I grew up on a quiet street in a quiet town. Nothing much happened except for the occasional garage sale or walking marathon. My family didn’t participate in either event.
One day, my younger brother and I rode our bikes through our neighbourhood meadow, a place with walking paths that joggers would frequent. Further down, there was a ravine surrounded by rocks. My brother and I liked to jump from rock to rock, and he would show off that he could jump on every second rock. Although he was younger, he was a natural athlete with long legs that allowed him to run faster, jump higher, and warrant the admiration of our dad.
“Mike, watch this!” he shouted, his perfect squat leveled almost artistically, his arms hanging back, poised for a high jump. With his shoes planted on the flattest part of a rock almost three times his size, he sprang up so high I thought he would be in the air a lot longer. Seconds later, his shoes were planted again on the third rock.
I thought I dreamt it. He looked like a superhero, piercing the summer sky and landing so softly on a rock that was too far away from his starting point. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. And in that moment, I hated him. Everything he did was so spectacular. I was the older brother and I was supposed to take those kinds of risks. So, I did what I thought was my best idea. I sauntered over to the same rock he launched from, squatted, threw my arms back, and aimed for the third rock. The next thing I felt was my right leg burning. Before looking down, I thought I lost all the skin on my leg.
“Jack!” I yelled. “Jack!” I tried to stop from crying, but it was useless. I sobbed like a toddler. I felt ashamed and weak. My face was hot and my body shook. When my crying waned, I realized I couldn’t feel my right leg anymore. It was jammed between two rocks. I tried to lift it but every time I pulled on it, I was sure more skin was peeling off. “Jack!” I yelled again, scanning around the meadow. The pain quickly melted into anger. Where was Jack? How could he leave me like this? Was he hiding? My anger swelled.
“If you don’t come out, I’m gonna tell Mom!” The words sounded so juvenile, so pathetic, but I didn’t care. Jack hated getting in trouble. I was sure these words would lure him out from wherever he was hiding. But Jack was nowhere.
Finally, I caught flashes of fuchsia and lime green. Mrs. Wheeler and Mrs. Delvecchio were in their high-end jogging gear, laughing about something.
“Help!” I yelled.
Mrs. Wheeler looked over and frowned. She pointed at me and Mrs. Delvecchio said something. I think it was “holy shit.”
They ran over and gasped.
“Mike! What happened?” Mrs. Wheeler said.
“Are you okay?” Mrs. Delvecchio said. “How did this happen?” She crouched down and put her hand on my right leg. “It’s really stuck. How did it squeeze in?”
“What were you doing?” Mrs. Wheeler said. “Were you jumping on the rocks?”
Mrs. Delvecchio raised her eyebrow and shook her head.
“No,” I lied. “I was just walking on a rock and I tripped.”
“Mhmmm,” Mrs. Wheeler said.
I wanted to punch her in the face. This was no time to question me. I just wanted to get out of the meadow, go home, and tell on Jack.
Mrs. Wheeler perched herself on the rock I was sitting on, wrapped her arms around me, and pulled.
Mrs. Delvecchio said, “maybe we should get some Crisco.”
“I don’t have Crisco,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “You think coconut oil would work? I use it for everything.”
“You can do a lot with coconut oil…I read somewhere that it helps prevent Alzheimer’s!”
“Are you kidding me right now?” I said. “Just get me out of here!”
“Michael Carrington,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “That is no way to speak to your elders.”
“Especially elders who can either save you or leave you,” Mrs. Delvecchio laughed.
“How is that even funny?” I said.
“It’s a little funny,” Mrs. Wheeler said, letting out a small snort.
“OK, I have an idea,” Mrs. Delvecchio said. “I’ll pull his leg while you pull him up.”
“Count of three,” Mrs. Wheeler said. “One, two, three!”
I shut my eyes and screamed. If I felt like I lost skin before, it was as though I lost bone now.
“Fuck!” I yelled.
“Young man!” Mrs. Delvecchio said. “There is no need for that language.”
I looked down at my leg. Two deep gashes running down from the middle of my shin to my ankle. Some skin hung. No bone showing. I sighed, suddenly overwhelmed with exhaustion, relief, happiness…until…
“Have you seen Jack?”
Mrs. Wheeler unwrapped her arms from me and helped me down from the rock. “I don’t think so. Was he with you before?”
“Yeah, we were riding our bikes.” I limped to my bike with Mrs. Delvecchio holding me up. “Jack’s bike isn’t here.”
“Maybe he rode back home to tell your parents you were in trouble,” Mrs. Wheeler said.
I felt better. Until I got home.
“Jack!” I called out from the hallway.
My mom was dusting the living room and came over when she heard me. “What happened?” she said, her eyes widening.
“Carol, we found him with his leg stuck between two rocks,” Mrs. Wheeler said.
“It’s a good thing we were there,” Mrs. Delvecchio said. “Especially after that terrible story in the paper from this morning.”
“Oh, Mike, sweetheart,” my mom almost whispered. She pulled me close to her chest and hugged me. “I’m so happy you’re safe. Thank you for helping my boy.”
“Hey, that’s what neighbours are for,” Mrs. Wheeler said.
The women hugged Mom and left.
After Mom cleaned and bandaged my wound, I asked where Jack was.
“I think he’s in his room,” she said. “Where else would he be?”
“Mom, we rode our bikes to the meadow together, remember?”
“Oh.” She frowned. “I guess he came back without you. Why wouldn’t he tell me you were hurt?”
“You saw him come back?”
When she struggled for an answer, I limped upstairs and opened the door to his bedroom. No one. “Jack?” I said. Nothing.
I limped back downstairs, hanging on to the railing for support. “Mom? Jack’s not home.”
“You know,” she said. “Come to think of it, he didn’t come back early. Are you sure he didn’t go looking for help? Maybe he went back to the meadow.”
Mom called Dad and explained what happened. She hung up and said Dad was on his way to the meadow to look for Jack. He called back and Mom suggested he look around the neighbourhood.
After a police investigation and countless news stories, there was still no sign of Jack. The case grew cold.
Two years later, I went back to the meadow. I realized I had never been to the meadow without Jack, until now. I walked and walked until I got lost. Jack and I never ventured this far into the woods. There were no jogging trails. No manicured rose gardens. No friendly neighbours. Just trees, branches, and dirt. I walked even further, and soon, I was running. I ran so hard and so fast that I thought my legs would fall off. I kept running until my body collapsed onto the dirt.
I sat there for a long time. Two wheels poked through the Earth, a few feet away. I stood, walked over, and bent down. I dug through the dirt and pulled on the wheels. It was Jack’s bike.
That was the last time I saw the meadow.