I can’t remember what the adults were doing, all I remember was that they weren’t around. It was a gang of kids that gathered in the dirty wasteland between the houses. We had all moved into a new subdivision, and though the houses were done, the yards hadn’t been finished yet. Between the houses, there was nothing but wide expanses of mud and dirt, and some piles of soil waiting to be levelled out by a bulldozer.
The kids gathered on one of these mounds and we tried to figure out what we should do with ourselves. It had just rained, and since no one had a yard to play in yet, the muddy hills were all we had. We knew we’d get in trouble if we got too dirty; Theresa’s mom had made it clear that she wouldn’t be allowed out at all anymore if she came home covered in mud again. It didn’t seem likely we’d get too muddy just walking around. So, even though it seemed like a boring thing to do, we started exploring.
Off to the east a rainbow had formed, and we decided that we should try to get to it. Fences hadn’t been put up yet, so we were able to walk freely in the wide open space behind the houses. We walked to the end of the block through what were going to be backyards. The mud and absence of landscaping made the area look like a no-man’s-land, but at least the road had been built. When we reached the end of the block, we crossed it to get to the field.
It was lower and grassier on the other side of the road. We didn’t realize it, but that was because most of the area hadn’t yet been subdivided or scheduled for development. All we knew was that, while there were a few dirt mounds, most of the area was flat and still had long grasses growing on it. Walking through the field was almost restful after the trek through the muddy backyards.
We could also all relax a little because it seemed less likely that any of us would get dirty walking through the field. Maybe we’d get a grass-stain or two, but at least we’d actually have to work at getting filthy enough to anger our parents.
Or at least, it was like that for a while. However, after we had walked through the grass for a few minutes, there was a wide plateau of mud in front of us. Most of us were fine with staying down below, but the rainbow didn’t seem to be getting any closer, and moving onto higher ground seemed like an easy way to get close.
Theresa was still thinking about the rainbow, and had gotten tired of being on low ground, besides. She wanted to see what was up above and if it was any closer to her goal. More than anyone, she had good reason to stay away from mud, but no one wanted to point that out to her. She was kind of the acknowledged leader, so even though we were generally fine with staying on the flats, we followed her up onto the muddy plateau.
We started having to be very cautious again, hoping that if we got dirty, it would just be on our shoes and the cuffs of our pants. We hadn’t gone very far when Theresa found a red seat lying on the ground. We didn’t really know where it was from. Norman guessed that it was from a tricycle, but it was a large, metal seat, so more likely it was from a bulldozer or one of the other construction machines that had been roaming around the area.
Nevertheless, wherever it had come from, it was still a fairly vibrant red despite the rust and mud, and so Theresa decided that it belonged with the rainbow. From the plateau, the rainbow didn’t seem any closer, but it was easier to see. It formed a majestic arch far to the east. We weren’t even close to the rainbow, but Theresa started throwing the seat into the air. She hoped that by her effort, she could get that piece of red back into the sky where it belonged.
That was the day that Theresa lost control over us. We were in such a habit of going along with her that, at first, we acquiesced to her conceit. But we could all see that the rainbow was still off in the distance, so she wasn’t even throwing the seat toward it. Also, though Theresa was strong, the seat was heavy, and she wasn’t able to throw it very high. Even if we’d been right under the rainbow, she would never have gotten it high enough in the air to be reabsorbed.
After a few minutes, we started to drift away, claiming that our parents were expecting us or something. There were some lame excuses, but no one questioned them. Theresa had gotten lost in her own world, and just kept tossing the seat into the air. She didn’t really seem to care that much when we left.
I was the last to go, not because I believed Theresa’s efforts were any less silly than the rest of them thought, but because I was no good at coming up with a reason to leave. I have a decent imagination, but I’ve never thought very quickly. I also never liked thinking I might be hurting someone’s feelings, so I could never leave people without coming up with a good reason. Several of the other kids had been able to drift away on very thin pretenses, but I had to come up with something good. And so, my slow brain kept drafting and rejecting excuses.
When I found myself alone on the plateau with Theresa, however, it didn’t seem particularly important that I come up with a good excuse for leaving. She wasn’t paying any attention to me, and there was no one else around to hear my lame reason for leaving. So, even though she still wasn’t listening, I said loudly that I needed to get some homework done and then I left. In fact, I did have some homework to do, but no kid ever accepted schoolwork as a reasonable excuse for any action at all. It was very weak and I knew it, but Theresa didn’t seem to care, so it would be good enough excuse, regardless.
After that day, the kids went without a leader for a while. Theresa had lost us, and in the weeks and months following, it became clear that she was just kind of messed up, to the point where at least a few of the parents asked their kids not to hang out with her. By that point, it was hardly an issue anyway, since we’d all moved on, splitting into little groups. We weren’t the “neighbourhood” kids anymore. Instead, each of us belonged to a distinct group. We weren’t enemies or anything, we just gathered with our own group, rather than everyone. Occasionally, when necessary, the whole gang of kids got together to discuss an issue.
For instance, when a nearby playground was getting torn down for safety reasons, we all gathered together to talk about it. Many of us really liked that playground, and while there wasn’t much we could do, we still wanted everyone to get together to talk about it.
Theresa wound up moving away not long after the rainbow incident. Her parents divorced, and her mom went to live in another city with her own parents. Theresa went with her. We kids were surprised when it happened, but our parents didn’t seem very shocked. I was actually more surprised by their blasé attitude than I was by Theresa’s fate. And I remember feeling kind of betrayed by their attitude. It felt wrong for them not to be shocked. I resolved to always be shocked by bad news. It seemed like the least a person could do.