The following day I was sitting alone at the playground behind our apartments. The "playground" was a gravel filled yard sandwiched between the flat back of the building and a chain link fence that backed up to the creek. There was a play structure made of wood and metal, back before all playgrounds were made of plastic.
We had lived in this same apartment complex for 3 years when I was 6 years old until I was 9, and I remember when they put the playground in. At first we all balked at the chain link fence, that separated us from the creek beyond. Until then, that had been our playground. We soon discovered though that it was easily scaled, but not always so easy for little brothers, so we didn't mind as much. The day they brought the gravel in, all of the children took turns leaping from the roof onto the gigantic pile. My bedroom window led directly into the playground and soon became the shortcut for all my friends and I.
Needless to say when I was sitting out there on that hot summer morning, swaying slowly on the tire swing, and Patrick walked out, that it was my territory and he was the newcomer. I was completely in my element and took great delight in showing off as we had our first real conversation. I performed all the flips I knew on the bars, spun the tire swing with expertise, and climbed to the top of the structure and balanced my way across the top beam.
I don't remember a word that I said that day but I learned that Patrick and his brother Billy lived for the most part, with their mom in a trailer park across town, and that he didn't know his dad very well. He also had another older brother that he had never met named Brandon. I thought that that was the coolest thing. Brandon Walsh, just like 90210.
Other children started trickling out and I went off to play with my friends, but a connection had been made between him and I. I felt confident in calling him my friend now.
The rest of those summer days all blend together. We hung out as a group, me, my sister, Jen, Patrick, Billy, and other kids, in and out, at the playground, the pool, the creek, our houses. Patrick was mostly quiet and withdrawn and when we would all hang around in my room he would mostly keep to himself, coloring or drawing. We didn't talk much, but we exchanged glances often and my crush grew and grew.
One day just before school started our parents planned a trip out to the ocean. There were at least 9 kids and we all piled into the back of Patrick's dad's pickup. This was of course against the law, so we had to lay down in the back, with only our heads propped up, so no one would see us as we were barreling down the freeway.
Patrick and I were huddled under a wool blanket with our heads against the tailgate, surrounded by rope, a gas can, beach toys, and the rest of the kids in our family. The wind was whipping around us and we started to sing. I don't know why....but we did. We sang the Star Spangled Banner at the top of our lungs, over and over. My big sister and his big brother yelled at us to please shut the hell up already, but we were too busy, forming a connection, a bond, grinning at each other and singing and falling in love.
19 hours ago