...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Post number 100: Deep in the cardboard maze

inside cardboard box maze
My memory isn’t great.  The past attacks me at inopportune times.  Embarrassing memories hit when I’m in the midst of a conversation.  Hurtful old mistakes bubble up when I’m in traffic.  The erotic residue of past passions only surfaces when I’m drifting asleep.  The pleasant innocence never stops by.

I was driving back from the gym yesterday morning when I passed a handwritten sign for a local Halloween carnival.  At the bottom, in big block letters, read: MAZE FOR KIDS!

The neurological memory keeper opened the gates and something old slipped into my head and planted roots.  I don’t even remember the rest of the drive home.

I was about six years old, at least old enough to be going to Hendy Avenue School in Elmira.  It was an Autumn carnival, so it may have actually been Halloween.  It was one of those mini festivals held on a big playground in the early evening.  Bobbing for apples, dried brown and black corn husks, fat lumpy pumpkins.  Candy corn, Smarties, Necco Wafers scattered amongst the carpet of red maple leaves.

There was a maze for kids: dozens of massive cardboard boxes, bottoms cut out, taped end to end.  A brown square tunnel, curving, looping around on itself, splitting different directions.  Children crawl in one end and in thirty seconds come out the other.  It looked cool.  I wanted to do it.

I lumbered in, hands and knees, the late evening sun behind me.  The cardboard floor squashing into the mud.  I took a turn.  Then another.  Then another.  It got dark fast.  I kept going, bumping into walls, reaching out in front of me, trying to find the next turn.  Crawling and crawling, further into the darkness.  Little three- and four-year-olds climbed around me and disappeared.  I looked behind me and couldn’t see anything, nothing in front of me either.  Just more of the darkness.  The tiny laughs of toddlers drifted away and there was silence.

I'd always been a crybaby.  Not a screamer, just a sobber.  But there, in the damp abyss, I lost my little mind.

I shrieked and punched the walls until my ears rang and white knuckles bled.  It didn’t matter if other children got through the maze.  There was no way out for me.  I heard muffled voices outside but they would never find me.  I was in my own private dark place.

My nights had been full of dreams of blood and death when I was little; in fact my first memory is that of a nightmare I'd had when I was three.  In these dreams, when it was time to die, I would lay down and wait for it.  So now, I curled up on the cardboard floor, shivering.

The kid in charge of the maze, probably a sixth grader, came and got me.  When he led me back out through the exit everyone was staring at me.  All the other (much younger) children had gotten through just fine.  My parents thought that I’d gotten hurt.  No, just lost.

Now that I’m a legal adult, I cannot expect someone to save me when I’m lost in the darkness.  But some subconscious part of me still believes someone’s going to do it.  I struggle with the results of my decisions until I shut down when it gets really difficult, only to find myself in a considerably worse place than I was before.  These are challenges far short of tragedies and emergencies, but it takes a whole new fear to set in before I push forward on my own.

The decision, the struggle, the panic, and the rescue twenty-seven years ago.  I think about these things, as again I curl up on the wet cardboard floor.  And I wonder, what if they had just left me there...