June 5, 2004:
My childhood friends were Wes, Pam, and Lulu. My babysitters — there's a patronizing term — were Bertie and Ted.
Wes had straw-colored hair in the close military crop obligatory for boys. He was older than me and I idolized him in the way of small children. He loved tetherball and the Rolling Stones. They had the best drummer. I bought my first two 45s on his advice: Heart Full of Soul, and Get Off of My Cloud.
Pam was dirty blonde, cut straight and short, a tomboy, tough, challenging eyes. I remember her best in a tan-colored Neru jacket outside my apartment, but that's because I have an Instamatic photo of her posed that way. She was older, too; we spent much of our after school time together.
I loved Lulu but today remember very little of her. Blonde, tooth missing. A pretty girl, sensitive. Her parents hurt her feelings: I don't remember how or why, only that it was often, and she feared them.
Bertie and Ted lived in a house on a hill on West Point Street. They had barberry bushes grown high as walls, and honeysuckle. Ted played musical saw: to this day I love that loopy, otherworldly sound. He was wiry and baldish; she was fat. They loved children and had none of their own. They were kind and generous and well-intentioned, and not at all bright.
Somehow I had fifteen dollars. I can't imagine how. Ted helped me spend it buying lumber. Pine two-by-twos to build a scaffold, and quarter-inch redwood planks for ceiling and walls. The texture and the smell of those woods are crystal clear in memory. The kids wanted a clubhouse, so I paid for it. Ted built it beneath a backyard tree, in the far corner of the yard against the hedge. It was rickety, without proper foundation or support, and we climbed all over it, feeling it sway, feeling the roof sag beneath our weight. Somebody'd get sued these days.
If you climbed to the roof you could shimmy across tree limbs into the neighbors' yard. They were on Princeton Street, although now I can't recall their names, just the shape of their long driveway which descended in a half-spiral steeply downhill between the house and a high brick wall. In childhood I dreamt many times of sliding down that brick wall in the same way you'd slide down stairs, always knowing that as I slid I was falling deeper asleep, and that the goal was to reach bottom, which was full sleep. It was a lovely falling sensation and an even lovelier poetic image. Perhaps at my death I'll revisit that wall, sliding even deeper toward a new goal. I'm sure I'd find that deeply comforting.
I had to leave all these friends because my mother wanted to live closer to hers, a woman named Marie with whom she broke a year or two later.
I remained emotionally committed to them for a very long time. As long as ten years later I wanted to write to Pam, but my mother refused to give me the address. "She's eighteen years old by now, why would she want to hear from you?" Because I still loved her, as I still do today.
As a teenager with my first bicycle I rode thirty miles from one end of our SoCal sprawl to the other because I wanted to stand in the places I remembered so vividly. To my surprise I came across Bertie and Ted out walking. Bertie was shocked to see me: she startled, and her mouth opened. I didn't say hello to them. Now I see that as cold and rude, but they weren't what mattered to me then.
All my life I've looked backward, wishing to reconnect with the parts of myself left with different friends in different cities. It started very early.