NaBloPoMo/NaNoWriMo Day 5!!!

From then on, every morning after my parents leave for work, I get up and ride my bike for forty-five minutes to get to the forest preserve. I have to ride down a very busy street, with no sidewalks, during morning rush hour. It is the first time I’ve ever ridden in traffic like a car, and each time a car or truck passes me I feel like I’ve narrowly escaped death. Eventually, David will show me a way to get there using a bike path that weaves underneath the library, across the golf course, and through the other side of the forest preserve. It will be a lot safer, and it will save me fifteen minutes each way. But until then, I risk life and limb twice a day to hang out with my friends.

When I was a little kid, my parents and my brother and I used to spend some time every summer at a resort up in northern Wisconsin. My dad had essentially grown up around the resort, and knew it like the back of his hand. He would lead my brother and I on long hikes through the woods, showing us secret places that he’d discovered as a kid. We used to love to hike to the quarry and search for Fools Gold and other treasures. We’d play outside of our cabin in huge valleys that my dad said were left there a million years ago by icebergs back when the whole world was nothing but water. We’d look for bear and deer tracks, and train chipmunks to take peanuts from our hands. Those summer get-aways were the highlight of my life when I was a kid. Every single year, when it was time to go home I would bawl my eyes out. My feeling of homesickness for Wisconsin would last much longer than the usual end-of-vacation blues. I would be severely depressed for weeks, and even after school started and life had moved on I would still be pining away for the north woods. I would doodle on my school work, “I Love Wisconsin,” and draw pictures of frowning faces shedding tears.
My mom used to reassure me that we’d always go back to Wisconsin the next summer, so instead of feeling sad to leave the place I should concentrate on looking forward to going back. But then one summer we didn’t go back. It was the summer after my dad got his DUI and lost his job, so maybe the reason we didn’t go was because we couldn’t afford it. But even after my parents got back on their feet and their financial situation wasn’t so touch-and-go, we never went back. It broke my heart. By the time I meet the homeless people, it has been five years since I’ve been up there. But I can still close my eyes and remember it as if I were there just yesterday.
So, when my friends up and move to the forest preserve, I am happy. Its not quite the northern woods. No matter where you are in the forest preserve, you can still see litter on the ground and hear the sounds of traffic. Its not like Wisconsin, where it was possible to hear the silence. But still, its woodsy. I feel like I’m camping, or like we’re Gypsies or Indians.
Sometimes Don or David take me for walks through the woods, and I enjoy that little bit of nature, even though walks usually end in the circle of the forest preserve. The Circle, as it is called, is more of a party spot for hippies and stoners than a place to enjoy the great outdoors. Its fun, though. At the Circle I watch the older kids play guitars and kick around hacky sacks, and I play with all of their puppies. Hippies, it seems, are constantly getting new puppies, which wear bandanas and accompany them everywhere.
One time, as Don and I walk back through the woods to where the others are, we run into two guys Don seems to know. It is a little strange to just encounter two guys standing around in the middle of the woods. They offer Don a joint, and he takes it. When the guys offer it to me, Don shakes his head and tells them, “She doesn’t smoke. She’s just like a little sister to everyone… she tags along with us, and we don’t let her drink or smoke or anything like that.”
I watch Don pass around the joint with the other guys. I wonder if maybe, hundreds of years ago, Native Americans stood in this very spot and smoked a peace pipe!

One day, I am at the forest preserve, when about ten squad cars from the sheriff’s department pull up. I am the one who spots them coming up the road, and I point them out to the others. Don tells me, “Don’t worry, they’re not here for us. We’re not doing anything wrong.” But then all ten squad cars turn and drive straight across the grass towards us! I know for sure we’re in trouble. They park all around the picnic shelter, trapping us.
I look at Don, panicked, but he just tells me, “Its no big deal. They won’t even notice you.”
Don is wrong again. They do notice me! “What are you, some sort of a runaway?” they demand. “Are you sleeping with these guys?”
“No!” I scowl. “They’re my friends! And I’m not a runaway. I just don’t like to be at home much.”
“Why do you want to hang out with a bunch of homeless drunks?” asks one of the cops. “Its one thing to be nice to people, but come on! You should be hanging out with kids your own age!”
“I don’t have any friends my own age,” I tell him.
“Well, make some,” he replies.
Like its that easy.
“Other kids don’t like me,” I try to explain.
“Why not?”
“They think I’m crazy.”
“Maybe you are crazy,” says the cop. “Go home, and don’t come back here any more.”

The cops kick all of the homeless people out of the forest preserve, so there is no reason for me to go back there anyway. It is the Fourth of July weekend, and the carnival is coming to town! There will be a festival with bands playing and food vendors and everything else, at the park right by my house. The homeless people transplant themselves to the park, where they can enjoy the festivities without really being noticed.
I transplant myself to the park, too. Don has gotten a job at the carnival, running one of the rides. He saves some of the tickets people give him for the ride, and sneaks them to me and David so we can get on rides for free. I love carnival rides, but David is the only one who will go on them with me. The others say that they’re too old and the rides make them sick.
We have a feast on Saturday, a feast of food from the grocery store Dumpster, which seems to be overflowing this weekend. Harold makes steak and potatoes on the grill, and there is salad and pie, and a group of the people at the next picnic table offer to share their beer and soda with us. When it gets dark, we sit and watch a Beatles tribute band, and eat raw cookie dough from a tube. After the band comes the fireworks! It is as close to Heaven as I can imagine.
I am supposed to be home by midnight tonight, but I long to stay and sleep at the park with the homeless people. It doesn’t occur to me that the carnival will shut down by midnight. The bands will pack up and leave, and the crowds of people will head home long before I do, I imagine that the festivities will go on all night long without me.

In the morning, when I get to the park, I can’t find any of my friends. Some people are setting up equipment on the band shell, though, and I notice that they keep on looking quizzically into the bushes below. So, when the people aren’t looking, I duck into the bushes and find Harold sleeping there.
I shake him awake. His eyes fly open. “Jesus Christ, don’t wake a person like that!” he snaps. “I almost flashed back to Vietnam! I could have killed you!”
“”No, you wouldn’t.”
“I could have! Never wake a sleeping bum,” he admonishes me.
“Sorry,” I say. “But these people were staring at you, and I was afraid they’d call the cops!”
“What people?”
“Them!” I look up.
They are staring down at us.
“Shit,” moans Harold.
We crawl out of the bushes as casually as we can.
Its overcast and rainy, and the day definitely doesn’t look as promising as yesterday was. The carnival is supposed to start at noon, but we hear from some of the food vendors that if its still rainy or if lightning is spotted they’ll just cancel the whole thing.
The others show up, and we gather under the beer tent to peer out at the dismal day. When, by noon, it is hailing, the food vendors crowd under the tent with us. They share the food they aren’t going to be able to sell now. A clown gets drunk and tells me dirty jokes. I laugh hysterically at the ridiculousness of it all, until Harold gabs me. “Repeat after me,” he says. “I am under control!”
“I am under control!” I can’t even say it without laughing.

By three o’clock the rain has stopped and it is sunny again. I hear my name being called, and look up to see my dad walking across the park towards me. I feel the blood drain from my face.
“Do you know that guy, Nicki?” asks david.
“That’s my dad,” I sigh,


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