I must have been born with a magnetic plate in my head that attracts flying objects, magnetic or not. If I believed in alien abductions, I’d blame it on that too, but I save that one for my pinkie toe and other stories. Stay tuned. Ever since I can remember, anything launched into or sticking out of the air, finds me. The top of my head. My ear. My face.
The last day of eighth grade, brothers in our friend group, the only ones with access to a pick-up truck, invited us to their house to fill water balloons after our end of school year celebration. Officially, even though it’s summer break, we’re Freshmen. Fish. Stinky Fish. Why do they even call it that? Not wanting to be left out, I tagged along. I wore my favorite jams shorts printed with tropical fruits and a tank top. My new summer outfit.
I was supposed to go home right after school to watch my younger siblings, but I convinced them to stay put and not tell Mom where I ventured. “I won’t be gone long and I’ll be home way before she gets home. Don’t tell!” I took off with a friend and made it to the party house.
The plan was to fill the balloons, load them-and ourselves-into the the bed of the pick-up and drive around town catching the new unarmed sophomores unaware. My bestie had a crush on one of them and on one of the drivers, so this was more of a flirting opportunity for her than anything else. Summer teen romance with a side of a third wheel.
We filled buckets with water and loaded them with water filled balloons. The brothers got inside the truck cab while the rest of us climbed up the back and sides to find our places. We drove around, our pent-up and hopeful for high school energy oozing out of us hollering “Ninety! Ninety! We’re the Class of Ninety!” No one heard and no one cared. Except for us. And those sophomores.
We made our way to the only park in town. That’s where we found them. They walked toward us and then, “Fire!” We all scrambled for water balloons and began to aim. Mine didn’t ever go far. Not only do I not throw like a girl, I can’t hold on to any type of sports equipment and water balloons weren’t any different. The others, faster and with better aim launched balloon after ballon at our opponents. They didn’t need my help throwing them, so I started grabbing as many as I could hold and distributed them to the others.
With nothing in their defense, the sophomores devised a clever plan. Evenings had been rainy. The unpaved parking area where we sat in the truck bed was…muddy. They picked up handfuls of mud. Sticky, clay-like mud that holds its shape when cupped into the palm of a hand and shaped into a ball.
“D-u-u-u-ck!” One of the guys yelled.
I sat near one of the buckets, so I didn’t see the commotion. I kept handing out water grenades. “D-u-u-u-ck!”
The girl in front of me ducked. I didn’t.
Everything went black for a split second. I reached for my glasses, but almost couldn’t find them. “My glasses, where are my glasses?” Still unable to see because I kept my eyes closed, I felt around for them. I took them off and noticed mud where the lenses were supposed to be. My face throbbed. Chunks of mud decorated my new outfit.
I’m not crying. I’m not crying. I’m NOT crying.
The truck peeled out and we were back on the street, pitched mud balls hitting the side of the pick-up. Most of the other kids laughed and pointed while I tried to figure out if the lenses to my glasses popped out or broke.
“You look like a raccoon!”
One of the girls, in between laughs, asked “Why didn’t you duck down?” I didn’t think I needed to. They aimed for her, not me.
“I’m going to get in so much trouble,” I managed to choke out. I pulled chunks of mud off my glasses and found the lenses. Mud clung to my hair. When I almost figured out what happened, a bucket of water came at me.
“Why did you do that?” one of the girls fussed at one of the boys.
“I was just trying to help her get the mud off,” he explained.
“You didn’t have to dump the whole bucket of water on her!”
Some of the mud washed off. Still intact, I wiped the lenses with the bottom of my tank top. I held my composure, but throat tightened. “Just take me home now. I’m going to get in so much trouble.”
I climbed out of the truck and walked up the driveway. One of my sisters ran outside when she saw I was home as I headed to the water faucet in the backyard. I gave her a look and put my finger up to my lips. I turned it on and hosed down my hair. I was already drenched. I put my outfit in the washer, cleaned myself up, and put on my responsibility cloak.
I heard about high school freshman initiations. I watched them in movies and read about them in books. I didn’t know they existed for summer breaks. Later, I managed to laugh about it, but I still have that taste of mud in my mouth.