Accidental Felons

One early, Autumn afternoon on a Sunday, I went over to Tami’s house for the day, glad to have one more day of leisure before we went back to school on Monday. The air had that back-to-school feeling to it that wasn’t quite the end of summer, but also not quite the beginning of fall. The in-between place where the leaves were changing color, but you could still wear shorts; where you still spent most of your weekends outside, but the evenings were slowly getting shorter and cooler; where certain trees were already half-bare, while others had no intention of changing for another several weeks.  It wasn’t summer and it wasn’t fall. It wasn’t hot anymore, but it wasn’t cold. Everything seemed to be holding its breath and waiting for a clear line to be formed. Waiting for that moment when you no longer tried to stubbornly hold on to lazy summer days, but turned your head up, fully, to take in the sound of dried leaves bushing up against each other in the breezes. When you finally said goodbye to long shadows and sprinklers, and listened for the sound of geese flying south. The in-between places always hold the most change in them, and it’s uncomfortable and necessary, simultaneously.

For most of the day, Tami and I had found things to do inside, but kept getting into trouble. We had both decided to crank call old ladies. We’d look up names in the phone book and pick ones that sounded old like Helen, or Eleanor or Joan, and then call them up.

“Hello?” they would answer.

“There is an emergency involving your husband and you need to go to the hospital immediately!” we would say into the receiver. Or, “Something terrible has happened and you need to get to the emergency room right away,” then we’d hang up, vibrating and giddy with adrenaline. Until one time, one of the old ladies called us back and reamed us out, demanding to speak to our mother, so we frantically hung up and tried to act ignorant when Tami’s mom asked us, “Girls, who called?”

We also tried to play one of our favorite games that we called, “1800s,” where we pretended to be Colonial Women living on the Plain, tending to each other because we had contracted some deadly disease like Typhoid Fever. We lit a candle, placed it underneath a cleaned-out ash tray in an attempt to fry an egg “the old-fashioned way,” and ended up getting wax and egg and broken glass all over her bedroom carpet.  Our imaginations were rich, but our planning was poor.  Her mother knelt on the floor with a paper bag and her iron trying to get out the wax and clean up the mess, and hollered at us to get outside.

Unfortunately, that only transferred our trouble-making from inside to outside. We walked around the trailer park bored and looking for adventure. First, we took an old coffee can around to the back of her trailer and started throwing a bunch of stuff into it, like leaves and random pieces of paper and cigarettes, and small twigs, and then lit it on fire for fun. The two of us sat huddled over the coffee can and watched the small fire we had created like two little budding pyromaniacs, until her mother spied us from the kitchen window and hollered at us to put the fire out. We were on a roll though, and so from there, things only got worse as we transitioned from crank-calls, to arson, to inadvertently committing a federal offense.

Making our way to the back of her trailer, we climbed up one of the tall fences in her backyard separating her from her next door neighbor, Heidi. Heidi was an upper-classman with a muscular, stocky build and a shag of blonde hair with black roots that sat atop her head. She rode Tami’s bus. She was the kind of girl in whose direction you never looked for fear of her posturing and yelling, “What the fuck you lookin’ at?” We didn’t know Heidi, we just knew of her, which was plenty. We perched our feet on a slat near the bottom of the fence, grabbed on to the tops with our hands, and with our eyes slowly coming up over the fence in wonder, we looked through the nearest window and spied her gnawing on a piece of fried chicken at her kitchen table like a cave-man.

“Look at the way she’s eating that chicken!” Tami whispered in awe and horror.

“Disgusting!” I conceded, “She’s got it all over her mouth.”

Someone was sitting across from her, although we couldn’t quite make them out, and there was only the one light hanging above their heads, illuminating very little, except the ferocious way she devoured the chicken leg on her plate. She seemed either starving or very angry. We stayed on our tiptoes, grasping the tops of the fence and quietly giggling, when suddenly she turned her head our way, the mangled, half-eaten chicken leg poised in the air in her left hand. Hurriedly, we jumped off the fence, landed on the ground, ran away giggling, and made our way back toward the main road that led out to the country and a few farms. We came upon a mailbox.

“Whose mailbox is this?” I asked innocently.

“I have no idea. Maybe it’s the Shepherds’ across the road, or the Fitsimmons’ next door?” Tami said, continuing to walk.

