It was ’93 and me and Siobhan were doing nothing. We never did nothing on lazy summer days on the avenue, waiting for the rain to drive us back inside. And it rained a lot that summer. It seemed like we were always tiptoeing through the raindrops on our way to nowhere. We would skip in the puddles like we were six years old, but we knew better. It was our last summer together, although we didn’t know it at the time. The summer of us.
The new movie theater had just opened up halfway down the longest block on the avenue, and there was a Taco Bell in the plaza downstairs. It cost three bucks for a matinee and we had money from our allowance burning holes in our pockets. Plus it had air, and air was in short supply on the avenue, even in summer. Ma said it was on account of black folk being our own air conditioners,what with being dark and all. I never got what she was saying, and I sweat like a hog, but none of it ever got us air. So I learned to use a piece of paper like a fan and not complain.
Siobhan lived three houses down from us, in a building that was s’posed to be abandoned. Lord knows how long that sign was in the yard out front. But her ma said it was wrong, and one day she painted over it with white paint left over from the rehab center’s new rec room. Said it made the yard look special, but all I thought was that she should have just pulled it out of the ground. No matter. We never spent time over there anyway, on account of her ma being a drunk. I never asked about it, and Siobhan never said nothing about it, but it was as clear as day.
I failed a subject in school that year. I don’t remember which one it was, but it was prolly math. I was lucky we had no summer school, but ma punished me by giving me a curfew all that summer. Siobhan didn’t have no curfew, but she always went home when I did. Siobhan was a year older than me but that didn’t make no difference to us, at least not then. We were kindred spirits, feeling like we could fly. People tell me that’s how all kids felt at some point, but I think that’s a lie. I think some kids didn’t have as much as we did, or didn’t enjoy themselves at all, or their parents hit them all the time. I doubt those kids ever felt free, with their feet always firmly on the ground. Gravity’s a bitch.
So there we were, standing outside the biggest building I had ever laid eyes on, looking through the gigantic glass doors at the hordes of people at the ticket booth buying their own version of freedom, at least for two hours anyway. On the big board outside the theater were the names of the movies they were showing on their 16 screens. That blew our minds as we stood there and read name after name. Siobhan wanted to see Poetic Justice, because Janet was her idol, but I thought Hocus Pocus would be better. We ended up splitting the difference and getting tickets for Jurassic Park instead.
We had about an hour until the movie stated, so me and Siobhan started walking. Across the street from the theater was this greasy pizza joint. You know the kind, where it’s always hot and the pizza is always burnt on the bottom. It was called Joe’s. Joe was this huge dude who lived above the pizza place. He had a ton of greasy hair, and Siobhan used to say that’s where the grease on the pizza came from since he never wore a hairnet. It was prolly real disgusting, but it was cheap, and the slices were huge, so we went there to wait for the movie. There were worse places on the avenue. We had been to just about all of them. I mean, it was pretty much just us that summer, no adults or nothing.
I guess we were lucky back then that no one came and stole us or nothing. It would have been real easy, two skinny black girls who probably weighed less than a hundred pounds together, hair and all. But maybe that was it. We were two skinny black girls, so who would want us anyway? We got two huge slices from Joe. We had to hold them curved like a bowl to keep in all the grease that sat like a lake in the middle. I didn’t buy that the grease was from Joe’s hair, but I didn’t want to take no chances so I grabbed a bunch of napkins too. Some pieces of the napkins stuck to the cheese, but I figured it was better to eat bits of napkin than to drink grease from Joe’s hair. Siobhan laughed at me as she drank the grease anyway.
I don’t remember much about the movie itself. There were a lot of people in the theater. I remember that. Most of them were screaming when the dinosaurs showed up, but I was just thinking that they looked fake, and Siobhan was bored, I think. I felt kinda bad that we didn’t go see Poetic Justice, but maybe they wouldn’t have even let us in, being that it was R rated and all. I didn’t know the kids at the ticket booth, so I didn’t think they’d let us in anyway. Of course we could have just walked across to one of the three screens it was on once we were in the theater. But we didn’t think about that until we were back out on the avenue.
It was ’93 and me and Siobhan were doing what we always did back then, nothing. But somehow we made that nothing stretch until it was so tight it was bordering on something. Until it snapped, and time moved on, separating us like so much paper in the wind, as time often does. Last I heard she was still living in that condemned house with a bunch of her brothers and sisters and four little rugrats of her own, and who knows what else was going on under that roof. But the Siobhan I knew existed in a vacuum. All the air was sucked out later that summer, and it never filled back in.
Because later that very summer, before we ever got to see Poetic Justice, her ma died. The man said it was alcohol poisoning, but we didn’t know that from heart attack or stroke, or whatever else killed people back then. And it didn’t make no difference how it went down anyway. It meant Siobhan wasn’t getting no more childhood either way. It meant the end of us as we knew us to be. And I guess I should have stuck by her, but I didn’t know how. Not then. I ran instead, and I never forgave myself for it. She probably never did either.