Because it’s for your own good. Because it’s a way out. Because your parents say so—they want the best for you and you have no say in the matter. Because reading is fundamental and a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Because other families would kill for their kids to attend private school for free, because only fools leave money on the table and your mama didn’t raise no fool. Because they gave the aptitude tests to everyone in your fifth grade gifted class and you were the only one—the only one!— to pass the months-long battery of tests and you can’t let everyone down now. Because the entire school is counting on you—the principal made a special announcement over the loudspeaker on the last day of class just to offer you congratulations. Because your teachers are oh so proud.
You say, “But it won’t be any fun without my friends.”
“Mark my words,” your mother says, “In a few years, these same kids you love so much will be out here doing the same old same old and you’ll have gone places.”
The place you are meant to go is a fancy private school on the Upper East Side whose tuition costs more than your parents make in a year. Your brain will get you in and pay the way. All you have to do is attend an intensive summer enrichment program open to genius, underprivileged, minority kids from all five boroughs. If you can complete the program without getting cut, a scholarship awaits. There will be uniforms, book allowances, and tuition fee waivers in your future—the whole full-ride.
You’ll go all summer long. Five mornings a week a bus will pick you up before the neighborhood awakens and bring you back each night, and in the hours in between you will be enriched. Your parents call it the chance of a lifetime, but they’re too old to remember how a whole lifetime can be lived in one short sweet summer.
They say, “You don’t know just how good you have it.”
So what if the program costs you your summer? So what if being enriched means that you rise earlier than your parents, leaving each day in darkness and returning home to the same, and you never feel the sun warm on your shoulders or the backs of your knees, and you forget the heat of the concrete sidewalk burning through the bottoms of your plastic jellies when you run too fast in a game of Tag? So what if there is no Tag and there is no hanging out on stoops, no splashing at the public pool, and no hogging the swings at the park, and in your absence your friends forget you?
“Stop studying these kids,” your father warns. “They’re not going anywhere.”
But you know exactly where they’re going. Each day they’re going to the public school for free lunch and then they’re heading out to play. They’re scouring the streets for phone repairmen so they can cop telephone wire for Double Dutch. They’re squirting water guns, lighting firecrackers at the curbs, and chalking the streets for games of Skelly. They’re buying ten cent flavor ice pops from the corner bodega, pushing the frozen liquid out from its long clear sleeve and into their mouths, staining their tongues all the colors of the rainbow. They’re playing Follow the Leader and Crack the Whip. And they’re doing it all without you.
“Trust us,” your parents say. They predict that one day you’ll thank them. They say that one day you will understand.
If only you’d known last summer that there would never be another one of its kind, that come this summer you’d be too busy with books and school to run with your friends through the fire hydrant and feel the cold gush of water on your hot bare legs. You’d have cheered louder when someone’s uncle came out brandishing a wrench to open the fire hydrant. You’d have laughed longer when your friends splashed the approaching cars and drenched each other when those cars were out of sight. When it was your turn to be soaked you’d have let the water hit you full blast instead of putting up your hands and running to the stoop for cover. Because, now, when the bus drops you off at night and you slump towards home the sun is down and the hydrant is closed and the gutters and curbs are dry and there’s no water anywhere, not even the hint of a trickle.