“I hate you David Hirrell!” I shouted, and then I ran as fast as I could because I knew, I just knew he’d chase me and try to beat me up. He was, after all, the biggest and meanest kid of the neighborhood. David and me had this love/hate relationship. Sometimes we were best friends and sometimes he’d pick on me and I’d get mad – and he infuriated me. Yet even as I yelled that to David and ran for my life, I couldn’t help but think of those ceramic kittens in a tiny basket David had brought back with him from Ireland when he’d spent the summer there with his parents and his brother, Barry. And no matter what, those ceramic kitties had a special spot on my dresser right next to my beloved Beatles dolls…
It was another one of those cool, summer days when I ran down Second Avenue, past the tiny trees all of us kids in the neighborhood had planted just the year before, across Lincoln Way to that special corner of Golden Gate Park that belonged to us kids – the Greens. Or so we thought. it was actually a part of the park that was used for all sorts of things – free concerts, festivals, peace marches – but usually it was “our” place filled with trees and bushes and grass, and even a pile of sawdust and dirt in the middle – the best trees one could find to climb were mixed with those tall eucalyptus trees that no one could climb at all, but the eucalyptus smell permeated the air – I ran towards an area of the Greens we called The Big Bush because the bushes formed a sort of house, and right next to it stood my favorite tree, an oak tree of some kind that was easy to climb. I loved to climb deep within the tree and look out because up there I could see the world, but the world couldn’t see me.
And David knew where that tree was, and he knew where I’d be. But he wouldn’t climb the tree. He’d just look up at me with those beady eyes that were sometimes hard and sometimes soft and that red face. “I’m going to wait down here ‘til you come down, even if it takes all day!”
But he’d never stay there all day and eventually I’d come down.
By the next day, I usually didn’t hate David anymore, and he usually didn’t hate me. And even though one of the Solis boys who lived up the street and hung out with my brother interested me, along with that kid who with the red jersey shirt who was a year older than me – the new kid in the neighborhood who threw a football up in the air all the time and was David Hirrell’s friend – there was always a special place for David. But I could never let on – not ever. I’d be dead meat.
After all, I’d promised that one day – that I’d be sworn to secrecy for the rest of my life – and that I mustn’t tell anyone about that day David Hirrell and me were hiking in Sutro Forest and he carved “David & Mary were here” in a tree. I’ll bet somewhere, amid that dense forest of eucalyptus trees, that carving still exists even after all these years.
That was probably my very first “valentine.” I guess I really didn’t hate David Hirrell after all.