“If you carry your childhood with you, you never get older”
– Tom Stoppard
My brain shook as I felt my pager vibrate from under my pillow in the deathly dark room.
The AC was whirring softly in the background, and I was nestled under the blankets quivering with anticipation. The walls were plastered with Arnold Schwarzenneger posters and one random Pete Sampras magazine cut-out. My study desk sat quietly in the corner, used to being ignored. It was the early nineties, and I was a young buck with no limits.
That vibration was the signal I was waiting for. I pulled the bleep out and checked the small screen. Its blue light blinded me for an instant, but there it was, in all its digital glory: 999111. That meant: All our parents are asleep, come pick us up now! The network of boys who had phones in their rooms got in touch by phone. Those of us with strict parents (like me) had to rely on rudimentary messaging on our pagers. Tonight, was my turn to steal the car.
My sneak skills as a 13-year-old were unparalleled. I was already dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, and even had my socks on. As I quietly cracked my door, I delicately peered down the corridor to the main hall. The upstairs TV was silent, so all my siblings were asleep. A dim light kept the furniture company, and nothing disturbed them other than my shadow as I silently crept through the house. I took a short detour to check my parents’ room. I looked through the keyhole and held my breath. It was dark and equally silent. All systems check; time for the eagle to fly the coop.
I picked up the common phone and quickly punched in the code back to my friends: 999000 (I’m on my way) and skipped down the wooden stairs as if I was made of air. Not one sound, quite impressive. Starting the car was always the hardest part. It was an old Chevrolet V8, and it roared like an angry lion at ignition. Obstacle number two was the armed gate-guards. They were never asleep and usually patrolled the large estate. One was a good friend, and I grew up hanging around his wooden box when I was a kid, playing with his walkie-talkie and asking a lot of questions. The other one was new and if he caught me, I would be busted for sure.
Luckily, I was young and dumb, and left it to luck. As I pushed the dead Caprice in neutral down the driveway, (as far as possible from my parent’s room) the guard congealed into existence from the shadows. My heart skipped a beat. A smile and a naughty knowing look broke through the dark. It was my friend, and as he scolded me not to do this, he also told me to be careful and not get him into trouble. Luckily the streets were completely deserted after 11pm those days, so all I really had to worry about was not hitting the pavement. Nothing was open except for 24-hour cold stores and Dunkin’ Doughnuts. Paradise island was asleep, and I owned it at night.
I cranked the engine and I felt like I had stirred a monster. The engine roared and screamed into the quiet night air, and I felt like I woke up the entire neighbourhood. I waited a minute for the car to warm up, and my heart to slow down. All was calm, so I started reversing out of the main gate. I gave my friend a wave. Having someone know that I was leaving made me feel safe somehow, even though I was trying to be a rebel without a cause. As I put the car in drive, I felt infinite freedom. There was nothing but a road in front of me. The yellow street lights cast a warm glow on the black concrete in that moonless night. Every single choice I made that night would be my own. Only in that moment was I truly a free boy, even though I thought I was a grown man.