I was not a squealing pubescent, but I did complain often to my mom about being bored. Her response was always, “Boredom is a sin.”
She wasn’t even that religious. It was just some sacred scripture nobody wrote but all of the people from her age seemed to take to heart.
One day I was so bored I thought it would be fun to break my arm so I could wear a cast that would get signed by all of my friends. I was in the backyard of the three-decker we lived in on Kingsdale Street in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston. That back yard was where we kids played doubles and basketball and football and lights out.
Nobody was back there that day. It was just me, standing in front of the garage. There was a wire fence that stood about a foot away from the tiny garage and could climb onto it to get on top of the roof of the garage.
Standing on the roof of the garage, I looked down noticing the ground, about 10 feet below. It seemed I could fall from the roof without getting seriously hurt. I turned my body to the side to prepare myself for the landing. If I fell sideways, I would land on my arm and truly break only it, I thought. I decided I would jump into the gap between the fence and the garage because it seemed tight enough to cradle me. I looked down at the fence and wondered if I hit it would the wiry diamond twists break and become mangled by the weight of my body? Was this a perfect spot for breaking an arm?
All of a sudden, I heard “Get down from there, you child!”
It was Mrs. Washington who lived below us. She was on her back porch, sitting in her rocker.
I from her to the gravely ground below me.
She raised both her hands to say, “I’m gonna tell your mother. Don’t you have anything better to do? Get down from there. That ground is hard, and you could fall and die.”
The thought of dying had never occurred to me. Just then I saw my funeral, me in a white lace dress, with my mouth stitched together, and my Cindy doll resting beside me. My mother and father standing above me, weeping.
I slowly stepped away from the ledge.
“I knew a man who jumped from a roof that high, and he died. Suicide is a sin,” said Mrs. Washington, waving a finger. “You know better.”
There was that word again. Sin.
“But I only wanted to break my arm,” I said. Then I knelt and slid myself off the rooftop and balanced on the fence.
“Break your arm? Why on earth would you want to do that?”
“Because,” I said, jumping off the fence onto the ground and begrudgingly holding on to the rest of my excuse like it was mine like it was a secret.
“Well, I’ll tell you something,” she said, “breaking your arm is not fun, and that’s a sin too. What would your mother say if she knew you threw yourself from that roof just to break your arm?”
I wanted to tell her that my mother would call that a sin too, but I kept my peace.
“You want something to do?” Asked Mrs. Washington.
I hesitated. Older people always asked that question when they wanted you to do some kind of chore.
“What?” I asked from the ground.
“Come scratch my hair,” she said with a smile. “I’ll give you a dollar.”
I thought about what I could do with that dollar. I could buy twenty-five pieces of candy, a bag of chips, a tiny juice, and play Frogger.
“Okay,” I said.
By the time I reached Mrs. Washington’s porch, she already placed a green comb and jar of Blue Magic grease on a stool beside her rocking chair.
I stood behind her, parted her silver-gray hair, and then dipped my index finger into the grease for a dollop of it to put onto her scalp. My greasy finger traced the part in her scalp and Mrs. Washington gently let her head fall back while a soft moan escaped from her throat.
“Arms take a long time to heal,” she said, “But this will surely get you into heaven.”