In first through third grade, I lived at the foot of 11th Avenue East in Seattle, a street that curved like a scimitar. So dramatic was the block long drop that it had been given a name by the kids who lived there before me: “Devil’s Dip.” (Insert minor chord here, “Dit dit dit DAH!”)
Safely piloting your bike from the very top of the hill all the way to the bottom took a major act of heroism, requiring more daring than watching the Saturday televised horror movie without covering your eyes, more bravery than sticking your hand in a bucket of brains at the Boy Scout Haunted House and more guts than playing hide-and-go-seek in our unfinished basement laundry room with all the lights off (especially since someone – whose name is DEAN — always seemed to jump out of the laundry chute).
It took me a long time to work up the courage. I’d go halfway up the hill and struggle to mount my bike, which wasn’t easy on an incline. Each time, I’d start a little higher until finally I convinced myself that I was ready for the plunge.
The street seemed to pull itself up a little taller, opposing me. It didn’t help that at the top of the hill was a house that was haunted. Everyone knew it. It loomed, cocooned in an overgrown yard surrounded by dark black boulders, a fortress occupying almost a full block of its own. If I squinted, I could imagine it as it might have been. Outside, dark half-timbers bisected ballet-pink stucco; picture windows gleamed, ornamented by transoms made up of prismatic diamond-shaped panes; roses, dogwoods and rhododendrons bloomed in the yard. Inside, golden light cascaded from chandeliers burning gas flames, spilling on to two young girls who sat up straight in high-backed chairs as they practiced their lessons or embroidered a sampler. My imaginary scene was hard to reconcile with the aging ruin before me, its stucco now a faded flesh tone stained by mold, vines obscuring some of the windows. At night, it lay in gloom. Maybe the house was vacant, but maybe the girls were still there, in ghostly form, or maybe the two old sisters lived alone, glowering from their bedroom at the kids who periodically spied on them from the shrubbery.
Finally, I did it. I pointed my bike downhill and my stomach went airborne as I gained speed. My heart pounded impossibly fast. Then I was back to terra firma, safely parked in the street between our house and the Racz’s.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
I remember what scared me most as a kid. I remember everything about my first real kiss: where I was (Camp of the Holy Spirit on Mt. St. Helens), where I stood (right next to a big boulder), even what I was wearing (butterfly shirt). I remember exactly how my husband asked me to marry him (I missed the proposal initially, but that’s a story for another time).
Some moments are so powerful and so universal that they become cultural touchstones: first pet, first bike ride, first kiss… engagement, marriage, birth. Countless times when someone has talked to me about losing a parent, they say, “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
I remember, too. I remember it all.