Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It was a green block of – something. I discovered it in a closet and was drawn to it powerfully, inarticulately. I pushed a finger into it and it felt like something that would spring back – it resisted with some spirit – but it didn't spring back. The dent remained. And it gave with a faint crunch, like crusted snow. I didn't know if I had ruined it, whatever it was. I hid it where I found it, upside down, hiding the finger-dent.

My childhood is full of such hidden transgressions. It's strange, because my parents were mild and reasonable people, and I was a willing and obedient child: a quick confession would have liberated me from many quiet miseries! But I was unable to confess, then or ever. And I crept back again and again to take the stuff out, and to stick my fingers into it. That strange snow-crunch; that feel of breaking flesh; and an odor of post offices and attic rooms.

I suppose it was floral foam, of some sort. I'm sure it cost less than a dollar. Soon there was no way to hide the fact that I had mangled it. I kept going back and crunching it, craving the sensation, wondering what it was, wondering if it was poison, wondering if my secret transgression would end up killing me. “I had no idea he was going into the closet for that,” my tearful mother would say. Everyone would say there was no way she could have expected it, why would any boy do such a thing? And behind her back they'd note that I had always been a queer boy, no accounting for me. This at least was quick. Perhaps it was a blessing.

You could lodge things in it: paperclips, toothpicks, straws. It would take the imprint of a key, of a coin, of a knuckle, though not very finely.

Like almost all the stories of my boyhood, this one trails off into hypotheticals, variants, perplexities; it changes locales and characters. I'm five years old, or ten, or thirteen. I can remember my sin being discovered, in various ways, but I doubt any of them happened. My mother found the mashed up foam and clucked at me. She discarded it without a second thought. It disappeared and I never knew why. I was challenged as to what on earth I had done it for. Who knows? At most one, perhaps none of those things happened. I will never know.

Tonight I find myself longing for that block of foam, for its unearthly lightness – like balsa wood; for its malleability; for the burst of strange tactile information it sent pouring up my nerves. And above all for its secrecy, and for the alien countries it hinted at, where this was the stuff of soil. The moon rose in cold backwash of fog and fir bough tonight, contending with the streetlight, and all of it, even the streetlight, was too far away to touch.


alembic said...


JMartin said...

You have me reconsidering a weird balsa-wood phase of pre-adolescence, which was entirely unrelated to airplanes or other uses. I don't suppose that you could also explain the pipe-cleaners?

It is so difficult for adults to recall that inexorable draw of particular sensory experiences. I need to calibrate my automatic dismay when reading room kids flake the corkboards. (Should know better, as started each day with hands and nose pressed to a childhood corked bedroom wall.)

Sabine said...

Oh yes. Beautiful.
I feel some long lost memories coming up now myself. You have stirred something.

rbarenblat said...

This post is strangely beautiful.

And now I am yearning for that stuff, too. And for things I don't quite remember but catch glimpses of from time to time.

marly youmans said...

Touch of Aspie there, Dale!

One of my three was obsessive about such things. In fact, he once ruined a room of fresh wallpaper, picking and tearing... We didn't find out because out moving boxes were stored there while we unpacked. Luckily I didn't much like that paper, though it would have stayed up for years, being brand new.

However, there is no child who can pass up bubble wrap! And many adults who can't. We're all Aspie at the edges, lovers of tactile strangeness and mystery.

Lucy said...

I used to pick up a lovely soft warm loaf of bread on my mum's request on the way home from school sometimes. It was only wrapped in tissue paper, and I used often to pick a hole in the bottom of it with grubby post-school fingers. I never confessed and somehow assumed it went unnoticed, but it can't have done. The weird thing though was, I didn't eat it! It was just the picking that was compulsive, and I used to drop the bits on the ground.

That floral foam is horrid stuff, especially when it gets all old and dusty, I can imagine you might have feared it was poison.

Anne said...

When I was a child I usually woke up in the morning long before my parents. I liked to find places where the feathers in the pillows were sticking out and pull them. One morning, although I knew I shouldn't, I made a little hole so I could get more out. When the grown-ups finally got up the room was billowing with feathers and I was in big trouble.

Dale said...

Anne, :-)!