Twice a week, from 2:45 to 3:25, I sit in my car and wait. I wait for my daughter and her two friends to come out of a looming brick building that houses their middle school. The bell rings and kids spill out from the gates like they are being poured from a bottle.
Sometimes during the waiting, I write. Sometimes I can’t think of anything to write so I listen to Ariana Grande or anyone else who happens to be singing on New York’s pop station, Z100. Today, I listened to Ariana Grande and then turned off the radio. It was annoying.
The skies are deceptively gray today, constantly tricking me into believing it is cold. Flint-colored, threatening clouds sit atop a white Tampa sky and if I didn’t know better, I would tell you it was going to snow.
I do know better.
It is not going to snow.
It is 74 degrees.
My eye wanders across the road to the fence that lines the sidewalk kids use when they are walking home. Mostly it is a solid fence and it stretches beyond my line of vision. There is one broken section that I could hit with a rock from my car. It is missing its top bar and sags forward without it. In another spot nearby, the fence is torn. Broken and torn fences remind me of a night.
When Brady was in 6th grade and Andrew in 8th, they went to a small Christian school. Andrew was there because it was exactly what he needed at the time. Brady was there because the other options would have killed him on the spot. It was the right fit at the right time for both of them. Some friends were there, too. One of them in particular has captured my heart since she was a baby. And I can’t stand for anything to go bad for the people who have my heart.
I was texting back and forth with this girl’s mom and discovered that she had left her binder on the sidelines of the football field after a practice. The binders were like a ticket to heaven. You didn’t lose, deface, damage, destroy, speak badly about, or misplace even for an hour, the binder. You just didn’t. Everything was in it and it was everything. So my young friend not knowing where hers was became a problem of gargantuan proportions. We had to get that binder.
I had to get that binder.
No one asked me to get it. No one sent me to the school after dark. In fact, when questioned by my family about where I was headed, I was rather cryptic in my replies. Noneya, people. I got business.
I drove the mile and a half to the football field and pulled up to the driveway where I wanted to turn in. But I couldn’t turn in. Because there was a fence. With a gate. And it was locked.
This is the very natural point at which every other 45 year old mother would have gotten back in their car, reversed it, and gone home. I couldn’t quit that easily. That binder was at stake and so was everything tied to it.
I stood there, propped up against my open car door, with cars whizzing past on the highway behind me, and assessed my situation. It wasn’t good. There were fences. Solid, gated fences everywhere. What has the world come to that I can’t retrieve a binder on a football field without threat of arrest or personal injury?
Ah well. There had to be a way. I pulled my car over in the driveway a little bit and walked over to a section of fence near the baseball field. After scouting it thoroughly, I determined that this location wasn’t going to work. I had to move on to Plan B.
Plan B was almost as bad as Plan A. More fences, more gates. But I had improved my situation dramatically in the fact that I was now parked down a long driveway out of the way of traffic. I turned off the car and started to slide my cell phone into my back pocket. I didn’t have pockets. I was wearing my yoga pants and a hoodie. It was dark. Don’t judge. What was I going to do with my cell phone? Was I going to embark on a covert mission in the dark without my phone, or was I going to handicap my mission by tying up the hand that had to carry it? It was a conundrum. In the end, I decided to take the phone and handicap myself for 3 reasons: (1) Where there’s no handicap, there’s no story. (2) I needed the cell phone flashlight. (3) I was pretty sure I was going to have to call 911 at some point.
I looked around as the headlights flickered off. There seemed no way to enter any side of the school without climbing a fence. I am not a good climber of anything. Trees scare me. We don’t have hills in Florida. I once broke my ankle getting out of bed the wrong way. I can’t even do furniture. I had no business doing fences. These were the voices in my head as I turned to the right and grabbed a shock of wild hair.
Well, would ya look at that. Another gate. And not a solid one. This gate was connected by a chain and there was a good 18 inches of gap to work with. I could make that work for me. With the cell flashlight blazing, I took off through the gapped gate.
