The tree was neither tall in height nor full in branches. Yet, it was just perfect for a little boy who liked to get away from time to time from a world in which he never fit. A place to sit and look out, over and across the horizon, to see if there was a world out there. In which he did. In which I did. Fit.
On this fall day in 2006, I followed Little Will back up into that tree. We climbed to the same spot I had sat in hundreds of times before, a perfect spot from which three thick branches shot out like an upside down stool. And, as I also had done hundreds of times before, Little Will and I looked out across the horizon. Past so many days and early evenings in that tree. Past years of memories. Decades of moments. Until I saw what Little Will wanted me to see.
It was the backyard of our home on Flamingo Lane, a place we lived very briefly between the apartment of my infancy and the Lake Haven Drive house of my childhood. Until that day in 2006, the only thing I had remembered about Flamingo Lane was the story of my 8 year-old sister running away from home one day after a fight with our mom. On her tricycle. To the corner. Where she stayed. Until dinner.
But this day in 2006, as I looked out across the years back to 1970 or so, another story came forward. This story was about the time my mom found me in the sandbox in our backyard playing with a dead bird. I can still see that bird. Looking at it back then, I remember thinking it had something for me, even in Death. As a 5 year old boy, I thought the whole thing was pretty cool. My mom did not. And, as is often the case in little boys' lives, Mom was right. Playing with that bird made me sick. Very sick. As in, put in a hospital sick. Turns out the dead bird--and even the sandbox--was rife with some kind of virus.
I don't remember much about the whole experience, aside from showing my mom the bird, her wrapping it and me (separately, of course!) and putting us both in the backseat of the car to go to the doctor. Beyond that, the whole experience, from the car until I was back home, is a big dark hole. Except for one part. It occurred while I was in the darkness.
In the background, I could hear the voices of my mom, the doctor and a nurse. But, I was moving in another direction. I was moving down a dark corridor into a massive library. With mile-high shelves of books. Books that you would never find at the Audelia Road Library in our little Lake Highlands neighborhood in Dallas, Texas. Books that were being watched over by rather grave-looking, serious figures dressed in topcoats and tall hats who quietly and slowly moved between the mile-high shelves and grown-up chairs and imposing tables placed very intentionally around the room.
It wasn't until that afternoon in 2006, sitting on a tree looking back into the 1970's, that I connected the dots and realized it was that visit, made from the dark hole of a viral infection, that first ignited a lifelong passion for reading. A passion fueled by a hidden desire to learn the contents of those long-ago forgotten books.
And it wasn't until six years after that, in 2012, that I learned I didn't have to search very far to find the answer. Because, you see, those books were written...