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‘The Woods’ Part One

In The 70's on August 24, 2020 at 7:58 pm

…and to a Castle I will take you….

“The Woods’, (with a capital ‘W’) were diagonally across the street from my house. There were three or four acres of woods, and if you walked straight through them, you’d come out to a stream, and after a minute, you’d be behind Carroll’s Restaurant, and the Car Wash. Next to that was the Sunoco Gas station on the main drag, where we could sometimes cop cigarettes for fifty-five cents a pack.

But we rarely walked all the way through, because the jewel of “The Woods’ was smack dab in the middle, where we had collectively ‘built’ a sweet little hangout, a place we went to drink beer and smoke cigarettes, and if we were lucky, smoke pot. It was in a small dirt clearing,  created by dragging pieces of fallen trees and logs over, placing them in a wide circle, then adding a little fire-pit in the dirt, with round rocks to form a circle, and over the years, it really came into its own as a cool little place to gather, away from the prying eyes of parents and siblings and, of course, ‘The Man’. It was understood to be a privilege to spend time there, something you earned. There was no littering,  you had to leave with everything  you came in with, and it was a secret: not everybody was welcomed in. There were about ten of us who claimed the land, like a 1970’s version of stoner pilgrims, but we didn’t even have to throw a ‘fake-nice’ holiday to thank the people we’d stolen it from, because we had no idea who actually owned the place, and just assumed it to be part of the town’s stash of land. We had no real power to keep people out, and yet we did….we figured that since we lived the closest to it physically- that it was ours to rule.

But there were ways around the rules. You could bring a joint- or even better, a nickel bag along, and invitations ensued. Ditto a six-pack or extra cigarettes. In desperate times a lighter might gain you entry. You could be super-cute and  get a carte- blanche, all access pass, which would only be objected to by those of the ‘fox’s same sex, who were immune to it. You might have a nice car, or know someone who knew someone who’s ‘in’- so it wasn’t that hard to be a part of it, but it wasn’t just ‘out there’ and all public either, like a park, or behind a school. The best part was: no kids on swings or security guards.

I was thirteen when I started hanging out in The Woods. Not surprisingly, Lance was one of the ‘woods guys’, as well as Michael and his brothers, who lived across the street from me-and a crowd of guys who were a little older who lived in the neighborhood. Most of them had long hair, wore pukka shell necklaces with T-Rex or Zeppelin band shirts , faded jeans and tan with red-laces work boots. They had bone-stones and wooden pipes with abalone inlays and carried boom-boxes with the best tunes blasting out of them. “Cities On Flame With Rock’n’Roll’ by Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple’s ‘Space Truckin’, and  ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ all howled out of those woods-just to name a few. I was so drawn to this music, and to the people who also loved this music, I felt I was finding my place somehow. The middle of the woods often felt more like home than my house.

Sometimes, I was the only girl at the hang-out, surrounded by rocker boys, but I always felt completely safe -in fact, I never considered safety at all, it was just (rightly) assumed. Had my Dad known I was in there and with who- he would have thought the worst. (and smoking marijuana wasn’t even the ‘worst’ he’d be thinking) But these guys, with their long hair and their loud music  had certain lines they didn’t cross and laws they didn’t break despite their bad reputations.  A big one was most definitely the jail-bait law. And though, like everyone else in my world, they hemmed and hawed and ‘no way’d their way around believing I was only 13- they also knew I wasn’t a liar, because who would lie they were younger in these days when we all wished we were older? They also knew what grade I was in, and could see how ‘green’ I was.  Not that I’m implying I was so god-damned irresistible, or anything of the sort, but we all know what people think (and say) about one girl in the woods with six boys!  These guys had their eyes on older, hipper, more awesome girls anyway.  I had my little crushes, but would have been mortified to be found out, and it was based on an admiration for someone’s style or musical taste anyway.  I was more like their ‘cool’ younger sister.

There wasn’t always pot and beer involved….we weren’t privy to endless supplies or much money. Oftentimes we’d just sit around and rap to each other about everything under the sun.  I remember what my Dad used to say to me when I was young and bored out of my mind, hovering around him like a hummingbird while he tried to relax and read the paper. “Oh, for God’s sake Annie, go do something!” to which I’d say, ‘there’s nothing to do!”– and exasperated, he’d huff “Oh, for Chrissakes – go sit on a log!”-and here I was, all these years later, in the woods, sitting on a log.

