It’s hard for a chubby girl with a uni-brow and a lisp to make friends. That’s why I created a secret friendship club when I was seven years old. The club was so exclusive and so secretive that I was its only member. As president, secretary and treasurer, it was my responsibility to find a suitable venue for our clandestine meetings. The basement windows of our old house were surrounded by cement dugouts. These damp, shady pits were the perfect place to hide in the summer. I choose a dugout filled with old building supplies: a rickety ladder, a wheelbarrow, some rusty paint cans, and a tarp.
It’s also hard for a chubby girl to get up and down a rickety ladder. Once I got down in the dugout, I stayed there for hours. This was before the days of helicopter parenting, so my parents probably assumed I was out biking with the neighborhood kids, but really I was spending my days squishing the bugs that came out of the cracks in the cements, and resting in my rolled up tarp bed, reading Roald Dahl books. I always made sure to stock the dugout with Arizona ice tea and girl scout cookies. It was the perfect haven for a girl who didn’t want to get bullied by the neighborhood kids.
The only problem with my secret club was that there was no bathroom in the dugout, and I drank a lot of ice tea. In the beginning, I braved the rickety ladder and made my way indoors for a proper toilet, but this got tiring after awhile, and the ladder was falling apart. The wheelbarrow seemed like the perfect solution. That’s when I started bringing toilet paper with me.
A wheelbarrow filled with wet paper would not have raised any eyebrows. Perhaps I could have gone on peeing in that wheelbarrow for years, but I got lazy and brazen, and started using that wheelbarrow for something much darker and sinister than pee. That’s right: number 2!
By the end of that summer, my dad, who owns a construction company, decided to have his men over to do some repairs on the house. From the depths of my dugout, I heard him tell Jose to fetch the wheelbarrow. Panic set in. I put down my copy of Matilda and eyed the wheelbarrow that was now attracting a cloud of flies. There was only one thing I could do. I pulled the tarp over the evidence, ran up the ladder, and threw it back so that it crashed against the side of the house and finally came apart. There was no way Jose would be able to get down there. I moved to the bench by the front door and took a seat. My feet dangled in the air as I pretended to lazily read my book without a care in the world as Jose walked by mumbling, “Where did I put that stupid wheelbarrow?”
I felt a rush of relief when he turned the corner. Just as I was about to return to the house to get a Popsicle, Jose came back, looking excited. “Now I remember!” he said to himself. He jumped down into my dugout without any assistance from the ladder. I had forgotten that he was nearly twice my height.
Next I heard a slew of what I assumed to be Spanish curses. My dad and a few more men came running. “Is everything ok?” he called down to Jose. I pushed through the crowd of men and clung to my dad’s side. Why is it that criminals always return to the crime scene?
Jose ripped the tarp off the wheelbarrow like a magician revealing his next trick. Everyone stumbled back and pinched their noses closed. My dad pushed me behind him, trying to spare me from the terrible sight. Jose heaved the wheelbarrow up to my dad, and my dad pulled it to the surface. There was a mix of English and Spanish curses.
Jose jumped out of the pit and examined the wheelbarrow. “I think you got a homeless person living in your window well,” he suggested, shaking his head in disgust. “You better call the police.”
At mention of the police, I burst out in tears. I had no idea what they were capable of, but I was pretty sure they’d be able to trace the remnants of girl scout cookies back to me. My dad put his hand on my shoulder. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t want to go to jail,” I cried out.