When I was seven, the rule was to wear socks on the trampoline. Its surface was covered with splintering branches and sun-baked leaves, and it was dangerous to climb onto the mesh material and jump without some sort of protection for our feet. So I grabbed my socks by the door and pulled them over my feet, making sure they were situated in a way that I didn’t feel the seam. After wiggling my toes to ensure this was the case, I sprinted out the front door and picked my way across the grass, dried by California’s sun, and over the gravel driveway. When I made it to the other side I scampered up the small stepstool that reached the entrance of the thin fabric fence that protected us from jumping out and landing somewhere on the hard ground. I pushed my way inside and peered at the obstacles that had gathered in our play area. I turned to you, whose parents hosted this party but hadn’t bothered to clean off the trampoline. You flashed a smile at me, wide and eager as you climbed in beside me. You stood as I sat on my knees. You weren’t wearing socks.
The idea had crossed my mind, of course, not to follow the rules. I had momentarily considered it, but the rule was made to ensure we didn’t get hurt. That’s what ultimately pushed me to tug those thin strips of fabric over my feet and feel confident that I was protected from all outside harms. I got to my feet next to you, and together we bounced.
It was hard not to be enraptured by the hypnotizing rhythm of the rising and falling twigs in the middle of the trampoline. They flew into the air when we landed hard against the black material beneath us, then shattered upon impact when they fell, adding more small caltrops to be avoided. Some broke until they were practically dust, rendering them harmless. But one large stick seemed stubborn, and moved ever closer to both of us, prepared to gouge a hole into our soles.
I asked why you didn’t wear socks. You said you’d just avoid the problems as they came. And you didn’t like wearing socks.
I thought this was curious as I jumped across from you. I liked the warmth socks provided. I always ran cold, even in California. They gave me a certain comfort. A protection from the outside chill, even on warm summer nights. How could someone dislike socks so much?
My foot met against the surface of the trampoline and slipped, but my body did not stop falling down. My ankle twisted. A ninety-degree angle was formed between my foot and my leg, echoing a sickening snap through my bones and rattling in my skull. I collapsed. The world went dark for a few seconds, and when I opened my eyes, my hands were clutching my leg, and my mother was there, grabbing at me to pull me from the trampoline.
And there you were, opposite of me. You were barefoot, standing on the edge of the decaying tree parts circled in the middle, separating us. You hadn’t followed the rules. You didn’t like socks.
When I was twenty-two, the rule was to be honest. Struggles between clarity and fear of coming off in an unintended way caused us both to keep feelings and emotions pulled under the surface of what we showed the world. We promised during a game of Left 4 Dead 2, while I played Ellis and you played Coach.
“We just need to promise to be honest with one another,” I said, stocking up on ammo for the oncoming zombie waves we were about to fight. In the safehouse, we could chat more casually, so I turned my character around and pictured him leaning against the table as he reloaded his shotgun.
“Because we won’t judge each other. I need to work on it, too, but just… if we’re upset, we just need to tell one another.”
“Yeah,” she said as Coach picked up a machete. “I agree.”
“I trust you, Ashley.”
“I trust you, too. I’ll tell you next time I’m upset.”
And so we did. Each night we would chat, and we would tell one another, randomly, whenever we were feeling it, that something upset one of us. We’d work through it together—the issues often coming from outside daily life, and solved by conversation and company. It made things easy between us.
Then one day I found out she didn’t like socks. She had never told me that.