Monday, June 10, 2013

{a strange time to take a moral stance}

The summer before grade six was a big summer for me. My brother was away at summer camp for the first time, leaving me three glorious weeks as an only child. The days were long and hot, filled with adventurous bike rides to the library, the pool, or the village in Oak Bay to spend my allowance. It was the summer of the First Boyfriend (and the First Kiss). My parents were both working full time, so my house was the place to be during the day. We had a trampoline, a kitchen full of snacks, and--best of all--no supervision. We never really got into that much trouble, although we certainly pushed the limits of what was acceptable and what was grounds for discipline. 

Our house in Victoria had two floors, with the main living areas upstairs. The lower level was mostly unused, until my brother was deemed old enough to move into the bedroom down there. The house did not have a traditional play room, which was fine as we spent the majority of our time outside anyways. There was one room that was never really used; it's patio doors served mainly as our entrance to the backyard in the summer months. It was sparsely furnished with a TV and a few beanbag chairs, the custom-built bookcase empty save for a few paperbacks that had been left behind over the years. Covering the floor was a rusty shag carpet, it's pile worn down. The doorknob was on backwards, and if you forgot and closed the door it would lock from the outside. The closet was piled high with toys that we had outgrown but refused to give away, and for some inexplicable reason there was a window in it. Less than meter wide, and painted shut by previous owners, it served little purpose other than a place for my mother to hang yet another flowered valance. 

In the fall, my mother would cover the patio window with a thick plastic sheet that served as insulation over the winter months. Normally it would be removed before school was out for the year, folded up and packed away until the leaves began falling from the trees. The house did not have air conditioning, so fans were placed in every room to keep us cool in the summer. One year, on this particular year, my mother did not remove the plastic. It was to be left in place over the summer, with the intent of sealing the cool air in and keeping the insects out. 

On a day too hot to play outside, Lauren and I spent hours in the room playing. Distracted by our discussions about what grade six would actually be like, we failed to notice that the door had shut behind us; it wasn't until we could hear Lauren's mother calling her to come home that we had realized that we were locked in. Frantically we tried to open the door, banging on it to call attention to our situation. With no parents, and no brother, at home no one was able to hear us. Our only phone in the house was located in the kitchen above us, so it seemed that our only way out was through the sliding glass doors. 

I'll never forget the look of horror on Lauren's face when I told her that we couldn't remove the plastic from the patio doors. She stood in the middle of the room; the locked door on her right, the sealed patio doors to her left. The only exits in the room, and she was unable to use either. At first she was livid with me, then she tried to reason with me. We both thought that it would be reasonable to remove the plastic carefully; surely my mom would not want us dying in this room for the sake of her precious plastic sheeting. But in my mind I heard her voice repeating her mantra: "Under no circumstances are to you ever touch this plastic!". My mother's warning won out over practicality, and the plastic was left untouched. 

I don't know if Lauren really ever forgave me for not immediately ripping down the plastic to get out of the room. My mom let us out when she got home less than a half hour later. That was the last time that Lauren came over to my house during the day, although we still rode our bikes together and played outside. Our friendship endured my strange compulsion to follow the rules, although we are not as close as we used to be;  now, we're just another pair of childhood-turned-Facebook friends.

There are decisions that we make in the course of our lives that, while meaningless at the time, come to define us. Unbeknownst to eleven-year-old Ashley, this was the day that I became the person that follows the rules--even when it might make more sense to break them.

For the record, my mom was appalled that I didn't take down the plastic, and told me not to take her rules so seriously. My teenage years? Yeah...those were on you, Mama. 
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