When I was a kid our neighbors had a plant that grew concord grapes. It’s vines ran up the brick wall dividing our property from theirs, and some of the clusters of grapes would hangover from where the vines had grown over onto our side of the wall. My brothers and I would spend all summer plucking the ripe tender ones and eating them, spitting the seeds and the skins at the wall and into the grass. They had a pungent taste that filled your mouth with a flavor that was familiar yet unlike anything you’d ever known: a sweetness on the tip of your tongue that swelled, seemed to ripen and explode in an instant, as the squishy pulp rolled around in there, and you bit down on this odd softness that was gummy and smooth. The dark blue skin was dusted with a light bloom like flour; in your mouth you’d separate it from the pulp, roll it into a ball with your tongue, and spit it out with the seeds because it was bitter and resilient and hard to chew.
The grapes hung over the brick wall of a narrow entryway into the backyard, an area that was perpetually muddy, right by the garage that had a busted backdoor that was buckling and never used except in emergencies, in which case we’d have to unscrew the door from its rusted hinges and remove it completely from the frame. But there was always a lot of junk inside the garage blocking the way. This made it very difficult to access, and as we didn’t really have much need of that door anyway—because we could just get in through the garage door or the door that led to the inside of the house if we needed to—the deteriorated crumbling door mostly just stayed in place and kept, well, deteriorating. It kind of took on the feel of cardboard after a while.
There was always an unsettling smell of decay back there by where the grapes grew, as it was right by where we stored our garbage cans, back in the days when they were still of the silver metal variety. I think the dank, sour smell of the mud added to this rather fetid atmosphere also. But none of these things kept us kids from those grapes. We were like addicts, eating all we could until the vines were bare, except for the withered remains of a few overripe grapes we somehow hadn’t got to in time. Afterwards we’d all have stomachaches. The grass would be covered with the thick dark skins of the grapes, most of which were wadded up and spit out with much force by us. The seeds would also be everywhere, though these would be propelled much farther out into the yard, and of course were more difficult to see, but after a long time they would accrue and become quite conspicuous on the lawn. These were the remnants of our binges, the deep blue badges of our disgrace, and we felt shame at these things and tried to pretend they weren’t there.
All summer long we’d sit under the eves and spit those grape seeds into the wind, dreaming of baseball games and comic books, looking up into the cerulean haze of drifting clouds, going crazy with the sweetness of the grapes. With the spongy green pulps still tucked into our gums like chewing tobacco, we’d go mad and start running in circles and wrestling each other and singing and screaming in the way only kids can scream—when the world is both old and new and you are young and everything you do is forever. I remember lying supine on the grass listening to the sound of airplanes droning by up above, feeling the breeze pickup, the way the sun felt soft and warm on my skin, wiggling my toes in the shade of the eves—a place where even the sun wasn’t allowed, where I was alone and free and safe.
The grapes were our secret. We were scared the neighbors would find out and arrest us for stealing. And we were also afraid that our friends would find out about this stash of sweet nectar and abuse it, leaving nothing for us. My brothers and I had an unspoken pact: our grape eating must remain unknown to the rest of the world. We soon came to realize that we’d have to get rid of any evidence of our dalliances, which meant snatching up all of those tiny dried-out wads of blackened grape skin littering the backyard, so as to cover our grape-eating tracks. The grapes would leave rich blood-like stains on our clothes, so we had to be careful in our chewing and spitting, or accept the possibility of losing a shirt or a pair of shorts to the trash cans, making up some excuse as to the piece of clothing’s absence from our body, like it being torn in a street football game, or lost in a lake we’d been swimming in all day.
We became very methodical in our eating, in our enjoyment of pleasure, always having to plan out an escape route, to be circumspect in the release of our bounding joy, to make sure we weren’t completely throwing caution to the wind with our little forays into wild abandon. I remember distinctly the first time I thought about this, about the necessity of having to make an effort to enjoy myself. It was probably my first step among many in trading in the carefree ways of a child for the pragmatic ones of adulthood. We never once suspected, my brothers and I, in our puerile ignorance of the ways of the world, that one day all the grapes would be gone, and that the vines they grew on would eventually grow old, lose their leaves, turn brown, and shrivel up in the sun.