One of my favorite guys was Michael. The oldest in his family of five boys, he was the big brother I didn’t have. He was always around after school- working on his car, which he couldn’t even yet drive at fifteen- or hanging out at the end of his dirt driveway (the corner) with me and whoever else meandered by. We’d stand around, shooting the breeze as the cars zoomed by, flying down the hill on Wolfpit Avenue, horns honking, motorcycles rumbling, muscle cars wailing, leaving behind bits and pieces of  songs like instant snapshots as they sped away.  We either loved or hated the tunes, and many a sweet hot rod was rendered less than, as a crappy pop song slapped us in the face, while an occasional piece of junk was elevated to the sought-after thumbs up status from all of us should we hear ‘Houses of The Holy’ banging out it’s thudding speakers. We could spend hours at the corner, especially in the summer, doing nothing and everything all at once, heading indoors after dark, happy and spent.

Michael was a nice looking guy, tall, and blonde headed, from an Irish family who moved to Connecticut from the Bronx. He had a cool New York accent, and a ‘cut-the-bullshit’ New York attitude I loved and respected. His opinions were cut and dry- but he was never mean, or arrogant-and if we disagreed on something- a book, a tv show, an eight-track purchase- he’d just gently tease me about it, or attribute it to me ‘being a girl’, to which I’d shoot back that his bad taste was on account of his ‘being a guy’. I’m sure it was in part because of his looking after me that I had a position of respect in the neighborhood.

One day, a group of us were sitting around, shooting the shit and taking tokes of good Columbian weed from a small glass pipe Lance had brought along. The woods were quiet, as we were sans boom-box and tunes, and  the pot so strong it clubbed me over the head. I sat on my log, twisting my Mood Ring around on my finger (my ring was always black- with an occasional muddy brown) or stroking my feather earrings. It was an overcast summer day in late June, summer vacation. The woods were still damp from the morning rain, and the smell of wet dirt hung heavy. I began focusing in on a bright green leaf, sprouting from a nearby bush (isn’t nature amazing? look at those water drops! What a cool pattern! I should draw that!) when all of a sudden a deep, booming voice shouted: “Hands Up! POLICE!”

There were seven of us in the circle, and we froze. We heard footsteps crushing twigs and  leaves along the path, foliage ruffling and then more shouting: ‘I  SAID “POLICE!” HANDS UP!!!” Suddenly, Lance jumped up, and high tailed it towards the back of the woods. A thousandth of a second later we all jumped up, and began scrambling after him. I ran as fast as I could, but it wasn’t easy, as I was wearing cheap, gold ,Caldor issued, jewel encrusted sandals, so Michael grabbed me by the wrist, and pulled me at his much faster pace. We were hurdling over tree stumps, logs, boulders, and avoiding the  giant trees in our path at the very last second. When we hit the clearing alongside the creek, we were impeded by a cluster of wet, moss covered logs, several feet high, from a big felled tree. Once we scaled those, we’d be ‘home free’, and able to run the rest of the dirt corridor unobstructed. The other guys were so far ahead of us, they looked to be an inch tall, running and leaping like gazelles.

Michael let go of my wrist, and shouted ‘C’mon! Jump’ as he flew over the first log, using his hands as a springboard,  like he was part frog, or something. I followed behind, panting and giving it my all, but the stump was higher than I thought, and slippery with the moss. The 6 Million Dollar Man music began to play- then the sound of a record abruptly scratching. I made it most of the way over, but my left foot caught on the stump. I felt a sickening crunch, and a lightning bolt of pain as my big toe smashed into the wood. I stumbled forward and crumpled to the ground, between two of the monstrous logs.

T-Rex and -wait!- is that Michael?!

Michael glanced back, and seeing me go down, he immediately veered off into the woods to his left. He tracked back, staying out of sight, and emerged right where I lay.  I was flat on my back on the dirty ground, which meant the the cops couldn’t see me from a distance, but if they pursued us, I was a dead duck. There was no way I could run, or possibly even walk. My toe throbbed, and I writhed in pain. 

Looking up and down the path, and determining the coast was clear, Michael hunched down, hopped over (again, frog-like!) and crept over to me. He peered over the top of the log, scanning the whole while for the cops, and then pulled me up into a sitting position. I could feel damp dirt, twigs and pebbles embedded in my back. Since I was wearing -as usual- a halter top.  Michael pulled some dead leaves and stems out of my hair. I had tears in my eyes from the pain in my foot. 

“Are you okay?’ he asked.

“My toe!” I moaned. I still hadn’t looked at it. Michael picked my foot up by the ankle, to peer below my denim bell-bottom cuffs and told me later he almost dropped it from the shock of what he saw. To his credit, he managed to put my leg down gently, then wiped his hands on his own jeans. 

“Oh, Geez!” he said, sounding alarmed, his face going pale. “Fuck!!!… You need to get to a Doctor!” He sounded panicked. Which panicked me. 

