Monday, August 19, 2013

School & Rites of Passage

When I was a kid I seem to recall school starting in September. But more and more it seems the beginning of the school year has crept further and further into August. (Thanks Obama!)  Anyway, around this time of year, I inevitably remember my youth and feel all the feels that accompanied starting school and entering autumn. The new clothes, the shorter days, sitting by new friends, comparing teachers – and of course the rites of passage that came with each year. For example, I was seven years old the first time I was left at home by myself. An experience I have always associated with school, as that is where it all began.

It was October of 1978, in a small suburban town in southern California. Abba ruled the airwaves and Star Wars ruled my dreams. Mr. Schwamm was my second grade teacher, and though his teaching abilities were called into question more than once by my parents, I enjoyed Friday afternoons when we had “dance time.” What a festival it was each Friday, full of music and courting. As long as you kept your finger out of your nose, pretty much anybody was willing to dance with you. There was no social awkwardness in second grade.

This particular Friday morning, on my way out the door, my mom kissed my cheek, handed me my Mork & Mindy lunchbox, and reminded me that when I got home that afternoon she wouldn't be there. She was taking my brother and sisters to the dentist, and she would be back shortly after I got home. She carefully explained that she would leave the door on the side of the garage unlocked, and I could enter through that door and then take the connecting door from the garage into the house.

I was never a big fan of the garage – what, with the darkness and dampness and the hideous child-eating hobgoblin that lurked there on the off chance I was stupid enough to go into the garage by myself. (I was never that stupid. Before going into the garage, I would usually organize a posse of family members to accompany me.) But I was also excited for my bachelorhood and all that it would entail. Let’s see, drinks at 2:30, a light supper at 3:00, and the dancing that started in Mr. Schwamm’s class that afternoon would then continue at Casa de Kenny Craig.

This is what the house looks like today, says Google Maps. 
And it looks pretty much the same as it did 34 years ago. 

I nodded to my mom that I understood how to get from outside the house to the inside, and I headed off to school. As soon as I got to school I began to imagine our house. I knew my mom was still there, but in my mind, it was already sitting there, empty and silent. I thought about it on and off throughout the day, and each time I did, I imagined myself walking into this house that had been left alone for hours. Abandoned, really. It was a little unnerving.

I casually walked home from school that afternoon, not in a hurry to make any kind of destination. Kicked a pile of leaves or two, inspected some bugs in some trees, hummed the Peanuts theme song. I eventually arrived at my house and stared at it from the sidewalk for a few moments. I walked to the door on the side of the garage, and turned the handle. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and tried to casually walk through the garage as if the whole world was grading my performance of bravery. I stepped into the house…and it was even more still than I had imagined. It was an eerie quiet. I could almost hear myself sweat.

Once you entered the door from the garage into our house, the master bedroom was off to the right, and directly in front of you was a bathroom that you could enter from the hall, where I was, and that also lead into the master bedroom, so if you were sitting on the throne, you would be looking right into the master bedroom.

Relieved to finally have some much-needed peace and quiet for such an occasion, I dropped my little Levis and took a seat. It was then that I noticed my dad’s rifle, lying on the bed. I had seen it once or twice before, but it was a rare sighting. As children, we were generally discouraged from even looking at, and had never been allowed to touch it. The fact that it was so brazenly lying there almost startled me, and my first thought was “Ooooh…somebody’s in trouuuuuuubllllllle.” Taking my time doing my business, my eyes began to wonder around my parents’ room, and I started to take notice of how untidy their room was. Drawers pulled open, items from said drawers thrown about the room and covering the floor. I decided right then and there that I was not going to listen to even one more lecture from them on the state of my own room.

I completed my business, finished the paperwork…and flushed the toilet. At that precise moment, I heard a stampede of hurried footsteps right…over…my…head. My flushing had alerted intruders, who were now trapped upstairs, that somebody else besides them was in the house. Still not completely clear on what was happening, I ran alongside the footsteps above me until I saw three individuals run down the stairs and out the front door. Shaken (not stirred), I looked around the house and discovered that most things were in disarray – tipped over, emptied, broken, out of place. I was suddenly not so interested in being home alone, and I ran across the street to the safety of my friend Jeff, or more precisely, Jeff’s mom. We waited together until my mom came home. When I looked out the window of Jeff’s house and saw my mom’s car in the driveway, I walked over. She came running out of the house, looked right at me and said, “Kenneth Quentin Craig – what have you done to this house!?”

I explained, she apologized, and a few weeks later the men were apprehended. Surprisingly, I was not scarred by this experience. And apparently, neither were my parents, who promoted me immediately to the position of Babysitter and left me in charge of my brothers and sisters on most Friday nights. And the position of Babysitter has its perks, to be sure. For example, I could assign somebody else to retrieve things from the garage.

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