Ten Minutes of Freedom

It was a sleepover in 1958. Not a very common thing for me. It was at Jerry’s house. There were Jerry and me. And Kenny and Terry. Maybe Frank. I don’t remember them all, but there were about six 12-year-old boys in all. It was a nice summer night. Warm enough so that we could sleep in the screened-in porch at the back of Jerry’s house. Jerry’s mom had turned out the lights and said it was time to go to sleep.

But we kept talking in the dark. Talking about TV shows, and about science fiction movies, and maybe a little baseball, but not about girls. Definitely not about girls. But talk can only last so long. Somebody came up with a crazy idea. It was 2:00 AM and dark outside. What if we took off our pajamas and ran naked through Jerry’s backyard? We all laughed at that, but then came the dare. I don’t remember who dared who, but a 12-year-old doesn’t turn down a dare. You can only turn down a dare involving certain death. A near-death dare you would have to take, and this wasn’t even near-death.

Next thing we knew, one guy said yes. We said to prove he had gone all the way, he had to slap the telephone pole in the back corner of Jerry’s yard. Off came his pajamas and out the door he went. Naked! We could barely see him in the moonlight, but we heard that slap. He was back in a flash. It only took about 30 seconds. What a riot.

But of course that just brought another dare. Out went another of us — slap! And another — slap! Then came my turn. That grass was cool and wet. I nearly fell down, but I made it back. We all did it. What a crazy thing.

The trouble with crazy ideas and dares is that one often brings on another. Somebody said that that run was too easy. What if we took off our pajamas and ran naked to the telephone pole on Dickens Street? We all got quiet for a while. That would be about half a mile — down the street. We all laughed, but no one would back down.

In a minute, there we all stood, naked and hairless (we were only 12 years old). Out the door we went and down the street. We started running really fast, but you can’t run your fastest for half a mile. And besides, at our fastest our little manly bits were slapping our legs and it hurt. We slowed down to a comfortable pace. No one was looking out a window and no cars came down the street. We were running over those suburban lawns like a small herd of animals. We all slapped that Dickens Street telephone pole and made it back to Jerry’s house. It was great.

I have gone back and looked at that pole on Dickens Street. When I think back on that day 50 years later, it seems like there should be some lesson or moral. But all I can think of was the freedom. For a 12-year-old boy, there’re always parents and teachers and neighbors. They kept an eye on us, and I guess it was a good thing. But still, a little freedom was nice.

We think that when we grow up, we’ll be free. There are no teachers and no parents keeping an eye on you. But there’s work and family and still the neighbors. Well, so what? We all deserve freedom some time. Go ahead, do it. I don’t mean run naked to Dickens Street. Just take the time to do something for yourself. Freedom: it’s a great thing.

Oh yeah, there’s something I forgot to mention. While we were running, we felt so free that we all started laughing. We laughed all the way back to Jerry’s house, and his mother heard us and saw us through her window. She didn’t say anything to us and, thank God, she didn’t say anything to our parents, but she said something to Jerry. He never had another sleepover and he was grounded for two weeks. But there was one thing she couldn’t take away. She couldn’t take away the memory of those ten minutes of freedom.

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