One of my favorite childhood pastimes was hanging out in my backyard trying to dig a hole to China with a kitchen spoon.
Our backyard was a large square of dirt.
It wasn’t just dirt. It was dirty. Broken beer bottles, cigarette butts, animal detritus and broken toys were strewn about. Food wrappers torn off in haste and quickly discarded were everywhere. Random bicycle wheels and rusted automobile parts added to the overall aesthetic appeal. It was kind of gross, looking back on it. A large square of random litter baking in the summer sun.
Our family couldn’t really afford shovels and sand pails. At least I don’t remember ever having them and I’m assuming it was because we couldn’t afford them. I used to just grab a kitchen spoon every day and head out the back door to resume my hole digging efforts. I lost countless spoons this way. Once my mother started complaining about the spoon shortage I became wise and started hiding my spoon in the long alleyway that separated the buildings. There was some dying bushes back there and some scraggly grass along with random piles of stones that were crumbling from the building’s foundation. Most kids avoided the area because it was kind of dark and it was known for being infested with spiders. I have never had a problem with spiders. It was the cockroaches that bothered me and they were all inside.The alleyway provided the perfect spoon hiding spot.
I worked on my hole in roughly the same spot of the backyard every day for what felt like weeks. I was getting to China. I needed out of this place. Occasionally I would be tripped up by a large rock or neighborhood menaces filling my hole back in with dirt for fun but for the most part my digging progressed nicely.
Digging that hole gave me purpose. Once I have made up my mind to do something, I see it through.I remember thinking that I would know my mission had been successful when I felt the little hand of somebody from China reaching up through the dirt to grab a hold of my hand. I somehow always imagined that a child my age was tunneling just as furiously on her end and that someday we would meet in the middle. I would grab her hands and pull her out and we would excitedly share how hard we had worked to meet.All of the obstacles we had to overcome. Then we would jump down into the hole to China and she would show me around.
Best friends forever. Logistics non withstanding.
One day sticks out in my memory more than any of the others. It was hot and quiet and still. No clouds, just haze. I thought most of the kids were off swimming somewhere or they were just gone and I was happy to have time to myself to keep working on my mission. Achieving breakthrough to China was of utmost importance.
I ran off to the alleyway to retrieve my spoon.
The neighbor was there. He was standing up against the wall towards the back of the alley and he had one of the little boys that lived next to us pinned up against the wall. He had one hand holding him up by his throat and his face was nuzzled in the boy’s neck. His other hand was down the boys pants. He didn’t see me, but the boy did. I remember the terror in his eyes to this day. He was pleading with me silently.
I remember this boy’s name well. We were friends.
I remembered the neighbor well too. He was the same monster that had paid me a visit.
And I told.
I don’t remember what happened after that.
I know I never made it to China.