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Spring Awakening
By Paula Killen

I don't care how old you are -- everything wakes up in spring. Every spring reminds you of the one before and you can't imagine ever sleeping through another winter again. And when you are young, spring affects you like candy in your pockets.

I don't remember if the things that happened to me while growing up are real or just punched up parts of little experiences. Ultra-color-washed day dreams, that you take as real because all new ideas, like the ones you have for the first time, plant the seeds of things that will eventually become true enough.

If memory serves me, all the colors in 1978 were brighter and it smelled differently too. I had the same nose; a gap between my front teeth and my friends called me "notes", short for "no tits." But I had a flat belly, good legs and a tan. I stared at everyone, but mostly teenage girls. I knew that I would be one of them soon. I'd fill out a bikini, talk to boys, dance to the radio, pierce something and pay very little attention to 11-year-old kids like me.

My younger brother, Jefferson, was nine and we got along when I wanted to. I liked an audience and he was quiet, shy and game for anything. So, when my parents said that we were going to Mexico for spring vacation, all we could think about was buying fireworks, sneaking beers and going para-sailing off the back of a speed boat. Dad said they had para-sailing in Mexico. Dad said they had everything in Mexico.

The only drag was that we had to take my Uncle Merv and Aunt Margy with us, in our car. They lived in a house that was never entirely furnished and all I knew about Uncle Merv was that he never held a job very long and he had a big old gold tooth right in the front of his mouth. Margy was a second wife that everyone said was better than the first, but to my mind she was no prize either. We called her "plaster brows" because she painted them on so thick.

My Uncle Merv wanted to drive and my Aunt Margy said that she had to sit next to him in the front seat. My parents were suddenly relegated to the back seat of our station wagon and my brother and I were stuffed in the trunk with the luggage. Our natural family order was shifting and I wasn't for it, so when my aunt demanded that I change my shorty top before we got to the border, I ignored her completely.

At the border between Texas and Mexico, my parents went for Visas and my brother and I wandered around. I had never been to any foreign place before and I had no idea why men were following us, tapping my brother on the shoulder and making unmistakable comments. Sex talk reads in any language. My brother was totally freaked out and I was nervous, but suddenly awake. I walked slowly back to the car trying to catch all the glances like fireflies in a jar. I knew I'd never get this kind of attention back in The States -- after all, they had teenage girls there.

Leaving the border in the car, Jefferson couldn't wait to blurt out the whole sordid story, which made my Uncle drive faster and my Aunt remind us all that she warned me not to wear that shorty top.

After one million years, we arrived at our designated condo, hidden in a compound of condos, under layers of rubber tree plants and right on the beach. We had the best of both worlds -- the comfort of a condo and the exotic landscape of Mexico.

It rained every day and my mother got sick. There was no para-sailing and no fish in the sea according to my Uncle, who hadn't even had a nibble. Even fish can figure out a guy like Merv.

I ignored my brother and just walked up and down the beach all day, waiting for something to happen.

At night, we could hear the music coming from the bar down the way. My family went there during the cocktail hour for "The Shrimp Parade." Young men in fluffy white shirts would come to your table with shrimps on a burning skewer, blow them out and then serve them one by one to interested parties.

I saw one lady open up her frosted pink mouth and let one of the boys drop a shrimp right in. This was not America, after all, these were sexy Mexican people, serving sexy Mexican shrimps to tourists who could only hope to have some experience that would make them feel sexy too.

One night towards the end of the trip, my begging paid off and my parents let me out of the condo for a walk around the compound. I went directly to the bar. All the shrimp hubbub was over and a little band had begun to play plinky, tango type music. I sat on the sand, close to the band and tried to act like a teenager looking for action. Hot teenage action.

It was warm enough to take off my sweater and the sand was whiter in the moon light than during the day. My hair was white, my teeth were white and I had on a white T-shirt and shorts. And remember I had a tan.

When the busboy would look at me I would turn away, like I wasn't looking at him. I liked the way he looked, young and not too lecherous. He came up to me and asked in broken English if I wanted something? I told him that I didn't have any money by turning the pockets of my shorts inside out. He took my hand and walked me to the back door of the bar, by the kitchen. He made some gestures that told me to wait for him and he was gone long enough for me to worry about what it was I was waiting for.

He came back with two glasses of dark rum with fat limes floating on the top. Made the back of my neck ache just to smell it. He held my hand and we drank in silence, looking at each other a lot and smiling. I put my drink down and started digging for a Kleenex in my pocket because my eyes were watering.

His hand followed mine into my pocket. He smashed my fingers and thrust both our hands towards the inside of my thigh. I did not know what to say -- he wouldn't have understood me anyhow. My whole body felt like I was being stung by a swarm of bees. I pulled in the opposite direction, trying to get on my feet -- I'd leave my sweater behind if I had to!

After all, I was not a teenager yet, but spring pushes young things forward into the dangerous arms of nature. Ready or not.

I was twisting in this strange dance with the Mexican boy when my brother Jefferson came down the beach with his flashlight and fireworks. He was looking for me. And even though my brother was a geek and a pest and a kid, I screamed his name, "Hey Jefferson, over here!"

The Mexican boy froze as my little brother shinned his flashlight right in his face and asked me, "What are you doing?" Nothing. Something. You'll get it later. Let's go back. I want to light fireworks off the porch of the condo and look at the ocean from a safe distance. Go to bed early.

How could I have known that I was awake and would never really sleep again without spring planted deeply in my pockets?

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