stopping.

“That was High’s right there,” Betty offered tactfully. “I think you missed it.”

“We’re going to a party,” the grinning driver explained. “You girls can have anything you want when we get there.”

BAD MOON RISING

It was almost dark, and the world was beginning to take odd shapes, but Betty and Kay both knew they were in Hyattsville, which was more than walking distance to home. The car pulled around to the back of a plain brick apartment building, where a number of motorcycles were parked, and they all went into the basement apartment. There were about a dozen men there.

“There’s no furniture!” Betty observed. In fact, she noticed that there was only one item of furniture in the whole apartment, oddly enough – a bare mattress on the floor of the bedroom. Realizing that her question could be perceived as impolite, she continued, “I guess the host must have just moved in? Is this a house-warming party?”

No one answered, and no one even made eye contact, so Betty assumed the music was too loud for anyone to have heard her. Despite that, Betty did her best to engage the men in conversation. The world was sparkling and spinning, and she was giddily dizzy; she wanted these guys to be happy and to talk to her. Why did they seem so wary, and dull?

But Kay was not comfortable. She noticed that there were no other women. That most of the guys were wearing “colors” of the Pagan motorcycle gang. And that some were telling the other men – who were arriving now in groups – that there was going to be a “train” tonight. She felt paranoia coming on.

Betty didn’t understand why Kay was going to each man, one after another, pulling him aside and asking if he could please pretty please take her to a pay phone so that she could call her parents so they wouldn’t call the police to look for her and then she would come back to the party pretty please?

Finally one guy agreed, and left the party with Kay. He didn’t look like the others; Betty guessed that maybe he was a student at the University of Maryland nearby.

WILD CHILD (FULL OF GRACE)

Betty was dancing, spinning, laughing, as the place filled with more and more men. She felt so blessed, to be free to dance that way! The world was magical, and she was welcome in it!

Between songs, Betty asked the man nearest to her, “If you could be anywhere else, right now, where would it be?”

“Huhn,” he grunted in a kind of laugh, “I reckon I’d be up on a big ol’ cloud, ridin’ my motorcycle. Huhn.”

What a sad lack of imagination, Betty thought. After all, he looked as though he did little else other than to ride a motorcycle. “Oh, that’s nice!” she said encouragingly.

“Let’s dance!” Betty called to no one in particular, as she spun in the living room empty of furniture. “Let’s all dance!”

No one did, right then, but she figured that eventually she could get this party going. It was getting pretty hot, so at one point she took off her halter top, heedless, and spun it around for air.

“Could someone open a window, please?” she asked.

CAN’T FIND MY WAY HOME

Kay had to ask college guy for a dime to make the call. In the phone booth, she stared at the number on the scrap of paper she’d pulled from her pocket, the number of the restaurant where Johnny worked nights. She couldn’t read it – the numbers were moving around.

“I’m going to turn the car around and I’ll be right back,” college guy called to her.

He pulled out, and Kay ran. She ran to the nearest bank of bushes in front of a house, and dived behind them. She waited there, heart pounding, as college guy drove back and forth, up and down the block, occasionally getting out and calling for her. Finally, he seemed to be gone.

She knocked on the door of the house in a panic, and blurted to the man who answered, “Bikers are after me and I have to make a call!”

The man looked her up and down. “Get out of here, bitch!” And he slammed the door in her face.

Not knowing what else to do, she ran back to the phone booth, and finally managed to get a call through to Johnny’s restaurant, despite her trembling hand and the dancing numbers.

“I was just walking out,” Johnny said. “What’s wrong?”

Kay explained that she had escaped from a biker party, that Betty was still there and apparently clueless of what was about to happen.

“Tell me where you are. Exactly.” Johnny said. When Kay realized that she didn’t know, he told her to leave the phone receiver hanging, to walk to the nearest intersection, and then to come back and tell him the crossroads.

Kay went to the crossroads, but the letters were jumping around so that she couldn’t read them. She went back and told him she still didn’t know.

“Then describe the place where they took you,” Johnny said. Kay did, and Johnny thought he recognized the place – he had one friend who was a Pagan.

“Wait where you are,” he said. “I’ll find you.” And within what could have been minutes or hours – Kay didn’t know – Johnny pulled up to the phone booth in his VW Beetle, with a friend.

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS

Betty noticed that when college guy came back, Kay wasn’t with him. “She ran, and I couldn’t find her,” Betty heard him say.

What on earth came over Kay? Betty wondered to herself. She must be messed up!

Then she sensed that something was drastically different. The music turned off, and the men seemed surly, and defensive.

“Claims he knows Half-Breed,” one of them said as he burst through the front door.

Then Johnny was at the door. With Kay, who was shaking, and dead serious.

“Wow, Johnny! I didn’t know you were coming to this party!” Betty giggled.

“Come on, Betty, we’re going now.” Johnny did not look in the mood for a party.

Kay grabbed Betty’s halter top from the floor, and took one of Betty’s arms as Johnny took the other and they pushed her out the door.

“We’re not staying at the party?” Betty puzzled, as she was pulled along to the parking lot.

When they got to the car, Betty noticed that they were surrounded by a huge circle of men, maybe 40 of them, in a 20 foot radius around the car. Some of the men were holding weapons.

“Hahaha!” laughed Betty. “It’s like high noon at the O.K. Corral!”

“Get in the car, Betty!” shouted Johnny. “Now!”

She did, still laughing, and they drove away. On a rainbow. Safely home.

I AM A CHILD

© June 17, 2014, Bette Ojala

3 thoughts on “I Am a Child

    • Thanks for the comment, John. That’s valuable information to me. When an experience or memory has emotional content for me, it’s difficult to know if the “vibe” is communicated in the writing, or if it’s just in my head. Perhaps that’s true for all writers?

      Like

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