I grew up with seven brothers. Every house on our street was also overrun with boys. Testosterone ran so thick in my neighborhood you could smell it, like a mix of earthworms and pee. The boys tended to ignore me, only acknowledging my existence when their games called for a slave or a prisoner.
I started spending a lot of time in the occult section of the local library, reading about numerology, witchcraft, and astrology. I attended the Saturday afternoon planetarium shows at the museum. I created soap operas using the chess pieces as characters. One day, in desperation I think, my mother presented me with a baby doll. My brothers promptly tied a noose around its neck and hung it over the stairwell.
Then the Lane girls moved in next door and revolutionized my life.
Vicky, the girl my age, was a Gemini and had no interest in playing dolls or dress-ups or family. She wore long, denim shorts, high socks, and black sneakers. She had short black hair and freckles. She carried around a butterfly net and a magnifying glass and she plucked bugs from the grass and put them in jars. I hated her.
Theresa was two years younger. She wore a necklace with a peace symbol on it and clip-on daisy earrings. She wore midriff tops that showed off her exotic protruding belly button and shorts that had a flap over them to look like a skirt and flowered sandals. She was a Leo with a Scorpio rising, which I think explained a lot.
That summer I played every day with Theresa at her house because it was air conditioned and free of stinking, farting boys. When my brothers came around to tease us, Theresa would stick out her tongue and tell them to get lost.
The Lanes house was sixties modern as opposed to our own house which was the first one built on our street. My parents loved to tell us that the first owner tanned hides in the back yard. The Lanes house had shag carpet, a winding staircase, and an island in their all-white kitchen.
Their mothers name was Dolores and she had black hair in a beehive style. She wore false eyelashes and pink lipstick and short skirts. Their father Frank looked just like Frankie Avalon from the movies. He drove a convertible.
Mr. Lane didnt work in the yard all day on the weekends or drink Alka-Seltzer like my dad did. He told a lot of jokes and listened to the Beach Boys, snapping his fingers and grabbing Mrs. Lane around the waist and twirling her. Sometimes hed take us to the municipal pool in his convertible. Wed pile into the back seat in our two-piece swimsuits and listen to the radio turned up high. Sometimes wed stand up and Mr. Lane would step on the gas and wed fall back down laughing.
When the girls didnt come over for a couple of days and I told my mother I was going over there, she frowned and said, You just stay away from that house, in a tone she only used when she talked about the Lanes or the woman who danced in her bikini on Laugh-In.
One morning both Vicky and Theresa came over. Our mother ran away from home, Theresa said and burst into tears. Vicky elbowed her in the ribs. They didnt want to play at their house because they said their dad had a girlfriend now and she slept in his bed.
We played jump rope and jacks and Mystery Date. Theresa got the dud guy and burst into tears all over again. At suppertime my mom told them they had to go and they slunk away. Not long after that, they moved to Milwaukee with their mother.
The next summer Vicky and Theresa showed up at my door. We stood outside under the elm tree and talked. They told me Milwaukee was nice but it had no trees. They said their mom had gone to beauty school and learned how to blow-dry hair. In Milwaukee, they said, the toothpaste tasted like peanut butter and recess was three times a day and they had a new stepdad and he was black.
The last time I saw the Lane girls I almost didnt recognize them. They stood on my front porch in their winter coats, their hoods pulled up against the snow. My mother brought them cocoa and asked them questions, which they answered politely. When my mother went to answer the telephone, Theresa leaned over and said, Im pregnant. She smiled when she said it, so I smiled too. Her dimples showed and for a second she looked just like she did when she was eight. Vicky rolled her mittens together like socks and didnt say anything.
Before they left, my mother took a snapshot of the three of us. I still have that photo. Three teenaged girls sitting close together with shy smiles and closed eyes.