You Shouldn’t Take Chances
“Don’t step on a crack; you’ll break your mother’s back.” We’d sing-song this on the way to school. One boy always stepped on every crack.
“You shouldn’t take chances like that,” I’d say. “Something bad could happen.”
But how would I know? Growing up, I followed the rules. A Responsible Goodie-Two-Shoes. I rarely pushed the boundaries, maybe because I feared something terrible would happen if I did. When I was 19, I learned exactly what would happen.
My mother, in a long remission from leukemia, encouraged me to take a vacation. I was unsure about leaving but needed time away, so I shoved $300 into my pocket, grabbed my roommate and supplies, and drove west to California.
This was my 1983 break-the-rules trip. My roommate and I played all night and crashed on the beach at sunrise. We cleaned up in gas stations and outdoor beach showers. We talked to strangers after midnight. We said, “No,” to three rich Israeli men who asked us to join a cocaine party on Hollywood Boulevard, and, “Yes,” to a David Lee Roth look-alike who asked us to dance and sing with him on Sunset Boulevard. On day six, we parked at Huntington Beach.
“I’m going to call my grandmother.” I said, searching for change.
“That’s a violation of trip rules.” My roommate dropped a quarter into my palm. “It’s supposed to be a secret trip.”
“I know, but I feel weird being here and not calling when she’s just down PCH in Laguna.” I got out, walked to the pay phone and dialed. It rang once.
My grandmother answered, “Hello?”
“Hi, Mimi! It’s …”
“Where have you been? Everyone’s been looking for you.”
“I, I’m in Huntington Beach. I told my mother I’d be here.” I held my breath after the last word. I knew what I was about to hear.
“Your mother died four days ago. And the funeral is over.”
I don’t remember everything my grandmother said after that, or what my roommate said, if anything, on the drive back to Arizona. The only thing I remember clearly is the voice in my head saying, “You know better. You shouldn’t take chances like that.”