Karen J. Weyant

You Survived Drinking from Garden Hoses

As a child, you never grew tired in the summer. In your small town, you played outside all day with other neighborhood kids. You went home for meals, but then you ran right back outside to ride your bike or play tag or explore the woods that were a few blocks from your home.

You played hard, but the heat rarely bothered you. Still, you got thirsty.

Sometimes, you ran inside for flavored popsicles made in ice cube trays. Sometimes, you even reached for the Kool-Aid in the refrigerator. But mostly, like the other kids, you ran to a familiar backyard to find the nearest garden hose. The ones left in messy piles in the grass were your favorite. 

You never minded the rush of water that hit you when you turned on the spigot. You may have gotten drenched but soon, your clothes would dry in the heat. You learned how to control the nozzle and the spray and often took aim at those around you: the Wilson boy who lived at the corner and once set off a firecracker in your front yard that scared your dog or the oldest of the Donaldson brothers—the one who chopped the head off your Princess Leia action figure. 

You also didn’t mind the water’s strange metallic taste or the rust that stained your hands when you pulled the nozzle tight in your fist.

You did this for years. 

Then one day, you stopped when the adults in your life told you to, in the same way that with their new rules, you were no longer allowed to walk to the bus stop by yourself or ride in the back of your father’s pickup truck.

You would soon learn that drinking from garden hoses was not safe because of hazardous chemicals including lead. A type of poison, some big sister or older cousin explained, and you imagined the Mr. Yuk symbol stickers that were given to you at school—the ones you were supposed to take home and put on the cleaning supplies underneath the kitchen sink. Instead, they ended up in the bottom of the bag where you stored your Barbie doll clothes. The bright green stickers often worked their way loose and got stuck to a crinkly pink evening gown or a tiny plastic boot.

You wondered if you should dig out the stickers and place them on the hoses, so that younger kids would know of the dangers.

You continued to listen to the adults in your world who often passed out rules with explanation.  You hoped that soon someone just a little bit older than you would step in and explain why the rules were in place. 

As you grew to be a young woman, the rules became a bit stranger but seemingly more important. Look in the backseat of your car when you get into the driver’s seat. When you go to a party or a dance, never leave your drink unattended. When walking someplace alone, be ready to use your car keys as a weapon.

You were barely fourteen when you heard this last rule. You were not old enough to drive but you still practiced with your mother’s keys with your fist tight and one key sticking out between your pointer and middle fingers. You poked and slashed and jabbed at the air trying to beat away invisible dangers.

You practiced until you thought every move was perfect.

Then you realized that many of these rules were about protection from those very boys who were your childhood playmates. You once used garden hoses as your weapons but now you needed to be stronger and smarter and choose better arms.

And then you waited, in trepidation, for more rules of the adult world, never questioning that those around you knew best.

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Karen J. Weyant’s poems and essays have appeared in Anti-Heroin Chic, The Briar Cliff Review, Chautauqua, Crab Creek Review, cream city review, Copper Nickel, Fourth River, Harpur Palate, Lake Effect, Poetry East, Punctuate, Spillway, Stoneboat, and Whiskey Island.  She teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. When she is not teaching, she explores the rural Rust Belt of northern Pennsylvania and western New York.