Friday, March 21, 2008

Other Worlds

When I was a kid, we had this fire pit in our backyard. It was built of bricks and concrete and it had a small chimney that reached maybe four to five feet in the air. It may have been shorter, though. I was much smaller back then. I used to dream that our fire pit wasn’t actually a fire pit. I imagined it was an actual chimney for an underground house. I imagined an entire civilization of subterranean people, scurrying around just beneath us, going about their sunless lives oblivious to the world that existed just above them. I believed in this place so strongly that I would often look out my bedroom window at night to see if I could catch the smoke rising out of the chimney, evidence that this other world existed.

When I was a boy there was this tree, this gnarled behemoth that stood on the hill next to our apartment. A series of mean roots ripped through the ground, coalescing into a trunk covered in knotholes and crevasses and impossibly brittle bark and then, just a few feet off the ground, split into three or four large branches that danced and jigged sideways, just above the ground. The branches spread out in all directions, in and among each other, twisting their way towards the heavens. The tree never seemed to sway, even in the strongest wind, and the leaves, which turned a dark and ugly brown in autumn, were always the last to fall. I imagined the tree was a witch’s hand, sent from the depths of hell to snatch the neighborhood kids who always seemed to want to play on it.

When I was little we had this field down the hill behind the Chalmers parking lot that was covered by a lush carpet of thick, green grass that grew long and swayed in the summer breezes. I imaged invisible warriors fighting legendary battles in this field, their invisible, heavy feet moving the grass as they fought against invisible monsters to keep control of the field and protect the people who lived nearby. Some days, when it was less windy and the field stood relatively still, I searched the grass, looking for arrowheads, broken pieces of metal, and flecks of red on the green blades that covered the ground; evidence of the battle I was certain had taken place.

When I was young I found a large bone buried in the ground just past the giant tire in the playground behind my school. My friends and I spent all year trying to dig it up. We found sticks from the nearby woods and we dug into the ground near the bone, looking for the rest of the dinosaur. Of course it was a dinosaur bone. We all knew it. We hoped to dig it up by the end of the year and present our findings to the teacher, who would put us on television and give us medals for our smarts and our bravery. Everyone would love us, we told ourselves. All we needed to go was dig up that bone.

When I was a kid there were other worlds than the one in which I lived. Many other worlds.

My wife and I spent most of last night reorganizing our kitchen. We stayed up pretty late building some shelves we plan to use for wine storage and we were pretty tired by the time we went to bed. Just before we fell asleep, my wife rolled over and said, “We’re thirty. Isn’t that weird.”

“We’re not thirty yet,” I said, “We’re only twenty ten.”

“No. We’re thirty.”

“Does that mean we’re old?”

“I think so,” she said. Then she paused and continued. “Thirty. How did that happen?”

We both fell asleep shortly thereafter but, just before I nodded off, I remembered a lot of the things I used to believe when I was a kid. I thought of the chimney and the tree and the field and dinosaur bone. I haven’t thought of those things for a very, very long time.

How did that happen?

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