At the very beginning of my rebellious days as a teenager, one of the first acts of proving my solitude and the transition into manhood was learning to sneak out of the house, successfully. I was well into my first year of high school and my girlfriend at the time — let’s call her Liz — yearned to partake with me in this mischievous task so that we could both “hang out” more intimately. Not seeing any other way around it, and being the eager fifteen year old that I was, I succumbed to my pubescent urges and complied.
My parents were three years divorced, and at the time, lived in the same city still so that it would make it easier for my brother and I to travel back and forth from each of their houses week by week. My brother never seemed to mind it so much, mostly because he could drive, which in turn, gave him more freedom. Me, though? I had my trusty mountain bike at each dwelling, narrowing my freedom circle to a five mile radius, which is about at the point where I would run out of steam. Liz lived twelve miles away. This was an issue.
The second obstacle was the whole process of sneaking out. When and how could I do it? I had to vote my mother’s house as out of the question. At fifteen, I already stood 6’2”, weighed 180 pounds, and was too wobbly and clumsy on my newly overgrown legs to clamor around our cluttered garage to maneuver my bike out in the middle of the night. Unless I parked it outside near the side gate where it was vulnerable to be seen and stolen, which I didn’t want to happen, then there was no other way. It just didn’t seem feasible.
So that left my father’s house, which he had recently just moved to. It was a nice one story home on a man-made lake inside of a gated community. We had a German Sheppard guard dog that barked at everything from fish splashing on the lake to the toilet flushing inside. Because I had a genius teen-aged brain that knew everything including the meaning of life (and love), this somehow seemed like the smarter of the two choices. I placed my bike outside near the gate in the backyard where it couldn’t be seen from the street, and hoped that my dad wouldn’t spot it either before the night was through. This seemed safe to me, due to the community being gated. When bedtime came, I pretended to sleep and whispered to my girlfriend on the house phone until the light beneath my door that led to the hallway went dark. When it was finally time to go, I packed my pillows under my blankets like the escaping convicts did in the movies, instantly regretting that I didn’t create a paper-mache head or buy a wig ahead of time, and set out to tiptoe down the short hallway.
The ten step walk now seemed a mile long. My heart was beating so fast that I stopped to wonder if it was giving me away, as if I were living out Poe’s famous murderous tale. Shaking away the thought, I pushed on.
Creeping down the hall proved to be the hardest part, not just because I was nearing my father’s door with each step, but there were leering pictures on the wall on both sides of me, following each of my strides with their eyes like Mona Lisa’s plump sneer. One step and there I was on my father’s boat, holding a prize fish from a camping trip just five years back. I was so innocent and happy, smiling with glee at something so simple. One more step and there I was, another smile, this one missing one of my front buck teeth in a third grade class photo. I was so naïve yet jubilant about the years ahead of me. One last step and there we all were, my family when we were still all together as one; Mom, Dad, brother, sister — all smiling together back at me. Me, who was now stuck in place trembling with fear and doubts; me, who believed that only this girl could bring me happiness; me, so rebellious of the rules set in place by my self-proclaimed strict parents who had obviously grown to hate me, or so my teenaged mind had convinced me. Was this real freedom I was striving for? Or, had nothing really changed from those pictures? Would this really make me happy again? Yes, of course it would. What had I been thinking? Time to keep moving.
I anxiously made my way past my father’s door and arrived at the garage. The first thing that I heard was the ‘click, click, click’ of toenails against the concrete. It was Cinder, our dog.
“Woof.” It was under hear breath at first, thank God.
“Cinder, it’s me. Shut up,” I hissed.
“Woof,” it came a little louder. I planned on this. I took the treat out of my pocket and offered her my hand. It worked like a charm.
“I knew you loved me,” I said. I walked past my second obstacle and moved out to the bike. I was feeling so successful! Then, the gate creaked, loudly. “Shut up,” I started to say, until I realized that I was talking to wood. I pushed through my paranoia and moved through obstacle three. On my bike now, I made my way to Liz’s.
It was a longer ride than I thought, and it was colder out than I had realized too. I was wearing all black — typical for that time in my life — in an attempt to conceal myself from anyone that may recognize me in the area. I peddled against the wind until I nearly blew my legs out, but I made it . . . halfway. I stopped and pulled over on Franklin Boulevard and pulled out the directions; twelve miles, forty-five minutes on bike it claimed. I checked my watch, which stated that I’d been gone for forty-eight minutes already. “Lies,” I cursed.
So I sat there, cursing a God I didn’t yet still believe in, cursing my age for crippling me from driving legally, and cursing my parents and society for setting a standard sex age that I was unarguably obliged to uphold. Then it hit me — literally. I had been too busy silently hating life’s standards to notice the huge black Ford truck that had pulled up in front of me. Music was blasting from its stock speakers and two teens were standing in the cab pointing and laughing at me.
What just happened, I thought. I was hit again with something square in the chest. “What the fuck,” I said out loud this time. I was all caught up in bewilderment as the truck sped off down the street. I looked down to see some substance akin to a baby’s spittle running down my hoodie.
I couldn’t believe what was happening. All that trouble to get there only to be humiliated by hooligans who were out and about causing more rebellious acts than I. I had been outdone, and I was still too angry to fit two and two together to realize what I had been pelted with. For all I knew, I could have a condom’s unspeakable contents running down and soaking into my beloved black sweatshirt, leaving its mark like a snail leaves a slime trail on the sidewalk. I was too furious to investigate, so I got onto my bike with newfound angry vigor and moved forward, loathing society more and more with each pedal, and wondering if John Doe’s man-snot would come out in the wash.
I finally arrived after what seemed to be another hour. “Why do you smell like the school locker room?” This is my girlfriend’s first loving phrase upon my huff and puffed entrance. I was sweaty, tired, and most likely visually pissed off, and this is what she decides to greet me with after all of my hard work. This is the girl that I risked it all for, but damn it, I loved her — just not in that moment.
“It was more work to get here than I thought,” I said as calmly as possible, trying to hide my hate for the world in my voice.
“No, but you really stink Ryan. God, what is that on your shirt?” She reached over and plucked an eggshell off my shoulder. Two and two finally equaled egg and she was surprised by my relief to this fact.
I told her of my long adventure, and needless to say, we carried out our reward of each other, but I couldn’t shake the thought that I had been outdone. The echoes in my head of the teens’ laughter made me feel insecure and minuscule. I felt as if, quite literally, the joke was on me. I couldn’t help but feel like a child in an all too grown world, where in the end, no matter what I did, God would get his last laugh. It pains me to say that the reward overruled my post-traumatic stress from the humility, and I lived on to rebel another day — numerous times. I also grew to be like those kids in the truck, causing havoc of my own in the late nighttime hours, but the lesson still sticks with me today: freedom from self-proclaimed bondage was unattainable until I changed my views on life itself and looked inward instead of blaming everything outward; freedom from adolescent stupidity was unreachable until I aged and made mistakes that I could learn and grow from; freedom from life’s lessons, also known to me as God’s laughing, is just unavoidable. It’s a part of living that I’ve now learned to look forward to. Now go grab some eggs and teach somebody a lesson.