Living on a block with only three houses and a ton of factories, I donít have a big choice in friends.
My family tells me I can go anywhere I want as long as I donít have to cross a street.
That means I can go around the block, if I risk getting First Street Gang.
So I just go up and down my block and settle for Louis and Billy as best friends, even though both of them are older than me my three years and almost ready to head off into junior high school.
Billyís never around and Louis only hangs out with me when he has nobody else around and is too bored to stay at home alone.
I really try to make him like me, putting on an act to make me seem older than I am in his eyes, trying to do stuff Iíve seen older boys doing, but donít know how to do really.
I even tell Louis Iím not afraid of my uncles, when I am.
And when he mocks me saying Iím too scared to even cross Crooks Avenue, I tell him I have, too, even when my uncles said I shouldnít.
Louis doesnít believe me, of course, and insists that I do it again and that heís coming with me to see me do it.
Iím so scared Iím ready to pee in my pants.
Crooks Ave is busy street with of
traffic rushing both ways, and I know I canít possibly make it more than half
way before I have to stop.
Itís not just the cars and trucks, itís the idea of having one of my uncles look down the street and see me right in the middle of it all.
Iíd be grounded in the house for a month Ė maybe more.
Louisí mocking laugh braces me.
I donít care how young I am, I wonít let him think of me as a baby.
And if I do it now, maybe he wonít think so little of me later.
After all, Crooks Ave isnít all that wide, and I have dashed up and down the block fast enough when I had to get cigarettes for my uncles that I know I can rush across without getting it if Iím quick enough.
I figure if I get across fast, my uncles might never see me and never find out that I did it at all.
So I step off the curb, and when I see itís clear in both directions, I run full out only to have a car turn out of one of the driveways on the other side.
I stop right in the middle of the street, my sneakers blotting out parts of the double white lines as that car passes, then the cars moving through the light at the end of the block.
I canít go forward yet I canít go back either as a tractor trailer barrels towards me with impatient cars strung out behind it like beads.
Louis laughs, his voice raising alarm in me as if he might draw my uncles to the window.
Iíve never felt so small or helpless.
To make matters worse, Billy comes out of his house, looks down at me and starts to laugh, too.
That makes me angry.
So when the next break comes I charge through a gap in cars that even Louis would never try, he and Billy gasping as if expecting me to get hit.
But I donít. I reach the other side as if I had just landed on another planet. Everything looks so different from here, especially the side of the street where Iíve spent most of my life. Now Billy and Louis look small.
The problem is: how do I get back?
The anger I feel fades away. I know how dangerous the street is now, and how much a risk there is that I might get hit by a car or caught by my uncles if I try to cross again.
Billy shouts for me to come back. Louis looks smug because he knows whatís going on in my head and doesnít believe I will even try.
I ache for one of my uncles to look out now, to see me, to come rescue me.
I would trade a week, month or more in the house only not to face the street again.
But the shades of the house remain closed, and the only people looking at me are Billy, Louis and the passing faces in the cars who seem to think me funny for standing on the curb like I am.
Maybe someday Iíll do someday Iíll face a moment that scares me more. But my step now is the bravest act I ever did.
Once I take the first step, the other steps came, rushing under me as if my feet belonged to someone or something else. I am a deer darting; a locomotive churning; I am a wave rushing towards a shore, drowning in my own foam, my head full of things I never thought before and will never think of again, life and death rolling through me like some force I canít imagine came from inside me.
Time changes. The cars move so slowly I can walk between them. They are inches from me so that I can reach out and touch them if I dare, although I feel the heat of their engines on me, and the power of their motors churning to get at me Ė each like the neighborís dog around the block, snarling and snapping as it yanks at the end of its chain to get at me.
When my foot reaches the far curb, time resumes, and the roar of cars and trucks blows over me like terrible wind, telling me I just missed disaster.
The expressions on the faces of Louis and Billy say as much, too, their eyes so full of awe and terror, I start to tremble.
They donít notice for all their slamming me on the back.
I know things will be different after this. I wonít have to wait until Louis is bored for him to be my friend. I know that Billy may even invite me into his house along with Louis when they are home, to do whatever mysterious things they do in the basement.
I know neither of them will ever tell my uncles that I crossed Crooks Avenue when I shouldnít.
I also know that this will only be the first of many secrets we will share as time goes on.
And I know Iíll be crossing Crooks Ave again, despite what my uncles might have to say.