We loved rainy days because rainy days were racing days.
On rainy days the water ran next to the curb in a strong torrent. The twins and I found little eucalyptus boats, the pods from our tree homes, and hurried to the top of our street in Los Gatos, a little Californian town in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
At the count of “READY? SET? GO!!!!!!!” we dropped in our seed racers and watched the rushing current sweep them down the hill. We yelled and encouraged them as they swapped places. If one of ours got caught by debris snagged at the side of the curb, we were allowed to loosen it with a stick.
At the bottom of the street, the water rushed under a grate. We called the race right before the grate. With a good racer, we would try to scoop it out so it could race again. We let the seedpods that were losers go away under the grate. We wanted a fresh start.
The twins were my best friends. They were identical. Adults couldn’t tell them apart but I could. One was bossy with more freckles and her hair had more copper. One was quieter and sweeter. She was paler and lighter haired. It always surprised me that adults couldn’t see the differences. Were they not looking at the twins? It was obvious to me.
We were next-door neighbors. Our neighborhood had long skinny lots and the houses were nestled next to each other. My bedroom and the twins’ bedroom were so close that I could to read to them at night even though we were in different houses. We opened our windows and I would read from my big collection of books. I read about horses and strong girls. Despite the tall wooden privacy fence between us, I could hear them shift in their beds and I could tell when their breathing became even. Then I stopped reading and spent time thinking until I finally fell asleep. I envied their ability to sleep easily. I thought they were lucky to have a sister in the same room. So much had happened by the time I was eight that I was already an insomniac.
We spent all our free time on the street. We didn’t have any organized activities so we made up our own games. Sometimes the teenagers at the top of the street let us play with them. I remember a teenage boy taught me to play Frisbee.
The twins and I roller-skated on my deck. The wheels ka-clunked, ka-clunked as they bumped over the boards. In the 1970s, it was popular to roller-skate. I wore white socks pulled up to my knees, with blue stripes at the top. We put glitter gel on our cheeks. We weren’t weird little kids clomping around in a small mountain town. We were glamourous disco queens and we tossed our hair as we skated. We were fabulous!
Across the street from our houses were empty lots with tall eucalyptus trees. Each of us had a tree home that we called our own. We spent hours with our trees. I loved my tree with all my heart as only a lonely little girl can love.
When they started to clear the lot and build new houses, the twins and I welcomed the adventure. We ran around through the construction and collected odd pieces to bring back to our tree homes. I had a little pile of bent nails, colored wire twists and splintered pieces of wood.
Then the day came that one of the huge eucalyptus trees was chopped down and left as a stump. Four trees next to it had spray-painted Xs on them. My own tree home had an orange spray-painted X.
I stood and looked at my tree with its orange death sentence sprayed on. The twins stood on either side of me.
“It’s going to be OK, Gen,” the quiet one said and put her hand on my shoulder.
“We can stop them,” the bossy one said. “Let’s take the X off.”
We peeled the paint off. I let myself be a little hopeful. We played close to our tree homes that afternoon, never venturing over to the construction site, the source of my tree’s reason to be chopped down.
The next day after school, I ran down the hill from the bus stop. A new orange X marked my tree.
It was over. My tree was going to die.
I started crying. I cried without making a sound, weeping about the imminent loss of my tree home.
I came in and told my mother. She said, “You’re crying already and it’s not even dead?”
But I knew it would die.
They sawed it down on a day that my family was at home. From my room, I listened to the sounds without any tears. I had already cried for it.
My dad came back from across the street with a large chunk of my tree.
“Here’s a piece of it,” he said. “We can use it as a table on the deck.”
It felt like offering the bones of a friend to me.
I was this sensitive as a child before I grew up and learned to live in the world.