The Size of the Truth
BEING ALONE IN THE DARK, IN A HOLE, ON THANKSGIVING DAY, IS NOT MUCH FUN; OR, OH WELL!
This all starts with my first enormous truth, which was a hole.
When I was four years old, on Thanksgiving Day, I fell into a very deep, very small hole.
There were things in that hole. Things besides just me and dirt.
Some people can’t remember anything at all from when they were four years old. It seems like most people’s memories begin when they’re in kindergarten or first grade.
I can remember things that happened to me when I was only two.
For example, I remember the first time I met Karim—just after he and his family moved into the house down the road from ours. That happened when I was two. But for years I could not remember what happened to me when I fell into that hole.
Now I can.
People say I’m smart. It’s not my fault, though. I never tried to be smart. To be honest, which is something I always do try to
be, I stopped being able to talk after I got out of the hole, so I started school late, when I was seven. It was like being in a race, where every other boy and girl had a two-year head start on me.
At least Karim always stuck with me, until we couldn’t stick anymore.
The hole I fell into was an old well.
In Blue Creek, Texas, which is where I live, everyone calls the hole an abandoned well, but that’s a strange way to describe a well. Nobody ever lived there and then moved out of it. It wasn’t a former pet, like a dog someone leaves out in the desert because they can’t take care of it anymore. So it’s hard for me to understand how a well can be “abandoned.”
What I fell into was a hole that nobody bothered to point out to me was still there and was also still a hole. A very deep one.
That day, Karim and I were running around in the woods behind his house with some older boys from the neighborhood, playing a game called Spud with a soccer ball that had gone flat.
If this older kid named James Jenkins, who nobody liked and everyone was afraid of, hadn’t thrown the ball so high before Karim could catch it and yell Spud!, I would not have taken that last step (which wasn’t a step, to be honest, since planet Earth was not beneath my foot), and I would not have been swallowed up by a hole.
But that’s what happened, and I fell.
I felt my left shoe come off.
Everything went dark.
Somewhere above me, Karim yelled, “Spud!”
And I kept falling.
As scary as falling into an abandoned well might sound when you aren’t in the middle of falling into one, I remember feeling far more confused than frightened as I slipped farther and farther down beneath the surface of Texas.
Falling seemed to take forever.
I hit things, and dirt got into my mouth and nose. My jeans twisted around, and my T-shirt got pulled up around my shoulders. Somehow, my feet ended up above me and my head pointed down.
As I fell, I worried about Mom and Dad, and how they were going to be mad at me.
I stopped tumbling.
Everything smelled and tasted like dirt.
And I was upside down, lying like a capital J, looking up at my feet and a fist-size patch of blue, which would have been the afternoon sky above the hole I fell through.
I spit mud out of my mouth.
I yelled. “Hey!”
I tried to move, to pull myself up.
Then the walls around my shoulders seemed to widen out, and I fell again.
The second trip was shorter than the first, and this time I
hit what must have been the flat bottom of the well. I lay on my side with my arms curled around my head. Little bits of dirt and pebbles sprinkled down on me from the walls above. It sounded like rain. I shut my eyes.
That was when I started being much more scared than confused.
It was also when I started to cry, which made mudslides all over my face. When you’re four, it really isn’t a big deal if you cry, right? I mean, unlike when you’re a boy in middle school, when it becomes a completely different issue with all kinds of costly consequences.
So I’m not embarrassed to say I cried. But let me make it clear: I was four, and I was at the bottom of a very deep hole.
I didn’t think I was hurt, but I wasn’t really sure, either.
I lay there for so long, just holding my head and trying to think about what had happened to me, and why this hole was here in the first place, but nothing made much sense.
I was completely alone.
It was Thanksgiving Day, and Mom and Dad were going to be so mad at me.
I may have gone to sleep.