Father had taken me to the riding area up in the Laguna mountains before, but it had always been to ride up and down the dirt road skirting the north end of Lake Morena. This time, he took me all the way up to the campground at the end of the maintained road, from which all trails were designated “ORV” or, off road vehicle area. Everything that wasn’t the main road was more challenging than any of the riding I had done up to that point in the desert, and even that dirt road had its moments. Every path was cut through sagebrush and littered with blocks of granite. A vast network of trails or varying difficulty crisscrossed the mountainside. This became Father’s favored riding area as it was much closer to home than the desert areas, and offered more interesting and varied terrain. I always felt that I wasn’t good enough to be there, and the tales Father and his friends told of the dreaded Corte Madera hill filled me with fear that certain death was waiting around every corner.
I had outgrown the little trail bike that I had learned to ride the year before. Father took me with him to buy a used motorcycle he had seen advertised in a local publication. The bike was yellow and black, and the angry screaming sound of the engine completed the imagery of a swarm of wasps. Even though the motorcycle wasn’t much bigger than the one I had been riding, the motor was almost twice the displacement. It was also a two-stoke motor, which gave it the intimidating rage of sound. I was allowed to ride the little RM-80 around a small open lot for a few minutes before Father asked if I liked it. I did, and so he paid the man, and loaded my new motorcycle into the van. As we drove home, the smell of gasoline hung heavy in the air. I was excited to have a new toy, but the sound and fury of that two-cycle engine had me nervous that I had bitten off more than I could chew. Perhaps I had, as of all the motorcycles I called my own, that RM-80 is the only one still talked about by family. Perhaps Father knew it, as soon thereafter he purchased for me a full set of ride armor and a new full-faced helmet.
Ever since Rs 1 and 2 had moved away, I had for the most part been without any friends. There were a few kids around the neighborhood that I spent a couple hours with each week, but more and more, the social time I spent was playing hide and seek with my siblings and cousins. Most of them were no more than half my age. Vast amounts of my free time was spent reading novels of increasing complexity, but I missed having someone I could share my thoughts with. It was during this time that the son of one of Mother’s friends started coming around. Surprisingly, he lived right down the hill from Uncle-E’s house. K1’s home was visible from his front porch, directly across the horse corral. S3 shared much of my enthusiasm for exploration and bicycling. Though it never occurred to me as a child that he was biracial, his dark red hair and dense freckles were of a singular nature. A pirate’s smile and an anarchist’s heart were S3’s primary weaponry, with which he faced down the universe and any semblance of propriety. We made fast friends, and slower enemies… but for the few years we spent together, nothing at all happened on our side of the canyon unless one or both of us were involved. He was over at our home so often, eating our food and destroying our furniture, that Father started referring to S3 as “the redheaded stepchild.” Mother spoke his name with a mixture of pity and disgust. Nevertheless, we were inseparable.
During our family vacation to Utah, we stopped by an ancient lava bed. The road meandered through a dense conifer forest. The parking area was surrounded by pine trees which reached up to a blue sky. A short walk down a trail and suddenly the forest was replaced by miles of shattered volcanic igneous rock, the uniformity of the grey stone broken only by the green and red lichen growing thereon. A sign had some interesting facts, which I read as sister ran back and forth along the edge of the enormous pile of rock.
Almost every day, Father would take me to school on the back of his motorcycle. I wore the same helmet I used when riding off road. The ride was enjoyable to me, as Father was an excellent motorcyclist, and rode through the hills at an exhilarating speed. One day, just a block from school, I saw a woman walking up the concrete paved hill. She was wearing an impossibly short skirt and dark sunglasses. I thought she looked so cool.
In the pediatrician’s office, there were two arcade cabinets, which were free to us kids. Asteroids was my favorite. I looked forward to playing it every time I was in the waiting room. One day, the office was running behind and so no one came out to call my name and interrupt my game. An hour and a half later, I still had not lost even one life, and the score was a number so large I didn’t know whether it even had a name or not. I knew then, that if left unperturbed, I could earn any score I wished on that game. It was only a matter of opportunity, of time.
