Thursday, June 28, 2018

Questionably Safe Childhood Adventures

This post originally ran awhile ago. While I move some things around and clean up a bit, please enjoy this story about petrified deskmeat.

I like abandoned buildings.

If you've found this blog through my Instagram, this is probably not surprising-- a bunch of my pictures are of ruins, abandoned things, and haunted spots. (Also, hello!)
Dead buildings and I go way back, though.

For the bulk of my childhood, there was an old Lutheran school behind my house. It was large enough to span several yards, actually, with just a narrow, grassy alley separating our backyard fences from the walls of the school. When I was a kid, it went from being an empty school, to a pretty derelict building, to a community center, to what is now apparently the Mineola Justice Court (note to bandits and stalkers: I don't live there anymore). But I digress.

Because my friends and I were bored and, like, nine years old, we considered it great fun to hop the fences behind our houses and go play in the untouched, rusting playground. What probably looked like a sacrifice-zone-level tetanus vector to an adult looked like a peaceful, almost magical place through my (admittedly dumb, also nine year old) eyes. Everything was in the beginning stages of overgrowth, with vines creeping up the walls and over the left-behind seesaw and picnic table. Even though there was a relatively busy street and a fire station immediately adjacent to the school, no adults ever seemed to notice that we were there. It was a perfect little green alcove (as long as your vaccines were up-to-date).

Eventually, our curiosity began to outgrow the reaches of the little playground. Older kids had smashed some of the windows of the school at one point, and we became bolder in our explorations. We'd climb the rickety, rusted-through staircase up to one of the flat roofs to play, or try to sneak in through one of the thick, standard-issue institutional metal doors when we were lucky enough to find one left open. Nobody was ever actually inside, unless you count the hundred ghosts we invented or the constant, delightfully scary feeling of possibly being caught.

One day (after we'd gotten bored of racing busted office chairs down the hallway), we poked through some of the classrooms. They were littered with desks, some overturned chairs, plaster dust, pigeon droppings-- the kind of things you'd expect to see in a classroom that'd been left to go to seed. Most of them were the same scene of abandonment, acted out in classroom after classroom.

One of them was not.

"... What is that?"

"Iunno," I shrugged as I reached to touch the stone. It was sitting on a desk, next to a cracked plastic lunch tray.

"Don't touch it! You don't even know what it is!"

I was already hefting it in my hand, though. To be fair, I also used to collect cicada shells when I was very wee-- lining them up along the back of my tricycle, leaving their iridescent husks (sometimes half-dead, buzzing in tiny, confused consternation) on the coffee table, stuffing them into my pockets-- so I wasn't particularly worried about whatever the pink rock's weird, gross origins may be.

"It looks like... ham," I said, "Like really, really old, petrified ham."

I learned about petrification courtesy of some fossils my dad had given me. My room boasted a proud collection of slabs of mud with half-excavated fish (patiently picked out with the aid of a dental pick and a soft paintbrush), a handful of trilobites, and the fossilized jaw of some long-dead ungulate. If eons of minerals and water could turn bones and shell into stone, I reasoned, why couldn't an abandoned and probably-haunted school do it to a piece of dried-out deskmeat?

"EEW!" My compatriots shrieked in disgust.
I was secretly glad, because it increased the odds that I'd get to keep the fist-sized chunk of pink stone to myself.

I carried it around the rest of the day, clutched in my hand after unsuccessfully trying to stuff it into one of my pockets. Though it would be a long time before I could positively identify it as a piece of very rough, very opaque rose quartz, I brought the stone with me when I moved to Delaware at eighteen, California at twenty nine, and back to the east coast at thirty one. Even now, it sits on a windowsill in my living room. Sometimes I think about bringing it somewhere, maybe to a geocaching cache site, and leaving it for someone else to find. I'm sure that when I find the right person, I'll pass it along to them.

I... might skip the part about petrified ham, though.

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