A very small amount of his friend’s brain was on the playground. “Poor Michael,” our boy thought, as he ran up. A teacher waved off the children, wouldn’t let them get close, but there he lay. His friend had only now fallen from the top of the slide to the hard asphalt, and was lying there, a pained look on his face, but not pained enough it seemed to our boy, it simply wasn’t extreme enough an expression. Because his friend’s head was gosh danged cracked open, and a bit of what may have been his brain, or a small fragment of his skull, was inches from his head, there on the ground, in a small puddle of blood. Our boy was horrified, but he couldn’t look away. No one said anything. After an eternity in kid minutes, paramedics came and saved his friend.
Within a week came the rubber safety mats, under and surrounding each playground equipment set. Black and thick, fitting together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, a new thing in 1964? He wasn’t sure, but it was the first time he had seen such mats at McKinley School. It certainly bought a new fearlessness to recess playtime, kids wanted to fall onto the mats, these were a new fun. But it took him a few weeks before he could bring himself to use the slide again.
He saw his friend on occasion, years later. Michael was still struggling, still afflicted, with a strong limp and thick glasses, an astonished look on his face even later, in high school. One little slip, a small change in circumstance, and your life is changed forever, but our boy didn’t have the slightest notion of that, of course, not yet…
An excerpt from A Taste for Ants, an autobiographical story of a year in Brother Joe’s life.