I shook my head, and bit the bullet. I pulled up my pant leg and I looked down at my toe, now undulating with unbearable pain. My big toenail looked as though it had cracked all the way down the middle, vertically- and then had exploded. The nail was spread open like a double-door closet, presenting utter gore as it’s contents. Blood gushed out, pulsating in rivulets down my foot, and around my ankle, where it then dripped into the dirt. My golden, bejeweled sandal, dripping with shockingly red blood, as well as with caked blackish stains suggested some sort of bizarre royal massacre, the red and blue gems tainted and fouled (“My God! They’ve killed the Queen!”) I got woozy from the sight of it. So did Michael.

I wore the Caldor version of these…

 

“We gotta get you home!” said Micheal “Is someone there to take you to the Emergency Room?”

Right then we jumped as someone yelled “FREEZE!”  above our heads. We both gasped and looked up to see- Dack! standing above us on the other side of the log.  We were confused. 

Michael immediately asked: “Are the cops still back there? Did you see them?”

Dack started laughing. “COPS? YOU DUMMIES! I’M THE COPS!”….

Ha Ha f**ckin Ha!” went Dack….

There was a stunned silence as we put it all together. Dack had been fooling around, and knowing we were gathered together in the woods he had decided to trick us. There had been NO cops!!  Dack was just being a dick! If I had been able to stand I would’ve punched him in the gut with all of my strength.

“Really funny, Dack!” said Michael “Come and see what happened to Lisa coz of your little joke!”

 

Dack, still smiling, stepped around the log. I saw the color drain from his face as he looked at my mangled toe and bloody foot. “Oh, shit!!” he said, then “Oh My God!” Now I was getting really scared. I was completely straight as well. It was as if my buzz had taken off with the rest of the guys.

“Help me get her up, Dick!” hissed Michael. Tears were actually streaming out of my eyes at this point, and the pain was getting even worse. The guys lifted me to a standing position, and I draped my arms around each of them. I purposely leaned towards Michael, but there’s no easy way to accept someones’ help to walk, without getting up close and personal. I hated Dack, but needed him.

It took us awhile to get through the woods and across Wolfpit, then up my driveway. I was hopping, and trying to walk by using my heel. No one was home at my house- my parents were at work, and my brothers probably off with friends. As soon as we got to my front door, I told Dack to take off. He tried apologizing, but I wasn’t in the mood to hash it out. “Just GO!” I shouted.

Michael helped me up the stairs, and went into the hall bathroom to run some warm water in the tub. He grabbed a towel and a washcloth out of the cabinet, and started looking through the medicine chest for some antibiotic ointment. 

 

“Put your foot in the water, Lis…” he told me. Just looking at the heavy flow spilling into the tub made my toe ache even harder.

“I can’t” I sniffed.

“Yes you CAN! You gotta!…I think” Michael insisted.

I leaned against the wall by the tub and lifted up my injured foot. 

“Turn off the thingy!” I whined. There was no way I was going near that water.

“Okay, Okaaay!” Michael said, twisting the water off. Neither Michael nor I had any first aid smarts.

“Just help me to my room!!” I cried, angrily. He held me by the waist while I hopped across the hall. I got to my rose print covered canopy bed, and sat, holding my damaged foot up. Michael handed me a wet washcloth, and I cleaned off as much blood as possible without actually touching anything.. The toenail was no longer bleeding out, but it was a clotty mess. Michael went to the kitchen and brought me a glass of water and two aspirins. It made me laugh. After I took them I said- “What now? Do I call you in the morning?”  

“Har, har!” Michael answered. “Lisa- for real! – have your Mom bring you to the hospital when she gets home. That looks bad!”

“I will-a!” I insisted, tired of hearing it.

We spent a few minutes talking about Dack, and how he was a major jack-ass. He also commented on how my room was so ‘girlie’ and that he knew it would be. I gave him the finger, and he laughed. Michael said he was calling me tonight to check on my progress. I thanked him, and he positioned the towel across the  lower half of my bedspread, so I could place my blood-stained foot up there. It struck me that the red roses on my bedspread and canopy looked exactly  like what I imagined the bloody toe print from my injury might be, if I would ever have the nerve to make contact.  But, at least it would coordinate. I shivered at the thought.

Mine was white with red roses, but it was very ‘girlie’ for sure!

After Michael left, I lay back and tried to figure out how to explain this whole thing to my parents. Obviously, the entire story had to be tweaked. “Well, Mom and Dad- I was smoking a bowl in the woods with a bunch of guys, and heard someone yell ‘cops!’, so what else could I do but run?” wasn’t gonna fly. It was an infraction factory! I racked my brain so hard for something believable, that I fell asleep, and didn’t come to until an hour later when I was awakened by my mother, keys jangling and pocketbook in hand- hovering above my face with her Jackie O sunglasses, demanding “Lee Lee?! MY GOD! What did YOU DO?”

 

 

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