“Let’s look inside,” I said, and we huddled over the front of the mailbox and opened the latch. Before we could even peek into it, we heard a, “Hey!” coming from behind us. Whipping around, we realized it was coming from Heidi’s trailer. Slamming the mailbox shut, we bolted back toward Tami’s trailer as she continued to yell at us from her screen door.

“I saw you guys lookin’ in my mailbox! I’m gonna get you!” She stood on her front steps, half-way in, half-way out of her trailer, eyeballing us and seething like a bull ready to be let out of its pen. We stood holding our breath and trying not to make eye contact with her, until we heard her slam the aluminum door shut and, presumably, went to get back to her chicken leg.

Time to call it a day. My mom would be by to pick me up soon as it was, and it being Sunday afternoon, I’d probably have some homework to finish. Sundays at home were somber. It wasn’t really the weekend anymore, but it wasn’t a weekday either. My parents were neither fighting, nor particularly chipper either. There were no long silences, but a sad contentment in the air. I would be glad to be home, I guessed. I could close myself in my room and organize things.

However, Heidi stayed true to her words, “I’m gonna get ya,” and didn’t soon forget about our illegal peek inside her mailbox. Only a few days later, Tiffany, Tami and I, all three of us, were hanging out at Tami’s house. Tami and I had not told Tiffany of our previous run-in with Heidi, but the both of us certainly felt a bit more cautious being out in broad daylight with a bull’s-eye on our backs. Maybe she had forgotten about the mailbox incident? Maybe she wasn’t home? We weren’t sure, but loitering around outside, we turned right and headed up the road yet again. And that’s when it happened.

Walking up the road toward the countryside, Tami and I were nervous, our eyes darting left and right as we neared Heidi’s mailbox. Tiffany chattered away, oblivious to the potential dangers that lie in wait. Just as we were walking right in front of Heidi’s trailer, we heard them.

“There they are!” Two figures hurriedly jumped up from the kitchen table and emerged from Heidi’s trailer, the screen door slamming shut behind them. Tami and I immediately took off in a dead sprint down the road in the opposite direction of her trailer. We had no idea where we were headed other than away from Heidi and whoever she had acquired in her hunt for our heads. Ahead of them both, I looked back and saw Tiffany, who lagged behind, completely oblivious as to why we were sprinting down the road, past the railroad tracks.

“Why are we running?” she hollered, confused.

“Just run!” both Tami and I yelled back, seeing Heidi and her accomplice gaining on us.  Tiffany looked over her shoulder, saw two girls at her heels and sped up the pace.

Tami knew the neighborhood better than we did, and quickly pointed to a house of another much nicer upper-class girl who also rode her bus, and who she was sure wouldn’t mind harboring us for a while. The three of us made a sharp left, crossed the railroad tracks and bee-lined it for her backyard, putting a bit more distance between us and Heidi and her friend. Frantically knocking on her door numerous times, we realized the nice girl wasn’t home. Had Heidi and her friend seen us? Did they know where we were? Were they going to come scrambling around the corner any second now? Feeling as though we only had mere seconds before Heidi and the other girl came barreling around the corner in their fury, we noticed the nice girl’s garage door slightly ajar and quickly squeezed ourselves through.

Once inside the garage, we squatted down below the windows, taking peeks every now and then while we caught our breath to see if they had followed our trail. Panting, we looked around the musty garage. It was much darker and cooler in there, and served as a safe hideout for the time being. A workbench sat against one wall, a push lawnmower was nearby, and hundreds of other little odds and ends were all around: tennis rackets, old sneakers, a chainsaw, potting gloves. It smelled like oil and there was a grimy feel to the floor. But it was better than the alternative, and it also gave us the chance to fill Tiffany in. We explained how only just a few short days ago, we had peered through Heidi’s kitchen window, had then innocently peeked in her mailbox, and how she came after us and threatened us with her menacing looks and “I’ll get you.” We filled in each others’ blanks and made sure to describe, in great detail, the caveman-like way she had eaten the piece of fried chicken leg she’d been gnawing on for dinner. She was no one we wanted to mess with, and we needed to get home as soon as possible.

We noticed a front window facing the road and decided to take a peek to see what exactly was happening outside. With the three of us crouched down, we put our fingertips on the windowsill and dared raise our heads to see what awaited us. And much to our dismay and horror, we saw Heidi and her best friend, Missy. Missy?! Not Missy! Missy was everything Heidi was not: tall, skinny and with long brown hair that she feathered back on either side of her face. She had a pointy, harsh-looking nose and equally menacing eyes. Each of them stood guard on either side of the railroad tracks. Railroad tracks that had to be crossed in order for us to make it back to Tami’s front steps. Railroad tracks that were now being guarded by two upper-class bullies who were resting their hands on their thighs with their sleeves rolled up, clearly intent on waiting for our return and pummeling our faces.

