My house was filled with giant spiders, the size of horses. I was having the same dream again, about the house I lived in between the ages of five and eight. I figured that spiders represented decay, or death, and now that I was about to turn 30, perhaps my subconscious was mulling over the end of my youth. It was true, much as I tried to stretch out my adolescence, when you’re in your thirties, it’s harder to pass yourself off as a punk rock rebel kid.
My childhood home was less than five miles from my loft in the back of the anarchist bookstore, and so I decided to drive by it, to see if I could trigger any meaningful memories or realize something significant about myself. I hopped into my 1985 green Ford Fairmont, realizing that it had come into the world the same year that I had, and drove across town to Roosevelt Street.
I parked on the street in front of the house. It was still a quiet little neighborhood. No one was about – probably all out at work and school. I felt like I was casing the joint for a robbery. But it wouldn’t be a good place to rob. There was a for sale sign in the yard, and the driveway was so covered with loose leaves it was clear that no car had driven over it all fall. I got out of the car and walked crunchingly over the dead leaves to the house. It was smaller than I remembered – a very plain, single story, two bedroom home. I looked down at my feet on the front step and saw my name. I had written it when the concrete was poured for that step. But it looked babyish now, and faded.
The windows were covered with blinds, making it impossible to peer inside, so I walked around the side of the house, along side the neighbor’s four foot high wooden fence that I used to balance and walk on. It was practice for when I’d join the circus as a tight rope walker. The fence was decrepit now, the top log having rotted and fallen down. I pressed my foot down on it, and felt the shell of wood collapse under my weight.
The back yard looked like it hadn’t been mowed last summer. The dead grass, mixed with fallen leaves, was up to my thighs. We had always kept the grass long in the back yard, and I remembered being afraid back then that the tall grass hid snakes. When I wanted to get to the woods behind our house, I would make a dash through the yard to avoid any snakes, and that’s just what I did now. I wanted to see if the tree house that my older sister had built was still there. It was, and closer to the yard than I remembered. Its singular, uneven platform, cobbled to an old oak tree, about five feet off the ground, looked pretty unimpressive to me now. Then again, she was only about eleven years old when she built it, so I shouldn’t judge.
Something green caught my eye on the ground by the tree. It was a tiny parachute, attached to a plastic army guy. That was Rob’s parachute guy. On windy days, my best friend, Rob, and I used to throw our parachute guys as high as we could. The wind would swoop them up and sometimes carry them for what looked like miles to us. His was the army guy and mine was Superman. Even then, I thought it strange that Superman would need a parachute, but it was still really cool. On our very last parachute adventure, we threw our parachute guys up in the air from the front yard. The wind pulled them right over the house. We ran around to the back yard, which I now remembered that we called “the snake yard,” and saw them soaring up overhead. Rob’s guy was deposited in the woods, but mine caught a draft that took it east, toward school. We ran as fast as we could after it. We took a short cut, through yards and only lost track of Superman as we were climbing over Sam Dillard’s fence, right before the school. We spent some time looking for Superman in the field next to the school, but never found him. Maybe now would be a good time, 23 years later, to look again, using my adult powers of observation. After all, I had already stumbled across Rob’s army guy, which I had stuffed in my pocket.
I walked the mile and a half to school, using the bike path instead of shortcutting it through peoples’ yards. I quickly surveyed the school field. It shouldn’t take me too long to systematically search the field for a bright blue and red object. But then it occurred to me that this field had probably been mowed thousands of times since Superman’s disappearance. If he had landed in the field, perhaps another kid found him. That might have been disorienting to Superman, I thought, but he could handle it. He probably grew very attached to this new kid…. I was thinking these thoughts, while walking aimlessly across the dry, brown leaves on the field, my right hand holding Rob’s army guy in my jacket pocket. I don’t know how long I was lost in daydreams, but I realized that I wasn’t in the field anymore. I was on a path behind the school, and I looked up to see something amazing.
This isn’t real, I thought. But there it stood – a big, empty oil tank, the sun glinting invitingly off its shiny steel surface. Could it be the tank that Rob and I used to hide in? Our secret fort? For years, I thought that I had made it up, that it was just a scrap of memory from of my childhood imagination. I walked up to the tank, hoping that somehow it really was the fort of my imagination. As an adult, I was taller than it. Back in the day, Rob and I would have had to help each other up on top of the tank to the round portal to get in. I let my hands slide across the surface of the tank, and looked at the entrance. It was only a couple of feet in diameter. Even if I could squeeze in, my adult body would fill most of the tank. But two little kids could have made it their home. I felt my heart pounding. I really wanted the tank to be our old fort, but I was afraid that it wasn’t. I had to know. I pulled up on the latch, and it released. I pushed the round lid up and back and looked into the tank. It was dark, but the sun from the portal illuminated some evidence. I strained my arm as far as I could into the tank and managed to pull up a wrinkled Superman comic, a few candy wrappers, a small flashlight and a piece of paper with a drawing on it. The flashlight didn’t work.
The drawing was a map, clearly drawn in pencil by a child. It showed the tank, the school, a big tree at the edge of the school field and an “X” by what looked vaguely like a pile of rocks, or eggs. I had absolutely no memory of making this map. I had a treasure hunt to go on.
I stuffed the comic in my jacket pocket. I thought that the little kid in me would want me to keep it, and dropped the flashlight and wrappers back into the tank, closing the heavy lid. It was getting late in the chilly afternoon, but there would be enough sunlight for me to follow the map to whatever lay at the “X”. And so, I did just that.
Next to the tree, sure enough, was a pile of about 15 fist-sized stones. I regretted ditching the broken flashlight, because I could have used it as a digging implement. Instead, I used a rock to scrape the surface of the ground around the stones. Almost immediately, I uncovered a bit of blue plastic. I dug. I pulled it out of the ground. It was parachute Superman, dirty, but preserved from the elements by being buried for over two decades.
This was confusing. I thought we never found Superman. Why on Earth did we put him in the Earth? Pondering this mystery, I walked back to my car with my bounty: Army Guy, Superman, the map, and the Superman Comic. I looked back west toward the school. The sun was just starting to set, and the sky was a mix of Superman blues and reds. I paused to watch an eerie crimson slowly rise to wipe out the brighter colors, and headed back to the loft.
The sunset was fading out and a few star had poked through the gray sky in the east. The empty trees outside the loft were swaying in the wind, their stark branches silhouetted against the gray. I took out Superman and looked at him. Ready for one last adventure? I asked. He seemed up for it. I threw Superman toward the stars in the east. The wind held him gently for a second and then he took off west toward the sunset and disappeared.