That Time I Almost Got Shot At
(Maybe I did get shot at. There was a gunshot. I've always thought it was a warning, though.)
- •Setting is everything in this story. The setting is the playground of my elementary school, K-3.And I should clarify that the playground in question was the old one. It was behind the school and up the hill. There was an asphalt section with a basketball hoop, maybe, and perhaps painted squares. There was a big field where we used to chase boys. And there was The Slide. I'm sure there was other playground equipment, but the Slide was the memorable part.
- •The SlideIt's important that you picture the right kind of slide. This was a 1960s/70s metal jobbie. The kind of slide that could burn you on a hot day. The kind of slide that's against code now. It was tall and steep and terrifying. More than one kid had fallen off and broken his arm.
- •The Slide vs MeI was terrified of this slide. A couple of times I waited in line, climbed to the top of the ladder, and then froze and had to make everyone behind me climb down the ladder so I could safely descend rung by metal rung. I was not brave. Everyone knew it. I feel like I have memory of going down it, so maybe I toughened up...or maybe I merely imagined what it would be like. The Slide remained an unconquerable fear in my memory, regardless of what happened.
- •Fast forward to college.I'm home for the summer. My cousin is visiting, we decide to go for a walk. Barefoot. We wander, aimlessly, talking. We find ourselves by the elementary school. We walk up the driveway. The school is exactly as it always was. ...except now there's a new playground. Not behind the school, but adjacent to it. I remember the slide. I want to see it. I lead my cousin up the pathway to the abandoned playground.
- •Nature and GlassWe ascend the path up the hill and emerge onto a partial clearing. Nature has taken over. The asphalt has been devoured by grass and weeds in the intervening years, though not entirely. There is graffiti on what's left of the asphalt and shattered beer bottles everywhere. Seriously, it's a sea of broken glass. Clearly this is the hang out of ne'er-do-wells. I turn in the direction of the slide and there are TREES. Saplings and tall grass. I can't see 3 feet into the thicket.
- •Ok, UniverseRemember, I'm not wearing shoes, so a sea of glass and a dense thicket stand between me and this slide. If it's even there. I kind of feel like it's still there, decaying and much smaller than I remember it. I really want to see if it's still there, put my childhood fears in some perspective, but the Universe is clearly saying Uh-uh.
- •A Christmas, still during college yearsI'm home for the holidays. I guess it could be Thanksgiving. It's cold. My high school best friend comes over and we start wandering. We end up at the school. I may gave gone there on purpose, to see the slide. I don't completely remember. We walk up the driveway. School is not in session. It's a gray, cold, bleak day and the sun is setting behind the hill behind the school. The hill on which the slide lays hidden in the thicket. I have shoes on this time. Boots even. I can handle the glass.
- •The DogFor some reason there's a dog loose in the parking lot. It's a schnauzer. No one's around, but the dog appears to be someone's pet. He walks around with confidence. He follows us. He's friendly. I tell my friend about the slide. She went to a different elementary school, so she doesn't know about the scary slide. Her elementary school was converted to condos. I say, "the path to the old playground is right around this side of the school."
- •The WarningThe moment we leave the driveway and pass the edge of the school, the dog stops following us and starts barking his fucking head off. I've never had a dog at this point in my life, I'm not much of a dog person, but it seems pretty clear that this dog is saying, "Don't fucking go up there! It's dangerous." Do I listen to the dog? I do not. I want to see the slide. I do kind of wish it was lighter out, but whatever. We keep walking toward the path.
- •The RustlingWe start up the path. We're talking. About the freaked out dog. We get 3 steps up the hill and I hear rustling in the trees ahead. BIG rustling. I stop. I say, "Ok, either that was a person or a deer." Suddenly I'm thinking about the broken beer bottles and the graffiti, the evidence of ne'er-do-wells, when there's a shot.
- •The ShotMy heart skipped a beat. I didn't just hear the shot, I saw it too, the report of the gun: a red flash against the darkening sky. It seems to be a shot fired up in the air, not at us, but I'm not 100% certain. We beat a hasty retreat. I knew all at once that drug deals were made in the abandoned playground. Of course they were. It was too cold for just hanging out and drinking. Whoever was up there was waiting for someone and knew we weren't them.
- •AdrenalineWe got our asses back to my house. We told my mom. She wanted to call the police and I was like Fuck No. We lived in a mob town. Somehow my mother never really caught on. It wasn't a hardcore mob town. I like to think of it as mob-lite. Relatives and friends of mobsters, connected folks more than big time mobsters. Still, the code was: You don't narc. I had learned that term *at* my elementary school and it had never resonated more. I said we should just let it lie, and we did.
- •EpilogueI never did see the slide again. The whole area was finally bulldozed and is a grassy field now. Maybe girls still chase boys around on the grass and try to kiss them, but there's no slide.