Many of my childhood memories are ones that I had with my aunt, Leslie. My mother’s only sibling and the only aunt I had, she was very tall, but I looked up to her in more ways than one. As a teenager, Leslie babysat for many families in the neighborhood. One night while my family was visiting my grandmother, Leslie received a call to pick up something from one of the families she worked for. It was late, but I immediately took the opportunity to accompany her. Even though it was just a few blocks away, probably no more than a 10-minute round trip with Leslie’s long strides, the prospect of spending any time with my aunt alone was treasured. I was always sharing her with my family and any chance of increasing my usefulness to her was taken (i.e., pursued) if it meant increasing her fondness of me.
I don’t recall what we spoke about as we walked from 90th to 96th, or even if we did at all, but we got the envelope from the doorman and then went on our way. We walked along the Riverside Park right off the 95th street exit of the Westside highway where my mother had said she was going meet us after my father arrived to pick us up. It was dark out and there wasn’t much light apart from the orange streetlamps lining the parks on either side of us, but it was bliss walking together with her even if it was in silence.
As we waited at the light for our chance to cross, we heard movements in the bushes behind us. After much squinting we noticed an older man about 40ft away from us squatting near the trunk of a large tree. It was difficult to see what he was doing as the low bushes made for easy camouflage, but it soon became clear that he was pushing his business out without realizing he had an audience. The lights in the background from high rising apartment complexes, most of which had their shiny-poled marquises covered with cobwebs and long-nosed witches midflight in preparation for Halloween, silhouetted the man so we could witness him scrabble in the dark for leaves to wipe with.
A woman in sweats walking her Beagle crossed the street near him and the man jumped once she was a few feet away, hastily pulling his pants up his skinny legs. He stumbled and hit the rusty green guardrail behind the tree and nearly flipped over it, his bare backside now visible under the flickering streetlight. Once she noticed the scene, the woman crossed the street back in a hurry without looking in either direction and dragged her yapping dog behind her as she disappeared around the corner.
The man managed to pull himself upright again, but with his pants still by his ankles he fell again face first on the ground with his butt high in the air. A single yelp and the sound of feet struggling to stand on the sloped area lined with wooden chips mixed in with my aunt’s high pitched laugh. She grabs my arm, points at the flailing man and laughs.
“Oh my goodness, Julie! Do you see that man over there?”
Spotting us, the man looks over and falls again. Leslie laughs louder. Two quick beeps refocus our attention to our rendezvous location where my father’s white Lincoln pulled over across the street. My aunt couldn’t stop giggling and we turn back to the man one last time. He picked himself back up again and using both hands to hold up his remaining dignity, staggered off like Sasquatch caught on camera. We rushed across the street and got in the car.
Before the door could slam shut, Leslie starts retelling the story to my mother in vivid details and while she is in the car everyone is laughing. She uses me to validate that the events occurred.
“Wasn’t that so funny, Julie? You saw him, didn’t you?”
We all have some memories of events that are so vivid we can recall them with indisputable details as if it happened yesterday. This incident happened over fifteen years ago and this very scene plays in my head whenever I think of funny moments in my life. I remember all this very clearly, but I never tell anyone about it because this actually never happened to me at all. Yes, I was with my aunt that day. I heard the initial shuffling behind us, but didn’t see anything in the dark and turned my attention elsewhere. But my aunt insisted and trusted me to help her with the story so I couldn’t let her down.
“Yes,” I told everyone that night. “I saw.”
And I remember it so well that even I believe it’s true.