During the waning days of summer camp, we were given an opportunity to swim in the camp’s large, shallow pool. The half- Olympic pool was nowhere more than three feet deep, but it was a welcomed respite from the hot southern California sun. I climbed into the pool and sank to the floor, letting the water embrace me in it’s cool arms until my need for oxygen forced me back to the surface. Then I rested on my back, with an arm crossed over my eyes to block the light, I floated out toward the middle of the pool and away from the uproarious play going on nearer the edge. The water in my ears drowned out the noise, and for the first time since I had been at camp, I felt alone and at peace. I could feel the stress of the past two weeks slowly seeping from my muscles, and for a moment I was content. There were two lifeguards, and a random collection of counselors and children, so I felt confident that the boys who had so relentlessly tormented me wouldn’t dare attack me in this place. Almost as the thought had drifted through my mind though, a hand grabbed hold of my ankle and yanked me back to the present reality. Immediately, two more pairs of hands grabbed onto my arms and shoulders. Just as I took a deep breath so as to call for help, the boys pushed my head under the water. For a brief moment, the calm blue of the pool lulled me into a false sense of serenity. Certainly, the trio of bullies would only hold me under for a moment before letting me up so that I could hear their taunting laughter. I methodically tested their collective hold on me, but with four hands on my shoulders, and one each on my left arm and head, it was impossible for me to do much but thrash my right arm around. Any hope of striking the thugs was rendered impotent by the pressure of the water. I reached up to wave for help, but my fingers barely traced the surface above. Seconds went by, until it felt as if I had been underwater for a noticeably long time. Surely someone would be coming to my rescue soon… and more seconds drifted by, until my body involuntarily started trying to gasp for breath. Clenching my jaw tight, I knew that if I swallowed any water there would be no hope of recovery. Those boys were mean, but they were not liars. They were going to kill me. Once I understood that, my mind went immediately into a mode of thought I can scarcely describe. I was no longer struggling to escape, or to breathe, or even to live. I was going to destroy them as utterly as possible. Eyes opening wide, I remember how lazily the shorts of the boy in front of me drifted in the shifting water. A dark blue against a sea of lighter shades. With my right hand, which they had still failed to restrain, I reached up the leg of his shorts and grabbed hold of his testicles. With all of my strength, I yanked down on the sensitive gonads. With not enough oxygen left for a primal scream, I continued pulling down until I felt his hands release. Shortly the other hands let go of me as well. As I surfaced, I still had hold of the boy’s balls. The first sound I heard was his screaming in agony. Unable to muster the strength to swim, I waded my way to the edge of the pool, under the shadow of the lifeguard tower. Gasping for air and gagging as I lay on the concrete, my vision dimming, voices seemed so far away. The boys were angrily shouting threats, their voices steadily closing in on my new position. Shakily, I climbed to my knees, which wobbled unsteadily in my attempt to stand. Above me, the lifeguard shouted down “That’s it! Get out of the pool!” Certain that he had seen me being attacked, I turned and pointed to the bullies “They were trying to drown me.” I gasped. In a voice like ice, the adult said “I saw what happened. No one touched you. Now leave the pool area before I have to call your counselor.” For a split second, I stared up at him, my mouth hanging open in shock. “Go!” the lifeguard snapped at me, his finger pointing to the gate. I glanced back over at the boys who, now emboldened were closing in on me. The uninjured two hopped out of the pool, but I turned on my heels and ran as fast as I could down to the nurse’s office. Sitting alone on a plastic chair, I sobbed uncontrollably. No one ever asked me what had happened, but for the last few days of camp, I never for a moment left the immediate vicinity of the adults, the more of them I could see, the better. Laying in bed that night, I could still smell the chlorine water in my nostrils.