A sin to remember

All the criminal defense attorneys in the world would tell me to shut up now and not say another word, but I have to confess to a crime.

When I was a teen, I was a hardened troublemaker. I would tell my mom I was going to stay the night at one friend’s house but actually I’d go stay the night at another’s, a friend she didn’t approve of as much, and whose parents weren’t going to be home. Sometimes I would say I was going to ride my bike to Beaverton to go to the mall for roller skating and the comic shop on the way home, but actually I’d go to a convenience store and buy 30 pounds of sugary crap, then bicycle out to the Coast Range and picnic (while eating not one damn bit of healthy food) on top of a mountain so that I could look at the ocean without riding all the way down there. Not that the beach had no power to draw me, but even that small bit further would take an extra 20 minutes on the way out AND would guarantee that I would have to ride back up the damn mountain on the way home, with just that extra homeward stretch easily adding another hour and a lot of fatigue.

Oh, and it got so much worse.

One time I was at a party, and some people were smoking pot, and I did not leave. I just went in the other room and picked a book off the shelf & ended up reading Langston Hughes and Allen Ginsberg curled up in a corner. You might think this an odd choice of reading material in the midst of such a party, but the party host had a (very badly closeted) gay dad English teacher as his single parent, and besides, I think Ginsberg may have been bodily present at a party where marijuana smoking occurred, so it wasn’t too strange a place to find one of his books. I held the pages before me as a wall against the intrusion of others until it was time to be the sober person throwing blankets over all the drunk/stoned people at the end of the night. Gods, I couldn’t even come out of the corner to show some welcome and manners to my friend’s party guests until they turned the music down and put the bong away. You can see from this how terrible my character and morals were back then.

Then there was the time when my friends were worried about my depression & knew I wouldn’t drink their parents’ beer but thought that getting me drunk would cheer me up, so they went out and shoplifted red wine they weren’t old enough to buy and I wasn’t old enough to drink, then invited me over. And I knew the wine was shoplifted & I knew I wasn’t 21 and I knew the SAT was less than 10 hours away but I drank it anyway. Like all of the first bottle and maybe a third of the next over a period of only 5 or 6 hours, went home for 2 or 3 hours of sleep, then rushed off to the SAT hung over and exhausted to damn near the point of being delusional.

I was an incorrigible hellion destined for prison is what I’m saying.

You might think that the underage drinking of shoplifted wine was the worst of my crimes, but no.

No, that’s something else entirely. There’s a huge park in Portland called “Forest Park”. Within it are some other areas, the Rose Test Gardens, hiking trails, a bunch of stuff, really, some of it open to the public at all hours, others (like the zoo) fenced in with controlled admission. One section that’s open in part and fenced in part is an arboretum where they collect specimens of trees from temperate regions all over the globe. And then there’s the Japanese Garden.

The Japanese Garden is gorgeous. (Don’t believe me? Check their newsletter here for some photos & some interesting info.)

But the gardens are by their nature a bit crowded. Not super crowded. Just a bit, but it’s that bit too much. The garden is not overwhelmed with people, but there’s never a time when you’re truly alone, and this is a garden where tranquility, peace, the absence of others are all part of the best way to experience it, to experience being in the garden.

So what did I do? I hatched a criminal conspiracy with malice aforethought. While R, a good friend of mine, was temporarily broken up with her boyfriend (the same guy who would later shoplift the red wine), I thought I knew how to pick **her** up. Her bestie T, me, the same guy whose gay English teacher dad introduced me to Langston Hughes, and R made a plan. I pretended to stay at Party Host’s house one night, but instead just went over & joked with him and his dad over dinner for a couple hours, then left & picked up T & R in my parents’ station wagon, nonconsensually making my parents into accomplices. The three of us drove to Portland under cover of darkness and hid the car on an ungated arboretum access road, then half walked, half slid down the hill to the Garden’s back fence. It wasn’t difficult to find a place where a boulder & some dirt boosted us more than halfway up the 8 foot fence, and we climbed over.

My friends were all a little more into alcohol than I was, and true to form T had brought a bottle of wine. I had brought baguette & cheese & fruit & chocolate & a thermos full to the brim with an adult beverage: Earl Grey tea. How, after all, could one fully experience the Japanese Gardens without tea? Obviously one couldn’t, so I brought some small fancy tea cups as well.

Now that night wasn’t quite a full moon, but it was bright enough. For three hours and more we trespassed relentlessly, sitting on the moss by the fish, admiring the architecture of the bridge and guest huts, contemplating disrupting the lines of the sand & gravel garden without ever quite moving to do so, brushing the back of my hand against the colored leaves of the dwarf maples, and absorbing all the moon’s light, light transformed by the life around us. I had even, demonstrating my premeditation, brought along my poetry book and favorite pen, then wrote notes to myself about the experience and some tentative couplets to assemble into poems later. Though you might consider it reckless, I still have my old notebooks, including that one, prime targets for some future search warrant. At least we were terribly careful to pack out all of our garbage so as to leave as little evidence as possible of our crime. But perhaps that only shows the more our consciousness of guilt.

My mother, fortunately, did not know until relatively recently. Disappointingly, she did not seem overwhelmed with distress when she found out. But the moon knew. The moon always knew. I looked up at her last night and she showed me the same face she wore as she kept watch that night so many years ago. Her knowing, gibbous smirk through the island’s rusty arbutus branches pierced me, so sharply reminiscent of the glowing orange red maple leaves in the garden that night that I know I will never escape the memory of my trespasses.




  1. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    The moon always knows. But she rarely speaks, keeping all our secrets in her meditative silence.

    Lucky for us.

  2. says

    I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out. 😉

    (And yeah, I too was the kind of guy who would go to an underage party–at the local funeral home–and not drink.)

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