My cousin Phil was a lot older than me and my brother. He could drive, shoot a gun, ride a motorcycle and he had a girlfriend. Pretty cool. He listened to bands I’d never heard of, belonged to the FFA and he broke my arm by running over it during a front yard baseball game. Painful, but again, pretty cool.
One year, during an Assumption summer, he and my little brother Brad, who has been able to kick my butt since he was 6, decided to form a club. Without me. I was the only non-member. So, in order for me to become a member, they devised an initiation process. A couple dares and then I was officially part of the club.
The first dare involved me being shut in my cousin Susan’s room from which I had to escape. This was during my ‘Harry Houdini phase’. (I had a number of phases growing up: the vampire phase, the Batman phase, the G.I. Joe phase [I tried to enlist in the “Joes” by writing President Nixon and asking him to wave the age restriction], the Wild, Wild West [original Robert Conrad b&w tv show not cheesy Wil Smith vehicle] phase, the magician phase [before Bill Bixby was the Incredible Hulk but after he was Eddie’s father], which led to the Harry Houdini phase.
I can only imagine that I had driven Phil crazy bragging on and on about my ability to escape from any thing at any time. Brad, I’m sure, was only happy to lock me up. So they put me in Susan’s old room, gave me a time limit, closed the door and I went to work on my escape. I checked for trap doors, false walls, secret passages. Nothing. The clock was ticking and I didn’t want to look stupid. I had to find a way out.
I opened Susan’s closet. Just a small room filled with clothes inside of the small room I was trapped in. I went over to the window that faced North and the big tree behind the house. It came to me in a flash! Open the window, jump off onto the carport, jump from there into the top of the tree and climb down to freedom. I was an escape genius, ‘artist’ was too small a word.
I tried the window and it went up easily for about 4 inches and then it stopped. I grunted, strained, pushed and on the verge of tears, finally stopped. I stood there, hearing them count outside the door, realizing that 75 was not very far from 100 and a new plan came to me.
Reaching through the 4 inch opening I quickly unlocked the screen on the outside and pushed it up, up further than 4 inches. Then I went back to the closet and I as I walked in I closed the door behind me and everything went black. I pushed my way back behind the dresses, coats and everything else I could get behind. I covered myself as completely as I could and then I waited.
“100!” Phil and Brad shouted and banged on the door before throwing it open. I listened intently to hear what they were saying as they came into Susan’s room. They looked under the bed, behind the door, I could hear them going through the room, and then whoosh, the closet door was pulled open and I shrank back and became even smaller.
I have no idea what they saw when they looked in the closet, but they didn’t see me. They partially closed the door again and Phil looked around the room. This time he did just what I had hoped he would do. He saw the partially opened window and the opened screen window and he figured out I must’ve climbed out. He was probably worried that I had gone out the window and the fun was turning into something that he’d get in trouble for. If I had been out on the roof or fallen off the roof or fallen through the roof, it would’ve been Phil who got in trouble, not his sweet, innocent cousins, and he knew it. He tried to push open the window but it wouldn’t budge for him either. He thought about that for a second. “Check the closet again.” He said to my brother. Brad opened the door wide and looked in again. How he didn’t see me I don’t know. I like to think I willed myself invisible. Maybe.
“He’s not in here.” Brad said.
“Come ‘ere and help me.” Phil said. Together he and Brad started trying to push the window open to see if I got out on the roof or not. As they strained and grunted and pushed I quietly slipped out from behind the coats and dresses hanging in the closet and approached the door. Two steps to the door, I thought, and then two more steps and I’m out the other door and I’ve escaped.
Out of the closet now I decided that if I didn’t look at them they couldn’t see me. I stepped towards the bedroom door and sweet, sweet freedom and past the first phase of club initiation.
Two. “There he is!” Brad yelled!
Three. And I was through the door, down the first flight of steps, around the landing and down the second flight of steps before they’d even cleared the room.
When they appeared downstairs I raise my arms in victory. “I did it! I escaped!”
“You didn’t escape,” Phil said, “you hid. That’s not the same thing.”
“I got out of the room without you catching me, that’s an escape.” I staked my claim. I would not be denied club membership.
“O.K.,” Phil agreed, “just one more test and then you’re in, but we have to go back upstairs.”
to be continued…