The Fosters were the kind of family that always had broken down cars in their driveway and old mattresses behind their garage. As kids, playing in old cars was a blast, but I never really understood the true appeal of an old mattress, until one weekend when both my brother and I were grounded. Matt was 14 and I was about 12. I don’t really even remember why we were grounded, but it must have been something pretty bad, because my parents rarely grounded us.
One summer day, Ruth and Aaron Foster stopped by to see if my brother and I could hang out with them later that night. They wanted to go to a movie and maybe hit the video arcade for a few games of Galaga. I had to tell them that unfortunately, both Matt and I were grounded, so there was no way we could go out with them.
Now, the Fosters were very single-minded, so when they got an idea in their heads, they pretty much wanted to stick with it. Their immediate response was to tell us to just sneak out. Sneaking out was standard procedure in the Foster household, but it really wasn’t all that difficult for them since their parents never seemed to really care where their children were.
My parents, on the other hand, were active members of Neighborhood Watch, and my mom was the Treasurer of the PTA. These were people who took pride in knowing where their children were at all times, so sneaking out was a bit more difficult for us. Besides that, my mother was a bit of an insomniac, so she would always have to watch TV or read on the couch until she fell asleep, and then sometime around 2:00am she would wake up and head upstairs to her bedroom.
So, although a daunting task, my brother and I were never ones to shy away from a challenge. The Fosters hatched a plan that, at the time, seemed airtight. At around 9:00pm, my brother and I stuffed our beds to make it look like we were still in them, just like we had seen all the kids in movies do when they’re running away from home. I had a ventriloquist dummy that I decided would suffice as my body double, so I shoved him under my covers with a few additional stuffed animals for legs.
Thank god my parents never made a habit of checking in on our rooms at night because a) no one would have believed this was me and b) if they had pulled back the covers, they would have found a demonic grinning ventriloquist dummy, and I’m certain they both would have had massive coronaries on the spot.
Next, the Fosters dragged a ratty, stained, rain soaked mattress from their back yard down the alley, and into our yard. They threw the mattress on the ground next to our sunroom, and then threw stones at our windows. This was our signal to come out onto the sunroom roof. My brother’s bedroom was in the remodeled attic, and my bedroom was directly below his on the second floor. Right outside of my bedroom window was the roof of our sunroom.
It was easy enough for me to step out onto the roof since I just had to climb through my window. My brother, on the other hand, had to hang out of his third story window and drop about five more feet to land on our slanted sunroom roof without tumbling off the edge. In retrospect, I’m sure he could have just quietly snuck out of his room into mine, but dropping from his window lent a real Mission Impossible feel to the evening.
Phase One was complete. Now we had to jump off our sunroom roof onto the mattress, and skulk off into the night. My brother was wise beyond his years even at 14, and he knew that if he jumped first, I would chicken out and climb back into my room. So, he made me hang off the gutter and drop onto the mattress first. I was a little freaked out by this, and had a hard time letting go, until I heard Matt scream, “Let go, you big baby! You’re gonna rip the gutter off!”
That was all the positive encouragement I needed, so I let go and dropped down onto the mattress with a resounding slosh. My brother quickly followed, and then we were off on our adventure. By this time, it was too way late for us to get into a movie, so we decided to buy snacks at the corner grocery store. After fueling up on Twizzlers and Funyuns, we spent the rest of the night carousing around the neighborhood, playing ding-dong ditch, and climbing onto the roof of the Catholic high school that was a few blocks away.
As it got close to the time my mom would be heading up to bed, Matt and I crept outside our living room windows to see if she was still on the couch. She wasn’t, so we waited outside for about another 20 minutes just to make sure she was in bed, and then went back in through the front door. We snuck back into our beds, filled with pride at the stunning caper we had just pulled off.
Yes, this plan was airtight all right. The Fosters dragged the mattress out of our yard and back into theirs, and no one was the wiser. Airtight. That is, of course, if they had actually remembered to drag the mattress back. Which they didn’t. The next morning my brother and I went about our business like any other weekend, until we heard our mom yell for us to come outside. We pulled ourselves away from the TV long enough to catch a glimpse of her through the sunroom windows.
So of course, Ruth and Aaron never took the mattress back. It lay exactly where they left it – on top of the smashed up pile of leaves and petals that used to be my mother’s flower bed.
Matt and I must not have been overly observant as kids, because we never really paid much attention to the fact that there was a big flower bed outside of the sunroom. Nor did the Fosters as they plopped the water-logged mattress down on top of them.
Just as we were almost ready to be released for good behavior, we each had another week tacked onto our sentences. The good thing is that my mother just thought we were jumping off the roof onto the mattress for fun. She never figured out that the mattress was just a means to an end, and that we had spent an entire night running around the neighborhood like a bunch of hooligans. Had she known that, I might have spent the better part of my youth staring out that bedroom window, scratching lines in the wall to mark time, and holding on to the distant memory of the thrill I felt that day I let go of the gutter and tasted freedom.
Filed under: Foster Files on September 3rd, 2004