Sunday, November 9, 2014

1982: Life, Sex, and Death on East 69th Street

One night, late, my best friend and I, who'd been babysitting together in a city apartment, climbed up many flights of stairs to the roof of the family's high-rise. We grinned to find the door to the roof unlocked. Understand that we were good little girls. But opportunity begets daring. Twenty stories up makes for a fierce wind, and a bone-piercing chill. Still, the lights of the city seemed to welcome our ascent, and the remarkable beauty of the view from up high helped us ignore the cold. I remember it as January, but I cannot offer proof of the month. We were gymnasts on the same team, and so we twirled and pirouetted our way towards the edge of the roof, where a waist-high railing was the only obstacle between us and flying, between us and dying.

But then my friend was swinging on the railing, and I grew scared. "Stop!," I hissed. "You'll fall!"

She bent at the waist so that the top half of her body was dangling off the side of the building.

"Stop!," I cried, truly frightened now.

After too many seconds she moved away from the railing and shot me a cutting look. "You are no fun," she admonished.

"I know," I agreed, in a small voice.


I am certain, if not of the month, then at least of our ages: we were fourteen and fifteen years old. That night we went from babysitting to my friend's apartment building; we had planned a sleepover. The next morning we were awakened early by the ringing of the telephone.

After a few minutes my friend's mother opened the door to the room where we had been sleeping. "Girls," she said heavily, shaking her head as if to free it from an unpleasant image, "The Connors don't want you to babysit anymore."

Oh God, I thought, the roof.

But the truth was worse than the roof.

"After you put the baby to bed, did you... mess up the parents' bedding?," my friend's mom asked hesitantly.

My friend and I exchanged guilty looks. We'd been doing somersaults across the width of the double bed. We had attempted to straighten up the bedding when we were done with our tumbling, but obviously we hadn't done a very good job.

"We were doing gymnastics, Mommy," admitted my friend. Now it was her turn to speak in a voice quieted by shame.

"That's what I thought," sighed her mother. "Save the gymnastics for the gym, girls. The Connors thought that you were... that you were.. sleeping together in their bed."

"Sleeping together?," I echoed, puzzled.

"Sleeping together?," shouted my friend, who was always more sophisticated than I. "You mean they thought we were having SEX?"

My friend's mother nodded.

"EWW!," my friend shrieked. "That is disgusting!"

I started crying, my predictable reaction to nearly everything.

"Aww, honey," soothed my friend's mom, "The worst you did was to decide to practice front flips in the wrong place. If you ask me, the Connors have overreacted, and their overreaction says far more about them than it does about you. Forget it."

But my friend and I could not forget it, and not only did we never again babysit as a team, we were distant with each other for quite some time, as if what the baby's parents believed we had done had contaminated our relationship, the truth of the accusation somehow wholly irrelevant to its impact.


Nicole said...

:( I remember thinking, when I was that age, that adults were very dirty-minded and always thought the worst.

Elan Morgan said...

What an extreme conclusion to jump to with such conviction.

Bibliomama said...

GAH. I can actually viscerally feel the flush of shame/outrage/unfairness/mortification this would have produced in me (I suspect we were similar teenagers). How sad and small-minded they sound.

kenju said...

I told me mother once that she must have been a real "rip" as a teen. Rip was her name for Loose girls. She slapped me, and then asked why I said that, and I replied that she always thought the worst of me and I decided that she must have done it all herself, otherwise, she would not have known what to accuse me of.

Alexandra said...



I feel this sting. When I was in the third grade, I had such a story. And I was wholly innocent. Just an innocent afternoon spent in the afternoon with a friend who was a boy my same age. And yet, his parents thought otherwise and never let me play with him again. I enjoyed your post, GOOD storytelling and took me back. THANK YOU.

slow panic said...

I remember the humiliation of losing my naiveté or innocence or lack of knowledge about something. There was some kind of shame to not knowing and then an instant moment of horror that such things existed.

ozma said...

Oh, that's terrible. That's also insane. What the hell! How depressing they messed up your fun. I hate adults sometimes!