A Safe Place
a short story by paul baidoa
Waking up, I used my arms to push myself up from the ground.
Still on my hands and knees and my head tilted downward, I noticed a large white rock on the ground below me.
I could not remember why I was lying on the ground in a large drainage ditch.
That white rock on the ground below me was now displaying a red spot on it.
I immediately touched my forehead. My fingers felt a hole and when I looked at my fingers, they were covered in blood.
I did not feel any pain.
I stood up.
A memory came to me.
The memory was of me running down the side of this drainage ditch.
My friend, Jackie, was chasing me.
We were laughing and playing tag.
He could not catch me because I was too fast for him.
I remember running through a wooded area and then making a right turn that led down into this large drainage ditch.
I remember losing my footing.
The side of the drainage ditch was covered in small white rocks.
It was very slippery.
I remember falling head first onto the rocky bottom of the drainage ditch.
Standing there, looking around, I did not see Jackie.
I was alone.
The sky was blue.
Some birds were chirping in the distance.
I felt dizzy.
Jackie and I were playing in a wooded area that surrounded my neighborhood.
It was summer. I had just graduated from sixth grade at Castle Hills Elementary School.
My school friends and I spent a lot of time in “the woods”.
“The woods” was what we called the wooded area that separated my neighborhood from a small shopping strip, another neighborhood and the Castle Hills Elementary School.
It was our safe place; a playground for us.
The woods were like a jungle to us; full of adventure.
It had wild things living in it amongst its thick green grass, bushes and tall trees.
I found a turtle and took it home as a pet.
I chased rabbits when I spotted them when trekking through a foot path in the woods.
That is when I learned, they were fast and quick.
I wanted one as a pet, but I was not fast enough to catch one.
And, there were snakes.
Although, I had not seen one, I did find a snake skin on the ground once.
Seeing it, scared me.
I quickly left the area.
Seeing the shedded snake skin was something that I had not seen before, nor have I seen one since.
Yes, the woods were a hiding place for us kids.
We had a tree house.
It had a wooden floor with cardboard for the walls and roof.
The walls and roof were not taped or nailed together; just propped up on the tree limbs.
The floor was nailed together and to the tree.
I do not know who built it, but it was sturdy enough for a couple of us to sit on the wooden floor together.
The tree was easy to climb and the treehouse was not far off the ground.
It was our meeting place from early in the morning to late in the day.
It was a place for us kids to find someone to play with during our summer break.
Our informal treehouse club was a place for boys and girls.
We were just friends, too young to know about anything other than cartoons, bikes and Slurpees.
That period in my life was full of fun and innocence.
We were too naïve to understand anything other than we were meant to play with each other.
I remember sitting in the treehouse and watching people walk along a path in the woods near our treehouse.
They did not see us.
We were behind some very thickly-covered leafy trees.
As they walked by, we remained quiet.
We did not want them to know that we were there watching them.
It was our secret place.
And, the woods had magic, too.
It was the place to be just before a summer rain.
With thunder roaring in the dark clouds above and lightning flashing downward, being in the woods was exhilarating.
With all the energy in the air, there was this feeling of floating and lightheadedness.
And at the same time, there was a scent in the air that brought joy to us.
It made us happy.
It was the summer of 1966.
As I look back upon those days, I realize now that we did not know it at the time, but nature was getting us high.
The joy in it; innocent times.
I needed to go home.
I started walking home through a path in the drainage ditch.
It was a rocky path.
The path was covered in small and large rocks of various colors: white, black, grey.
The ground was a dark brown color.
There was more soil than rocks as I walked farther away from the area where I had fallen.
As I walked home, I began to worry about what my parents would say to me.
My father had just bought a new car.
Now, I am bleeding; a hole in my head.
Will they have the money to fix my head?
“Money don’t grow on trees,” my mom often would say to my sister and me.
Oh, careless me.
When I got to the area of the path that led to the street where I lived, I turned left and walked up a small rise.
I crossed the street and started walking on the sidewalk.
I suddenly noticed my mother walking quickly toward me.
Jackie was with her.
I did not know that he knew where I lived.
At that time, in that neighborhood, there were three Black families.
We all lived on the same street; on the same side of the street.
Two families lived next door to each other and my family lived a few houses down from them.
I guess everyone in the neighborhood knew who we were and where we lived.
As my mom got closer to me, I noticed that her face was contorted.
I could tell that she was worried.
Her face displayed that worry as if it was a Picasso painting.
Jackie was walking in front of my mom.
They were not holding hands, but it seemed as if they were because they were so close together.
They walked hurriedly toward me.
Standing in front of my mom, she asked me, “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Jackie said that he tried to wake me up; but I did not respond.
So, he ran to my house to get help.
My mom thanked Jackie for coming to get her.
I do not remember how I got there, but I spent the afternoon at a nearby hospital with my mom.
I got stiches.
That night I overheard my mom telling my father that she wanted to learn how to drive.
And, that she wanted a car.
My father agreed.
I do not remember which holiday it was, but both my parents were off work that day.
Mom was home.
Dad was out with his friends.
Mom was not happy.
Cellphones had not been invented, yet.
She was a bit vocal in expressing how she felt about him not being available during an emergency.
That summer break, in 1966, when I got a hole in my head.