This is not a true story – I’ll deny it ‘til the cows come home with utters bursting and cream on the table!
Back in the Bronx in the 60’s, (I can’t mention the year, ‘cause I don’t know the statue of limitations on setting fire to a highway), fireworks were illegal, even so, every neighborhood managed to have a fireworks display.
Everyone knew each other and watched out for each other; a cop car would come by every once and a while, to make sure things didn’t get out of hand. Each year, just a few blocks from our apartment building, my neighborhood held a display on a bridge over a six-lane highway, with cars often pulling over into the breakdown lane to stop, watch, and enjoy the show.
That Fourth of July started out like every other, and for the first few minutes it was wonderful: watching and feeling the explosions high in the air, the whistling of the bottle rockets before the bang, when suddenly there was smoke, fire, and pandemonium, but for my best friend Berta and me, it became just a bit more.
At 15, Berta and I were joined at the hip, so when her parents decided to spend the holiday weekend at their summer cottage, Berta and I begged until she was allowed to stay with my family. Then we pleaded with my mom to let us go to the fireworks by ourselves; after all, what if the boys were there? Mom relented, (she didn’t like fireworks anyway), we had to be home by ten, and I had my apartment keys in my jacket pocket.
On the way, we snuck on more make-up and once there, we plopped our butts down on the grassey slope about halfway between the highway and the street, fell back on our elbows, and began coolly scanning the crowd.
Suddenly, there were flames and billowing smoke – a grass fire – immediately followed by sirens: the cops coming by at the same time. Berta and I scrambled up to the sidewalk along with the crowd, while the police and neighbors tried to put out the fire with abandoned blankets.
On the sidewalk, everyone brushed them selves off, and knowing the fire trucks would arrive soon, began leaving. Berta and I hadn’t gone a block, when I realized my keys weren’t jingling. I searched every pocket and Berta dumped our tote bags on the sidewalk. Nothing – crap – I had been sitting on my jacket and my keys must have fallen out of the pocket in the rush.
“We have to go back, Berta,” I whispered, “We begged your parents, pleaded with mine, and if I go back without the keys, I’ll be grounded for weeks.”
Best bud’s go with you into the flames of hell.
We got there ahead of the firemen and went into the area where we thought we’d been, crawling on our hands and knees, away from the fire, but into the smoke: coughing and blinking and wiping all the way. We stayed close and changed course often, when suddenly my kneecap came down on something very hard and pointy, bringing more tears to my eyes and with them, my keys.
As we were making our way back to the sidewalk, the fire trucks were arriving. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes, but it felt like hours when we began walking home for the second time that night.
The first people we met, were Mike and Johnny; Mike was Berta’s and Johnny was mine; the boys. Only in our teenage dreams of course, we’d never even kissed, only meeting on the street corner and talking for hours. We were still sputtering and wiping, they didn’t say much, just sort-of stared, (which felt good), but we had to say quick goodbyes to get home by ten.
We made it just in time but my mom must have been at the peephole, as the door opened before I had the key in the lock. Funny, but she didn’t say a word, just pointed to Grandma’s big mirror over the couch in the living room; in it, you could see from ceiling to floor.
I’d like to say we didn’t look as bad as we thought – but we did.
OMG – call the EMT’s – we died of teenage embarrassment!