The sight of them filled me with a new level of fear. What had we gotten ourselves into? If only we could have gone back in time and not peeked into Heidi’s window, and not have opened her mailbox! Was it going to hurt when she punched us? Were we going to be covered in blood? Would we have to be brought to the emergency room? I’d never been in a fight before, except with my sister, who I now thought of fondly and with immense love. Oh how I wish I was home, playing in the leaves with her, or at least, organizing my bookshelf by author. Instead, here I was, a 13-year-old who had accidentally committed a felony, running for my life, trying to elude the inevitable torture that awaited us at the railroad tracks. Maybe someone would see us and intervene as they drove by? Sitting in someone else’s garage, the owner of which could be home at any minute, we tried to wait out Death. We became increasingly hysterical and terrified.

Looking around the dark, dank garage for something…anything…Tami noticed a telephone attached to the side of the work bench. “Let’s call my house and see if my stepdad will come get us!” Tami picked up the telephone hurriedly dialed her phone number and begged her stepfather to come up the road and get us. “You don’t understand, they’re out there waiting for us!”

His reply went something like, “Stop being babies and get home…now!” Tami slowly hung up the phone, despair settling into her eyes. She didn’t have to tell us, we understood that her stepfather had just thrown us to the wolves.

Heidi and Missy were the toughest girls you could find at Missisquoi Valley Union High School. They were rough, they were mean, and they were always angry. They were the kinds of girls that got into fights in the hallways at school because someone looked at them the wrong way. They wore t-shirts with skulls on them and made out with random boys at the Highgate Skating Rink in the bleachers section. They were terrifying and could mangle us just like a chicken leg if they had wanted to.

After sitting in the garage for what seemed like forever, trying to figure out how the hell we were going to get home, we decided to arm ourselves. We each grabbed a rake, a shovel, and a pitchfork. Planning to make our way back to Tami’s house wielding our weapons, we looked out the window one last time and couldn’t believe our eyes. Heidi and Missy were gone. We had out-waited them.

As good as this revelation was however, that was only half the battle. Heidi’s trailer was just before Tami’s. So, even if we made it past the railroad tracks, we still had to make it past her trailer. After discussing our options, we decided that our plan would be to walk hand-in-hand until we got to the telephone pole on the corner, just past the tracks, but just before her trailer. We would simply have to run our asses off from there. Slowly emerging from the half-open garage door, one-by-one, we implemented our plan. Walking hand-in-white-knuckled-hand, we kept our eyes on the telephone pole, my heart-rate increasing with each and every shaky step. We walked in a straight line, our steps in sync, our hands losing circulation. We were a unified front as we saw the tracks and the telephone pole and Heidi’s trailer getting closer and closer. We were in this together. Until, that is, we reached the telephone pole.

The second my foot hit that mark, I let go of their hands and ran faster than I had ever run in my entire life and probably ever would. I was the tallest of the three of us and so the fastest. I remember looking behind me at the two of them, Tami coming in shortly after me and Tiffany behind her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two figures running adjacent to us through the almost-bare trees, clearly trying to cut us off before we reached her steps. “Get em!” I heard Heidi holler. With two blurry forms racing through the woods, I could hear twigs crack and dried leaves rustling as my own feet kicked up the gravel of the driveway in the trailer park. They had been waiting for us after all—just not at the tracks.

Thankfully, we again outran them. After what seemed like the longest 50-yard dash of my life, Tiffany, Tami and I reached the steps to Tami’s trailer where her step-father sat in his recliner, sipping a beer, watching t.v. and totally apathetic to our situation. Panting and gasping and looking all around, we stood there a minute to catch our breath and let the reality set in that we had actually made it home alive. The most menacing 45 minutes of our lives was finally over. We had escaped possible death. I felt like I had been given another chance at life.

I went home that afternoon and didn’t breathe a word of what took place to either of my parents. Glad to see my mom at the dining room table punching away at the calculator for work; glad to see my dad in his chair in the corner, watching a boxing match on TV. My sister was playing by herself in some of the newly fallen leaves on our front lawn, and I joined her, covering her whole body until all you could see was her giggling, freckled, little face. I remember being so happy to be Home.

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