A recent Retinitis Pigmentosa diagnosis (fancy word for “tunnel vision” or “peripheral blindness” or just “damaged retina) has alerted me to to solidify my memories of the things I once saw. I hope these essays encourage you to practice a moment by moment focus on what You Can See. Hopefully that way, in those alienating moments when you might feel like you are not sure whether or not you are existing in the same sphere as everyone around you, you can call upon your ability to See Things and fight through your fear.
This story remembers a tiny bit of an excursion my mother took us on when we were young…through a series of caves…
The first cave is underground.
I am ten or eleven years old.
I am sitting on a rock, watching green grass border the rocks that were once alone in this park. Ontario has invited families, explorers or just the average eager Cave Person to take a Cave Walk through a series of eleven caves.
I do not think these are caves.
I have been certain for a while that caves are above-ground-phenomena.
This cave is underground.
I believe it should truly be termed a “tunnel” but my mom and/or the Ontario Ministry of Parks and Recreation keeps calling these Caves.
Upon entry, mom read us the sign, we all silently read along with her, “CAVE WALK OPEN”.
Round white guideposts on wooden stakes punched in the ground by a cave authority secure each cave’s identity. With profound dignity, these secret natural closet graves
scream the existence of “CAVE 1…CAVE 2..”
The signs would be more useful if they included geographic context, like a map, which they do not do but at least they offer a contextualization of each cave relative to the other caves. That is helpful.
My mother has been very excited to bring us to the caves.
Unfortunately, her excitement did not prepare us with a flashlight.
She did bring a maroon cooler, iconically branded the “Cool Box”, full of food. She must now lug the cooler through the caves.
I like watching her carry the Cool Box. It’s shape is inconviently rectangular. I wish, for her sake, that it was more like a bowling ball so that she could hug the sides more comfortable. Instead she kicks it when appropriate or she picks it up and pretends that everything is ok.
My eldest brother, Sonny, is the first to sit on the edge of the entrance. Unguided, he shouts, “THIS IS THE FIRST ONE”. He must have read the sign.
Sonny slips into the cave. Goodbye.
My mom follows him with her cooler, lifting it with ease, carrying it with progressive effort, “Sonny, you can’t go alone…”, she rests the Cool Box on the ledge by the cave entrance, sits beside it and slides into a tiny slit she calls “the door” as she slides in, mentioning to Sonny, “the cooler won’t fit through the door…oh no, I got it.” In goes mom, down the cave. She grabs the Cool Box and lifts it down with her. Bye mom.
My other older brother, Jesse, is sitting by the edge of the cave. “Are you going in?” He asks me.
I reason with my options.
We are here with another family which consists of four kids and two adults. All of them can be found behind me reading the sign entitled “Guides For The Caves”.
I don’t like these people. They are uptight and boring.
They are all wearing pressed jean shorts and white tshirts which are not yet dirty. If the tshirts had emotions they would be very afraid. I watch the starch white cotton backs of this family we have known for years. I share Archie Comic Books with the teenage daughter. We rip apart her old Barbies. She taught me how to do a cartwheel. But I only really like her when she is nowhere near her siblings. Together, they are the equivalent of a box of grape popsicles: Not very likeable but they are they individually interesting if you take the stick out of thier butts and mash them up with other flavour popsicles.
They are not really “cave” people by which I mean, I would not enjoy them as guests in a cave of my own.
They certainly did not bring a cooler of food. They also did not bring flashlights because, as their eight year old tiny strict-diet-of-packaged-meat son suggested as we arrived “there should be flashlights IN the cave”.
I could safely sit here and exclude myself. I am a little afraid to be underground. I am sure that at least one of these bummers will not go in the CAVE. I could stay above ground with the other family,who I think were given higher expectations of these CAVES from my mother who is currently underground yelling “OH, I LOVE THIS CAVE.”
I could sit here and wait with the 6-year-old daughter who is holding a Barbie doll body fixed with a replacement Ken doll head.
I would rather die in a cave.
In any case, I would rather be lost in a cave with my mom than probably most places on Earth.
I am watching Jesse. His posture is suggest maybe of fear or maybe of some self-loathing curiosity, or maybe he is just trying to peer into the tunnel as he sits with his legs dangling into the entrance. His khaki shorts are not covering the back of his thighs. He shifts which could be anxiety. Or it could just be the discomforts of nature, scratching and pinching his skin.
Jesse steps one leg down into the cave. He turns and grabs the side of the ledge. He places his second foot down. Bye Jess I love you.
It looks easy.
I visit the ledge. I peer into the underground. The space is dark but grey. I can see Jesse’s shoe.
“Are you coming?”
“Yeah but how?”
Jesse pokes his head out.
“Just put your foot down. There’s a step. This is fake. This cave is fake.”
I step into the cave.
Lights are installed along the walls.
Sonny is sitting on the Cool Box. My mom is staring at a wall as if it is inscribed with the same Guide To The Caves she neglected to read before we all jumped into darkness.
“Are they coming?”
Sonny wants to keep moving. He loves leading us places.
“Go ask,” he tells me.
“No, let’s just go. They’re reading the thing.”
“The map thing.”
“What map? There are signs!”
Sonny saw what he needed and jumped in, no questions.
“If they’re reading the map they’ll find us,” Jesse speaks with his signature “you people are stupid” tone.
My mom finally chimes int, “oh yeah, they can do their own thing.” Her statement makes me question the point of Other People.
We follow dim light through the cave, watching the rocky ground, searching for a bit of light, for an exit, for something to actually look towards.
10 minutes of nothing.
We experience a physical exclusion from sight, very briefly, and when we are done we can do it again. Eleven times. We can stop for snacks. We can quit when we want. We are in charge of our darkness. For the day.
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