In Wisconsin, since my mother couldn’t drive, she relied on family to drive us everywhere; I sat in her lap in the front seat, held securely in her arms. Once, I opened the door of my aunt’s red Pinto while we were on the road, but we weren’t going very fast, and since I got yelled at by both my mother and my aunt, I never did that again.
In New York, my mother only needed a token to come and go as she pleased, since the subway would take you anywhere you might want to go, and so we rode the graffiti-covered cars, filled with strangers: People smoking cigarettes, teenagers with loud radios. Sometimes there were musicians playing violins or other instruments in the tunnels, and sometimes my mother would let me put a quarter into their violin case.
The parks in Wisconsin were different: I could walk a block to the playground near my grandparents’ house, and get the merry-go-round going really fast, and play with whatever neighbor kids happened to be there, or go find one of my friends, who all lived a door or two away. In New York, the playground behind my apartment building had a metal fence with sharp spikes on top, and the one at school that the first-graders used was on the roof of the five-story building. There both had black mats to cushion any rough landings, although they mostly served to smear knees and clothes with soot. After lunch, if it wasn’t raining, we played in the cement courtyard in the center of the school building, and if it was raining, we just stayed in the cafeteria.
Mostly, the kids were different. They made jokes I didn’t understand, like one boy who had the whole class laughing when he held up paste to his nose and announced he was sniffing glue, and played games I didn’t understand, like one called Catch Me Kiss Me where everyone laughed at me for actually kissing the boy I was assigned to chase, even though I had been told that I was supposed to.
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