In the dizzying days of Chicago summertime, outdoor play-time became squished by the sun’s ability to seemingly ‘pop-a-squat’ on the midwest. It was here, in the sun soaked summertime of my preteen childhood that we took refuge in the most unlikely place – tents.
Let me back track a bit here and say something about what a tent means to young kid: independence. It’s a room outside our own homes where we can do or say anything we want, be as loud as we want, it becomes a small home of our own. But for us, a tent wasn’t a place to be loud and stomp around, it’s a place of quiet. An eery quiet that laid over all of us like a thick blanket. One moment we’d be screaming, charging to the zipper entrance, but once inside the breeze blowing through the fine mesh and polyester made it hard to shout. Waggling, thick green leaves sounded distant and alien inside. We could build a life in there, it was an escape and had the lure of being outside but not vulnerable.
We put tents in the back, front, and side yards of every kid’s house in our circle of friends. Sleep-overs eventually became camp-outs as the summer’s drew themselves out in long stretches of our adolescence. In the hushed conversations of the open night air we allowed ourselves to be most unguarded behind the shroud of darkness. We admitted fear, love, lust and true friendship. There were crickets between our thoughts for once. Time to settle into ourselves.
In my family we never really got a car when got our license. My sister got my great-grandfather’s car: a swaying awkward Pontiac with a statuette of Saint Christopher. A near dead CB radio sat between the driver and passenger footwells, not connected to anything but the mounting hardware. Gray interior with partial stains and a distant smell of cigarette smoke. That is until my sister got her hands on it.
She didn’t do much; somehow she managed to have a constant flow of dolphin shaped air fresheners and a white outline of a fairy. Not just any fairy, but one that took up a great deal of the angled back window, making it impossible to avoid when checking the rearview mirror.
This is where I come in. This was my car, in which I had a license but had to beg my sister to take it anywhere, a painful experience for any teenager. I didn’t have my own set of keys and she had a couple of embarrassing trinkets hanging from her keys too – a big clunky chain-gang like apparatus that made it even more clear that this was not my car.
One of these times I borrowed her car, a friend and I drove to a concert at the Congress theater. I was 16. This part of the city had yet seen the spreading fingers of the gay community, not even the lesbians had moved in yet. After the show we got lost. We found Roosevelt road. Two white sixteen year old kids from the suburbs driving around Humboldt Park then down and through the near south and parts of the west side till we finally realized we could scurry back home. We couldn’t help but laugh the whole time though – it was a cool day so the windows were fogged and the massive fairy watching over us. Laughter helped coat the fear and made easier to swallow.
So I think I owe my sister a thank you for putting that white fairy in the window.