It was a shortcut that I would regret for the rest of my life, and one that I certainly have done.
No one knew what we were up to or where we went. We always spent our time exploring, and finding new places to check out to make use of our creative minds.
I don’t really remember now how we even stumbled up on the place, just that we did. It had been in the spring / start of summer; we were spending a lot of time outdoors again.
Between my house and hers there was a lot of undeveloped property. Granted we only lived, you know, maybe a little over half a mile from each other if you were lucky, but this made things a lot more interesting and we figured it shortened the distance, even if it was only by just a little.
Behind Charlotte’s house there was a ditch, a large irrigation ditch and just on the other side of that was a large man hole with pipe that ran diagonally from her house to the field about a half a block from mine. What made it really exciting was that it went underground!!! When we had found the pipe to begin with it was an instant hit and we gathered flashlights and headed down below to find out where it went.
The pipe was large at first, large enough for two almost teenage girls to fit through and crawl in. It wasn’t until about oh say a little over half a block before the pipe began to get smaller. There was one spot where it even got so small that we could barely wiggle our way through on our bellies using our elbows as leverage to pull us forward.
Our ‘secret passage’ as we called it was also our hideout. It was pretty cool once you could get past the creepy spider webs and the waves of claustrophobia that hit. We would make sandwiches and hideout from our parents there, from friends we didn’t want to spend time with, or just if we were having a bad day.
Eventually the summer ended and Charlotte and I were expected to head back to school. Throughout the fall we used our shortcut and hideout to travel from each other’s houses, home and back. The following spring there were suddenly big plans to develop part of the field behind Charlotte’s house.
We ignored the large equipment and kept at our usual quests to discover. Never once did we give a second thought about the danger or risks involved in using the “shortcut”.
We both had grown a little and it was even tighter to get through the small pipe opening in the middle where things shrunk considerably, but still we managed.
It was about a week before school was about to start when it happened. We had been talking about the new houses that were being built just behind Charlotte’s house. They were huge and expensive. Worried about school work and home we needed a break; we headed for our secret passage and climbed in. We had sat inside and talked for a little while before deciding to head towards my house.
We had just managed to get to the halfway point where the pipe and us were a tight fit. I yelled back and told Charlotte, “Man, we’re gonna have to stop coming this way, I can barely fit!”
“I think you’re right.” Came the muffled reply.
I was almost through, wiggling as quickly as I could when I heard the roar. We still had a good half a block to go before we reached the next man hole to get out. The noise pounded my ears like thunder striking right outside your window. I heard an “OH GOD” before the rush of cold water hit me from behind. Small spaces scare me a little, but water scares me a lot, combine the two and you have one terrified person. I scrambled, holding my breath to make it through the tight tunnel until I could get out. I had made it to the end and scrambled up the ladder. I clambered over and sat trying to catch my long lost breath on the cement encasement. The minutes seem to drag on waiting for Charlotte to emerge from the tunnel. After waiting what I thought had to be close to ten minutes and not seeing her come out I ran as fast as my thirteen year old legs could carry me to home.
Two hours later with a back hoe, a crew of EMS rescue, firefighters, a water master, and a whole bunch of sheriffs, the skinny part of the pipe was exposed and being cut open with ‘jaws of life’.
I was questioned thoroughly before, during, and after my best friend’s funeral about our adventures in the pipe and suddenly I found myself ever regretting that we had found it.
I mean really, as far as shortcuts go, it actually took us more time in the long run because of all the crawling and wiggling we had to do than to just walk the normal distance on city provided sidewalks.
Each fall I leave a note of I’m sorry with a small piece of pipe that I buy from the hardware store. It serves as memory that I somehow survived when she didn’t and when I shouldn’t have, but other than that I can’t tell you why. Just that it’s a prompting that I have.