G a i l

Age 8, part 1

8 years (July)

It’s the middle of summer.  Third-grade is behind me, and I’m glad.  Mr. Gamboni was a terrible teacher, in my opinion.  Shane and Terry agree with me, although they didn’t mind him as much as I did.  I knew he didn’t like me.  And actually, that’s how the bad feelings started in the first place.  I always try to give everyone a fair chance.  Including teachers.  And I like to go to school.  Homework is fun for me.  So is studying for tests and reading and all the stuff that teachers love.  So most teachers would put me in the “dream student” category.  But not Mr. Gamboni.

He had his favorites, that’s for sure.  Like Ellie Chance.  She could do no wrong by him, but I know she’s a sneak and that she’s spoiled and mean.  She’s smart, too (most sneaky people are – that’s what makes them so scary).  She has her parents and her teachers wrapped around her little finger.  She’s someone with no rough edges.  She’s like one of the pale yellow roses growing out in front of our house.  The rose is mellow and smooth, but if you don’t pay attention, its thorns will make you bleed. 

I can see right through Ellie Chance.

Anyway, once Mr. Gamboni yelled at me because I was “giving him a look” he didn’t like.  Another time, he called me rude in front of the whole class, just because I didn’t say good morning to him.  Shane and Terry agree that he was completely unfair. 

I could see right through Mr. Gamboni.

But now the long summer days stretch out in front of me.  I love waking up in the morning and knowing that the whole day ahead is mine.  I own it, and no one and nothing can take it away from me.  At least that’s how I feel when I first get up.  As the hours pass, things happen to steal time.  People make requests, and you don’t want to let them down, so you say yes.  Or – more often – people make demands:  “clean your room,” “do the dishes,” “hang out the laundry,” and on and on. 

I try to wake up early, before anybody else.  It’s almost like my brain knows the exact moment when the sun starts to rise.  My eyes pop open when the world is still dim and the day still fresh and clean.  Outside my open window, I hear the first birds’ clear voices in the cool morning, and I feel this energy inside that makes me want to get up and not miss a single moment of the day.  Wendy is usually still asleep, but as soon as she senses that my feet have hit the floor, she’s up.  She shakes herself and wags and sneezes her first couple of sneezes of the day.  I get dressed, and we tiptoe out of my room and down the hall.  I find my flip-flops in the mess of shoes near the front door and sneak outside.  Wendy is a burst of happiness; she dashes ahead of me into the front yard, sniffing eagerly at anything and everything.  I feel the joy, too.  I love the summer freedom of no coat, of the dewy grass getting my toes wet, of being alone with just Wendy during the first moments of a breaking day.

 I soon encounter Jewel.  She slinks into our yard on delicate paws, while Wendy is wild, rolling in the morning grass.  The two of them greet each other, and I let them have their moment.



It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m up earlier than usual.  So early, that it’s still dark, with just the thinnest crack of light on the horizon.  Even the birds are still asleep.  For the first time, Wendy doesn’t wake up when I leave the room.  I feel around for my flip-flops and creak open the front door as quietly as I can.  There’s a wind blowing, and it whips my hair in all directions as I step down into the yard. 

I close my eyes for a second, as the breeze takes my breath away, and then I go my usual way, past my open bedroom window (I peek in to look at Wendy, who is still lying on her side, deep asleep).  I smile at her, and then turn the corner of the house, go past the vegetable patch with the tomato plants and the lettuce swishing in the wind, and head to the backyard.  It had been a hot night, and the strong breeze is like cool fingers running through my damp hair.  I go straight ahead with my face tilted upward into the wind.  Something about the early hour,  the swirling air, the sound of my feet in the grass, makes me feel like I have something to hope for, to live for.  It’s hard to explain.  I feel two opposite things at the same time: I feel huge and strong — bigger than my body.  And I feel tiny and lost – but not in a scary way – in a free way.  All of a sudden – I don’t know why – I spread my arms out and start running through the grass, right into the wind, and I go faster and faster – faster than I’ve ever run before.  I reach the opposite side of the yard and then turn to the front of the house again and run onto the street.  The street lights are just blinking off, as dawn begins to swell across the sky.  I keep running, straight down the street, past the neighbors’ houses.  Trees, shrubs, fences, parked cars blur by me.   I’m a horse sprinting down a race track, a penguin gliding through Antarctic waters, a cheetah streaking through the golden savannah.

A star shooting across the sky…. 

And suddenly – I don’t know how – my feet are bare.  And I feel the strangest, newest thing.  Just my toes are touching the rough asphalt of the road as I run.  And then, and then… my toes aren’t touching the road anymore.  Just air is under my feet.  Just air.  I lift off.  My legs keep churning , and I am hovering over the ground.

I’m not realizing anything except that my feet are off the ground.  I’m not realizing that I’ve stopped breathing.  And all of a sudden, I go no further and crash to the street. 

My bones hurt, my skin burns, and I can’t move.  But my eyes are wide open. 

I take a huge gulp of air….