When I was twelve, like any other child of the age, I rode my bike around to explore my surroundings. Being from a family that moved around much at the time, I always lost friends only to have to find new ones, and so I often found myself doing things alone to keep myself occupied. One autumn day, I rode extra lengths to push the boundaries of my exploration. The wind that blew against my face wherever I went, I soon learned, was an inborn characteristic of my new city, for the location was situated at the flatland base of a mountain range, where the currents blowing in from the pacific accelerated by the sudden shift in landscape, dispersing among the marsh that eventually filtered into the vast, central valley of California.
The sun lingered high in the sky, and I pedaled the streets with mixtures of sweat mingling with the cool, often harsh gusts that gave my flesh a feeling of strange discomfort, especially across my forehead. Curiosity was my propulsion, and I familiarized myself with all the landmarks of the passing age, all of them someday to be demolished before the onslaught of urban modernization. The movie theater, dilapidated as it was, still crawled with activity, the arcade had pinball machines and video games that kept the bad people busy amid their illicit activities, and these were situated within a relative distance to the roller skating rink, where the tunes of the 70s blared to the rolling thunder of rubbers wheels spinning beneath their high-laced, leather shoes. My mind, however and for some reason, was drawn to the aspect of nature, and thus I sought the outer areas, areas that brought interesting things like crawdads in creeks and possible items of interests lost in bags amid the bushes. I was the adventurous type, indeed, always looking to see if there was a castle hidden deep in the forest, or at best, some abandoned tree fort to occupy my thoughts and act out my fantastical stories away from dreadful home. I kept riding and riding, and up by the old Howard Johnson’s, I found myself at the end of the road, where the flatland and the city began to integrate with a span of hills that would eventually lead to the next city. Faced with the decision to continue, I concluded the gig was up, and I felt the cadence of the day, the time to turn around and head home.
I coasted through the Howard Johnson’s parking lot, my eyes still scanning nevertheless, and here I deemed the need to extend my exploration when I came across a gaping black, tunnel-opening that dug beneath the freeway. What was this? My boyish interests had been piqued. Certainly an adventure lie in store for me after all. I approached the entrance, but I could only I stand with a sense of trepidation, as I noted the lengthy span of darkness that stretched before reaching the daylight beaming through a small hole at the end. It was a long haul, and I bit my lip. Whatever might lie at the end had to be worth the trouble, and seeming how no one else was around, I plunged headlong into the cavernous tunnel.
Broken bottles and trash littered the path amid the dirt and grim. Shopping carts and sordid ranks of clothing told of the homeless situation, and I felt a sudden sense of repulsion when the familiar breeze blew a stench that made my stomach suddenly feel queasy. What was I doing? But I was halfway there, and the sound of my tires grinding broken glass trickled into my ears, driving my ambition, the graffiti on the cement walls exaggerating the strange pall of this urban underground wasteland. My emotions began to change, and all along I felt a nagging feeling of dread and suspicion, as though a danger might be lurking. The sprays and splatters of alcohol and mud all around confounded me with a slight edge of claustrophobia, and I couldn’t help myself from noting how much I simply couldn’t adjust. What went on there at night, I couldn’t imagine, but my destination point was inaccessible by any other way, and so my determination to find a treasure pressed me to continue.
Finally, heat from the sunlight drew near, defeating the coolness behind me, and with it came an increased odorous torrent that offended my nostrils. Not realizing how long the ride had been, my eyes squinted in the brightness, and adjusting to my reemergence, I stopped the bicycle, only to freeze with shock. I stood, a twelve year old boy, before the rotting carcass of a colossally large, dead cow. It must have died after wandering in from the yellow-grass hillside that rendered the end of the tunnel a dead end. My reaction was one of instant disgust, but the movement imbedded within the open and torn carnage, the myriad of buzzing flies, the squirming; I became curiously altered by the fearsome finality of life. Death, in all of its horror, gaped at me from that gigantic and loathsome sea of gushed red, and for a moment, as I stood, so alone and unmoving, I became mesmerized. What was God? There was something about its wide-open eyes and the recency by which it had died that had me paralyzed. I had to free myself from the effect, for the clawing, chewed evidence of other creatures indulging had impacted my thoughts. That wind blew in my face, my blond hair moving around my ears and in my eyes, and a hollow sound coursed through the tunnel, groaning all of the painful secrets of life. The sun glared on the freeway cacophony of cars and trucks passing by up above my head, and I had to go. Unable to make sense of what I was looking at, I turned and I left with the most unparalleled feeling of uncertainty. I rode home, the sight burning in my mind, and I felt the change about me that day, as though I would never look at life the same way ever again.