Monday, November 15, 2010

Those Places Were Mine

When I was in my teenage years, I used to do whatever I could for a thrill in this sleepy town. After moving from Madison to this little place (and it was little-minded then, too) I found myself without anything constructive to do. At first, I would just ride my bike everywhere, trying in my own way to get lost and never go home. After a while it was all by foot, and it took longer and longer each time. I discovered many pretty places in town that I pretended were all my own.

My escape from Suburbia usually included long walks through the Greenbelts scattered throughout the city, little patches of untouched wood that you could walk through and smell earth instead of pavement and hear birds instead of cars. I would touch the trees and lay upon the grass where the sunlight was dappled through the trees. I would think of life and how much was ahead.

I found caves hidden beneath railroad tracks near a hospital. They reeked of piss and spoiled dreams; probably belonging to someone else... the "probably" meant the dreams, not the piss. Can't say I ever pissed in those caves. They only went back a couple dozen feet, but if not for the piss, there might have been magic in those caves. At night I tripped over a homeless man laying on a plank bridge. He had been asleep, and I think I scared him more than he scared me. I offered him my water bottle and a stick of gum because it was all I had on me. He told me his name was Pete and he was just looking for a safe place to sleep. I don't know what happened to Pete. I hope he is well and warm somewhere.

I found a dam where water roared so loud I could barely hear the thoughts in my head. The water churned like my mind, and I felt alone. Above this dam there was a set of train tracks that I liked to try and draw. I would always burn these pictures when I was done drawing them, so no one could find my secret place. I left a small mark in a tree there for every carp I saw break the surface of the water. Their brown-sludge colored bodies flipping in to the air, they seemed to want something new as much as I did.

There was a railroad bridge spanning across the Rock River that I liked to cross at night. I would imagine, at times, plummeting into the cold, dirty water. Mostly for the thrill of the jump than the possibility of danger waiting in a rocky demise at the bottom. I remember several times where my feet would catch in the spaces between the ties, and I would see the sparkling water under my feet, several stories below me. It reminded me of flashing stars in a pitch black sky. I wasn't afraid of heights, then.

I found a road where the houses were still in construction, on a cul-de-sac on a lonely road. It would be less than five years until the houses finally grew into more than just the bones of what they would be. There were lights on in the houses now, and a streetlight burned brightly above my head. I left that place feeling sad... another road to ruin a special place for me.

I found a series of tunnels the ran beneath the football field at my high school. Armed only with a Bic lighter, I explored those tunnels until I found out where they all ended up; either at tunnels too small even for me or beneath streets where I could hear cars passing overhead. Once I ended up beneath the girl's locker room at the high school. I could hearing the water from the showers pounding on tile above me. I found an ending to those slightly curved tunnels, and it dumped out at a small pond with large rocks and a huge park only a short walk through a copse of trees.

I found a circle on a hill, built inside a round stone wall. In the center of the circle there was a compass pointing out the directions, and a sandstone, dangerous path found me at the mouth of a cave below the circle. Staying with the theme of piss and caves, this one reeked. I could ignore the smell long enough to look out over the river and pretend that I was an indigenous girl, looking out into the unknown. The stain of graffiti boasted all who had come before, but this was still my special place. In the dark, the lights of the city across the river were colorful and seemed farther away than they were.

I found a set of stairs, the Devil's Staircase, it's called, where if you follow the path past the point where you should and then follow a thin footpath down a treacherous hill, you would find a sandy beach. I would skip rocks and dream dreams and write in my journal.

I found a felled tree that was as big around as five of me, sitting next to a pond that was as clear as glass. I would sit in the bend of a branch, dozing quietly each day until they finally removed the tree a few weeks later.

The town was magic when I was alone. Going to these places now, I no longer feel they are mine. My heart is still restless for the unknown, and one day I will find it again. My adventures, now, are stifled, but I know that there is mystery waiting somewhere for me, just beyond that next bend in the path.


  1. Sweet. Or maybe a better word would be bittersweet. I hope you find the magic and mystery, and that the hope stays until that happens.

  2. Your adventures are, perchance, postponed, not stifled. Solitary adventures are always out there; I'm still finding them and the environment of my youth was vastly different from yours. I mean, you've got electricity and indoor plumbing.
    More importantly, you've got adventures to share with your children. Someone far wiser than me said that we should always see the world through a child's eyes. We don't have to act childlike (although, too many adults do),we just need to see the wonder in our children's eyes.
    This was a beautifully written , heartfelt entry. Thank you.