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Electricity Within the Woods

The reason I haven’t written a memoir is because my life hasn’t been that exciting. I’ve never ridden a train in Budapest. Never climbed Mount St. Helens while it spouted ash and lava. Never been drunk and stoned while facing life and death in a gutter in a city whose name I couldn’t pronounce. The only places I’ve lived have been upstate New York, Raleigh, and (briefly) Brooklyn. The only places I’ve traveled are London, San Francisco, and various parts of eastern Canada. Have I bored you yet? See? Not an exciting life. In fact, the most exciting place I’d ever visited was the woods next to the apartment complex where I lived as a kid. The woods were a strip of land separating the apartments from houses. At the time I’d assumed the woods had been left untouched for perhaps millions of years in order to preserve a little bit of wilderness. Now I know it was there so that people who lived in the houses could forget that they were mere yards away from mayhem and troubled youth. In the summer, the woods were thick with vegetation. Weeds grew tall as our heads. Vines like telephone wires roped through branches and…wait a minute. Come to think of it those were telephone wires roping through tree branches. The bravest of us would climb to the top of one of the trees and touch them to prove we could climb the highest. I was one of those bravest. Truth be told, I was always up for a challenge. Back then people would’ve called me a tomboy. Now they’d call me stupid because what the heck was I doing touching telephone wires, for God’s sake? My mother set me straight when I bragged about this dandy feat of bravado. “Wires? You know better than to touch wires,” she shrieked. “No, not wire wires. Telephone wires,” I explained, though the little hairs began to rise on the back of my neck. Wasn’t she supposed to compliment me on my climbing skills? My balancing act as I stood on that high limb reaching out for the wire just above my grasp? “You shouldn’t be touching any wires! You could get electrocuted!” Electrocuted. I knew what that was. In the third grade I watched a kid stick a paperclip into a light socket during an assembly. He flew backward and teachers rushed to him asking if he was okay. After an hour he was able to speak again, so he was fine, but that memory was ingrained in me forever. Still, even I knew telephone wires and paperclips were completely different from one another. She forbade me from touching telephone wires ever again. But I got off easy. I was still allowed to climb trees. In that woods I didn’t only learn that telephone wires cause parents to freak out. I also learned about s-e-x. Only I didn’t realize the lessons I was learning at the time. My sister and I often scampered to the woods to play. We made what we called a “wooden playground” from tree branches and rocks. The teeter-totter didn’t work half as well as the real thing (which sat unused in the asphalt playground several feet away), but we’d invented it and by-golly we weren’t going to let a few scratchy branches ruin our fun. Being that we created this natural wonderland, we began passing along the information to other apartment dwellers. Back then we didn’t have an entrepreneurial bone in our body, so we didn’t think to charge anyone for the use of our playground equipment. I regret that now. But I digress. Kids we hardly knew came out to see what the fuss was all about. It soon became clear that the only people truly impressed were its inventors. Still, it was something to do and some kids stuck around to talk to us after they’d had enough of pulling branches out of their groins. One kid we’d seen around before, but we didn’t know anything about him, including his age or which apartment he lived in. For some reason I still don’t understand to this day he described events that occurred in a movie he’d recently watched. He was quite explicit about the sex scenes. He mentioned shocking, horrifying situations. A woman put what where? Why? How? I had a reporter’s questions, but the kid didn’t know much more than we did about these things and was no help at all. Oh sure, he had the description down, but as for the actor’s and actresses’ motivations, it was anyone’s guess. Afterwards, my sister and I staggered home nursing slivers caught in our thighs from see-sawing, never to speak of what we heard about in those woods again. It was all too awful. Too gross. It had to be something he made up, and who <em>was</em> that kid anyway? I don’t recall ever seeing him again, but it didn’t matter. He’d given me a bigger shock than that telephone wire ever could.

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