It seemed like such a good idea when I took off running down a trail through the backwoods of the school property. There were no fences. I had been back here before and knew the way. It was a grand path to a binder that waited at the other end of that path.
Only the path was darker than a jaguar’s armpit and equally as frightening.
My cell flashlight only managed to twist the shadows of regular plants and trees into the shapes of serial killers.
But still I ran on.
That path was longer than I could have imagined when I was standing at my car. And the darker and narrower it got, the faster I ran. I was heaving puffs of night air and sucking wind by the time I reached the opening to the football field.
I jogged to the edge of the field where the bleachers sat lifeless, glinting silver under a half moon, and shifted my eyes to find a lonely old binder. There was nothing there. To be certain, I walked the length of the bleachers and shined my light wherever a binder could possibly be.
Well, shoot. The only other place her mother had said it might be was on the stone picnic tables outside the portables. Theoretically, that was a 2 minute walk. That walk was interrupted by yet another gate.
So many fences.
I had another decision to make. I couldn’t go back the way I came if I wanted to search at the picnic tables. It had come down to this: I had to climb a fence.
I walked across a short practice field to reach the gate. At this point, I had to locate a section of fence that I thought I could successfully climb. I shoved my phone through the links and watched it plunk softly on the night grass and grabbed the top of the fence with both hands.
I was in trouble from the beginning, because I was wearing my Keens. My Keens have a very wide toe-box and the fence holes were less that half the width of the shoe. Somehow I scrambled up and managed to swing one leg over. And then I sat there, atop a 5 foot fence, straddling it with one leg dangling over each side, swaying like a drunk monkey because I exceeded the maximum weight of the area I was sitting on.
“I’m too old for this mess,” I said to myself, finally pushing off to jump to the other side. I heard a rip as soon as I committed to the jump. When I landed, I reached down for my phone and around to see what I had ripped. My yoga pants. At the butt. Big time. And the rip was accompanied by a little scrape that comes from women in their 40s that try to climb fences in the dark. Shoot, I liked these pants. I knew I should have changed into my renegade pants before coming out tonight. But that would have drawn too much attention.
I limped over to the stone picnic tables, feeling triumphant to still be alive, and began my secondary search for the binder. There were a few things strewn about, left behind by other students. There was no binder. I hung my head, knowing I was not going to deliver any joy to a child tonight. With one last ditch effort, I slinked over to the glass double doors leading into the school’s main hallway and pressed my face to the glass. I could see the outline of the lockers, but nothing else.
Then I looked up.
At the security cameras that had been newly installed this year.
My eyes dilated in the night like an animal about to be plowed under by a semi. What if these are monitored? What if I already set something off? What if they review video after each night and my boys get booted from the school because their mom is a rebel wearing torn pants?
And I took off running. I ran like I wasn’t 45 and hadn’t ripped my pants at the butt. I ran like I’d been running for decades. I ran straight down the paved car line path to my car.
Which was blocked by another fence.
Are you kidding me with these fences?
Right then I knew that my kids were at a
I whipped all the way around, looking for the fastest way to jump another fence. This was going to finish off the pants. I don’t remember much about this last athletic feat. I’m sure it was ugly. I fully expected the way to be lit by primary colored lights but nobody came. There were no late night phone calls or visits from cops. I got back in my van and drove home, trying to normalize the last half hour as I drove. Turns out, you can’t fix in a mile and a half what you broke in 30 minutes.
I walked back through my family room and slipped back into my routine, as if nothing had happened.
“No luck,” I announced nonchalantly. Fortunately, no one wondered why I needed luck and no one made eye contact with the gaping pants hole.
The next morning, around the time of morning drop off, I casually texted the mother of the binder-less girl.
“Hey, I went to the school last night and tried to find her binder. Let me know what happens today.”
I was picturing her in the principal’s office, or spending the entire day trying to rebuild a binder from the notes of her friends.
Her mother texted back rather quickly.
“All good,” she replied. “Her binder was in her locker all along.”
I wish I had known that 3 fences ago.