When We Jumped the Fence

An excerpt of “Gage Park”

There’s a white crowd the size of a riot on Clark Street. Pale, red, sweaty bodies sway through the streets pumping fists, screaming the names of those lost from their group. Carmen is a dark speck in the loud crowd of people dressed in white and blue. She feels out of place, covered from head to toe in dark colors, wearing a faded Korn shirt, wide-leg jeans, black k-swiss shoes; standing still taking in the scene of people obviously drunk and—whiffs the smoke—freely smoking weed.

Carmen is remembering all this, trying to find the best way to describe what happened inside her the night she went to Wrigleyville. She was only there to go to a concert at the Metro. To see Wheatus and Zebrahead. Two rock bands fronted by over-gelled, spikey-haired, high-pitched male singers. Two rock bands that probably did not feel out of place in the pale crowd.

Carmen and I sit in silence on Carmen’s grandmother’s porch steps. Carmen is on the top step leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her head staring at the concrete step. I sit a couple steps below, hugging my left leg while my right leg is sprawled to the side, happy to not have someone tell me close those legs! You’re a young lady and young ladies keep their legs closed. The warm wind blows through both of our long, dark hair, and causes the bushes at the bottom of the steps to crisp and sway. The pink sky has turned into a silky navy blue. It’s getting late. I take a deep breath, let go of my leg, and adjust myself on the step. Carmen doesn’t move.

“Well, I don’t know but, if you don’t want to talk about what happened to you then don’t and I don’t mean that in a bad way but dude, you being all quiet and shit is making me sweat.”

Carmen chuckles. “Well, that’s your own guilty conscience making you sweat.”

You’re making me sweat.”

“I don’t know why,” Carmen says leaning back onto her elbows. “I’m just sitting here—”

“In complete silence, you weirdo!” I say, leaning my head onto the lapis lazuli porch rails. A plane headed to Midway airport roars past and I start to wonder where the people aboard the plane are coming from, where they’ve been.

“If I tell you, promise not to laugh or give me shit? Better yet,” Carmen says, “keep this between us.”

“You know I will,” I say gazing into Carmen’s brown eyes. Carmen smiles.

“Ok, fine. I went over to the north side to go to a concert over at the Metro. Do you know where that is?”

“I know it’s in the north side,” I tell her. “But that’s about it. I do hear about it all the time on the radio, though. Aren’t the Smashing Pumpkins supposed to play their last show there?” 

“Yea, they are,” she says.

“So, what happened over there? Over at the metro.”

“Ok. Explain to me why so many drunk ass people, still drinking, and smoking pot, can gather in the middle of the night, and be loud as fuck, and not get their asses arrested or at the very least, get some bright fucking lights flashed on them?”

I say nothing. I don’t know what to say. They’re white people, they’re rich people, those are the only things on my mind but between Carmen and I lately, things can’t simmer down to surface facts anymore. These past couple of days, Carmen has tried go further than just state deliberately-masquerading facts, as she calls them. I just want to ask her What are you truly looking for?! but I never do. One part because I think I know what she’s looking for, and another part because I’m trying not to want the same thing. Luckily for me, Carmen speaks again. 

“I know it was all happening because of the Cubs game.”

“I fucking hate baseball.”

“Yeah but soccer can be just as boring,” Carmen says with a hand sway.

“Hell no!” I say turning my body to the side, leaning back on my elbows, remembering the game in which I kicked Red’s ass, my pride rising again. “But let’s not talk about that right now. Let’s go back to your story.”

“Yeah, ok, like I was saying,” Carmen says leaning forward again. “I know it was because of the game and shit like that always happens because of games. I mean, you remember the Bulls championship riots.”

“That shit was so badass.”

“Ok, well, then there’s nothing to talk about.”

“You chicken shit,” I say with a laugh. “Move over,” I tell her, as I get up and sit next to her, grazing my left arm on Carmen’s right.

“What are you afraid of telling me, huh?”—Carmen bows her head down with a chuckle— “Are you scared of saying you wished you weren’t here?” —her head nods— “You wish you weren’t Mexican?” —her body quiets— “You wish you were white?”

Carmen tilts her head to her left and considers my brown eyes. We stare long enough to feel suddenly naked then turn our gaze to the concrete steps. The looming light of the street lamp fifteen feet in front of us feels incriminating. We hide our faces from it, from ourselves. From up above, though, the light is illuminating. Its aureate light lightens our hunched backs, irradiates the wide concrete sidewalk in front of us, and highlights the tall bush of pink flowers right below it. It’s floral braches swaying with the passing breeze. Carmen’s grandmothers house is the only house on the block accentuated with flowers. Our dark pony-tailed hair swings with the clank-clink of Carmen’s grandmother’s porch chimes. As the breeze finishes passing through, Carmen speaks.

“Being in the middle of all those people,” Carmen says, “I ain’t gonna lie and say I didn’t feel a bit way too Mexican than I’m used to and that I wished for a long-ass second that I could fit in.” Carmen looks up at across the street to the enclosed pine trees of the long front garden of Florence Nightingale Elementary school, our school. The pine trees were put there by the school administration to stop us from playing soccer on the only patch of grass safe enough to play on. 

“If only to feel as free as them,” Carmen says turning her gaze downward again. “I just want to be free, not feel caged up like I do here in this fucking hood.”

 We’ve always differed in the way we see Gage Park. I don’t feel caged in by the neighborhood. Now, just now, I’ve come to realize that I feel caged in by those that control our neighborhood. A small group of kids walking together causes cops to corral and huddle around us. Sitting, chillin’ on a porch causes cops to flash lights into our eyes, asking us what we’re doing, as if sitting, chillin’ on a porch wasn’t the only thing we are doing.

“Fuck that,” I say.

Carmen looks back up at the pine trees across the street.

“Man, you know what,” I say straightening myself out, taking the last sip of the now watered down blueberry raspado. “Let’s get everybody together and jump that fucking school fence.” I give her a wide-ass grin. Her thin scruffy eyebrows, the corner of her eyes, her mouth, her checks, all move upward on her face as I say, “Those pine trees won’t stop us. We’re gonna play soccer on that grass again. Fuck ‘em.” I feel powerful, ready to battle against the invisible now-made-visible oppressor.

“Carmen!” Carmen’s grandmother yells through the open window. “Metate pa’ dentro! (Come inside!)”

We stand up, wipe cement dust off our bums, slap and clasp hands that form wings.

“Fuck ‘em,” we say together. I hop down the steps and open the black and blue-tipped gate and slowly close the gate door out of respect of Carmen’s grandmother. Carmen waves to me one last time and turns and opens the wooden door, entering her grandmother’s bungalow house for the night.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

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