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            We were working on the homecoming float in the barn at Dillon’s house at the top of our block where Bashford meets Old Farm Road. I’d promised my mother I’d never go back there after the incident in 6th grade when I was riding Sandy in the turn-out adjacent to the road, and Dillon whipped the horse with a branch from the old Oak tree that arched and twisted its canopy over much of the dilapidated farmhouse. Sandy took off galloping across the field, which is now an apartment complex called “Legends”, though I am quite sure few people know the legend of Sandy throwing me face first into a pile of manure.

Covered in green and brown shit laced with hay, I walked down Old Farm Road not meeting anyone’s eyes with tears glistening in my own, knowing that mom would say what she always said to me when a boy on our block was mean, “It’s just that he likes you and he doesn’t know how to show it.” But that isn’t what she said this time. This time she said, “You are forbidden to go to Dillon’s house ever again.” But I had really wanted her to say the other thing, because I had a blossoming crush on Dillon and I hoped the reason for the horse whipping was his sign of reciprocal love.            

Mom used the manure incident as the perfect opportunity to thwart such a romance. After all, Dillon’s mom was a single woman and was known to have the occasional date or two. Mom didn’t like the optics of Mrs. Kendrick standing on her rickety farmhouse porch in her tight jeans and tube top with her long hippie hair flowing to her waist, laughing with some man as they toasted god knows what with their cans of Busch beer. I’m sure mom thought they were toasting some unthinkable sex position, some clandestine maneuver that unmarried people did with the lights on while children were still within hearing distance, though they’d been sent out to play in the field alongside the sheep.           

I didn’t go back to Dillon’s house for years after that, though I still tried to catch his eye across Mrs. Stone’s class at Kingswood Sixth Grade Center or in the hallway at Junior High as I came out of math and he emerged from science class. Once when I was moping miserably, Mom asked me if Dillon had ever apologized. The answer was no. But I told her yes, knowing that she’d surely tell me that any boy who would treat you that way wasn’t worth your time. I guess I knew she was right, yet I still wasted a lot of my time trying to get his attention, taking the long way around the cafeteria past the table where I knew he’d be sitting with his friends on the football team en route to my seat next to the drama geeks.           

Every time we drove to church, we’d pass by the farm and I’d look longingly at the crooked front porch remembering the afternoons I’d spent drinking raspberry Kool-Aid on the rocking chairs or chasing chickens back into their coop. Occasionally I’d see Dillon or Mrs. Kendrick exercising the horses in the turn-out or galloping across the field and I’d long for that freedom. Or any freedom. It looked so much more like what my heart craved than heading to the confines of a hard wooden church pew.           

But when we were in 10th grade and Mrs. Kendrick offered up her barn for the homecoming float building and I was a class officer, I kind of had to go. Surely four years later, the “never ever again” rule must have faded away. Surely there was enough water under the bridge between Dillon and me that we could move on from the manure. Surely mom was too busy with my baby sisters to really notice. I decided what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her and, though I didn’t lie when I said I was going to work on the float after dinner, I didn’t tell her where said float building was taking place.   

The boys who were aces in wood shop demonstrated their construction skills by making the frame and wrapping our giant soon-to-be Jaguar riding in a paper mache model T in chicken wire while my friends and I cut squares of orange, black and white tissue paper to fill the holes with color.           

The decorating was coming down to the wire. Homecoming was tomorrow and we were not done. It turned out, covering a 10-foot jaguar took a lot more paper squares than we thought and we’d have to work through the night. I lived the closest. All my other friends had to drive from their palatial homes with full basements in the North side of Raleigh. Dillon and I lived on the West side, amidst the tobacco and cotton fields where ranch homes that sold for $17,000 in the early 1970s were built amidst the pine trees on streets named after farm parts. I could walk home in less than five minutes and sneak in the back door as long as it wasn’t too far past my 11pm curfew. But time got away from me. Someone brought back pizza and I never checked my Swatch watch. Mrs. Kendrick came out with a case of beer and we took a break on the hay bales for a bit. Again, I forgot to check the time. We were putting the final touches on the Jaguar’s ears when I finally did look at the time and it was 3am. Oh crap! I ran home under cover of darkness, past Rail Fence Road to Hayloft Circle to find that the front porch light was off and all the doors were locked.            

Was this a punishment? Did they think I was already in bed? Sheesh. I am in a shit-pile of trouble. I’m probably going to be grounded for a month! I’ll miss the parade! I won’t be able to go to the game or the Homecoming dance! Mom will take my dress back to Hudson Belk! I’m going to get stuck doing the dishes for months.           

Or, maybe they didn’t realize I was gone. If that were so, I surely shouldn’t wake them up. Maybe I could get away with this. I curled up on the deacon’s bench and used my brother’s baseball glove as a pillow. I awoke abruptly as I heard my father opening the door for work. It was 5am and still dark and I dodged behind the forsythia bush before he made it out to the porch.

  After I saw his Bell South truck round the corner, I snuck back into the house and tiptoed up the stairs to my room, skipping the squeaky second to the top step. My bedroom door was still closed. Perhaps they’d thought I was in there all along. And there were no nasty notes left by my mother on my pillow. No signs anyone had even checked on me. My book bag was where I left it. Sheesh, apparently no one even tried to say goodnight to me. That’s weird.             

Ahh, but my journal appeared untouched under my mattress and the entries featuring my dreams of Dillon remained private as did my hope that I’d one day be more like Mrs. Kendrick with her adventurous abandon, than like my mother with her chains to the church and to appropriate behavior.

As shared at Story Salon April 3, 2024


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