Already by the age of seven he had been lured to dark places and learned things that should not have been learned…things that could not be unlearned. They became part of the darkening shroud that grew slowly and inevitably over the eyes of his soul like cataracts.
But today was a day to run from such things, a day spent like so many before – alone and in the presence of the sun and the ever increasing heat of the day.
He was up with the first light, into cut-off blue jean shorts and a t-shirt pulled over a mop of near shoulder length, bowl-cut brown hair. Bursting shoe-less out upon the unsuspecting world he would explore the wondrous mix of urban and rural decay in his neighbourhood and all the dangers and excitement that came with it.
There was no plan or thought, no friends or foes…just the empty summer to be filled with experiences that grew from simply stepping out doors.
This day involved many of the same activities as previous days but not necessarily in the same order. There was the nearby railroad track to be wandered and assessed for loose spikes; small iron spears to be brought home and forgotten almost immediately. Strange tools mysteriously left behind that needed a place even if they were to be unused, they would be unused in a home of their own. Were these like the nails that pierced Christ’s hands? The thought led to a moment of respectful pondering and a small, embarrassed prayer to cover the forgotten prayer at bedtime the night before.
The prayer led to a more casual and genuine conversation with God that happened in the boy’s head. His mind never rested and often, admittedly when he was bored, the boy would seek out and converse with God about his discoveries, his days and the things of his family. More often than naught the boy would be talking about the quality of a recent hot dog and the potential for God to look in on improving said foods than anything of the supposed “deeper stuff” of life.
If it had rained recently the boy would seek out the remaining run-off streams that raced importantly along street curbs or through eroded runnels in gravel parking lots where he would then lord over them and imagine being the creator dragging or heaving great stones and diverting the rapids along new courses as his whim demanded. He was a God in this parking lot, or along this avenue today. It was an exercise in imagined freedom and power.
The train tracks would inevitably lead to the old wooden train bridge over the fast moving waters of the nearby river. He had walked tentatively across this bridge a thousand times before but it never got easier. Always there was the eternal waiting. Would a train come? What would he do? Jump in of course, like the adventurer he was (he secretly doubted this brave voice in his head but let it have its way anyhow). He would bend down and place his ear upon the tracks like the cowboys did sometimes in the movies. He tried to gauge how far away the coming train was.
Eventually he would step onto the bridge and walk as fast as possibly across and always his feet would tingle as if the rushing water beneath was rushing against them attempting to draw him in. Sometimes in his braver moments he would stand close to the edge and imagine just jumping in. He did that on the various rooftops he climbed in his adventures as well – he would walk to the edge and wonder what it would be like to jump.
From the crossed train bridge he would wander the river bank to the next bridge along the way, a dam where he knew he would find a loose collection of boys gathered. There was always a group of boys at the dam – older boys and younger boys like him trying to emulate them (but always different boys it seemed). There were never any girls, or none that he noticed anyhow.
The dam was an experiment in survival and the staving off of various broken bones. One would go to the base of the dam which consisted of maybe a half dozen V shaped funnels that the water fell through onto a green slime covered shoot that projected the water and anything that happened to get caught in its current into the river beyond at wonderful speeds.
The boy, like the others around him, would wait his turn and then, with an intoxicating mix of dread and excitement, inch his way carefully along the inside wall of one of these V’s and then, when he had reached the upper limit where the water fell, would throw himself into the torrent and imagine the unseen rocks and hidden branches waiting for him beyond the base where he was fired as if from a gun. Survival meant it had to be done again.
This would consume a good part of the afternoon until the crowd wandered away or got bored or he would grow tired. Sometimes they would go the next, nearby bridge at a deeper part of the river and swim into the darkness underneath where a ledge was known to exist. There they would sit beneath the steel drum beats of the tires of passing cars echoing overhead as the older boys told frightening tales of the old snapping turtle that lived underneath the bridge and was known to enjoy the more tender parts of careless young boys who were not constantly alert to the threat. The boy understood this fear but it never drove him away – he swam in resignation that it would come or it wouldn’t.
As the day faded into something cooler the boy would emerge from the dank and watery depths to don his dry t-shirt left on the grass nearby and wander into the streets heading back toward home along a different route. This was a good time, a time to press one’s toes deep into the squishy, day-softened tar-filled cracks and know that, while the cooler evening was coming, the sun was still hiding in places where only the most inquisitive would find it and be rewarded.
Eventually, sun-burned and worn out from the work of an adventurous day the boy would arrive home; home to mum; home to sisters and supper; home to questions of what the day held and short, grunt-like answers of one who would prefer to keep the memories to himself.
Once the dark finally took hold and bed was no longer to be avoided the boy and his memories would cover up. As night held sway and the shadows of the creaky house took over the memories became small films to be played again and again in the theatre of his mind. Memories as distractions from the nightmares bound to come until the rescuing sun rose again to banish it all and new memories could be made.