The Park

I watched from the park picnic table as four young teen-aged girls walked to the restrooms, shoulder to shoulder. The group caught my attention because they seemed to be dragging their feet, rather than actually picking them up one in front of the other, lending a sort of slow motion effect to their approach. They went on painstakingly this way, looking up every so often at the group of parents gathered under the covered patio for an end-of-season softball party with our kids. My eyes continued to follow them as they made their way inside the bathroom, and I saw one of them pat her jacket pocket as if to say, “I got it.”


“That seems suspicious,” my husband said from next to me. “You should go in there and see what’s going on.”


He’d read my mind of course, because that was exactly what I planned to do. This particular park acted as a sort of gathering place for teenagers after hours and it was never unusual to find used condoms, beer bottles, and small containers littered with something powdery strewn across the sidewalk as I walked my kids to school in the morning. From the moment I’d glimpsed the girls headed in our direction, I imagined they planned to use the bathroom for drinking or drugs, hesitated when they saw a dozen adults near the entrance, then decided to go through with their funny business anyway.


I called to my youngest, intending to use her as a decoy. After convincing her she needed to clean herself up, we walked hand-in-hand to the bathroom. I entered making noise just in case, I don’t know, they were in the middle of something horrible, and had time to put whatever it was away before I could confront them. Frankly, I didn’t know what I would do if I caught them in some sort of act, and I’d rather not be put in that position, even if catching them was my intention all along.


I pretended to wash my daughter’s hands and noticed that the teens were packed into the handicap stall at the far end of the restroom area. I made my way to my own toilet, and heard them start to sing very low. I looked straight at the closed door they stood behind to see the Uggs of one of them protecting the latch. We locked eyes through the too-wide gap between door and door frame.


I kept on, closed my door and stood inside the stall for several seconds. I rustled around a bit, then flushed the toilet to continue my charade. I was a lousy private investigator. I wasn’t going to catch anyone in the middle of anything; and so I left to wait them out.


I positioned myself outside the bathrooms as the other parents and kids started a kickball game in the field several yards away. After about ten minutes, two girls came out of the bathroom and with that same slow gait, made their way to the bleachers to watch the game that had just unfolded. Several additional minutes later, the remaining teens emerged, and one of them took a white paper bag from her jacket and placed it in the trash.


They joined their friends, no one saying a word, no one looking at the other. I stayed where I was and stared at their backs, silhouetted against exuberant ten-year-olds running to bases and high-fiving their dads.


I knew what was in that bag.


I needed to confirm it, and I would, five minutes later as the girls eventually left to walk again so very slow, to the end of the park, shoulder to shoulder as they’d come in the first place.


I didn’t explain myself to the other parents still sitting at the picnic table. I just walked to the trash can, removed the lid, pulled out the bag and dumped its contents into the empty Gatorade bottles, errant Goldfish, and birthday cake remnants.


The pregnancy test box settled among the other trash.


I returned to my picnic table post, and a furious blizzard of thoughts pockmarked my brain.


They only look 14, 15 tops.

At least they had each other.

What happened? Was this her first time?

Her mom doesn’t know.


The park sat at the end of a cul de sac, three blocks from my home, and surrounded by houses where my friends lived and by people I know on sight. Chances are, these girls belonged to someone I knew, and that thought persisted as I watched my oldest running in dirt and giggling with her teammates. When I moved to this town, chosen for its family friendliness and safety, I visited this park with my daughters the very first day we took possession of our house. My firstborn was entering kindergarten then in 2009, just five years old, and those girls I saw today were more than likely my oldest’s age now.


It happens so fast. All of it.


I had to know. Despite what the softball party participants would think, I grabbed two toilet seat protectors from the bathroom, covered my palms, marched outside, removed that trash can lid a second time, and shook the pregnancy test out of its box. It’d been awhile since my last scare, so the lines wobbled and confused me for a minute or two, but as I drew the test closer, I saw it was negative.


I wondered why the girls had left the bathroom so somberly; why they weren’t congratulating their friend; why they stopped to silently watch a kickball game where they didn’t know any of the players.


I decided they were remembering; when they were still kindergarteners, when they high-fived their dads, when the only trash they hid was uneaten vegetables.


How long would it be until I wouldn’t know my daughter spent her Saturday afternoon buying a drugstore pregnancy test?


Because it happens so fast. All of it.


6 Responses to “The Park”

  1. My daughter is 14, turning 15 in July.
    I can’t even.

    I just can’t.

    p.s. She is a homebody who has no interest in typical teen drama and I’ve never been so grateful in my life.

  2. Wow, this makes me so scared for my daughter to grow up (granted she’s only 5 months old so I have some time) and I’m not particularly looking forward to the complicated teenage years. I’m also very impressed with your detective work!

  3. Oh my! It truly is scary to be a parent. My eldest is a 13-year old boy. I am so thankful he still calls me mommy and holds my hand in public. But how long will that last? I won’t even let my mind wander about my 8-year old daughter…

  4. Kate says:

    That scares me so much as a parent! Hopefully they will be more careful as they get older – it scares me that kids are sexually active so young – thank goodness it was negative!

  5. Green Girl in Wisconsin says:

    Oh dear. I’d have looked, too. How horrifying. And yes, you KNOW when stuff is up. And you would know it if your own girls were acting strange.
    Scary possibilities. Reminds us to pay attention.

  6. Ken from NC says:

    Is this the “Debbie Anderson” that attended St Mary’s in Buffalo Grove?

    If so I hope you are doing well.

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